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Cheer up, Neon Genesis Evangelion fans. This time we are going to review the most emo of anime characters ever: Shinji Ikari! It can be surprising at first that such a weak and insignificant looking guy is so well known. Yet, Shinji is popular among otakus and praised by expert critics! So, let’s remember that looks can be deceiving. If we give him a chance, he will prove to be interesting.
The main reason for the existence of Shinji Ikari is to be a self-insert of director Hideaki Anno (the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion). He has described Shinji as a person who has convinced himself that he is not necessary at all. Anno suffers from depression, and on the times when he was working on this anime, he had a particularly acute crisis. Thus, we can consider Shinji as the incarnation of its creator´s emotional problems. Anno himself stated that he wanted to “burn his feelings” into the work. And sure he did! What various otaku think about Shinji talk about empathy, sympathy and a deep identification with him. Let’s see exactly why Shinji is such a likeable character, shall we?
- Episodes :26
- Genre :Action, Dementia, Drama, Mecha, Psychological, Sci-Fi
- Airing Date :Oct 4, 1995 to Mar 27, 1996
- Producers :TV Tokyo, Kadokawa Shoten, Nihon Ad Systems, Audio Tanaka
Shinji Ikari Preview (No Spoilers)
Welcome to the world of 2015. Oops, that was last year. According to Neon Genesis Evangelion, we had a Second Impact in the year 2000, when the delicate Earth’s ecosystem balance was broken and half of humanity perished. Now giant and brutal beings called Angels are expected to appear in order to finish off the rest of humanity. But are we going to give up on life? Not that easily! The Nerv agency created the Evangelion mechas to fight the Angels back. So, this is the story of Shinji Ikari, summoned to Nerv to become a mecha pilot, and the people who work for the organization to give humanity one last chance.
Shinji Ikari Bio
Before Nerv was called, well, “Nerv”, the name of the military organization was Gehirn. Its Commander (Gendou Rokubungi) married the brilliant bioengineer Yui Ikari. Shinji is the result of their union. Nevertheless, once Shinji’s mother died, he was left in the care of a “sensei” and didn’t meet his father until he was 14 years old. Then, Commander Ikari summoned Shinji to become the pilot of Evangelion 01 and save humanity, which is too big of a task for anyone, let alone a teenager.
Now, we will proceed to our protagonist’s highlights. Remember that there are big spoilers ahead, so, if you want to watch the series instead, please stop reading now.
Shinji Ikari Highlights
1. His Hedgehog’s dilemma
So, we mentioned that Shinji was left aside as soon as his mother died. It is implied that this became the root of most of Shinji’s traumas. In particular, his characteristic Hedgehog’s dilemma. In psychology, the metaphor of hedgehogs that cannot come closer to each other due to their sharp spines is used to explain human behavior. In other words, the process of creating a relationship with other human being causes an unavoidable great amount of pain. Thus, some people choose to have superficial relationships or downright avoid them, like Shinji does.
That is why we notice that Shinji does not have any significant relationships prior to the events shown in the anime. Even Asuka, who is not precisely happy making friends, apparently is in good terms with her stepmother. Sadly, Shinji can not say the same about his father. We must remember that, for a child, their relationship with their parents or parental figures is the most important. Taking into account that Commander Ikari is absorbed by work and is quite inept when it comes to social relationships himself, it is unsurprising that Shinji turned out so emotionally vulnerable.
2. Shinji’s apathy
Particularly in the first episodes of the anime, Shinji can be way too passive. If he confronts authority (getting hurt in result), Shinji shuts down and runs away. There is no better example than the first time Commander Ikari tried to “persuade” him to pilot the Eva 01. The encounter against his first Angel was no summer picnic, so of course Shinji wanted to refuse the duties of a pilot. But there is more at play here. It is true that Shinji runs away from conflict and is superficially polite and obliging… but we have to give credit to Shinji for a deep emotion at least: his self-loathing. Shinji does not believe he deserves to be alive, so he merely… exists. Shinji is the embodiment of impotence and apathy, watching how others decide everything for him.
3. Shinji’s relationship with girls
The teenage years are one hell of a rollercoaster ride of hormones. And well, our protagonist does not ignore his natural calls, despite that, Shinji is inept when it comes to the opposite sex. As Evangelion’s story progresses, Shinji’s relationship with three strong female characters is particularly interesting. So, let’s review it here starting with Major Misato Katsuragi. Here we have a woman who has lots in common with Shinji (a childhood marked by the Second Impact and the Angels, conflicts with her father, etc.). Nevertheless, she confronts her Hedgehog’s dilemma through superficial relationships and vices. On the bottom, they are not very good at adulting, although in the case of Shinji, he can be spared due to his young age. On the other side, they learn to coexist and to care for each other… although the roles of Misato as caretaker, military boss and sexual interest get all mixed on Shinji’s head.
But, does this mean Shinji ignores women his age? Of course not! The first one he encounters is Rei, who is pretty much as passive as Shinji is, although for different reasons. Rei knows she is replaceable, but her good relationship with Commander Ikari, deep thoughts and mature demeanor steer Shinji to question his reasons for being a Nerv pilot. Finally, we get Shinji’s relationship with Asuka. We have another girl with a troubled childhood here, although she covers it with a facade of arrogance and competitiveness. They disliked each other at first, but have to learn to work together against the Angels. Nevertheless, it is very challenging, as both fail in communicating their true intentions (and feelings).
4. Shinji’s Battle style
If we can even call it a style, that is. Shinji was basically piloting the Evangelions to get approval from Commander Ikari, which is a pretty weak reason to become last humanity’s hope. Yes, it is a common reason in the world of anime, but taking into account how inexperienced Shinji is in his first battles, we notice he could only survive due to his basic instincts and his mother’s spirit residing on the Eva, which made it move by itself in order to defeat the Angels. On a side note, that is what I would call a protective mother :p Anyway, Shinji’s military training slowly makes him more confident in battle, but most of his spectacular victories end with tearing his enemy up in a feral way. That is an interesting violent side for someone largely passive and apathetic, right? So watch out for Shinji in battle mode!
5. Shinji eventually steps out of his shell
All in all, Shinji reacts towards the world. If he truly was an empty human shell, he would have never formed relationships with anyone. And although Shinji was scared in the beginning, he is capable of defeating Angels by himself and saving most of his comrades. By the end of the T.V. series, Shinji decides to stop running away and accepts that life can be complicated and painful sometimes.
Of course that the end of the first set of movies is far more interesting. Rei chooses him instead of Commander Ikari to decide humanity’s future. They can all become one in a sea of LCL, or keep business as usual. Although the last option is far more difficult, Shinji chooses to keep everybody’s human forms. What happens next is open to interpretation, but it is clear that the life cycle on Earth restarts. After all that he has gone through, Shinji might be capable of valuing himself with all his virtues and faults, and thus, accepting others.
And there you go, one of the most relatable characters ever in the world of anime. Shinji Ikari differs from most self-insert characters in balancing his good qualities with a tone of weakness. His coming of age, far more focused on what is going inside of his mind than the other anime shows of the time, was a crucial part of consecrating Neon Genesis Evangelion as one of the most successful anime of all times. That is why many of us otakus still keep Evangelion high into our favorite shows list.
Now it’s time for some questions: Do you like Shinji Ikari as a character? Why yes or why not? Remember that we are open to all your comments and suggestions. See you soon!