My Critique of Rebuild of Evangelion's Characterization: I originally wrote this post on the Evageeks forum and decided to post it here. It discusses the relationship between Misato, WILLE and the pilots and whether it is realistic and in-character. Warning this post contains spoilers and is very long. Also has references to self-harm and suicide.
With each revelation that comes out regarding the measures WILLE take against Shinji and their own pilots, it becomes more and more unrealistic for me to the point where it's almost comical. Let's go through some of them here:
They wear the explosive DSS chokers 24/7 which will kill the pilots should they risk awakening an Eva.
They are kept in a single room rigged with explosives.
In Shinji's case, he is (intended to be) put in 24/7 solitary confinement with explosives fitted as well.
Shinji is escorted around the wunder whilst restrained on a stretcher. (NOTE: The only time he isn't, is when Sakura takes him to Ritsuko).
It is confirmed in another thread that Misato gave clear permission to the crew for them to shoot Shinji on sight if they suspect he is attempting to get into an Eva.
Now let me attempt to deconstruct these measures one-by-one:
It is understandable that Asuka and Mari wear DSS chokers because after all they are pilots and there is a risk of awakening. However in Shinji's case, he is forbidden from piloting and so there is no risk of awakening (remember Ritsuko did not think NERV would come after him, so they had no reason to think he would escape). So why place the DSS choker on him? Well we have already established it is simply because they have a resentment against him; there is no special, pragmatic reason. Is this realistic? Well I would say no for reasons I will explain later but I can certainly understand why others may say it is.
I don't think I will understand why they would keep their two main "soldiers" if you will, in an explosively rigged room. I believe others have stated that from a tactical point, it's an extremely dumb move on WILLE's part. After all, if Asuka and Mari didn't have plot armor, what's to stop Gendo from tricking WILLE into killing their own pilots with these explosives? How would WILLE stop Gendo then? Will they use Shinji? No, for reasons I will state later. And another thing, we know that their rooms were already fitted with explosives so why on Earth would they add extra after the events of Q (when they stopped 4th impact). What do they hope to achieve with more bombs? Make the pilots more "deader" than they already are? In my opinion, this doesn't even come across as paranoid but just plain childish. Is this measure realistic from a story standpoint? No not in my eyes.
We know they intended to put Shinji in a solitary cell as this is what they do in Shin. If it was solitary confinement on it's own, then I believe it would be a realistic measure that would happen in real life. However I believe the writers did not factor in the effects of solitary confinement (especially one that is rigged to explode) on fully grown men; never mind a 14 year old who's just come out of a 14 year coma. Many people think solitary confinement is a walk in the park so I made another post a while ago highlighting why that's not the case:
"I remember when before Shin came out people here theorized that if Shinji stayed on the Wunder, they would eventually softened to him and let him help in ways that wouldn't have involved piloting. However with these revelations it looks like they intended to keep him in an isolated room far from everyone else that is (presumably) rigged with explosives as well as keeping the choker on his neck. Not even allowed to freely leave his cell without WILLE's permission (it is unlikely they would let him out judging from these measures).
Even though Asuka and Mari were treated like this as well, at least they had each other and were able to leave as they had responsibilities in piloting. But Shinji was forbidden from piloting and was to be kept by himself except maybe being checked up on by Sakura now and again. So judging from these leaks (we will have to wait to properly see the full context) WILLE intended to lock Shinji in solitary confinement.
I have copied and pasted some of the effects of Solitary Confinement from Wikipedia below:
“Psychiatric: Research indicates that the psychological effects of solitary confinement may encompass "anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis." The lack of human contact, and the sensory deprivation that often go with solitary confinement, can have a severe negative impact on a prisoner's mental state that may lead to certain mental illnesses such as depression, permanent or semi-permanent changes to brain physiology, an existential crisis, and death.
Self-harm: According to a March 2014 article in American Journal of Public Health, "Inmates in jails and prisons attempt to harm themselves in many ways, resulting in outcomes ranging from trivial to fatal." Self harm was seven times higher among the inmates where seven percent of the jail population was confined in isolation. Fifty-three percent of all acts of self harm took place in jail. "Self-harm" included, but was not limited to, cutting, banging heads, self-amputations of fingers or testicles. These inmates were in bare cells, and were prone to jumping off their beds head first into the floor or even biting through their veins in their wrists. A main issue within the prison system and solitary confinement is the high number of inmates who turn to self-harm. Many of the inmates look to self-harm as a way to "avoid the rigors of solitary confinement."
Physical: Solitary confinement has been reported to cause hypertension, headaches and migraines, profuse sweating, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Many inmates also experience extreme weight loss due to digestion complications and abdominal pain. Many of these symptoms are due to the intense anxiety and sensory deprivation. Inmates can also experience neck and back pain and muscle stiffness due to long periods of little to no physical activity. These symptoms often worsen with repeated visits to solitary confinement.
