Buckle up. It’s time to go on a massive analysis of Asuka Langley Sohryuu, or How Most of the Casual Fandom Gets Her Wrong.
Warnings for suicide, thanatophobia, discussion of mental illness, mention of rape, menstruation, nudity, basically any trigger warnings for Evangelion etc.etc. It’s also very long, clocking in at twelve thousand four hundred forty-seven words. If I miss anything, let me know.
Please note that I’m limiting the discussion to Sohryuu, from the anime series, rather than Shikinami, from the film series, because Shikinami is a wholly separate character that bears physical and superificial personality resemblance to Sohryuu.
As part of the Contact Experiments, Asuka’s mother, Kyouko Zeppelin Sohryuu, was stripped of part of her soul, specifically of the “motherly” part. Rather than the tragedy of Yui’s full absorption into the EVA, NERV believed that they could activate the EVA whilst still keeping the mother alive. They didn’t intend to be complete monsters, you know.
Other than Rei and Shinji, explicitly selected from the beginning, Asuka was the first non-Gendo-essential pilot to be chosen out of the candidate pool. Note that none of the students at Shinji’s school has a mother, as Kensuke points out in the fourth episode,r because NERV has harvested their mothers’ souls in case a pilot is r5equired. She clearly had talent and she intended to use it.
(By the way, the facts that Unit 00 and Unit 02 are Adam-based and do not possess full souls explain the rapid increase in Shinji’s synchronisation scores. Asuka is indeed the best pilot; what occurred prior to the actual sync in End of Evangelion was mostly out of her hands.)
Unfortunately, the removal of part of her soul drove Kyouko insane. She began to talk to a small doll and take care of the doll in place of Asuka. In the meantime, Asuka’s father began an affair with Kyouko’s doctor, whom he would later marry.
By the time Asuka becomes the Second Children, she is absolutely desperate for her mother’s affection. She’s willing to break down rules and dismantle the world if it means that her mother will look at her. Just once. Just look at her.
Her mother, having gone insane without the possession of the entirety of her soul, goes insane. This has a horrific effect on young Asuka. Firstly, Asuka despises dolls. Secondly, and more importantly, Asuka has a desperate desire for attention, a desperate need for isolation, and a desperate ambition to prove herself independent. She doesn’t want to depend upon anyone ever again. She doesn’t intend to ever be put in the position of killing herself for anyone, ever again.
To recap: because her mother paid attention to a doll instead of her, Asuka became simultaneously starved for attention but also terrified of becoming dependent upon anyone. As a result, Asuka focuses her efforts on becoming akin to an adult.
Because society is fucked up, Asuka interprets growing up (for a woman) as being recognised as an adult by others. She also internalises this by staking all of her worth upon her skills at piloting the EVA. In fact, the neural interface that links up the pilot to the EVA is a part of her typical design, to the point where, during Asuka’s version of the “step out naked from the shower” scene, she apparently showers with them on. Neither Shinji nor Rei, nor the other two pilots seen briefly in the anime, do the same. Only Asuka. While Shinji and Rei also stake their worth on piloting EVA, they do not do so at the visual intensity that Asuka does.
Now, I want to get a common misconception out of the way. Contrary to how quite a few fans would “diagnose” her, Asuka is not narcissistic. A little bit of the opposite, in fact: Asuka suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which can better be likened to dependent personality disorder in terms of root cause. Kaji’s another example of someone who has a histrionic personality; however, he is functional: While his personality contains histrionic elements, he does not have histrionic personality disorder like Asuka does.
Let’s take a quick look at the symptoms and behaviours associated with HPD. For this, I’m going to use Wikipedia, because we only need a basic overview (since we’re not actually diagnosing so much as comparing a fictional character’s personality):
Using the mnemonic device PRAISE ME, we can examine some of the common elements of HPD. To generalise and paraphrase, whereas someone suffering from narcissistic personality disorder would actually believe themself to be better than anyone else, someone with histrionic personality disorder would only present themself as better than anyone else, while actually, internally, hating themself and so on and so forth.
Asuka very visibly refers to herself as the best pilot and takes sincere pride in that distinction. Likewise, she takes pride in the distinction of herself as the most popular girl in school, as when she notably calls herself that while speaking to Shinji. Yet, as we all know, Asuka in reality hates herself, which she repeats over and over again, especially over the later arcs of the series. But before we start a case by case analysis of HPD, let’s go back to her backstory.
Even before Kyouko actually performed the contact experiments, she did not pay much attention to her child, in the same manner of Ritsuko’s mother or Misato’s father, raising a child starved for attention.
Kyouko was driven insane by only having part of her soul within her, and Asuka’s father left to have an affair and marry the doctor. While Asuka appears very vicious and angry as she watches her mother coddle the young doll, she nonetheless is happy to see her mother and continuously attempts to perform to capture her mother’s attention.
Subsequently, Asuka became a pilot, and she informed her mother. However, her mother decided to commit suicide. In those final, chilling moments, we see the mother asking for Asuka (the doll) to commit suicide with her. Asuka’s response is forever etched into the memory of anyone who watches the scene:
She agrees to commit suicide along with her mother as long as her mother does not abandon her. While Asuka does not actually end up committing suicide, the experience shocks her to the core (pun not intended): She was perfectly and completely willing to die for the sake of someone. At the funeral, Asuka tells herself that she will now become an adult so that she never has to depend upon anyone, ever again. Of course, being neglected as a child is one of the theorised causes of HPD. In order to compensate for the attention that she never received as a child, Asuka says that she’s going to be become an independent adult, and yet she decides to become an adult via external validation (a major theme of EVA, that: external validation will never actually assist you in attaining your own happiness; validation and love must be built internally up, in the entire idea of “How can you love others if you never even learned to love yourself?” and so on, but that’s another post for another time).
There’s a twofold issue with her reasoning: First, she considers adulthood as sexual maturity. Herein lies a major crux of the issue, especially with regards to her relationships to Kaji and Shinji. Asuka can’t wait to grow up. In her impatience she intends to validate her attainment of adulthood via the validation of men around her, because such is what society taught her, and such is what her experiences with her father abandoning her mother and remarrying taught her (I would argue for aromantic Asuka myself).
Prior to arriving in Japan, Asuka and Kaji have an extremely telling exchange on the boat. Chronologically, this takes place just before episode eight. We begin with Asuka talking about Misato, saying that Asuka didn’t like Misato very much (this will be important for later, concerning Asuka’s relationship with Misato and her own relationship with herself). Kaji informs Asuka that she’ll probably make lots of new boyfriends in Japan and that the Third Children (e.g. Shinji) is a boy. Now, here’s the interesting part about that implication: Asuka has had boyfriends in Germany. And many of them, according to Kaji, as Asuka goes from boyfriend to boyfriend seeking validation and becoming increasingly frustrated when that doesn’t actually make her feel better.
Note: Kaji, and I, don’t literally mean “boyfriends”, but boys interested in Asuka as they are when she arrives in Tokyo-3. She is validated by the sheer number of people interested in her even as she snubs them and acts superior, but nonetheless none of them actually makes her feel validated. Remember that Asuka goes from the sole pilot in Germany to not even the best pilot in Japan, and consider how that works into the attention she receives and so on. Whenever I mention her “German boyfriends” again, keep this in mind: effortless boyfriends that she could make. Realistically any attempts at dating would have gone down akin to the whole thing with Hikari’s friend—the unwanted boy stranded at a rollercoaster.
