The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Remarkable Queerness of Shinji Ikari

Our hero, Shinji Ikari
The fandom for acclaimed anime Neon Genesis Evangelion has developed some remarkably bizarre attitudes and ideas about the series they love. I'm not talking here about the speculation regarding the actual narrative itself--the questions of "what the hell did I just watch, what happened in the last two episodes, why is there a live action shot of people in a movie theater, was this sort of a Freudian thing..."--which do get pretty bizarre at times, but which are on the whole pretty innocuous. These are ideas that despite their strangeness simply attempt to clarify the basic narrative of the original series, the film that followed, and the heavily altered narrative of the reboot films (of which, out of four total, three have been released. We're still waiting to see whether the fourth one explains what the hell happened in the third one).

No, the really weird ideas that I want to talk about today are the notions that the fandom has adopted that fly in the face of just about everything the text attempts to establish thematically. One of the more obvious examples of this comes from the heavy sexualization of the two teenage female pilots that the fandom--and, frustratingly, the marketing team--participates in, despite the fact that the show goes to great lengths to deconstruct everything from harem anime tropes to the specific character archetypes of those characters to the idea of fanservice in general. The most fanservicey scenes are frequently profoundly uncomfortable, if not outright nightmarishly surreal. According to fan lore, End of Evangelion, the film that acts as the conclusion to the original series, was deliberately dark, brutal, incomprehensible, and full of psychosexual revulsion directed squarely at the protagonist because creator Hideaki Anno was so outraged and disgusted with the Otaku misreading of the film. Whether or not that's true, the fact that the fanbase regards it as plausible should tell you a lot about... well, about the whole Eva phenomenon really.

That's not what I'm here to rant angrily about this week though. No, I want to hone in on another particularly bizarre idea that the fandom has adopted. Specifically, the weird notion that the series protagonist, Shinji Ikari, is straight.

As with a lot of the other more frustrating reactions to the series, it's not just a reproduction of the shitty backwards attitudes that a lot of geeks hold, it reproduces them in such a way that it garbles the actual thematic arc of the series and makes character actions and development alike borderline incomprehensible. It's of particular interest to me, as well, for the way it results in a dismantling of creator efforts to increase representation, forcefully repressing "deviant" sexuality. This is the much canonized practice in fandom culture of erasing what few paltry instances of queer representation exist popular culture. It's the flip side of the coin I discussed a few weeks ago with respect to the possibility of reading queerness into Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: it's reading queerness out of media.

Before we get to discuss Shinji Ikari's bi- or perhaps pansexuality, though, we need to talk a little about what makes Evangelion tick as a narrative. And that means diving deep into the boggy nightmare of Eva's plot.

Bear with me, folks, I'm going to try to make this as comprehensible as possible.


The story follows Shinji Ikari, who pilots the giant robot Evangelion Unit 01 against the Angels, horrific alien entities bent on destroying humanity. They want to use a particular trigger to end the world, humanity (ostensibly) wants to stop the end of the world. Pretty straightforward stuff so far! There are two other pilots (well, three counting one who is effectively immediately taken out of commission when his Eva is taken over by a Angel--which should give you an idea of the kind of series we're dealing with here). They work at the behest of a shadowy organization called NERV, backed by an even shadowier organization called SEELE (German for "Soul" because of course it is), and run by Shinji's father, the father that years prior abandoned him after the death of his mother.

Over the course of the series Shinji struggles with his attraction toward the two female pilots, issues of betrayal and abandonment due to the cold cruelty of his father, and the fear of death and pain juxtaposed with his own suicidal and self-destructive tendencies. Oh, and he struggles with the Angels as well, of course, who start out as big monsters and gradually transform into agents of pure horror as the pilots' minds and bodies are probed, abused, invaded, and ultimately broken. And through all of this, we gradually come to understand that Eva is A. not a robot but a giant biological humanoid B. has terrifying power all its own and C. is barely under the control of humanity.



A whole lot of shit happens that I'm not going to take time to explain because it'd take way too long and honestly people tend to go a bit glassy eyed when you attempt to summarize Eva for them. Even discounting the fact that there's a bunch of shit that's only ever explained in the semi-canonical inserts for Japanese-release-only video games or the fact that the original series had a re-release that added a bunch of scenes or the fact that there's now a possibly canonical retelling of the original series in movie form that goes WILDLY off the rails at the end of the second movie and has reached a point where everyone's sort of collectively shrugged helplessly and accepted that we have no clue where any of this is going...

