I'm going to put a succint, relatively moderate (compared to versions I saw moments earlier by same people) take on the conspiracy theory here in spoiler tags. What follows is then my long response to this stuff. Sorry for the bother.
- Anno's favorite is Asuka - this we get from not only his own admission, but the fact that Asuka herself is based on characters he liked prior.
- Anno has never to my knowledge, passed criticism on people for liking Asuka.
- Anno does not like Rei, claiming that he has no emotional investment in the character and in tone he is largely dismissive, either forgetting or downplaying.
- Anno often criticizes Japan and the audience for preferring Rei, going as far as to blame the loss in WW2
- Rei has never been portrayed as mentally or physically strong as character than in NGE or EoE
- Asuka has never been portrayed as weaker, mentally or physically, than in NGE or EoE
- Tsurumaki, Anno's (former?) protegé and now effective second-in-command when it comes to writing, is also a self-admitted Asuka fan.
- They are both "fanboys", or otaku as it were, much like others are otaku including the present company - this being substantiated by interviews from staff surrounding Anno.
The take-away is that Anno's bias is clear. He has a strong preference, and my position is simply that this bias can in some part explain why Evangelion developed the way it has from 1995 -> 2020.
I leave plenty of room for me to be wrong - naturally Anno could just be faking being biased. Who knows? But my gut tells me he isn't, and so does occam's razor.
So I guess the question you really want me to answer, is "why does Rebuild have an anti-Rei plot?" - I think [interlocutor 1] outlined it very well.
Because in the Rebuilds, Rei is weaker than ever and in many ways written to be what Rei-haters in the fandom, always wanted her to be - an entirely stupid, blank yui-clone without any heroic qualities. There's many more examples, but accepting that there are more, we get to the main point:
The story seems to be, thus far, that Shinji has chosen to invest in and save Rei, this for some ambiguous and hard to defend cause/effect leading to the world being destroyed. Not only was the world destroyed, but everyone around him seems to be criticizing him as being the cause, all the while saying that he's "caused to much fuss about one person", that person being Rei.
The narrative seems to imply that Shinji's investment in Rei is, as Kaworu implied, a sin which should not have been. When you consider that e.g Asuka has received super strength, Misato becoming a resistance leader and the captain of an advanced ship, and Kaworu now being one who stands above everyone else with knowledge from outside the implied "loops", it's clear that Rei hasn't just become substantially weaker compared to her original NGE version, but also to the cast surrounding her.
It would seem that Anno has written a story which makes choosing Rei or not choosing Rei a pivotal point upon which the world is either destroyed or saved - seeing as the world being saved is preferred, chosing Rei thus becomes a mistake, and the story is thus anti-Rei the way I interpret it.
@[interlocutor 2] and naturally, I might be entirely wrong about this - but so far, I think it very much explains a lot.
What I left unsaid is that if:
Anno was bitter about Japan choosing Rei - then suddenly him making a new Eva story where the protagonist chooses Rei for only it to have been "the wrong choice", would make a LOT of sense.
Invalidity of the argument in general
Having now read a polished version of elonna’s argument I feel confident in dismissing it. This is because even IF all of his premises were correct they would not entail his conclusion. So the argument is, strictly speaking, logically invalid. Even if it was established beyond doubt Anno blindly and excessively loved Asuka and equally blindly and excessively hated Rei the conclusion Rebuild was conceived as pro-Asuka, anti-Rei project *would not follow* from these
premises. There is any number of scenarios in which elonna’s premises are all true but in which the conclusion does not follow:
- Anno has other artistic and commercial ends or personal hobby horses he puts ahead his opinions on Rei/Asuka
- Anno wants to please his audience in general and this includes “servicing” both Rei and Asuka fans with a certain balance
- Anno wants to murder Rei and have Evas defecate over her body in Rebuild, but this isn’t entirely up to him and his staff would rise up in rebellion and thus he leaves his grudges as secondary in the production process
- Anno really wants to demolish disgusting Eva foids and their fanbases in Rebuild and establish Kaworu x Shinji homoromance thru Q & Final instead, hoping this gives his work positive attention and visibility in the West
Et cetera et cetera. One can come up with any number of more or less plausible scenarios like this and whether any of these scenarios is true is irrelevant in itself: existence of such scenarios *establish by their sheer existence* the fact elonna’s conclusion is not entailed by his premises.
P1 Socrates is a man
P2 All men are mortal
C Socrates is mortal
In this case P1 and P2 taken together entail the conclusion about nature of Socrates.