Actually, this is an important point: Just like how Misato utilised sex in order to fulfil herself, so too does Asuka in a manner of speaking. However, the reasoning behind Misato’s and Asuka’s “deriving pleasure in lieu of actual happiness” is significantly different. Misato has wild sex because, as she explains, it’s nice to be needed, even if physically. Asuka does so because she herself wants to be validated. She doesn’t want to be “needed”. She wants people to pay attention to her and for her not to have to care about them, in essence. She wants to be “needed” but not in the way that Misato does (in an actual need) but in a manner that causes people to pay attention to her without her having to “need” them back. Misato wants a two-way street and settles for being needed physically when she can’t have said two-way street. Asuka wants a one-way street and when that still doesn’t make her happy, because that doesn’t exist, she can’t handle it.
Note: When I refer to Misato’s sexuality, I refer to the sexuality that Asuka sees, from her point of view/perspective. Misato, as revealed in her talk to Kaji, hasn’t actually been having wild sex, but Asuka assumes her to (and continues to assume that into Instrumentality).
Other EVA analysts other than me have pointed out the Three Faces of Eve/Three Faces of Adam symbolism that is repeated over and over again in EVA, from the MAGI supercomputers to Kaji-Gendo-Fuyutsuki. I won’t go too far into depth here, but essentially, Kaji represents the young, virile male; Gendo represents the cruel, warmongering male; and Fuyutsuki represents the old, wise male. It’s akin to the seven stages of man poem written by Shakespeare, and it’s also another post for another time. The most vital part of this is that Kaji represents the young, virile male, who is clearly the most sexually desirable of the three. Unlike the random boyfriends whom Asuka ensnares easily and who would probably go for anyone, Kaji is a Grown Adult. He drinks; he smokes; he has lots and lots of sex, and if he is interested in her, then surely Asuka will become the True Adult.
And so Asuka, inappropriately, attempts to seduce him.
Of course, he rejects her advances, because while Kaji is not the ideal guardian (as he has never truly been able to nurture positive relationships), he is neither a pedophile nor a hebephile. Unfortunately, to Asuka, this isn’t merely a rejection: It’s a denial of Asuka’s status as an adult. Kaji tells her, “You’re still a child.”
There is literally nothing that could cut Asuka more deeply than being called a child, because being a child is what almost killed her, what actually caused her to agree to commit suicide with her mother, driven to insanity. She can’t stand the thought of being dependent, of being a child. She’s going to grow up quickly now, isn’t she?
To reiterate: Asuka doesn’t actually love Kaji. Well, perhaps she does have a puppy crush on him, in the manner of young girls to attractive younger men (and, arguably, she probably has more of a crush on him than on Shinji).
I want to point out the entirely childish way that she says that. “Kissing, and even the stuff after that,” which is basically something repeated in some form or fashion by every sub upon which I could get my hands (to properly analyse EVA, I watched it using several different subs, from the official English release to crappy direct translations to fansubs, such that I could get a sense of the show overall, where one sub might mistranslate a given line). She can’t even start to talk about sex. She’s not actually ready for sex.
The framing of this shot is very interesting, because we’re treated to a full-frontal cleavage shot of Asuka. Now, Asuka has the smallest breast size of the three “EVA girls” (ugh), but in some of the other shots, such as the “Wall of Jericho” moment, her breasts look larger. On the other hand, in this shot she looks almost entirely flat-chested. The usage of the simple white bra simply furthers this point: She’s not an adult. She’s still a child, barely having grown out of her childhood, trying to become an adult far too soon. Now, she wants to become an adult in order to never have to become dependent upon anyone again. And yet, when she’s rejected instead of validated, she reverts back to her original basics of need:
Yeah. Look at her. Look at her, because her mother never did, because her father never did, because her mother substituted a doll for her, because at the end of it all, she feels like she doesn’t mean anything to anyone. And for that, she hates everyone. She hates other human beings. Most of all, of course, she hates herself.
So here’s the set-up: Asuka seeks validation for her becoming an adult, so that she can be independent and never have to depend on anyone again. This is what she tells herself on the outside. In reality, she craves attention. And this is why she hates herself, because of the paradox between her inherent hate of humanity and desire for isolation, and her desperate need for people to look at her because of the attention that she never received as a child.
Kaji rejects her. Ah, but a new contender rises upon the horizon: The Third Children. Shinji. Who is the only other boy around who is also a pilot, and a good one. When Kaji, the Actual Adult, fails her, she moves on to try to seduce Shinji, because he’s a good substitute (as a saviour of humanity and so on).
And speaking of Shinji, it’s about time to get into Asuka’s adventures in Japan.
Now interestingly enough, at the beginning of episode nine, wherein Asuka finally arrives in Japan, we get this interesting, prophetic exchange of students talking about Asuka:
It seems to me from this that there’s a clear implication the Asuka undoubtedly made sure to carry herself so that the rumour would be true: She wants people to think that she matured early. And this, remember, is prior to us really getting a sense of who Asuka was, so it’s interesting to see the writers throw us this early tidbit. Of course, the other students reply pretty forcefully that she’s probably just here out of a broken heart.
Now, at first, Shinji is not that happy to see Asuka. After all, she has been little but abusive to him. On the other hand, Asuka, who clearly thinks of herself as gorgeous (and the student body would agree), immediately responds to his unease by hurting him. Off to a great start.
The point of this, of course, is that Asuka is only interacting with Shinji because he is the Third Children; in much the same way, Asuka only interacts with Rei because Rei is the First Children and for no other reason.
Afterwards, at the apartment, Asuka is apparently convinced that Shinji is about to be dunked into the trash. She barely gives him a second thought, instead remarking about how he’s going to be replaced. And, of course, because she doesn’t see him as worth her time.
We also take this opportunity to remind our viewers of the man about whom Asuka truly cares, being Kaji, complete with a small heart and all.
We also in this sequence see a rather interesting line from Asuka:
She remarks upon the fact that the Japanese do not have locks on their doors, and there’s really no way to barricade them, either. In essence, anyone can come and go through the doors as they please.
Now, think back to the Arael fight for a moment and to Asuka’s insistence that the angel not look deeper into her mind or dig deeper into her heart. Asuka only wants others to see the “outer shell”, the “gorgeous Asuka”, the perfect Asuka. Later on in this episode, Asuka complains about the fact that her Japanese debut made her appear “uncool”. She is obsessed with the idea of projecting only the best to others. Hence, the concept of simply allowing anyone inside frightens and irritates her. There’s no sense of privacy. While for the rest of her life in Germany, Asuka was able to keep her inner self locked away, in Japan, she will no longer be able to do so the same.
Oh, hey, remember what I was saying about Asuka having a fairly small breast size? Check out the screencap above. Compare to the scene on the boat, and you’ll see what I mean.
Speaking of this sequence, Asuka is challenging Shinji, because, just like in Germany, she intends to validate herself through the use of local boys. Now that Misato has confirmed for Asuka that Shinji is not being replaced, Asuka is suddenly interested in him, since he’s a fellow EVA pilot and a saviour of humanity. His standing means something.
And so she offers the “challenge”. The Wall of Jericho, by the way, fell. She’s trying to get Shinji to want her, trying to get Shinji to desire her and give her attention so that she can laugh at him and ignore him, thus validating. Just like how Asuka’s initial response was to put him down, here Asuka attempts to create a relationship in which she is in the superior position via emotional weight.
When Shinji fails to respond, she decides to take matters a step further. She lies down next to him with her breasts in full view. He’ll have to reply to this. Not to mention the fact that she was having nightmares.
