Evangelion: Shinji Hate Is the Most Confusing Thing About the Series

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a highly controversial anime that no one seems to share one unified opinion on -- and opinions on its primary protagonist, Shinji Ikari, range even more wildly. Shinji has often been the butt of jokes about how he refuses to "Get in the robot," and many people dismiss him as a cry-baby or pathetic. Some fans argue that characters like Asuka Langley Sohryu would've been better suited for the protagonist role than him.

However, while Shinji Ikari is a deeply flawed character by design, these are not demerits, but rather features of a very complex, fascinating protagonist. What Neon Genesis Evangelion does so well is that it captures the life of a deeply problematic, deeply depressed character struggling to hold on. His refusal to pilot a robot makes sense when you realize that Evangelions are Lovecraftian horrors that push nothing but misery and pain onto him.

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Shinji DOES Get into the Robot a Lot in Evangelion

Shinji Evangelion Rebuild

The meme that Shinji doesn't get into the robot is fairly misleading since Shinji does in fact pilot Evangelion Unit-01 regularly throughout the anime. In fact, Shinji only refuses to pilot four times: when he's first asked to pilot, then again after his second fight, after the traumatic Evangelion Unit-03 fight over a dozen episodes later and before the End of Evangelion where he's slipped into a near-catatonic state.

To make matters more bizarre, in every case, Shinji has very good reason to not want to pilot. In the first situation, he has no idea what an Evangelion is. He has no idea how to pilot it, is put on the spot to save the world without any warning and is reuniting with the father who abandoned him who still doesn't seem to value his well-being. In the third situation, he was manipulated by his father into almost murdering one of his closest friends, and leaves NERV not out of cowardice but out of genuine rage. Even then, when Asuka and Rei fail to stop the next Angel, he runs back to NERV HQ after a prep talk from Kaji to pilot. His second and fourth refusals are potential points of weakness for Shinji, but in both cases, he ultimately returns to pilot... and is worse off for it.

The meme is even weirder when you consider that Shinji is far from unique. There are several pilots in mecha anime who either refuse to pilot their robots or are left traumatized by the experience. Amuro Ray, the pilot of the RX-78-2 from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, also refused to pilot his Gundam. However, fans typically view Ray far more favorably than Shinji, despite Shinji facing even more horrifying scenarios.

Shinji Hate Centers Most on How He Processes Trauma

Misato Rei Shinji Asuka Neon Genesis Evangelion

The majority of Shinji Ikari hate comes down to fans disliking how Shinji processes trauma in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even before arriving at NERV, Shinji has lost his mom and his father abandoned him. He's then given additional trauma from his experiences piloting the Evangelion. Shinji beats the Angel, only for Toji Suzuhara to blame him for collateral damage done to his sister as a result of Shinji's actions. For every positive thing Shinji does, there is an equally negative reaction.

However, until roughly Episode 15, Shinji Ikari has gained a group of friends and people who like him. He starts to come out of his shell a little more, and viewers see hints of the person Shinji can be when he has people on his side. Then, in Episode 16, an Angel sucks him into an interdimensional Dirac Sea. Over the next few episodes, he nearly kills Toji while fighting the infected Unit-03, gets sucked into Unit 01 and has his support system torn apart as Asuka slips into suicidal depression, Rei II dies and Misato becomes consumed by grief over Kaji's death. Oh, and the one guy who tells Shinji he loves him at this time turns out to be an Angel Shinji must kill.

The most beloved mecha pilots, Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or Amuro Ray from Mobile Suit Gundam, tend to have a support unit around them to support them when things get hard. Yes, they lose people, but they're seldom as profoundly alone as Shinji is, especially not in the face of Lovecraftian horror that can drive people into madness. It doesn't make sense to hate on Shinji because anyone would crumble in Shinji's situation.

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