Social: The effects of isolation unfortunately do not stop once the inmate has been released. After release from segregated housing, psychological effects have the ability to sabotage a prisoner's potential to successfully return to the community and adjust back to ‘normal’ life. The inmates are often startled easily, and avoid crowds and public places. They seek out confined small spaces because the public areas overwhelm their sensory stimulation.”
And this is just for solitary confinement. There are so many other things going on with and happening (or could happen) to Shinji such as the things below:
Shinji being only 14 years old.
Shinji being abandoned and neglected by his father.
Shinji being coerced/emotionally blackmailed to pilot Unit 1.
Shinji seeing girls he cared for "die".
Shinji being in a coma for 14 years.
Shinji being told he has a bomb on his neck.
Being told it is because he is being punished.
Being told he cannot pilot the eva anymore (he is effectively "useless" now).
Have his former co-pilot and friend try and punch him after he thought she was dead.
[Potentially] being told he started NTI and devastated the world.
[Potentially] being told that the girl he tried to save is "gone" and that she was a clone of his mother.
Being imprisoned in a cell (presumably) surrounded by explosives and not being able to freely leave.
Be completely isolated from everyone except when being checked up by a girl who's father he got killed. (NOTE: Mari might want to see him so Shinji at least has her, maybe).
Have his mother figure (the woman who made him pilot the eva the most) threaten to detonate the choker around his neck and blow his head off when he tries to leave.
With the above list, is it any wonder his head is so messed up? I understand the purpose of these films is all about growing up and taking responsibility but expecting Shinji to willingly allow himself to be subjected to the treatment WILLE had in store for him is pure, unadulterated masochism. Much of what was is written here can safely be considered cruel, inhumane and arguably, torture.
There is a massive difference between taking responsibility for one's mistakes and just letting the whole world torture you because you did something bad. My main fear and problem with Q and Thrice is that their main theme, which is accepting responsibility, is equated with accepting unreasonably cruel treatment. And I just think that is an EXTREMELY unhealthy message to send to people especially if they are depressed or live in abusive relationships."
When you take all these into account, does it place into perspective how messed up Shinji would have been had he stayed on the wunder? This is assuming that they thought they would never have a need for him, but as we find out in Shin, they needed Shinji in the end to defeat Gendo. If Shinji never left with Mark 09 and Misato successfully kept him "protective" custody, then one of three things would have happened when WILLE actually needed him to save everyone:
A: He would not have been in the mental state to pilot Unit 1 and Gendo would have completely wrecked him due to shit synch ratios.
B: He would have told Misato and co. to fuck off and die. We've seen this nihilism before from Shinji (after the 5th angel). His incarceration alongside the humiliation and guilt from wearing the choker will have ratcheted up by a million.
C: He wouldn't have piloted because he would have killed himself. There's only so much a 14 year old can take and when subjected to a fate that causes even hardened criminals to resort to self-harm, genital mutilation and suicide, then what chance does Shinji have?
Now back to my original point, do I think this measure is realistic? I would like to say yes if it was the solitary on it's own, however when combined with the other things, then I think the chances of Shinji commiting suicide is extremely high to the point where it's not believable for him to continue as an anime protagonist. You have to make sure the protagonist goes through difficulty in order to experience growth and change, however if you make it too harsh (to the point of committing suicide) then it seems less believable that they live to continue the story. On a separate note, many people think that Shinji was immature for leaving with Mark 09 the first chance he got and that this is proof that he is, in Asuka's words, a "brat". But let's be realistic, if this story is about Shinji's growth and maturation, then how exactly would WILLE's treatment of him be conducive to that? The truth is WILLE's sheer hostility towards him would have completely stunted any emotional growth and maturation in Shinji and it would have destroyed the point of the film. Also no-one can argue that WILLE would have eventually "come round" or "softened-up" towards Shinji because even after 14 years they still don't trust their own pilots. So yeah, Shinji most likely would have been stuck in solitary with a bomb around his neck until he either killed himself or the war ended (but even this doesn't guarantee his freedom).
Regarding the stretcher business. I don't understand why you have to restrain Shinji on a stretcher when the kid has already surrendered himself and has come voluntarily. Maybe WILLE are just full of bondage fetishists; it would certainly explain the chokers as well.