Either way, she falls asleep. Shinji panics, his gaze focused on her breasts (Shinji’s attraction to Asuka is almost entirely if not entirely sexual in nature, as we’ll see when we get to End of Evangelion and so forth), and he decides to take the bait, as Asuka thought he would. He prepares to kiss her, but in the quiet of the night, Asuka reveals the true self that she has never wanted to reveal:
Even though Asuka wants nothing more than to become an adult, she’s still a child. She can’t wait to grow up (even in the screenshot above, you can clearly see her breasts), but she cannot escape the sheer levels of dependency and need for attention that her mother’s lack thereof left. Deep scars gouged into her psyche.
Her need for attention drives her for the next few episodes, too, as well as her need to absolutely be the best. In the ninth episode, she’s able to “synchronise” with Shinji, showcasing her capability to do so, and yet they still suffer the breakdown above (because you can be functional externally without being functional internally, like most of the adults on the show). In the tenth episode, she can’t stand the thought of Shinji not paying attention to her when he glances over at Rei in her swimsuit and so not only points out her breasts but also calls back to him to watch her jump. Later on, she would rather die in the volcano than fail the mission. In the subsequent episode, she gets even with Shinji by taking the hit, because she can’t stand the thought of not being number one, of not being the person upon whom people depend and to whom people give all of their attention (similarly, she takes charge of the group during the blackout), and so on.
And eventually we end up at the infamous asushin kiss, the kiss which many fans of asushin herald as a great proof of the canon nature of asushin. Let’s take a look, shall we?
In the beginning of the episode, Asuka tries to call Kaji again, this time pretending that she’s being sexually assaulted in an attempt to get him interested. If that’s not desperation on an incredible level, then I don’t know what is. Later, she goes on a date with a boy, but she apparently skips out on said date because she claims that he was boring (read: not as high in her internal standing as Shinji or the master of validation, Kaji).
Misato goes on a date with Kaji. Technically speaking, she has gone out with Kaji and Ritsuko, but Asuka clearly processes this as a date between Misato (whom she doesn’t entirely like) and Kaji. At this point, Asuka is clearly somewhat uncomfortable with these proceedings, because Misato, an adult is being validated, whereas Kaji has left Asuka in the dust.
At this point, Asuka turns to the other boy in her life whose body and validation are mostly immediately accessible to her: Shinji. She asks him what he thinks Misato and Kaji are doing, at which point he tries to get out of the conversation. Then she inquires whether or Shinji’s ever been kissed. He says that he hasn’t, and she pushes him. But take a look at her face: When she asks him, she doesn’t seem to be happy or even content, but rather melancholy, wishful. She’s thinking about Kaji and about validation.
Note: Asuka is also a teenaged girl, and she’s probably not being so calculating here as the presentation of my analysis would appear. Part of this is just simple experimentation, and she is probably drawn to Shinji in the typical “allosexual boy and girl existing within an environment at their age” type of way. Nonetheless, let’s move beyond that and see the kiss within the framework of Asuka’s overall arc within Evangelion.
Shinji doesn’t seem too happy at the prospect of such a kiss.
When he refuses, Asuka prods him. Asuka has become excellent, as I mentioned, at turning her hate of humanity into a weapon: She drives a stake into his heart, pointing out the death of his mother and asking him if he’s scared. At the defilement of his mother’s name, Shinji responds that of course he’s not scared of a little kiss, and Asuka stands up. Threateningly. She’s taller than him, and the shot of her coming towards him is framed in a manner that is more threatening and towering than romantic.
As Shinji and Asuka approach one another, Shinji takes on a faint blush (considering that he thinks Asuka hot, there’s little surprise here), while Asuka looks more serious than anything. She hesitates in kissing him and tells him to stop breathing. Him being human, apparently, distracts her on some level.
She then grabs his nose and kisses him suddenly. They stay that way for a while without moving, locked in a fairly awkward kiss.
Poor Shinji can’t breathe, and he begins to turn red, then blue, as Asuka literally suffocates him.
Now the first time that I saw this scene, I thought that this was a simple erection joke, with Shinji balling his hand into a fist in order to cover up the, ahem, tenting in his pants. And perhaps that was Shinji’s initial reaction (after all, he’s a fourteen-year-old boy and he’s kissing an exceedingly attractive young woman to whom he is obviously sexually attracted, whose breasts he has seen before, and to whom, as we later find out, he masturbates). But as the kiss goes on without break:
Poor Shinji literally begins to suffocate. He’s turning blue from an utter lack of breath. He’s not exactly having fun. Finally, unable to stand the rather deadly lack of breath, he pulls away from Asuka, gasping, and starts to pant heavily, relieved that he’s not actually going to die from asphyxiation.
To Asuka, however, this is more than a rejection. There are a lot of things happening in this scene: First of all, kissing the Third Children didn’t actually make Asuka feel better. Second of all, Shinji clearly had no idea what he was doing and was incapable of pressing forward with Asuka, instead standing there until he could no longer stand it and stumbling away. Hence, he’s not exactly a virile “player” like Kaji and is lower on the “validating” list for Asuka. Third of all, he didn’t continue and he actually left her, implicitly rejecting her. Fourth of all, no, he’s not Kaji. Picture this from Asuka’s perspective for a second: While the man of your dreams is on a date with a woman whom you don’t like very much, you kiss a boy, and you continue to kiss that boy while thinking to yourself, Why don’t I feel happy yet? Why don’t I feel happy yet? How long do I have to wait to feel happy? Then the boy you’re kissing abruptly breaks away with you and starts gasping for breath, obviously relieved that he’s no longer kissing you.
It’s not like you were just rejected by Kaji. You were just rejected by the Third Children, a regular fourteen-year-old boy of the sort that you could get by the bushel in Germany and most of the least aggressive boys you’ve ever seen in your entire fucking life.
Asuka turns away and runs to the bathroom to gargle.
Asuka immediately tries to save face by pinning the blame on Shinji, because of course her upset-ness has nothing to do with the fact that she’s just suffered one of the worst rejections and least validating experiences in her life and everything to do with Shinji being a bad kisser (hint: it’s the other way around). Asuka’s not an adult. Asuka’s still a child, and when push comes to shove, she responds her own failings by blaming Shinji. When Shinji pointedly asks Asuka what’s wrong, Asuka shoves it back in his face and proclaims that she’s upset because she kissed him. Which is true, but not in the way that she means for Shinji to interpret events.
All of this, by the way, is framed within the context of Kaji and Misato reconnecting after a departure of eight years, a true kiss of love to contrast this muddled kiss of two teenagers failing to communicate.
Later on, Kaji arrives home at last, Misato in tow. Kaji puts Misato to bed, ensuring that she’ll be all right, and walks out. Asuka immediately jumps on the chance and seems to be in much better spirits after seeing her dear Kaji-san again.
Kaji kindly declines the offer, pointing out that he needs to go home, and Asuka insists. Shinji might be useless trash, but surely Kaji will save the day.
Unfortunately, while Asuka Might be putting the uttermost “deredere” that she can around Kaji, he refuses and quits the apartment, leaving Asuka standing by herself. And notice how utterly heartbroken she is in the subsequent shot, while she makes an important observation:
This, of course, is a call-back to an earlier part of the episode, right before Asuka’s date with Hikari’s friend, wherein Asuka asks Misato if she can use Misato’s perfume. The program going on in the background, by the way, is seemingly about a former couple arguing, with one of them declaring that (he) still loves (her) and the other one saying that it’s impossible, that (she) isn’t the person that (she) once was, and that it took (her) three years to forget (him). Of course, the immediate analysis is that this relates to Misato and Kaji’s relationship. But could it also refer, perhaps, to the fact that Asuka is trying desperately to become something she isn’t, e.g. the idea that people and time can’t turn back to what they once were?
