Shinji Ikari: Sinking in Angels and Building on Sand

As dated as it now feels, it’s worth remembering how different Evangelion was when it first came out (and before the industry started using the series as a mold for so many other projects). I was waxing nostalgic about my first viewing of the the first episode some sixteen years ago and how much of an experience it was: the summertime tone, the jang-jang-jang music when the angel arrived, and the steady, pounding build-up through the entire course of the episode.

Episode two was maybe even more peculiar, as we’re brought into the episode after the action has already occurred. There’s also a lot of quietness throughout (a common device throughout the series) and a few odd moments, like when Shinji is on a train and gets laughed at by some younger kids.

That scene is such a what the heck kind of moment. I mean, yo brats, Shinji just saved your life! And Shinji, why are you shrinking away? GO PUNK THOSE KIDS! Even with your birdcage body, you’re bigger than them and you should be the most confident guy in the world – you just destroyed a massive monster the first time you piloted a mecha. Could it get better than that?

The thing is, Shinji is feeling confident. He’s happy. But in a moment of embarrassment, all the wonders of what he did have been wiped away. Shinji is the most fragile of kids, and he’s starting again at square one.

I’ve had those experiences, but not in quite a while. These days, embarrassment or failure generally sets me back one or two steps, not a hundred. And the me of today would probably have little patience with the me of 15 years ago, who was prone to falling backward when suffering a little pushback, who didn’t have the confidence to stand up for what was right or engage people when I felt I needed to. The difference between now and then, and between Shinji and myself, is simply foundation.

Shinji Ikari has the worst foundation possible. His mom? Turned into orange fluid. His dad? Well…there’s plenty that’s been said about the worst anime dad in history (though there are alternate views). And his live-in mom, while doing her best, has some issues of her own to resolve.

Shinji’s foundation is like sinking sand – you wouldn’t build a house upon that kind of earth, nor build a life upon people and things that are weak (not if you could help it). The image of Unit 03 literally sinking into an angel so perfectly reminds me of this analogy of where our foundation might be.

Because of Shinji’s foundation, his representation in Evangelion is just about perfect. Under the circumstances, he acts the way he’s supposed to. While he’s maybe become one of anime’s most hated character because of the constant whining (Spike Spencer got him just right), it would be dishonest to present him in any other way. Hideaki Anno, who famously was dealing with depression through the making of this classic, knew what kind of character he was developing and didn’t hold back. There’s no flipping of a switch with Shinji; instead, it’s selfishness, depression, growth and recession, and immaturity. He acts like a messed-up fourteen year-old should.

I wasn’t piloting mechas or saving the world at fourteen (I relate more to Kensuke in this respect), but I was every bit as miserable and selfish as Shinji when I was his age. It’s part of why I connect with him so well. But the foundation of my house has been rebuilt – it’s now on Christ, the solid rock, whose promises are true, whose love is perfect, and whose ways are holy (Matthew 7:24-27). When my house is damaged by a storm, my foundation remains true, and I can restore upon a sure foundation that will never fail me, even as others do – even as I fail myself. And I will fail, over and over again. Although I can’t always help how that happens, how emotions hit and how people, events, and my own mind impact me, I can help how I’ve prepared for these hurricanes, and so even in the worst of storms, I know he won’t let me be washed away.

And I will build my life upon your love
it is a firm foundation
And I will put my trust in you alone Oh Lord
and I will not be shaken
(“Build My Life,” Housefires)

9 thoughts on “Shinji Ikari: Sinking in Angels and Building on Sand

  1. What’s really crazy is that each of the angels throughout the series is used as an extended metaphor like this. I tried listing them all in my long form analysis of the series but I think I missed this one. Would you mind if I linked this post to it?

        1. Thank you! I’m trying to crank out content and I do have a lot to say, though I definitely need to get into the habit or writing a little less and a little better. -_-‘

  2. Good post! Eva was also a pretty foundational watch for me as well. Although I do like to poke fun at it nowadays it was definitely an eye-opener as a teen.

    1. I still hold the series in high esteem, but I do admit it’s showing it’s age and, partially because of how anime has progressed (and how it’s imitated Evangelion), the series has even become a bit cringy (if it wasn’t already).

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