Even the baseline story of Eva is barely comprehensible on its own merits without heavy rewatching and the aid of fan wikis.

But here's what's important to know:

By the end of the series, Shinji is on the verge of a mental breakdown because of the horrors he's seen, one pilot has been killed then replaced by a clone, and the other is in a coma after a suicide attempt. The sketchy secret organization backing the sketchy secret organization that created the Evas sends a new replacement pilot, the 5th Child:

Kaworu Nagisa.

And Kaworu Nagisa, white haired pretty boy, really likes Shinji Ikari.

This is notable because at this point he's... kind of the only person who does. His father treats him like shit (and really treats everyone else like shit too--Gendo Ikari is a monster), his adoptive guardian has totally sealed herself off emotionally after a pileup of betrayals culminating in the execution of her love interest, the other pilots are as good as dead and are in no condition to deal with Shinji Ikari's leeching need for infinite validation and affection... basically, he's more alone than he's ever been, and the Angel attacks have just been getting more and more mindbendingly incomprehensible and horrifying.

And Kaworu appears on the scene, white haired, perfect, beautiful, and totally, totally devoted to Shinji Ikari. I mean, I need to stress that this is like Free! levels of sheer, undiluted gay. He immediately latches onto Shinji, telling him that he pities and loves him, treating him as the sole focus of his meaning in life, straight up saying that he was born to meet the other boy, holding hands with him in the shower and then sleeping over with him... Like I am not making up or exaggerating any of this there is a lengthy scene of them sitting in the shower naked and talking about Feelings while gazing into each other's eyes.

It is. So. Gay.

I mean I'm not a huge fan of the dub at all really but here's the scene in question and it's not even subtext, Kaworu is just straight up making jokes about sleeping with Shinji and Shinji is reacting as if Kaworu is flirting with him. Look at that boy blush for god's sake:



But the backdrop to all of this is the growing discomfort of the other characters as they realize that Kaworu is not what he appears to be. So to some extent it's not that much of a surprise when his true nature is revealed:

Kaworu is Tabris, the 17th and final Angel.

You can probably predict where things go from here. Kaworu takes the other available Eva and attempts to do the whole end the world thing that the Angels have been trying to do (the mechanics of which I won't even begin to try to explain here). Shinji follows in Unit 01. During this whole sequence, which occurs, by the way, to the sounds of Ode to Joy from Beethoven's 9th because sure why not, Kaworu has seemed oddly hesitant and not particularly inclined toward racing to end the world. And when he finally arrives at the mcguffin that'll bring the curtain down on humanity, he seems to... change his mind. Shinji seizes the boy with his Eva's hand, and Kaworu gives him an ultimatum: Shinji must kill him so that he, and the rest of humanity, can live. In fact, Kaworu is glad Shinji caught up with him, because he thinks Shinji should be the one to live.

And after a full minute--seriously a full 60 seconds--of Eva Unit 01 holding Kaworu in midair while Beethoven's 9th plays in the background, Shinji squishes his wannabe-boyfriend.

Yikes.

You know typing this up in short form really highlights how fucked up Neon Genesis Evangelion is, doesn't it?

Anyway, so that's Key Moment Number One.

Key Moment Number Two comes during the movie End of Evangelion, where...

[deep breath]

Ok let me try to describe this without it becoming completely incomprehensible.

The final boss of Evangelion is essentially GOD. And God, an alien entity called Lilith that gave rise to humanity, essentially wants to take humanity back into a kind of fluid shared consciousness. This is called Instrumentality, and the shady organization backing the shady organization that is fighting the Angels secretly has been working towards this goal--this apocalypse where all of humanity becomes one entity--all along.

And the key to their plan is Shinji Freaking Ikari and Unit 01. If they can get him to lower his Absolute Terror Field--the Light of the Soul that differentiates organizations from each other through, essentially, fear of being wholly connected to another being--they can trigger an event where basically all of humanity turns into tang and gets absorbed into Lilith, and Unit 01 becomes a god or... something.

But what's key here is that when people lower their AT Fields during Instrumentality, they see a vision of the person they love most or care about the most or something along those lines--the person they most want to be "one" with. And in just about every case, barring a couple exceptions, it's strongly, strongly implied to be full on sexually tinged love. A LOT of these scenes involve gentle caresses and kisses before people's bodies literally explode into reddish-orange liquid (hence: tang). It's somewhere between extremely touching and extremely disturbing.