At any rate, Asuka requests that she use Misato’s perfume, and Misato refuses her.
“It’s not for kids,” Misato says, implying blatantly that Asuka’s just a kid and that she’s an adult and hence can use the perfume. Naturally, Kaji validates Misato. Yes, Misato is an adult; yes, Misato is worthy of receiving Kaji’s love and attention.
Asuka’s a child, unworthy of the perfume and unworthy, it seems, of Kaji’s attention or affection. In later episodes, Asuka continues to try to draw Kaji’s attention, such as when she barges into his office only to find out that Toji has been selected as the Fourth Children, and when he shuts her down yet again.
Far from the romantic kiss that most fans of asushin seem to consider this occasion in EVA, the kiss is one of those moments wherein we’re reminded that Shinji and Asuka don’t understand one another. Shinji can’t think of why Asuka is upset. Asuka doesn’t care about Shinji and is only using him to validate herself, rather than out of any actual romantic reasoning beyond the sexual tension faced by allosexuals of their age.
(Now, I’m going to do a bit of a topic change so that I can talk about Rei and Misato, and how they relate to Asuka.)
In the beginning of episode nine, we see Asuka, as I mentioned earlier, considering herself to be the best of the best. She asks Shinji where the First Children is and proceeds to speak to the First Children.
When Asuka approaches Rei, her shadow covers the book that Rei is reading. The First Children responds by shifting the book, as if Asuka’s presence doesn’t bother Rei whatsoever and Rei couldn’t care less about Asuka. In other words, the opposite of the attention that Asuka seeks.
Now, a word on the framing of this scene. They’re outside, in public, surrounded by students. Asuka is extremely popular and a new student. Literally everyone is staring at Asuka and Rei when Asuka loudly declares herself to be the Unit 02 pilot. Now, notice that she specifically refers to Rei as the pilot of the prototype. Before Rei has even said a word, Asuka is immediately setting up the First Children to be inferior.
There are students everywhere. Asuka has put Rei, who clearly doesn’t care, on the spot. Rei, very rightfully, asks why.
Now, Asuka doesn’t reply that she wants to be friends with Rei, or that she finds Rei interesting, or, in reality, anything that one would normally say. No. Asuka responds:
Because it’d be convenient, in lots of ways. Of course, Asuka is understandably simply being Asuka. Asuka doesn’t really know how to interact with other people except by establishing herself as dominant and very clearly and obviously setting up a one-way relationship in which they pay attention to her and she gives the appearance of not giving a shit about them. However, let’s give Asuka props for reaching out to Rei. Asuka doesn’t want to strike up a hatred of Rei, which is something that people tend to miss: Asuka doesn’t just walk around looking for conflict. She genuinely tried to become friends with Rei.
Unlike everyone else at the school, however, Rei doesn’t care for Asuka’s status. Rei doesn’t really care about anything at all.
Asuka is pretty dumbfounded at this. If I’m ordered to, I will. Instead of trying desperately to become an adult as Asuka is doing, Rei is essentially akin to a robot from Asuka’s perspective, simply waiting for orders.
Asuka thereafter refers to Rei as a doll. As we know, Asuka hates dolls, because her mother spoke to a doll and because she agreed to take the doll’s place and kill herself with her mother as long as Kyouko didn’t stop being her mother. And so Asuka comes to associate Rei with everything that she hates: a doll only capable of listening to its master, utterly dependent upon its master for everything, completely unable to think for itself. Actually, the entire willing to die thing comes back to bite later, as we’ll see in the all-important elevator sequence.
At any rate, from this initial issue and fracture within their relationship, Asuka actually does try to reach out to Rei a few more times. For example, in the episode with Sahaquiel, Asuka is the one to drag Rei to dinner with herself, Shinji, and Misato; she even foregoes what she was originally planning in order to go to a place where Rei, a vegetarian, would be satisfied. Similarly, after the attack with Matarael, Asuka good-naturedly responds to Rei’s philosophising, not even insulting or making fun of her for it, but responding in an Asuka-like way. And so forth.
Asuka does have her reasons to dislike Rei, however. For example, Asuka believes that Rei is the favourite, as she explains during the black-out, calling Rei a “wondergirl”. Rei, of course, replies that no, Rei isn’t the favourite; Rei knows that quite well. But from Asuka’s perspective, Rei is the favoured pilot, which is partially why Asuka dislikes Rei, because Rei is essentially taking—from Asuka’s POV—the title of “best pilot”. Rei and Shinji actually. But we’ll get to that.
To some extent, Asuka also dislikes Rei because Asuka perceives Shinji as trying for the First Children even as he avoids her like the plague. While love stuff/love triangle stuff doesn’t really affect Rei and Asuka’s relationship, it is important to warrant a mention: Kaji doesn’t validate her; Shinji only cares about her for her body (he also cares about her as a friend, but Asuka rarely sees that, and we’re looking at this from her perspective) but seemingly cares quite a bit about Rei. It’s a matter of validation, and it’s another reason that Asuka dislikes Rei.
So, to recap: Rei is a doll; Rei has attracted the attention of a boy whose Asuka was unable to capture in a way that suits her; Rei is willing to die for others; and Rei is favoured as a pilot above Asuka.
As we know, as the series progresses, Asuka slowly loses her synchronisation rate while Shinji starts to catch up, culminating in “You are number one!” at the start of episode sixteen. Asuka places her entire worth upon being a pilot, because she has nothing else. Her mother died just as Asuka was selected to become a pilot. Asuka decided never to cry again and put forth her everything into being a pilot. She became the pilot of the first combat-ready unit and achieved the highest sync rate of all. She cares so much about piloting and about looking good while piloting that she wears, as I mentioned, the neural interface headset at all times, even in the shower.
And then Shinji takes over.
Now, for a bit of EVA science, I have to mention that the reasons behind the sync rate were partially her fault and partially not. On one hand, while Unit 00 and Unit 02 are based upon Adam and contain within them only partial souls, Unit 01 is based upon Lilith and contains within it a full soul. Naturally Shinji is going to outpace all of them. The other fact, which is “her fault” (insofar that it could be avoided) is a result of the whole validation/mental unravelling thing.
Asuka does not take well to Shinji becoming number one. Rei, however, doesn’t seem to care. This boils over in the infamous elevator scene. Asuka and Rei are going down for a while when Rei tries to speak to Asuka.
Rei explains that Asuka has to open her heart to EVA, to which Asuka responds very negatively, exclaiming that of course she opens her heart to EVA. This is untrue, of course: Asuka keeps her innermost thoughts and feelings locked away, even from her mother/the EVA (in fact, part of her entire breakthrough in End of Evangelion, as we’ll see later, is due to the fact that she finally revealed her innermost self during her actual suicide/subsequent desire to live and so on). Rei genuinely reaches out and Asuka rejects the First Children, illustrating both of their developments: how high Rei has come, and how low Asuka has fallen.
She singles out Shinji as the root cause of these issues, because she’s no longer number one. She always perceived Rei to be the favoured child, and now Shinji is also the favoured child by the numbers.