In contrast, I think elonna’s case can be subsumed to 4 premises and takes form of the following argument:
P1 Anno loves Asuka and Asuka fans excessively
P2 Anno hates Rei and Rei fans excessively
P3 Rei is portrayed weaker in Rebuild than in NGE
P4 Asuka is portrayed stronger in Rebuild than in NGE
C: Anno’s main purpose in creating Rebuild is vent his excessive love for Asuka and hatred for Rei and ruin Rei’s status among fans, and story changes in Rebuild are best explained through these interpretive lenses.
the Conclusion C *simply does not follow* from P1-P4. You need additional premises, a ton of them, to make the argument logically tight. You can’t even consider P1-P4 in isolation from everything else we know about the product (Eva anime) and its production process, so you can’t even establish inductive case for your conclusion being the most “probable” one without engaging in hard work of undermining explanatory power of alternative explanations.
So this is why I could not and cannot take seriously your claims of having *established* your conclusion sans counterarguments from us, because the only thing you’ve engaged in this discussion for past couple of days is providing evidence for your four premises P1-P4. Even if you managed to establish their truth more firmly than you actually have, *that still wouldn’t make your argument sound*. Even if none of us says anything in response, your case for conclusion C as it stands falters.
For a general rejection of your theory this suffices. But let me continue.
I do NOT accept the truth of premises P1, P2, P3 and P4. The evidential case you pooled for each premise is circumstantial at best, your arguments often too subjective to be of interest, and you engage in cherry picking and special pleading in your methodology for choosing evidence.
P1: Anno loves Asuka and Asuka fans excessively
This is the premise elonna has the best case for – which just goes to show how unpersuasive his theory is, because the case for P1 is weak. The best testimonial evidence elonna can muster here is Anno (and Tsurumaki who can be used as Anno-adjacent as far as argument is considered so I don’t consider him separately here) expressing in few (90s) interviews preference for Asuka because “she is cute”. This is reinforced by other staff joking/laughing about Anno’s terrible taste in women in general and how this explains his preference for Asuka/Misato over Rei.
I think it is fair to take Anno at his word when he expresses preference for Asuka “because she is cute”, which conceivably includes her looks and her spunky, can-do go-getter persona. Same for Tsurumaki admitting to being Asuka fan in 2.0.
However, neither Anno nor Tsurumaki has ever made statements that would point towards excessive adoration or fan-otaku type fixation on a character of their own creation. THIS IS IMPORTANT. As much as elonna likes to ignore this point each time I make it there is a huge difference between these two scenarios
S1 Liking a character you’ve created for any number of reasons (you like ponytails so you give heroine a ponytail, you find dialogue of character really fun and easy to write – many potential reasons)
S2 Obsessively falling in love with your own creation like Pygmalion does with his statue in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
To establish P1 we need evidence that establishes S2. Evidence for S1 (whether or not liking S1 is due to the girl fitting director’s taste in women or something more platonic) is NOT enough.
There is zero evidence in all Anno & production staff interviews that Anno’s preference for Asuka is of excessive S2 kind and that it impacted the production process in concrete ways (after all even if it was S2 there’d need to be evidence for this not staying a ‘private’ Asuka onahole level obsession since it’s the anime we care about and not Anno’s questionable sex life).
Furthermore, there is a lot countervailing evidence to the idea Anno’s “love” for Asuka is or could be of the blind, obsessive kind. I brought up before how many core aspects of Asuka’s character are no less based on himself than Shinji. (Nadia/Asuka parallels are a good illustration of this as Nadia’s persona is a mixture of what Anno took to be his own negative traits and negative aspects of women in his life – so yes they’re in many ways the exactly same character.)
In many materials, including same interviews from which Anno’s statements about liking Asuka come from, Anno stresses how fucked up and terrible people the whole cast in Eva is and how bizarre it is to him people have taken such liking to said characters. He also explicitly states the whole cast is based on himself with different characters reflecting him in different ways. He has also said at this same 90s time period he hates everything about Eva *which reflects himself*. Add on these general expressions of self-disgust, self-hatred and borderline suicide attempt between EoTV and EoE in general.
Because Asuka too reflects Anno’s character deeply it is out of question his love for Asuka could be total, obsessive, or blind the way P1 requires.
So, to establish Anno loving Asuka in some blind and excessive way elonna cherry-picks Anno statements and then interprets these statements as saying something far stronger than the texts by themselves imply. Numerous Anno statements of equal evidential value which would lead to more tempered interpretation of Anno’s degree of love for Asuka are excluded.
That’s it for “Anno loves Asuka excessively” part of the premise. Case for Anno liking Asuka fans excessively (due to their shared waifu) in a way that would motivate him to engineer Rebuild as anti-Rei, pro-Asuka campaign is non-existent. There is not a single testimony indicating Anno was fine with Asuka coomers in the 90s while Rei coomers were beyond pale to him. Absolutely none. This is argument from silence, which is very weak on its own.