So alright, instrumentality involves people lowering their barriers, there's a heavy sexual content, we got it, good.

Now I wanted to make all that clear because while all this is going down and side characters in the command center of NERV are getting turned into rehydrated fruit drinks, Shinji's hovering up in space facing down Lilith... and Lilith for reasons way too weird and creepy to get into here looks like one of the other pilots, like a giant 14 year old girl with creepy eyes. And Shinji's understandably freaking out because he's facing down a giant naked version of this girl, a version so vast that she extends out of Earth's atmosphere. He's just straight up flipping his shit and it looks like he's all set to reject what's going on and then Lilith essentially is just like... mmmmmaaaaaybe this form would be more appealing to you?

And turns into Giant!Kaworu.

And Shinji grins like an idiot and that's pretty much it for humanity--it's all over but the collective screaming as everyone on the planet explodes in glowing crosses and is sucked into Lilith's vagina hands while an eight minute long pop track about suicide plays in the background. It's... look, End of Evangelion is a very, very weird movie, ok? There are Reasons why the fanbase is willing to believe that it was created specifically to troll them.

So to summarize: the person that Shinji finally lets down his barriers for in a way that for almost all the other characters has a strongly romantic and sexual undertone... is Kaworu Nagisa.

All of this is gay as hell and it blows my mind that so many fans apparently can't deal with what isn't even subtext at this point but straight* up 100% text. Like they could literally have shown Shinji and Kaworu boning and it both would not be that much more obvious than what they did show, and I am convinced Eva fans would still find some way to make that just a sign of "close friendship" or something.

*Sorry.

I don't think it's out of line to describe this as indicative of deeply rooted homophobia in the Otaku community, homophobia that manifests as denial of male bisexuality while drooling over femslash pairings of all sorts. (There's the occasional defenders of public decency who apply the same standard of complete and total erasure of canonical female bisexuality or lesbianism but they're at least less hypocritical, if not less offensively ridiculous.)

The reason why the rhetoric surrounding this issue is so disturbing to me is because it mirrors word for word discourse used to deny queer identities in real life. For example, one of the most prominent descriptions, one that I saw over and over again from fans, was that Shinji was "just confused" about his feelings for Kaworu.

Queer readers, I know I don't have to explain to you why this is gross, because you've probably lived this shit. I know I have. But for those not in the know, this is a common tactic used to deny queer identities, particularly bisexuality, pansexuality, or any variety of trans identities (all identities prone to erasure in real life--I'll return to this point momentarily) but pretty much capable of being mobilized to deny just about any queer person you'd like to shove back into the closet. It's a form of sort of soft homophobia, a reaction that's less extreme than getting kicked out of your home but is still destructive to your sense of self at a time when you're already questioning your identity. Compare phrases like "it's just a phase" and concepts like women being bisexuals at parties but really, at their core, being straight or notions like bisexuals actually having a binary attraction to whoever they're currently dating.

It's particularly frustrating in the case of an apparently bisexual male character because bisexuality, and male bisexuality in particular, is so highly stigmatized not just in heteronormative dominant culture but in the ostensibly more inclusive queer culture as well. Bisexuals are, by and large (ahah), treated as traitors to both sides, untrustworthy and prone to promiscuity, dirty, slutty, and barely worthy of political consideration in their own right as they are simply the transitional phase, the chrysalis period, before a formerly straight person emerges as a beautiful fully gay butterfly.

Make no mistake, the treatment of bisexual fictional characters is symptomatic of a treatment of actual flesh and blood bisexuals. And the research I did for this article, poking around discussions of Shinji's sexuality, indicated that these attitudes were not just occasional but were outright rampant. Those who weren't aggressively denying that he could possibly be queer with the "just confused" excuse or other rationalizations were labelling Shinji gay for stereotype reasons rather than for the fact that he actually seems to be into dudes.