Asuka refers to Rei as a mechanical puppet (translated as a doll in other subs, to further the point), stressing the entire idea of how much she hates dolls. In fact, Asuka even compares herself to have “lost [her] edge” because of the fact that she’s sunk so low so as to be comparable to a puppet, to a doll.
Asuka doesn’t actually believe herself to be above Shinji and Rei. Asuka pretends that she does as a defence mechanism. Many on tumblr could probably relate, the entire “yes I am perfect/yes I am garbage” thing. She pretends that she’s the best because it’s easier than actually accepting herself, and she seeks for others to support this. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to have a different belief, and as someone with HPD, Asuka cannot handle that.
When Rei continues to try to genuinely help her, Asuka desperately screams out:
She expects for Rei to assure her that of course not, of course the First Children is capable of making her own decisions and of course the First Children would not simply die if ordered to do so. And why? Because Asuka doesn’t want to believe that she actually could have died had her mother told her to do so. Since Commander Ikari is essentially Rei’s equivalent to a parent/guardian, it’s a direct comparison. To Asuka’s shocked horror, Rei admits that the First Children would die if ordered.
Asuka slaps Rei. Asuka is personally offended at Rei’s words, because the First Children’s decision preys upon her largest fear. Asuka is capable of committing suicide and as such she’s terrified of the thought of herself actually killing herself for any reason.
Rei confirms her fear. Rei confirms that an excellent pilot, loved by the world, at the top of the game, favoured (from Asuka’s perspective), and even validated by Shinji, would still be willing to die if ordered. Like a puppet. Like a doll.
Later on, during her entire mind break with Arael, Rei saves her. Rei, the doll, the culmination of everything that Asuka fears, saves her. Asuka believed that she was an adult, believed that she could handle anything by herself, but at her lowest low, while all of her fears are dredged out by Arael, the mechanical puppet doll—the thing from which Asuka has been trying to escape forever—saves her.
In the end, Asuka isn’t independent. Asuka is dependent and unable to save herself. And Asuka, at the end of the day, is saved by the most (from her point of view) dependent doll of all.
It’s a slap in the face (sorry, Asuka). It’s a complete destruction of everything for which Asuka stands. Arael utterly destroys her and what saves her is the thing that she hates most.
But more on Arael later. First, it’s time to discuss her relationship with Misato.
I’ve already covered most of her relationship with Misato in sections above and in sections below, so consider this to be a quick recap: In essence, Misato represents what Asuka both wants and doesn’t want. Misato is a validated adult woman who has sex and wins the Kaji bowl. Asuka wants to be like Misato on the surface because she wants to be akin to Misato in terms of being an independent adult (she kisses Shinji partially because she believes, rightfully, that that’s what Kaji and Misato are doing on their date). And yet Asuka is disgusted by Misato; she’s disgusted when she asks if she’ll grow up to be like Misato, and she shames Misato for all of the sex. She doesn’t actually want to be Misato; she doesn’t actually, deep in her heart want to grow up.
(Back to validation/etc.)
Speaking of the Arael incident, now is an absolutely excellent to go ahead and recap everything that has happened thus far. Prior to the Arael sequence, we see Asuka trying to call Kaji yet again but being unable to do so, followed by her noticing that Shinji is talking to Rei. Note the yoking of Kaji and Shinji yet again: When her primary focus is unavailable (Kaji), she turns to the secondary substitute (Shinji) of validation. This time, she interprets him speaking to the First Children as herself having lost. She barely reacts to this. Having been pushed out of place in terms of both being the top EVA pilot and in terms of validation (she used to be with Kaji and her German boyfriends all of the time, but all of that has left her), she’s crumbling down.
At the beginning of episode twenty-two, known rightfully in the fandom as the “Asuka mindfuck” episode, Unit 01 has essentially been put into stasis due to the fact that she managed to consume Zeruel’s core, therefore making herself an actualised god. SEELE, which has no time or patience for Gendo’s shenanigans, places Unit 01 and Shinji on the bench. Asuka is sent out to investigate, confront, and defeat Arael. She knows what’s at stake in this encounter. She knows that, most likely, her reputation and status as being able to pilot at all rides on this. And hell, if she’s lost her status in terms of validation, then she can move past that and continue to ride on the waves of her being the best EVA pilot. She can climb back.
As a perfectionist (something also common to HPD), Asuka won’t allow herself to look bad.
However, Arael starts to probe deep into her mind. After the attacks of the other angels, Arael doesn’t seek to harm anyone (indeed, other than Asuka, they don’t actually hurt anyone else, and even in the case of Asuka, it’s less of a malicious attack and more of a child attempting to probe a small animal and not realising that a shovel is not the best tool with which to do so).
Misato orders for Asuka to retreat. But to Asuka, retreating from what she perceives to be her last chance at the spotlight is paramount to utter failure, to death. To walk away now, to run away now, will be to lose the attention forever.
She can’t have that. In a very Shinjiesque moment, she resolves not to run away.
When Arael continues to probe, we get the same thing that Asuka has always said: Asuka can’t stand others looking into her mind, her heart, her soul. Asuka very carefully cultivates this external image that is oh so easily broken to reveal the depressed, suicidal child within. Arael, who is capable of literally ripping out all of Asuka’s worst memories and repressed self, is Asuka’s worst nightmare, so of course this is the angel that unintentionally rips her from the inside out.
Actually, I’m going to take a random quick aside to say that the animations of characters in Evangelion putting their faces in their hands are some of my favourite of the series, if not anime in general, because the way that the hair bounces up and moves. I’d make some gifs, but just capping everything and writing analysis is taking enough. Back to the analysis.
The worst part about all of this is that everyone else is hearing this. While we don’t know if the things that Asuka says in her mind to Arael are heard by the people in Central Dogma, it’s not impossible and is actually quite likely, what with the fact that she’s screaming all of her words with everything that she has.
Keep that in mind, given what we’re about to see her say. Picture her, after coming out of this nightmare, being fully aware that not only did she actually have a breakdown, but everyone heard her break down, audibly, crying and broken, and since saving the world is clearly a public event, something like this would likely be reported on the news as well to some extent (of course SEELE and NERV would massage the information, but the important part is that Asuka would think that it’s everywhere).
Arael starts out by reminding Asuka of her childhood: how her mother used to always work at Gehirn and never particularly had time for her daughter or her husband (which is a parallel between Asuka to Misato, as well as to Ritsuko, but I could write a completely another post about Asuka-Ritsuko parallels and the rejected love interest archetype that repeats itself again and again in Evangelion); how her mother finally became mother-like after being driven insane by only having a piece of her soul within her; how her father came to have an affair with her mother’s doctor and abandoned her mother; how her mother in turn abandoned her for a doll; how she agreed to die if it meant that her mother would not abandon her; how her mother actually committed suicide; how Asuka decided that she would never cry again (important). All of this, according to her, is something that she never wanted to think about again.
And of course not. She’s supposed to be the perfect one. She’s not supposed to have a backstory like this, not supposed to suffer and cry like this, not supposed to be this wounded attention-seeking child inside.
Most horrifyingly of all, the apparition of her mother-doll doesn’t recognise Asuka. In the ultimate blow to Asuka, who is so fiercely independent and craving of attention, the mother-doll asks who she is.
Because who is Asuka? The outer shell that she puts out (and that much of the fandom gobbles up), or the broken Asuka?
