‘Evangelion’ Won't Stop Leering as It Explores Its Characters’ Sexuality

'Evangelion' wallows in complicity with its toxic gender dynamics, and expects the audience to come along for the ride.
July 3, 2019, 9:50pm
Screenshot from Neon Genesis Evangelion, a triptych of portraits of the three main characters from left to right: Rei Ayanami, Shinji Ikari, and Asuka Langley, bathed in a deep blue light
Image courtesy of Netflix

Content Warning: Discussion of the sexualization of children, sexual violence, and child pornography.

There is a long running trope of fan service in anime, where by characters (almost always women) are sexualized by the "camera" for the enjoyment of the (largely male) audience. It's often deployed in irrespective of whatever plot point is happening at that moment, purely to titillate. Evangelion is no exception, though it complicates it's own usage by attempting to explore the burgeoning sexuality of it's teenage characters. But there's a notable difference between characters having complicated sexual feelings and the show's creators deciding to sexualize characters for the viewer. We discuss the messy way that episodes eight through thirteen deal with these issues and more on this week's Waypoints. Listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below:

Austin: There are parts of this whole sequence that I actually like in terms of showing these characters as vulnerable and confused, but it kicks off on this double shot of like "Eh? Eh? Isn't she hot? Hmmm? Am I right?" and it sucks. I think [this is] as bad as the show is so far … and it doesn't need to be. I don't think it gains anything from this. Honestly, have the door open show that she's in a towel and then just show me Shinji's face, right? Just show me Shinji be like "Oh my God. I don't know what to do with these feelings." I don't need to see the 14 year old's boobs, I don't need to at all.

[Anyway], it comes up that Misato is out that night. Basically, it's just the two kids. She drags a bunch of betting into another room and she's like "Fucking finally I can get some peace and quiet. I got my own bedding."


Rob: There's a weird thing she says here. As she stands at the doorway she says "This door is the wall of Jericho." And the funny thing is I've heard that exact line in that exact context from an old romantic comedy called It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and, god is it Irene Dunne? That's the only place I've heard it, but it is such a direct echoing of that iconic scene in a romantic comedy that to me this felt like it had to be a reference.

The context in that movie is, Clark Gable is sort of your intrepid reporter type and he falls in on this runaway heiress and they're traveling incognito. Several nights they have to stay at a motel and the solution to making sure that's proper is to hang a sheet on a laundry line across the middle of the room, but her initial response is "How do I know if I'm safe with you?"

And his response is "You have my word as a gentleman that this is as strong as the wall of Jericho." So this whole scene like to me immediately became a moment where , I've never heard that saying anywhere else, so to me it felt probably referential to this like really famous romance which was kinda weird?

Austin: It is almost certainly a reference, right? It's such a specific phrasing.

Rob: Yeah, and I think it does help me maybe put my finger on I guess the things I don't like about this episode? It's deploying romantic comedy, and just romantic tropes, right and left. Like the entire idea of "Well, go after her!" How many scenes have we seen where the romantic hero needs to be told: "hey dummy, pursue the girl who you've upset."


But I think at least in a lot of those stories there's at least a plausible justification that the romantic hero has done something wrong and has some kind of relationship where her emotional well-being is somehow, in the context of this plot, his responsibility. He needs to take sort of some sort of like weird ownership or responsibility as a person for her feelings. What's weird here is none of that exists. Actually, Shinji has no reason to go after her. He didn't do anything. He was going through a drill with Rei. He didn't set out to show her up. Asuka is going through her own thing and then the purposes of this episode it's about her connection with Shinji through this contrived, you know, sync rate or Pacific Rim drift compatibility test.

And so to me this just like hammers it home now, where there's this fraught moment in the night before the battle where they're alone the apartment and it just doesn't land with me. It is deploying so many romantic tropes and then implying all this sexual tension, but when the show has deployed sexuality, particularly in this episode, its been creepy about it and weird. And then in terms of their emotional connection, it doesn't actually justify one? It just sets up the story beats where those things have existed in other media and then sort of fills in the blank with a trope.

Austin: The irony of it is I think this sequence or well, maybe not the whole sequence, again I think it kicks off in a really bad, bad way, but I think there are parts of it that play if they come after the rest of this episode or a couple of future episodes, once there is already like a friendship between these two characters. There's a particular moment few episodes from now where Asuka says something mean-spirited but in a soft way that reveals a sort of connection to Shinji that would have set the stage for this in a way that would have felt genuine. But it wants to jump quickly to the sexual tension before I even really know who Asuka is or why she would find any attraction to Shinji at all.

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