I think it's significant that two of the most prominent longrunning fanfics of Evangelion almost completely erase and sublimate the possibility of Kaworu and Shinji having a relationship. Nobody Dies, which isn't all sunshine and rainbows but which is fundamentally predicated on the idea of a lighter, fluffier Evangelion where people have way less issues, is for the most part queer-free. Hell, Kaworu shows up in Tokyo 3 hoping to breed with the female pilot Rei! What does it say that the Lighter, Fluffier Eva has an apparently straight Kaworu and straight Shinji? Nothing good, I think. And Shinji and Warhammer 40K (which is a story about Shinji and the game Warhammer 40K and how it turns him into a MAN) touches on the idea only briefly in order to have the two boys react in disgust. TV Tropes can call this a "hilarious" nod to the original series all it wants, but what that is, at the end of the day, is a homophobic gay panic joke, revealing much about the author's insecurities but providing little humor. I mean I don't want to be too down on this story in particular but when the author's profile loudly trumpets "Cleanse the yaoi," and the story repeatedly uses female homosexuality for titillation it's kind of difficult to remain blithe about these things.

The stunning irony of it all is that these instances of casual homophobia simply reveal the eggshell fragility of masculinity that in many ways Eva ultimately skewers. And that, I think, is what sets this narrative apart from other instances of canonical queerness: the queer relationship in question is so important, and so revealing of the protagonist's character, that to remove it is to gut the thematic arc.

See, the thing about Shinji x Kaworu is that it's a messed up, impossible, totally unhealthy relationship.

Kaworu really, really likes Shinji.
I know I just spend a couple thousand words explaining why Shinji and Kaworu are totally queer for each other and why it sucks that the fandom responds to that by shoving their fingers in their ears and talking about hot lesbians as loud as they can, but there's a difference between acknowledging a relationship exists and accepting that relationship as psychologically healthy.

And if there's one overarching point Eva has about relationships, it's that queer or het, EVERYONE is pretty messed up. I mean one of the central recurring ideas is the Hedgehog's Dilemma, where, like hedgehogs, the closer people get to one another, the more they hurt each other. I just tried to type up ONE of the other relationships in the show and it's wrapped up in so many other fucked up unrequited love situations, sexual relationships of convenience and manipulation, and weird antics with cloning technology, that I ended up confusing myself and erasing the whole damn thing. The one semi-positive relationship in the whole show ends up, as I mentioned before, with the guy getting disappeared after handing off his intel on the stack of shady organizations running Project Eva off to his love interest.

So expecting the queer relationships in the show to be somehow actually stable is ludicrously optimistic. And I think it's a somewhat unreasonable standard in fandom culture that queer relationships should be treated as illegitimate if they are unhealthy or self-annihilating when they come in the context of a whole range of relationships that are also unhealthy and self-annihilating. (Compare Willow and Tara's relationship in Buffy: as it falls apart, it's falling apart in the context of a show where the main character has had two very bad breakups and where just about every other relationship seems to be on remarkably shaky ground. Thus, it is in keeping with the themes being explored about the difficulty of life to have this relationship fall apart.) While it's important that there be positive queer relationships on TV, I don't think the proper way of going about getting that representation is to demand that queer relationships be given preferential treatment in contexts where the overarching message is one of all relationships having problematic elements.

When I point out that Shinji and Kaworu are actually kind of terrible for each other, then, you have to understand that it doesn't undermine the importance of acknowledging their fundamental queerness, and neither does it indicate homophobia on the show's part, coming, as it does, in the context of a whole raft of similarly warped and unhealthy relationships.

What is it that makes their relationship so unhealthy?

Uh, how about the fact that it ends with Shinji squashing Kaworu with his giant robot?

I mean that's just surface shit though. The deeper problem here is that Kaworu sets himself up to be squashed, and behaves like being squashed is a totally reasonable thing to allow in a relationship based on mutual love. And that reveals a deeper problem: Shinji falls in love with Kaworu because Kaworu loves him unconditionally to the point of self-destruction. Shinji is an endless sucking void of neediness, and he frequently seems totally incapable of seeing that other people have needs beyond his emotional fulfilment. In fact, there's a pivotal scene in End of Evangelion where he begs another character for help, saying that he needs her, and she throws that statement back in his face, accusing him (rightly, as we see immediately as he starts begging for any of the other characters in the show to help him) of just projecting need onto her when literally anyone else will do. He simply instrumentalizes whatever character is nearby.