So we have an Asuka confidently introducing herself, complete with a little hair motion there to emphasise her beauty and to bring the attention to her with a large fanfare; an Asuka immediately putting others with her standard catchphrase of “anta baka?” because anyone who might possibly see through her must be placed in a subordinate position immediately, since Asuka has to be at the top, has to be the one to whom attention is given; an Asuka smugly talking about her “chance” to show off her piloting skills and hence gain attention; and, finally, that shot from the boat scene with Kaji. So look at me. That sexualised, sexualised shot that actually shows off just how young and unprepared she is.
Asuka claims that this isn’t the real her (which is true, because it isn’t the real her).
Immediately she’s dumped into a horrorscape wherein she seeks a figure whom she recognises as Kaji. She begs for Kaji (here, representative of all validating figures in general) to save her from this mindless crowd. She wants to stand out. She’s wearing her pilot outfit to emphasise her piloting skills as being a reason that she can rise out of the rabble. And yet that alone can’t bring her from the monotonous crowd that threatens to consume her: She begs for validation to save her, but it doesn’t, just like in real life.
Now, quite a few fans (I’m looking at you, EvaGeeks) ascribe Asuka’s line asking what Shinji is doing in her nightmare to be with romantic intent (e.g. she’s thinking of him because she likes him romantically). But not quite. The shot below pans from Kaji to Shinji, because it’s not about Shinji but about yet again yoking Kaji to Shinji. She can’t have Kaji. She can’t even have Shinji, and Shinji is a memetically beta, passive boy with very feminine qualities.
Worse, Shinji has a very apathetic Rei-like expression here. He just doesn’t give a shit about this. And him not giving a shit about her is what breaks her. She needs attention. She needs someone to pay attention to her, because she relies on other people for her happiness.
After this nightmare, we’re treated to the following shot of the true Asuka, usually the same line as from her earlier trying-to-be-an-adult look at me shot, but this time, as a crying child (and she told herself that she would never cry again, too):
The next shot is Asuka, naked, by herself, while Arael speaks to her, asking her if she’s lonely. Asuka, however, rejects Arael (whom she perceives to be her younger self). Basically, Asuka would be happier if Asuka accepted who she was and tried to build up based upon her own happiness rather than the false happiness from others (which ties into another Evangelion message concerning not relying upon false confidence, as Shinji does throughout the action arc only for everything to come crashing down on him during the incident with Leliel), but Asuka rejects that. Instead of admitting her weaknesses, Asuka repeats her maxims to herself, because they’re all that she has, even if they’re false and won’t make her happy (much like Shinji’s “I mustn’t run away”). All of othis over Arael asking if Asuka ever loved (her mother).
Because if Asuka didn’t love herself, clearly she can’t love someone else, as she tells Shinji in End of Evangelion (by that point point, she’ll have figured out how to love herself, as we’ll see).
By the way, please note that the child Asuka’s hairclips are designed deliberately to evoke Unit 02’s four-eyed design, because Asuka isn’t merely rejecting her past self, but also her mother/Unit 02’s soul, which is why her synchronisation plummets so intensely. In contrast, when Asuka accepts her failing and her mother as of End of Evangelion, she manages to sync well enough to go berserk, but we’ll get to that.
Of course, Arael, much like Leliel before them, isn’t having any of this shit.
So Arael completely and utterly rips up Asuka while Rei destroys them using the Lance of Longinus, which results in Asuka lying there, shellshocked, in the plug. She’s curled in on herself in foetal position (what with the womb symbolism of EVA and all) even while she tries to reject all of her mistakes thrown up in her face.
And at the end of it all, she calls out to Kaji. There’s a reason that fans refer to Arael’s actions as a “mindrape” (a term I personally hate): Asuka says that she’s been defiled. The presence of the angel having reminded her of all of her faults from which she can’t escape has defiled her. Moreover, she failed in her “final attempt” as a pilot. She’s done and she knows it. There’s nothing there left for her.
And worst yet, of course, is how she was saved. Just like in the elevator, what ultimately saves Asuka isn’t herself or her independence or even her skills at piloting, but the doll, the doll who would die if the parent analogue ordered death. Not only is Asuka herself fucked over, but the very ideals upon which she has built her entire world are fucked over.
After this, Asuka is essentially finished. Shinji stands there, unable to do anything whatsoever. In the following episode, when Rei needs back-up, Asuka is completely unable to help her but simply sits there, entirely desynchronised from EVA. She’s useless. No one needs her whatsoever (except for the fact that they do; Shinji and Rei care about her as friends, and everyone else very much cares for her wellbeing, as we see in episode twenty-four and in End of Evangelion).
Following this, she apparently runs away and manages to do so without anyone interfering. Part of this is because Misato believes that Shinji and Asuka should be able to make their own decisions, which is an excellent parenting strategy except for the fact that she goes too far. Just as how Shinji ran off in the fourth episode only to be barely found by Kensuke and later by NERV agents, Asuka leaves, clearly with the intent of suicide.
Some people argue exactly how she intended to commit suicide. Some argue that she did so by slitting her wrists (hence her sitting in a bathtub), while others point out the fact that she clearly hasn’t been eaten for goodness knows how long, considering the clear shading at her cheeks, the prominent ribs, and the thigh gap that is far wider than even her typical skinny anime girl look. This scene isn’t fanservice-y. It’s horrifying.
We also see her clothes neatly folded up next to her, which is something very common in suicide cases. She’s in the bathtub because a) that’s also a place associated with suicides and b) her entire “I hate everyone” scene (see below, just after this section) takes place, of course, with her standing over the bathtub. Throughout Evangelion, water comes up again and again, as a general aesthetic choice that encompasses life, happiness, escapism, thought, the inner world, all of that; here, Asuka is in an empty bathtub entirely dry, symbolising the lack of life. In fact, the bathtub, and the entire house, is broken. Useless. No one would come to look at such a decrepit shack, which, of course, is the point.
Asuka doesn’t die, however. She survives because NERV agents find her, just as they did with Shinji. As we know, Asuka ends up in the hospital and is later placed in Unit 02. She’s surprised to find herself alive and so on and so forth. We’ll get to that in End of Evangelion.
Asuka’s part during Instrumentality is pretty much review at this point, so I’ll just leave the screencaps here and allow you to draw upon what you’ve learned from the rest of this to drive home the points that I’ve been making all along.
You know, Asuka and Shinji aren’t that different at their cores (heheh). They both rely upon others for false happiness and end up getting smacked in the face for it until they learn to rely upon their own happiness, at which point they can begin to understand each other.
(Ahaha, the doll Rei telling her off again, because Rei understands her even if Asuka doesn’t want Rei to understand her. Check out that character development for Rei, by the way. The sheer amount of development from the Rei that we see in the first episode, incapable of even understanding the feelings that lurk within the soul, to the Rei we see here and in End of Evangelion, gently guiding Shinji and the rest of humanity through Instrumentality and rejection thereof.)
In the case of the Second Children, Instrumentality simply repeats what we already know what her in explicit detail for those who missed it.
Confounding all of this seeking of validation is the fact that Asuka, in reality, wants to be isolated. Underneath the HPD and underneath that flirty, lively personality with which she seeks attention, Asuka is hostile in a manner that keeps others away from her. When she’s alone, and sometimes when she’s particularly upset, she hates humanity and she’s cruel. I don’t mean cruel in the “anta baka?” sense, but in a sense that Asuka can transform her own hate for herself into a deep fuel with which to destroy others.
Here, she laments having to so much as interact with other human beings. She doesn’t want to use the same toilet or wash her underwear in with Misato and Shinji’s, wherein Misato and Shinji represent the people that inhabit the world around her. Interestingly, both the toilet and the underwear reference are very personal. Asuka has no issues “sharing” that flirty outer shell that she has created, but everything that lies within is hers and hers alone. Most of all, however, she hates herself.