If the DSS chokers and the explosive rooms weren't enough, Misato actually gave orders to the crew to shoot Shinji if they thought he was trying to pilot again. At this point, I just think this is just overkill. I mean the kid has a bomb on his neck that prevents him from awakening an Eva, you intended to keep him locked up even though he can't really leave the wunder except with outside help and now you intend to shoot him if you think he'll get into an Eva. The problem with this, is that piloting an Eva requires all the bridge-bunnies to sortie the damn thing. Shinji cannot enter Unit 1 by himself, especially since the thing is being used as an engine so why do they assume that Shinji is capable of being Sam Fisher and sneaking into Unit 1? We see that Sakura and Midori are actually willing to shoot Shinji in 3.0+1.0 and do so when he merely suggests that he pilot Unit 1. But seriously what harm would Shinji have done in Unit 1 considering the fact that Gendo was already going to start another impact anyway? Why actively try and kill (or injure in Sakura's case) the only guy that can save your ass? One cannot argue that they were just being "desperate or panicking" because in Midori's case, she actually takes the time to confirm her orders from Misato. This shows that at least, she was still of lucid mind. This particular altercation just beggars belief in my mind and the fact that Misato actually gave those orders on top of all the other measures is absolutely extraordinary. So as you can imagine, I do not think this was realistically executed.
However, I can already hear some detractors say: "So what? Misato hesitated to detonate the DSS choker and also took a bullet for Shinji. She redeemed herself from putting the DSS choker on him and the kill-order for if they thought he would try and get into an Eva."
And to those people I say….not really. There is an idiom attributed to Benjamin Franklin and it goes like this: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." How does this apply to Misato and Shinji's relationship? Well Misato wouldn't have had to hesitate to pull the trigger if she didn't put it on him in the first place. Misato wouldn't have had to take a bullet for Shinji, if she didn't give permission for the crew to shoot him in the first place. Let's take this following dialogue for example:
Kitakami: "It's a good thing we got Major Shikinami back. But why'd we have to take that disease along with her?"
Aoba: "Just leave it alone. Better than Nerv still being able to use him."
Tama: "If he tries to get into an Evangelion, all hands have permission to shoot on sight. There's nothing to worry about this time."
Kitakami: "Come on, that's all for show. The last time he broke out of here, the Captain couldn't put him down. I've got zero trust about this time either."
Nagara: "He was a kid. I can understand why she'd hesitate."
Kitakami: "That 'kid' caused Near Third Impact and murdered my entire family!"
Hyuga: "Near Third was a consequence of what he did, not his goal. The Captain's doing her best to atone for that too."
Takao: "That's right. She's who Kaji entrusted with Wille, and it's our job to trust the captain."
We learn a few things from this dialogue. Firstly, the older WILLE members are much more understanding to Shinji and Misato's situation: Aoba and Hyuga understand that it's better to keep an eye on Shinji and that he never meant to start NTI, Takao is one who always trusts Misato's judgement and Sumire understands that Misato would have found it difficult to kill a child, especially one that Misato was close with.
Secondly, it appears that the younger WILLE members (Midori, Sakura and Tama) are the ones that are fearful/hateful towards Shinji (NOTE: Tama is a strange case, he strikes me as the sort of kid that just follows what everyone else is feeling. He might not feel anything towards Shinji beyond what you'd expect).
Finally it appears that most of WILLE crew members are actually reasonable people and are not the extremely desperate and paranoid individuals some people on the forum believe. Remember this is AFTER Shinji started the 4th impact in Q. The fact that some of the WILLE crew members speak of Shinji in this way, show they are capable of understanding. Most actually trust Misato and respect her judgement except for Midori, who questions Misato's capabilities in following through on her threats.
Which brings me to my next point. Misato has had no hesitation in pulling rank in the past. In 2.0, she even has an altercation with Ritsuko, her best friend, right before they fight the 8th angel. Misato is a woman that will tell even her best friend to STFU, when it comes to doing what she wants. Having said that, (timeskip shenanigans aside) there's no reason why she couldn't have done the same with the younger WILLE crew members. She could have nipped all of it in the bud by telling Sakura, Midori and the rest of them that Shinji was groomed to cause NTI and it was not his fault.
Instead, despite being the captain that everyone loves and fears, she kowtowed to the crew's paranoia and had the pilots fitted with explosive chokers, put in explosively rigged solitary confinement and gave the order to kill Shinji if they feared the worst. This is the sort of thing that drives fully grown men to suicide, never mind 14 year olds that have just come out of a coma. Imagine if Shinji did commit suicide in his cell. Who would Misato and WILLE have turned to in order to defeat Gendo in the end? What if Gendo tricked WILLE into killing their own pilots with the explosives? They would be properly screwed then. If Misato actually cared, as we are led to believe from her hesitation to kill Shinji, then she would have told the rest of the WILLE crew to fuck off, instead of alienating and putting Shinji and the pilots in that much risk. Are we really expected to believe that Misato placed such extreme countermeasures on Shinji just to appease Midori and Sakura? Not likely. This is why I believe that Misato would not have put the DSS choker on Shinji in the first place, and her doing so in Q was extremely unrealistic and out of character, even with anything that happened during the timeskip.