And Kaworu is the perfect object--the perfect objectified being--for that instrumentalization, because he is almost literally a blank piece of paper ready for Shinji to inscribe upon him whatever he needs. He is an almost totally passive entity, passively acting out the plot of SEELE and the other Angels, then finally deciding--in his one real show of agency--to immediately ditch all agency again in the name of his newfound love! Like, even if Shinji could have persuaded Kaworu that there's an alternative to the stark false dilemma that the Angel accepts as inevitable (which apparently, for the record, is something you can do in one of the Eva video games--you can get Kaworu to give up on his suicide mission and join Shinji, which prompts them to talk about wanting to "explore the rest of their lives together" just in case you hadn't picked up at that point that THESE BOYS ARE NOT STRAIGHT) the end result would have been a remarkably unhealthy relationship where Shinji continues acting as an emotional black hole and Kaworu continues to sublimate his own identity.

In the series, when he dies, it's clear that Shinji does what emotionally unstable teenagers do with their exes: he idealizes the everloving crap out of Kaworu, elevating him to a status of absolute goodness and using Kaworu's death to further his own slide into total self-loathing. The fact that this leads ultimately to his total paralysis in the face of Instrumentality and the end of the world, and I think it contributes greatly to his ultimate willingness to send all of humanity to hell when Kaworu seems to miraculously reappear. Kaworu is literally and figuratively larger than life at that point, and for howling affection sink Shinji Ikari, he's the only thing that can possibly take away the pain.

Why can't this be just a very special friendship? I don't know, I guess it could if not for the fact that everything is screaming that it isn't. His relationship with the female pilots could be friendship too! And his guardian's affection for him could be totally innocent and motherly and have no sexual component at all! None of it is that way, but sure, I guess if you insist, it could be read that way... although you better bloody well read ALL of it that way, because WOW does it piss me off that people just "happen" to only read the one queer relationship as totally nonsexual and nonromantic. Please try to at least be consistent with your misreadings instead of just diving straight into the murky oceans of awkwardly half-admitted homophobia and adolescent male anxiety.

But beyond that stuff, I think this dynamic is just far more interesting when we understand it in the context of the other possible romantic relationships in the show. Seeing this as more than just a friendship allows us to understand how it would work--or, more importantly, fail to work--as a relationship, and what that suggests about Shinji Ikari as a character, what it suggests about relationships as a whole as the show understands them, and what it says about sexuality as a fraught, unsettling, and frequently fluid and difficult to circumscribe territory within wider human experience. It's powerful, intriguing, and rich in interpretive possibilities. To forfend those possibilities due to the fragility of the Otaku male's conception of sexuality is to lose a large chunk of what makes Neon Genesis Evangelion such an enduring and fascinating object of discussion and analysis.

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You may have noted that there are illustrations this week! There will be illustrations, in fact, from now on, due to the generous support of 11 fans (so far) who have pledged to the Patreon Campaign that I just launched for the blog last week. The campaign is set up so that you pledge to pay a certain amount for each post, with rewards for your pledge running as low as just 50 cents (which lets you see my article drafts in advance of publication) and as high as $10 (which lets you effectively commission me to write an article).

The more money I get, the more time I can spend improving the site, getting the word out about StIT, adding more content, and launching experimental projects--experimental projects like the $5 backer reward, which will be PDF collections of thematically related articles, with new illustrations and content.

So please consider supporting Storming the Ivory Tower on Patreon. You, and the folks who have already pledged, can help keep this strange project that I started almost three years ago going strong well into the future.

SUPPORT STIT ON PATREON. Follow stormingtheivory.tumblr.com for updates, random thoughts, artwork, and news about articles. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. Circle me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeperIf you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.

26 comments:

  1. It's been a long time since I watched this series, and I'm waiting for movie 4 to come out before I marathon them all together, but from what I remember, I agree with you.

    One of the main themes in the show is Shiji's Oedipal problems, or at least the confusion surrounding his relationship with the women in his life. His relationship with Misato, a surrogate mother, is highly sexualized. So is his relationship with Rei, literally a clone of his mother (remember the long, awkward hand-on-breast scene that established their relationship). We can read this as Shiji's confusion between emerging sexual desire and the deep-rooted desire for his missing mother. Now, the obvious path towards emotional maturity here would be Asuka, who is not Shiji's mother either emotionally or biologically. If I'm remembering correctly, literally the instant they meet her dress blows up, signaling to the viewer the sexualized nature of their relationship. And at first it seems like this is where the narrative will go: Asuka moves in with him, there is a lot of sexual tension, and it seems like Shiji is transferring his affection to her from the semi-mother figures. Maybe he can grow up now!