In this sequence, and throughout this episode, Asuka complains about suffering from menstrual cramps. She mentions that she doesn’t want to be a mother (her dislike of being a mother and yet menstruating in contrast to Rei’s mother-like qualities and lack of menstruation is a topic worthy of its own post) and that most of all she hates herself, again. There are many reasons as to why Asuka would not want to be a mother. For instance, there’s the obvious fact that her mother committed suicide, which surely has left a sour taste in Asuka’s mouth (a taste, we find, that appears during the nightmare sequence with Arael). But there’s another aspect of motherhood: the idea of sharing your body and later your entire life with another human being. And that, I think, is the aspect of motherhood that terrifies Asuka most.
In End of Evangelion, Asuka is surprised to discover that she is alive when she awakens deep below the lake, uttering, “I’m … alive?”. As I mentioned earlier, Asuka killed herself because she did not believe that she held any worth to anyone. She talks about how no one will look at her now. Without the validation of others, she has nothing, and there is no purpose to anything. However, deep within the bowels of the EVA, Asuka finally synchronises with the partial soul in Unit 02.
Here, she discovers two things: first, that her mother is always watching over her and protecting her and consequently will act as a constant “source of light” for the attention that she requires so desperately, and second, that the A.T. Field is in fact what separates the walls of human hearts. But instead of replying in a negative manner in the way that Kaworu did in episode twenty-four or in the way that Shinji did at first, Asuka is overjoyed at the news.
She has her A.T. Field. She has no need of anyone else, because she, her inner self, will always be protected by an impenetrable barrier. To Asuka, who represents the true extreme of human isolation (in sharp contrast to the true extreme of human union represented by Rei), the A.T. Field is more than a blessing. Instrumentality, by contrast, would be the greatest curse that Asuka could experience. Wielding this A.T. Field, Asuka is capable of destroying both SEELE’s forces and the EVA Series, until the S2 engines allow the MPEs to regenerate. And here the battle takes a turn for the worse, in the worst possible way.
As seen in the fight with Arael, Asuka associates both her success and her defeat in a sexual manner, specifically because she associates her subconscious sexually. Just as she commented that Arael’s exploration into her mind had resulted in her mind and herself being “defiled”, so too does her ultimate defeat in End of Evangelion feature heavy sexual symbolism.
Firstly, she is stabbed by the Lance of Longinus, in context symbolically transformed into a phallic weapon. The MPEs themselves, whose appearances are also quite phallic, produce anti-A.T. Fields which later aid in bringing about Instrumentality. They attack in unison rather than independently, and hence they represent everything that Asuka despises so much. All of them swarm her in a ritualistic (and here come the trigger warnings, guys) gang rape. They descend upon her, violate her, mutilate her, and leave. Notably, if one looks past the gore, one will observe that the damage done to Unit 02 almost makes the EVA appear pregnant, with the swollen at the stomach, or as if the EVA is in process of/has just given birth. There’s that fear of pregnancy, rearing its ugly head.
This is only exacerbated by the shot of Asuka screaming and grabbing her abdomen.
Naturally, it’s merely an injury. But the styling of the injury looks very much like that whole pregnancy thing. The EVA Series, representative of all which Asuka despises, has assaulted her and rid her of the very isolation that she so craves. When she manages to reactivate the EVA, going berserk for the first time in the series, the MPEs respond by piercing her with multiple phallic weapons, leaving her not quite crucified so much as stabbed, dominated, conquered repeatedly. Not in the relatively clean crucifixion, but as messy and horrible as possible.
Why, then, do the MPE cause her such an ultimate humiliation? Because even though she has identified with her happiness in human isolation and her happiness with her A.T. Field, she did so within Unit 02. Part of Evangelion is the rejection of the mother and of the womb-like plug and of standing by herself (because from within the womb, we can filter reality in a manner that causes the Hedgehog’s Dilemma). Hence, the narrative punishes Asuka for going about human isolation in the “wrong manner”. When she rematerialises herself in the last moments of End of Evangelion, she is doing so without EVA, the EVA having been destroyed. Shinji chokes her because Asuka cannot escape human contact. As part of the resolution of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, Asuka must understand that she ultimately must interact with humanity, but she also now understands, loves, and accepts herself.
At this point, presumably a quantum Rei appears to collect Asuka’s soul. We don’t see her again until the pre-Instrumentality sequence. Just as a random aside, but I’d like to take the opportunity to point out that the Adam-Lilith complex, who appears as the person with whom the soul-to-be-harvested wishes to become one, took on Kaworu’s appearance for Shinji, not Asuka’s. Anyway: we next see Asuka while she and Shinji are “attempting” to communicate.
While Instrumentality is in its opening stages, we have this wonderful sequence of shots between Shinji and Asuka, with Shinji painted in the blue traditionally associated with masculinity and boyhood and Asuka painted in the pink traditionally associated with femininity and girlhood, neither of which particularly suits either one. While Asuka yells at him for not understanding her (and very rightfully calls him out), we’re treated to a series of flashes of Shinji’s eyes, sad and drooping, coupled with obviously objectified shots of Asuka.
Shinji doesn’t care about Asuka at this point except for her body (note that these shots don’t contain her face; of course Shinji does care about Asuka as a friend, but in terms of their strict ego-to-ego communication to one another, here’s what we get):
While Shinji gives himself half-defences, Asuka points out that he literally just used her for her body. He can’t handle the actual living, breathing Asuka and so focuses on a projection of her made inside of his mind, a projection that would lie there two-dimensionally while she does nothing at all. [Anno looks directly at the camera like in The Office]
This climaxes with Asuka thrusting her chest into Shinji’s face (note the lack of her face in the first shot, cutting off her individuality and will in favour of simply offering her body, which could be any body at all, to Shinji) on the Hell Train.
She has realised that validation renders her, like Misato, as simply a body, when what she wanted to be validated as an individual. Now that she loves herself (regarding the entire “accepting her mother and isolation” bit above), she can validate herself and doesn’t need anyone else (hence, human isolation), but she also understands what Shinji is feeling.
We see Asuka next in the Hell Kitchen. Now, the Hell Kitchen is Asuka’s equivalent to Shinji’s Hell Train, which we just witnessed about.
The Hell Train is where we meet Shinji multiple times as he struggles with his mental thoughts and feelings. The train, because on a train one is surrounded by people yet constantly alone (just think about that shot from one of the initial episodes, wherein we see Shinji listening to his music on a steadily emptying train) and because, while a train ostensibly has a destination, one can technically remain on a train forever, being merely moved from place to place to some destination without exerting any force of one’s own. In this manner, the Hell Train represents both Shinji’s inherent issues (his avoidant personality disorder, the hedgehog’s dilemma, and the idea of drifting through life without purpose) and his current state.
Asuka’s hell is the Hell Kitchen. First of all, it’s Misato’s kitchen. Asuka wants nothing more than to grow up and become independent already, and yet there she is, sitting in the kitchen of the guardian upon whom she is dependent. Second of all, it’s a kitchen. The kitchen is the heart of the home, heavily associated with dependency and, dare I say, motherhood. Yeah. It’s definitely Asuka’s hell, and yet one from which she isn’t entirely able to escape.