Some of you will say: "Who cares about realism? It's a show about aliens and growing up." While this is true, Anno has proven that he is able to pull the themes off much better when you look at the NGE series. Disregarding the self-contained narrative, it is obvious that the purpose of Q was to bring Shinji to the same point he was at after episode 24 of the series. If we look at how NGE/EOE handled Shinji's depression, we see that it is quite realistic:
The neglect and coercion by the adults in his life, almost dying to angels multiple times, the sexual tension with Asuka, almost killing Touji, finding out Rei is a clone of his mother, Misato putting the moves on him and having to kill Kaworu all culminate towards Shinji's mental state during EOE. Shinji is passively suicidal but it's due to the *situation* and his own introverted tendencies instead of people actively trying to hurt and isolate him. He finds the will to live again due to his mothers words despite knowing just how difficult living might be. If you remove all the Evas and the Angels from the story, the themes that are touched upon (isolation, neglect, misunderstanding) still apply and the audience can still resonate with them.
The rebuilds however go about it completely differently. They bring Shinji to that same suicidal state by having all the characters/plot actively harm Shinji's mental health by:
Putting him in a coma for 14 years so he is completely clueless. Imagine how groggy you are when you wake up in the morning and then multiply that by a million.
Have Misato psychologically castrate Shinji by telling him he won't do anything with a look of disdain on her face.
Have Ritsuko make Shinji feel dread by telling him he has a bomb on his neck and it's because he is being "punished".
Not tell him why he is being punished when he asks Misato.
Have Asuka try to punch Shinji after he thought she was dead.
Tell Shinji the girl he saved is "gone”.
Have his "mother figure" threaten to blow his head off for wanting to leave with the girl you just told him is gone.
Have Asuka and Mari attack Shinji in Lilith's chamber even though Shinji was seemingly willing to listen to them had Asuka not kept attacking. (Watch that scene again and you'll see when Asuka learns what Shinji is trying to do, she stops attacking but instead of explaining that he's being manipulated, she just calls him a brat instead).
Even Mari was willing to potentially kill or cripple Shinji with the Anti-AT rounds. (We don't know what the AA rounds are truly capable of because the only time they are used on screen, they don't work. The round cartridges state that they are armor and AT field piercing and have explicit restrictions on their use. The fact that Mari requires Asuka's explicit authorization to use them imply that they are most likely lethal and would have killed/crippled Shinji had he been in a normal Eva).
Have Shinji's friend's head explode with the device Shinji's "mother figure" actually meant for him. Imagine seeing someone's head explode and then remember that your "mother figure" actually meant that to be for you. That would certainly mess anyone up.
Have Asuka then kick and manhandle him when he is catatonic.
Have Asuka force feed him to the point where he pukes whilst he is still grieving the death of his friend.
Have Shinji only be escorted whilst tied to a stretcher despite him coming voluntarily.
Have Misato place Shinji in 24/7 solitary confinement in a cell rigged with explosives.
Have Misato tell the WILLE crew to shoot Shinji on sight if they think he's getting into an EVA.
Have people tell Shinji that he's being a brat the entire time for reacting badly to all this.
By having Misato, Asuka, WILLE reject and "punish" Shinji so harshly so it kicks off his isolation and desperation, it makes Shinji's "recovery" seem less believable. Anno himself didn't even know how to make Shinji recover psychologically in 3.0+1.0 and he actually had to ask the voice actors on how to make that happen. The story made the WILLE crew go full scorched-earth and in doing so made Shinji's "growth" and his reconciliation with Misato seem impossible.
I have already stated that I believe Q represents "Condemnation" and Shin represents "Compassion" and I think both films pull that off brilliantly. But that doesn't mean I think the characters acted in a realistic manner. I do not believe that Misato would have placed such harsh sanctions on Shinji in the first place for the reasons I have stated above. And if she did, I do not believe that Shinji would have easily forgiven Misato (even IF she took a bullet for him) as we see he does in the film. I do not believe that WILLE were merely "scared and desperate" because as the dialogue above shows, they are surprisingly understanding (but still disapproving) of Shinji's situation despite him literally starting another impact. I do not believe that Misato would have bent over to Sakura and Midori's resentment and taken measures against Shinji, just to ease their minds.
In summary, my main problem with the post-timeskip rebuilds is that I feel they gaslight the audience in thinking that Shinji was just being a "brat" the entire time by having Asuka and Mari say: "You have grown a little/You smell like an adult now." However, the truth is Shinji's been through so much mental suffering perpetrated by the people he cares about, that it's a miracle he's not killed himself. It would certainly break most of us on this forum. The movies seek to show Shinji "finally" taking responsibility when the truth is, the plot went so above and beyond putting him down in such an extreme manner in the first place.
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