    But, of course, that's way too obvious for Evangelion. Asuka has absolutely zero interest in him, and even holds him in contempt. This is perfectly illustrated in the EoE scene where Shinji masturbates in front of her, and she continues to pretend to be asleep/comatose rather than give him even the acknowledgement of reacting in disgust! She betrays her expected role in the narrative, resisting being a cog in the machine of Shiji's emotional development, just as she resists NERV's attempts to use her for their own ends.

    Then, enter Kaoru (BTW, why does everyone romanize his name as Kaworu? The W is not pronounced, and we generally don't include it when we romanize). Kaoru is LITERALLY a replacement for Asuka, even piloting her Eva. And he replaces her in every way, including her role in Shinji's psychosexual development. Except that, unlike Asuka, Kaoru does not reject Shiji, he accepts him unreservedly. Here finally (finally!), Shiji finds a not-mother who will accept his love and sexual desire. Kaoru is the love interest in the coming-of-age story that allows the protagonist to mature out of childhood.

    I could go on and on about this (this coming-of-age only reveals Shinji's darker desires, for example), but suffice it to say: Yes, everything in the structure of the narrative points to Kaoru as a target for Shiji's developing confused, fumbling, sexual and romantic desire.

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    1. I always thought it looked weird too, but Kaworu is the romanization that Gainax chose to use. According to this analysis, it's supposedly a much older form of Japanese, and might be a reference to The Tale of Genji. "Kaworu" has the added bonus of being a sexually-ambiguous name.

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    2. I kind of love the idea of Kaworu acting narratively as a replacement for Asuka. That's an excellent insight.

      Thanks @joeinformatico for the Kaworu information. I honestly don't know a whole lot about that naming convention, though I read while researching this article that there's an Angel pun in his name as well. Because of course there is.

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    3. @joeinformatico: Ah, ok. I know Anno had some specific requests for the English adaptation (like calling the "disciples" "angels"), so it makes sense if he intervened.

      His name is written with the obsolete wo, カヲル instead of カオル. Over the years the "wo" evolved into the same sound as "o", so when the writing system was modernized in the 19th century it was removed, except as a particular grammatical marker. It's odd but not impossible to still use it in a name, however, although the pronunciation would still be "o".

      Actually, my first thought when I wrote that was that the archaic spelling is an attempt to evoke a classical Kaoru, and the Kaoru of Genji would be the most obvious target. But I couldn't see how the allegory fit. The Kaoru of Genji falls in love with a woman who wants him to marry her sister instead and eventually dies from the stress of the the situation. Then he desires the sister (now wife of his friend) as a replacement, and finally starts sleeping with her step-sister, who attempts to commit suicide when Kaoru and his friend start fighting over her. (In some ways, Genji is more messed up than Eva)
      Kaoru of Genji destroys his loves, rather than being destroyed by them. Unless it's that Kaoru drives his lover (Shinji/Ukifune) to suicide? Ukifune throws herself into the river, like Shinji gives himself to the great LCL river of humanity in EoE? Ukifune then gets rescued by a monastery and becomes a nun, thus escaping the two men and the whole world of sexual politics ==> Shinji escapes the difficult world of relationships and rejection when he washes ashore at the very end of EoE? It feels like a stretch, since Ukifune jumped into the river to escape Kaoru, whereas Shinji was arguably trying to reclaim his Kaoru... but maybe.

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    4. Ehh, I agree that Kaworu is kind of a replacement for Asuka and Asuka certainly doesn't go along with a typical role in the narrative, but I wouldn't say she has no interest in Shinji. It's just that the two of them are so screwed up and he reminds her of herself (whom she hates) enough that although she does probably have romantic feelings for him, there's no way it could ever be a healthy relationship and I think that's the point. Considering that she's supposed to deconstruct the typical fiery tsundere archetype, I'd say that makes sense for her.

      That said, fantastic article. I love that you touched on the fact that Kaworu/Shinji would, quite frankly, be unhealthy as fuck.

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    5. Actually, Asuka does have romantic feelings for Shinji. She just has issues, including a slightly different version of the Hedgehog's dilemma. She is afraid to get too close to people, as she wants to be independent and doesn't want to face anything that her mother did to her again. Also no father. So she is mean and pushes people away. She remains independent because she musn't get hurt and she has to be smart on her own, or else no one will like her. Her mother liked the doll better than her in the end.
      That's why Asuka kisses Shinji, but blows it off as nothing. She likes him, and he kinda likes her, but they can't communicate that - nor do they want to. Getting hurt has happened too much. I agree with the "filling in for rei then for asuka" idea. Makes sense.

