This year at Entropy we’ll be rewatching the legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion. Join us on this tremendous journey through one of the best television series ever made.
We’ll be watching the subtitled versions and discussing them here every week without spoilers for future episodes.
Shinji runs away and, in a lot of ways, this episode largely takes place inside his head, despite us never getting a glimpse of what’s happening internally to him. Anno’s showing us who Shinji is, how he feels, and why he makes the decisions he does through exterior action and behavior.
But this episode is all about Shinji and what it means to be him.
A damaged child.
An abandoned child.
To his father, he’s only the Third Child, whatever that means.
This episode takes place five days after the previous one. EVA01 is operational again but Shinji hasn’t gone to school since the last Angel battle. He’s been even more reserved, hiding often in his room.
Misato worries for him but when she tries to bring him out she discovers that he’s already gone.
Toji and Aida show up at Misato’s apartment looking for him and she lies for him, tells the boys that he’s training at NERV, so they leave Shinji’s homework with her.
But Shinji’s far away. Riding the train as far as it will take him. We see the full train gradually empty, leaving only him, his headphones on.
Last week I briefly touched on Anno’s shot composition, and I’d like to discuss that more this week. What we see with Shinji on the train is his isolation and hopelessness. While other people are on the train alone, like the men sitting and standing beside him, they don’t seem to carry what Shinji’s carrying. We see it in his posture. His legs together, hands on knees, gripping a tape player of some kind (kind of like an micro-CD player, yeah?), shoulders slumped, head down. All of his body language is turned inward, like the center of him is a blackhole, pulling him in at the edges towards his crushed center.
Other people may be alone on the train, but Shinji is isolated. There is no way for him to engage with one of these other humans. I mean, of course he could, but Shinji is almost emotionally crippled. He’s locked inside himself. In his own inadequacies and failures.
We see this as he sits in the movie theatre, not watching the movie, which appears to be some kind of postapocalyptic thing. It actually sounds kind of similar to Neon Genesis Evangelion, yeah? Maybe a bit of meta fun. But Shinji’s not watching, barely paying attention.
He’s staring at a couple making out. He watches them quietly. He only watches. The look on his face, in his eyes, is one of vast separation. He sees how people are with one another but he feels none of that. His life is so far removed from that couple that it almost breaks us just to watch him watching them. And the separation isn’t only because he’s an EVA pilot with the fate of the world on his shoulders. It’s more because of all the hurt Shinji carries with him.
Abandoned and alone.
The two As that make up Shinji’s life.
He sleeps curled up on a bench for the night, and then wanders the wilderness of Japan. He looks down on the city full of people but he wanders off alone, with no real direction. Just away. Away from Tokyo-3. From his father. From NERV. From the EVAs. From the Angels.
We shift gears back to NERV, to Rei getting analysed. Her injuries are still apparent, though we don’t know how she acquired them, but, presumably, it was tests with the EVAs. Whether the analysis is for her well being or to better sync her to an EVA isn’t really important. It could be both.
What is important is what Ritsuko and Misato are talking about.
This, if you can’t tell, is a pretty common structure for the series. We get strong images associated with one character while other characters discuss something only tangentially related to the focus of the screen. Remember when Shinji’s firing the weapon in the EVA last episode and how Misato and Ritsuko discussed his emotional state.
Here they mention how insane it is to have children as pilots, while acknowledging that there’s no other way for them to fight.
For whatever reason, NERV needs young people to pilot the EVAs. It’s worth noting that Shinji and Rei’s ages are mentioned. They’re fourteen, which makes them born after the Second Impact and the first Angel’s attack. Whether this is significant or coincidence is unclear. And even if it is significant, we don’t yet know why such a thing would matter, but feel free to speculate wildly!
Ritsuko and Misato turn their discussion to Shinji and his reaction after the last Angel battle. We’re shown a tense flashback of Misato admonishing him for disobedience while Shinji keeps responding with simple Yesses, until Misato snaps.
She tells him that this kind of behavior could get him killed.
Shinji only smiles and says,
I wouldn’t mind.
It unnerves Misato.
If it’s only pain for him to pilot the EVA, then he shouldn’t do it. I’m sure he’ll be killed.
Misato is afraid for Shinji because he seems to have no regard for his own life or safety. Misato has become his guardian and, being human, she’s taken an active interest in his wellbeing. Sure, that’s part of her job, but Misato is perhaps one of the most human characters we’ve seen so far in the show.
Ritsuko, the scientist, seems to only care about the results and the war. The same is true of Shinji’s father, Commander Ikari.
Misato, of all the NERV employees we’ve come to know, however briefly, seems to be the only one who sees Shinji as the young tormented boy that he is.
And it scares her. To know that they need children like Shinji and Rei. To see the damage they’re doing to these children. To know that they need these children, because without them there are no EVA pilots. Without the EVA pilots, there’s no weapon to stop the Angels.
We cut to Aida off in the wilderness playing at war. He sees Shinji wandering nearby and the two sit around the fire and spend the night together. You can see how Aida’s trying to bridge the gap between them. Teasing him about Misato’s beauty and his living situation. Trying to bond with him over their lack of parents.
But Shinji’s a closed book.
We also get a few more worldbuilding hints. Cicadas are everywhere. Their population’s increasing. This is surely due to the Second Impact, which melted the polar ice caps, increasing the temperature of the planet.
NERV takes Shinji back in the morning.
We see that the leash is loose but ever present. Shinji can run away, but only as far and as long as they let him.
They know where he is and how to bring him back.