There are also two vital aspects of this scene that deserve. The first one is pretty obvious and most people have noticed it: Asuka and Shinji are wearing the same outfits that they wore during the kiss sequence described earlier, a major aspect of a case in which Asuka was not validated. The second one is less obvious: The seemingly random broken coffee pot that spills across the floor is actually symbolism lifted from the scene in which Shinji informs Asuka that her beloved Kaji is dead, another major aspect of lack of validation. To recap: the symbols in the Hell Kitchen remind Asuka not only of her consistent inability to actually become independent but only of her failures in validation as a sexual adult.
(Above is coffee cup during Instrumentality [rewatch the scene if you don’t believe me]. Below is the coffee cup from the Kaji’s death revelation scene.)
Asuka exists in this pre-Instrumentality state completely isolated. Here, she’s happy. There’s no one. She’s by herself and she can’t imagine a better existence. Then Shinji pops up out of nowhere (note that this is prior to full Instrumentality. In episodes twenty-five and twenty-six, we see the slow progression of Instrumentality, and they mention that Instrumentality had been ongoing for months if not years, as people’s egos interacted and slowly stripped down to the very essences of their beings). He runs over to Asuka and offers to stay with her forever, offering her his help.
Too little, too late.
While Asuka sought validation in the past, after her experiences with the A.T. Field, she no longer has any need whatsoever of Shinji’s validation. Hence, she tells Shinji to leave her alone. After this, all Shinji says is “Help me,” because even his initial offering of assistance to her solely hurt her, and In reality, he was being selfish and merely attempting to get her to help him. He wasn’t there for her when Asuka needed him.
As Asuka points out, Shinji doesn’t need her. Shinji just needs someone. And Asuka doesn’t simply want to be someone; Asuka wants to be, well, herself, specifically. She wants to be valued for who she is, not because circumstances left her the least of all evils, especially for Shinji, whose first choice, per Instrumentality, was Kaworu anyway.
Asuka calls him out on his bullshit. Asuka points out that he doesn’t love himself, because she’s been there. She hated herself, but through the understanding of her mother and her A.T. Field, she’s okay. But she is rejecting his presence. She is rejecting him entering her mind, because she wants to be by herself. She wants to be isolated.
He continues to ask for help. She refuses. I’m going to interject right here one second and say that Shinji repeatedly, brokenly, whispering and then yelling, “Tasukete,” while Asuka calls him out (the framing of the scene would make it appear at first that Shinji is the protagonist and Asuka is the antagonist, but if you pay attention to the words and emotions, it’s the opposite). Instrumentality is her worst nightmare: As the literal symbol of human isolation, she can’t take the intrusion.
And so, in the act of causing Instrumentality to occur (by becoming one with Kaworu), Shinji chokes her. Shinji murders her in the process of Instrumentality because Asuka cannot stand the thought of being erased, of being one of many. And yet Asuka merely stares at him, apathetically, as if she could not care less about the proceedings if she tried. Shinji is killing her, and she still doesn’t give a fuck about him now that she no longer needs him to validate herself. (The opening ceremonies of the Komm, susser Tod sequence relate this is to Akagi Naoko choking Rei I.)
I’m going to point out one thing before we move on: this shot.
In this shot we see two very important things: Shinji on the ground and the coffee cup on the ground. Shinji and Kaji. The two men from whom she attempted to receive validation. And she says, “How pitiful,” not at them so much as at herself for needing validation from them. She’s moved beyond that now.
Instrumentality goes on. I’m not going to talk about the original drafted version of the live action sequences, because they were excluded from the final product and I don’t find them worthy of being analysed myself. Typically, when I analyse extraneous material, it’s because the material was cut due to censorship. In this case, however, there didn’t appear to be any censorship involved. So, I’ll just jump right in to what’s probably the single largest misconception about End of Evangelion.
The ending is 100% optimistic hopeful happy, even happier than EoTV/the original anime ending.
Rei and Kaworu explain to Shinji, and the audience, that every single being that has the will to come back, will come back.
(Holy shit, just look at those visuals. [wipes brow])
Contrary to the (asushin-friendly) interpretation of the “new Adam and Eve”, Asuka and Shinji will not be stranded together on the beach forever. Rather, every lifeform that wishes to come back from the LCL can come back. Poignantly, we hear Yui’s often-repeated quote again:
That’s the message of Neon Genesis Evangelion, gentlefolks: Even if you’re at the very brink of suicide, even if you’re at the very brink of escapism, as long as you have a will to live, you can return. What does that mean for Asuka?
Shinji’s the first back simply because he was in control of Instrumentality, thanks to both Rei and Kaworu (and Yui) deciding to place the future of the world into the hands of a depressed, avoidant, suicidal fourteen-year-old child who was capable, deep within his heart, of choosing to life. And the very second one back is Asuka, because, again, Asuka represents ultimate human isolation. Asuka represents the strongest will to live out of anyone. Asuka is driven to suicide when the external validation she had set up fails around her. But then she sets up her own internal ones. And now, now, she is the girl who screams, “I don’t want to die,” the girl who declares to her enemies that she’ll kill them all, the girl who reaches for the sun and is laid low by powers outside of her control.
But LCL? Perfectly within her control. And thus she exits first, exhausted from the process of having to reform herself, akin to Shinji in episode twenty. Shinji notices her. Between the quantum Rei sent out at the instant of the Third Impact and the sudden appearance of Asuka, Shinji is terrified for a moment that he somehow is still in Instrumentality. Hence, he chokes her.
(*Disclaimer: I need to say, right now and right here, that I am not defending this nor the earlier choking of Asuka. Shinji is violent and misogynistic, and what he did was completely wrong. Which is part of the reason that the thought of Shinji anywhere near Asuka romantically causes my hackles to rise, because they harm one another on so many levels.)
If Instrumentality is truly over, then Asuka should be able to feel pain. And she does. After apathetically staring at Shinji for a few seconds, Asuka touches his face, indicating that she now understands his pain and that she can feel her own, confirming that Instrumentality happened but is over. Shinji stops choking her, but observe his fingers jittering over her throat here. If you watch the actual film, you’ll notice that there’s an extended shot of his fingers shivering as he decides whether or not to continue strangling her.
Interestingly enough, in this final shot, we see Shinji straddling Asuka in a manner akin to a (cis) woman straddling a (cis) man lying down. In fact, they’re much exactly mirroring the Shinji-Rei sex scene from just a few moments prior. Gender roles swapping, morphing. Becoming more attuned to their actual selves.
He breaks down crying, partially out of relief that he has rejected Instrumentality and that he is again alive, and partially out of disgust at himself. Likewise, Asuka says her famous line, “Kimochi warui,” which can be translated as “How disgusting,” or “I feel sick.” What’s interesting here is that depending upon the translation, Asuka might actually be referring to herself, or to Shinji, or to both of them. I’m inclined to take on a more general interpretation. Asuka has this sick feeling because she has just crawled up onto the shore, reforming herself entirely via her mind from the LCL, only to find none other than Shinji with her once more. But she’s also saying it in regard to the pathetic state of humanity: herself, injured, having failed; Shinji, sobbing over her. And so on. A disgusting feeling, in general, at the proliferation of life once again.
Because that’s something else about Evangelion. Anywhere can be heaven, but not necessarily so. Still, I would argue that this is the most uplifting of all endings, because life will return to normal, and this time, Shinji and the others will be far better equipped to pursue their happiness.
If you have any questions, comments, or dissents, please message me! This was all basically a very bang and rush job, so I’m certain that it’s not perfect, and English isn’t my first language. Still, if you managed to read all of that, Congratulations!