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  2. Aaaand I'm not sure why my brain suddenly decided the protagonist's name must be spelled "Shiji"...

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  3. Yeah, "you're just confused" is already one of my least favorite arguments, and I haven't even gotten it all that often. For such an important community to me, geek culture can be incredibly sexist, racist, and cis/heteronormative. Casually, without thinking about it. And while pulling the "we're just going by cannon!" card. >:/

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    1. It's probably my least favorite, besides the non-argument that is just people wilfully acting like bisexuality isn't even a thing. >_<

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  4. I'm actually kind of surprised that you didn't mention Kaji's potential bi-/pansexuality. I mean, there is that one scene where he's with Shinji and does some kind of blatant flirt (I forget exactly what), Shinji's like "but I'm a boy!" and Kaji replies something along the lines of "So?"

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    1. Yeah, it's one of the many things that just didn't make it in. I'm trying not to let EVERY article spiral wildly out of control.

      (I also tend to read that as a joke... but at the same time Kaji's totally comfortable enough to MAKE the joke, and the dude is a hardcore charmer in every other respect so...)

      (Also pretty sure his reply was something to the effect of "Gender makes no difference in love." Kaji is amazing.)

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  5. Very well said.
    Shinji's still not bi.

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    1. Oh well that clears that up then.

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    2. How... how is that a counterargument?

      Shinji displays sexual and romantic attraction to people of both sexes in the series and in the movies. Sooooooooooooo .... how is he not bi?

      Seriously. I want to know. How!?

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    3. "Hmmmm...what is the reply I can give that will make it the most obvious that I have not actually read the essay while still politely pretending that I have? Oh! I know!"

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    4. You're right. He's pan.

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  6. I think that the whole compartmentalized sexuality thing (being "straight" or "gay") is just cultural anyway. Everyone probably places somewhere in a sliding scale, leaning towards one of the two ends of the spectrum merely based on personal preferences. Then again, context is everything - our nature is not set in stone nor merely written in our DNA. I wouldn't even put the matter down as "Shinji is bi". Shinji is desperately in need of someone to connect to, to relate with, ANYONE, even an alien entity bent on world destruction (who also happens to be the same sex as him). At that point of the series, when he meets Kaworu, it just doesn't take much to push his right buttons. And sexual attraction is an elastic, shapeless thing anyway, that can fit many different kinds of people if let without any specific constraints or social expectations.

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  7. This... bites off more then it can chew, I think.

    Shinji's defining character trait is his desperate need of somebody to love him. As such, anybody will do. As such, we can that say that Shinji is willing to have a relationship with anybody of any gender, and as such he's pansexual.

    But, that's kind of glossing over a bunch of stuff. If, as a hypothetical, we were to say Shinji lost this trait - he was no longer desperately searching for literally anyone - would he still be pansexual? If his pansexuality is a result of his character trait, then if that trait is gone surely his sexuality could change? This seems kind of wrong to me. Then how about the alternative, does Shinji's character trait to need anybody only exist because he's pansexual? This also seems wrong, it's very odd to assert that his desperate need of love from anyone wouldn't happen if he wasn't pansexual.

    Instead, I think, Shinji's sexuality isn't addressed or is really addressable at all in Eva. Shinji's desperate need for anybody comes in front. He may be straight, he may be homosexual, he may be whatever - Shinji would act exactly the same way.

    You could however, argue that Shinji clearly thinks of Asuka sexually, because of one scene (that one scene). It's a bit harder to fit into a narrative of Shinji only caring about being loved, is all, so we might count that as his only real count of showing sexuality. But that doesn't rule out bisexuality/pansexuality, and it's not slam dunk evidence that he is actually sexually interested in women.

    I think what the people who think Shinji is straight do is rule out Kaworu as sexual because Shinji will desperately cling on to anybody (which is reasonable), and then either auto-complete him as heteronormative, or just count Asuka without really wondering whether or not you could rule her out too. Which is still bad, but it's not as bad as having a 100% obviously bi/pan character and going "Nope, straight"

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    1. It's been about 15 years since I've watched Eva so I might just be pulling this out of my ass, but I always had the impression that Kaworu was specifically designed to appeal to Shinji/Shinji's unconscious desires. When he says he was made to meet Shinji he's being totally literal. He's a bio-engineered honey-trap kaiju spy who fails his mission after falling in love with the mark. The other Angels don't appear to have gender (which makes sense biblically), so Kaworu's gender is just a part of his human disguise.