Back at NERV, we get this image, which is one of the most dramatic ones yet seen in the show. Anno’s compositions are often powerful, but this is one of the most dynamic, especially considering how it holds for nearly 15 seconds. We’re given this static image to look at as the two talk. Misato in light. Shinji in darkness. Letters can be seen on the wall, like the E and R of NERV. Or the fragment of some sentence or tagline “Gods in his he–“. This is actually something I never noticed before, and it may have no meaning, but it’s interesting that it’s there at all.
Shinji has run away for two days. He’s been dragged back to NERV against his will. The last thing he did as a member of NERV was kill an Angel and rescue his classmate/the whole world. Now he’s back, at the last place he wants to be.
When Misato asks him if he’ll pilot it, they have this exchange:
Shinji: You won’t scold me, will you? That’s natural because you’re not my relative. If I tell you that I don’t want to pilot Unit 01, how will you deal with it?
Misato: I think Rei will pilot it. Won’t you pilot it?
Shinji: It seems unrealistic that you’d force it all off on her. Don’t worry, I’ll pilot it.
Misato: You don’t want to, do you?
Shinji: Of course not. First of all, I’m not cut out for it. But Ayanami, you, and Ritsuko…
To which Misato almost immediately scolds him.
The entire back and forth is a contrast of light and dark. Shinji cowering inward in the darkness. Misato standing in the light.
But look at what she’s asking him to do. To fight. No, not even that. To desire to fight, because, ultimately, that’s why she scolds him. For fighting because others think he has to or want him to.
So the light and dark is not about morality or correct action.
It’s about emotion, I think. Misato is certain. She knows what she wants. Shinji is torn, confused, alone. To go with Misato is to enter into a relationship with people. To leave is to fall deeper into his isolation.
She tells him to leave if he doesn’t want to be a pilot, so he does.
He leaves alone, unable even to say goodbye to Misato or anyone else at NERV.
He’s severed from the people he knew in Tokyo-3.
When his father discovers that he’s leaving, he has no real reaction. He only says that the Marduk Organisation has not found the Fourth Child yet.
Commander Ikari is all mission. There’s no place for his son in this, except as a tool in the larger operation. Now that his son is gone, he needs a new tool.
We don’t know what the Marduk Organisation is or even really what it means to be the First Child (Rei), Third Child (Shinji), or Fourth Child, except that it seems to be connected to the EVAs.
This shows that not just any teenager can be an EVA pilot. There’s something special about Rei and Shinji. We just don’t know what it is.
Toji and Aida find Shinji as he’s leaving to bid him farewell. Toji apologises, promises to defend Shinji’s honor as a pilot, and demands that Shinji punch him in the face.
Shinji does, and it feels like reconciliation. Like the beginning of a friendship.
Except Shinji’s leaving.
I’m the one who needed to be hit. I’ma coward, I;m timid, dishonest, and a weakling…
These are Shinji’s final words to the two of them as he’s dragged away by NERV security.
And we hear all the tension that’s been building inside Shinji since the show started. We hear how he sees himself. A useless, timid little boy. A coward. A liar.
Shinji is damaged. Maybe even broken. He’s alone. And he’s leaving on a train to go wherever it is he came from. Wherever his father abandoned him all those years ago.
We see Misato’s blue car racing to see him off, but she only sees the train leaving.
And when it’s gone, she doesn’t see him standing there, waiting. We don’t know why or exactly what changed his mind, but I think it was that final goodbye to Toji and Aida.
He saw, for maybe the first time, that others who had no obligation to him actually cared about him.
Misato had shown this before, sure, but she’s also his commanding officer and guardian. How can you see someone like that with eyes clear of context?
But Toji? The boy who hit him. The boy who made him feel a failure and a danger to the city.
That’s something he can believe in. Something he can maybe even find hope in.
I love the way Anno frames that image above. Misato looking away, believing she missed her connection. Shinji standing alone, cowering inward, pulled by that blackhole that crushes him. More than the next moment where their eyes meet, this tells us so much. So much of Evangelion is right in that frame. Frustration, anger, sorrow, loneliness, and hope. Though the hope isn’t in the image. It’s in us. That flutter in your chest when you saw Shinji over her shoulder. Hope that maybe he’ll be okay. He’ll find his home. He’ll find belonging. He’ll find hope.
It’s a beautiful moment, when Misato and Shinji see each other. They stand apart in silence for the remainder of the episode, but we feel a closeness there. A bond that Shinji’s never had.
Anno makes us focus on these little moments of connection and isolation. This is a mirror of the end of Episode Three, where Toji hangs up the phone and walks away.
Toji chose not to connect.
Shinji remained alone.
Here, Misato races against time and her own frustration to make sure Shinji knows she cared. I mean, that’s why she sent him away, yeah? Because she cared. Because she didn’t want him to die. Because she didn’t want to watch him hurt himself and maybe even kill himself inside the EVA.
She cares about Shinji and here Shinji finally gets to see it.
Because she’s already sent him away. Already severed her ties.
But she came. Even if it was only to say goodbye. She came.
The final image I’ll leave you with is who Shinji was during this episode. A lot has happened in this episode, even though there were no Angel fights or moments of EVA training. The entire external conflict is set aside for these 25 minutes so we can really take a look at Shinji and understand what’s at stake for him. It’s worth examining these images. The framing. The use of colors. The juxtaposition of the content of the image and the content of what’s being said.
We have a broken boy running away from conflict, which only isolates him more. We have a broken boy who’s only escape from his own isolation and loneliness, his only chance at human connection, seems to be through piloting the EVA, the biomechanical monster used to fight other giant monsters.
This is Ikari Shinji’s life.
Fighting Angels to save humanity from destruction and himself from utter despair.