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    2. That was supposed to be a general reply and not to you specifically, sorry.

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    3. The writers on the anime even said that Kaworu was so striking that Shinji couldn't help but blush - just go read the episode 24 drafts.

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  8. Eva fans hate the truth. They don't want to accept or hear that shinji is gay or bi. Hes also unstable, sailfish, misogyny and dangerous. He don't like strong masculine girls instead he wants them to be more girlie then he is. Once the females pilots saw shinji for who he really is they turn on him and had every right to do so. Rei and Asuka are stronger then shinji and outgrow him by EOE. Pretty much every relationship in eva is unhealthy, unstable and unsafe. The only one that seem stable is kensuke and toji. Two characters who are more mature then shinji ever was. Fans ignore this for their stupid fanfics and websites try to twist everything around to make fans think shinji not bad as he seem. Gregg landsman who wrote ND Is living proof of this. In all his eva fics he make shinji out to be this badass action hero who is straight while turning the females pilots into weak fluff girls that are fighting to see who will have shinji baby. He is bad for eva fans cause he is does is write fics making the characters look bad. The world of eva is not gonna put anyone whit shinji just to make him or the fans happy. Until shinji accept himself and other around him he will never find happiness.

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    1. Wait, what? so you're saying that Shinji's characterization in fanfics is just some desperate attempt at making him look likeable. Dude, you miss the point in those fanfics, the objective is that of fixing Shinji, of giving him better circumstances so that he'll turn out to not be so fucked up. Have you ever read "Genocide", In that story Shinji is exactly the same as his canon counterpart. And also, in Nobody Dies Asuka may act weak but she is very strong on the inside as shown by many of the chapters there, the opposite of her canon self where she is weak but only acts strong, and lol, Rei a weak fluff girl, the author of the story made her almost as powerful as an Eldritch Abomination, I'd hardly call that weak, and she never shows romantic interest in Shinji anywhere in the story.

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    2. And also, hate the truth? it is an acknowledged fact in the Eva fandom that Shinji could be gay or bi, no one is denying that. And also, why are you talking about Asuka and Rei as though their saints who are victims of Shinji's "abusiveness" (aka weakness that is exaggerated by you because of your biased hatred for him), Asuka and Rei are as flawed as he is, and just because thay act stronger that doesn't mean they are any better. In EoE Asuka only regained her senses after she realized her mother's soul is inside the Eva, which means that she didn't really grow that much, she still needed her mother to give her strength, she didn't gain it on her own. Rei has never really understood human nature because she is not fully human herself, therefore she isn't acually strong because she doesn't really have emotions, her "strength" is actually her emptiness not letting her feel fear, therefore her strength is not actually real.

      I've never understood how everyone in the whole damn show is allowed to have their own little flaws but Shinji gets hate for his own. And before you accuse me of being an "Eva fanboy who can't accept the truth", yes, he is wimpy (let's see how you react when you're fighting monsters from other dimension that can kill you in thousands of ways), yes he whines a lot (umm he's a 14-year-old, don't most people at that age do that a lot of time too?), yes he has urges towards Asuka (and yet she's the one makeing advances towards him many times in the show) but how does this make him despicable? I've seen this traits in many people too and that doesn't make them unlikable, it just makes them human. Shinji may be weak but everyone else in the show is as well, they just do a better job at hiding it than he does.

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    3. The truth is shinji is and will always be a piece of shit. And his fanbase is full of homophobic assholes.

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  9. I'm surprised you didn't even reference the original manga. Kaworu gains feelings for Shinji partially through Rei and other means, then kisses Shinji and asks him to love him back. Of course, the protagonist is dealing with that hedgehog's dilemma and still thinking about Rei-2, so he goes against this.
    Just before Unit-01 kills Kaworu, Shinji admits to not hating Kaworu in the slightest. Kaworu urges Shinji to kill him, saying "You can show your true feelings for me...if you kill me... This is my final wish." Of course Shinji states a few pages later that he was attracted to Kaworu and "shouldn't like a guy like that."
    But I see what the cssmit comment says: Shinji was a bottomless pit of need. Only in the third Rebuild series does Shinji appear somewhat stable (though only for a very short period of time) with Kaworu. I don't think anything is supposed to work in Eva.

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