Not only is the positive case weak, this supposition is also completely destroyed by the general nature of Anno’s harsh denouncements of anime, otaku and the fan scene in the 90s and early 00s. They do NOT draw lines between irredeemable Rei fans and all-ok Asuka/Misato/whoever coomers. Anno does not even draw lines between fans of Eva and otaku in general in many of his brutal statements. In fact, if we assume Anno was S2 type Asuka coomer then *all* Asuka fans are denounced in most vitriolic terms, because Anno often self-deprecatingly includes otaku *like himself* as the people who need to get a grip.
The fact that there are also pointed comments towards Rei fans in particular at the time are fully explicable because Rei Cult in the 90s was so large and borderline-parasitic on the work it’s hard for us gaijins to get it now. Comments about obsessive Eva otaku who deified the characters and acted cultishly were more often made because Rei Cult was such an overwhelming fact at the time. This is why production outsiders sharing Anno’s disgust with the fan scene like Kunihiko Ikuhara targeted Rei in particular for “desecration”. It was less about Rei the character and more about the fan cult around her. Furthermore, denouncing the “Rei Cult” of the time in no way logically entails Anno was ok with Asuka/Misato/whatever cults either. We have plenty of statements that denounce all such fan factions.
That Comiket/Rei fans should die/cult leader stuff is also very telling. Elonna used this as example of Anno being anti-Rei fandom, but the full context convo makes it clear Anno is expressing general unhappiness about the fandom. Of course the deep revulsion Anno expresses towards maintaining a personal following and towards cultist mentality also blows a major hole in elonna’s “Anno wants to be Asuka fan Cult Leader” theory as he explicitly rejects any such ambitions.
But in here we just return to his general methodology full of unprincipled exceptions and skewed interpretation. All comments that strengthen his case (Anno or Tsurumaki admitting liking Asuka) are amplified in over the top ways whereas any statements that go against his thesis are dismissed as lies or misleading, even when there is no objective, third-party evidence that would make some of these statements more reliable than others.
I could go on, but I’ve spent more than enough time establishing falsity of P1: Anno loves Asuka and Asuka fans excessively.
-There is zero testimony by Anno or other production staff members indicating Pygmalion-like obsession with Asuka on part of Anno or any other key creative staff personnel (i.e. Tsurumaki) and a lot counterwailing evidence to the idea.
- There is literally zero indication Anno holds special love for Asuka fans and Anno had denied interest in becoming a cult leader of any kind.
P2 Anno hates Rei and Rei fans excessively
Reason why this premise has inverse form of P1 is because just like Anno would need to obsess over and love Asuka in inordinate way to make this attachment raison d’etre of his creative endeavor, he would need to hate Rei in just as inordinate way to make it plausible he'd intentionally "ruin" her character. Mere lack of interest or even existence of antipathy as such would not be strong enough reason to put in so much effort in “anti-Rei conspiracy”. This is just a general point about human psychology, really. If Anno were to feel antipathy towards Rei as character because he is alien and inscrutable to his own psychological makeup, say, that would not motivate him to start a 15 year long campaign to ruin her. As for Rei fans, it would have to be furious personal vendetta straight out of Count of Monte Cristo for him to spend good part of (at least) 15 years of his life on exacting a revenge on this subsection of Eva fandom. Yet not even his most acerbic comments about 90s Rei Cultists point to existence of such monumental chip on his shoulder.
Thus, truth of P2 fails to be established and existence of such hatred is over the top extrapolation of much milder stance. I can just quote elonna directly to show this:
“- Anno does not like Rei, claiming that he has no emotional investment in the character and in tone he is largely dismissive, either forgetting or downplaying.
- Anno often criticizes Japan and the audience for preferring Rei, going as far as to blame the loss in WW2”
Even if both of these statements expressed *the whole truth* on the matter of how Anno feels about Rei and her fandom, they completely fail at establishing degree of malicious hatred and need for revenge that would be needed at minimum to make engagement in great anti-Rei conspiracy as psychologically plausible.
But the case is even weaker than this. There is no indication Anno dislikes Rei per se. His expressions of alienation from Rei and finding her inscrutable must be contextualized – and in here we find the stress Anno repeatedly puts on Rei as being character who reflects and emerges from his subconsciousness, Rei as reflection of his depth psychology. Naturally this means Anno is less consciously engaged with Rei as a creative artist, and this is inevitably so. There are instances of staff members laughing about Anno’s earnest reflections about Rei’s purity and its relationship to his own subconsciousness, the laughter coming from good-natured skepticism about Anno’s subconsciousness being as pure as Rei. Whatever the case, it’s clear Anno’s perception of Rei as such is not negative. High appraisal of Rei’s portrayal in NGE elonna gives would seem to indicate as far as NGE is concerned Anno did not treat her as something intrinsically evil or deplorable. In this he is right. Furthermore, even if Anno were to hate Rei fans for liking Rei for what he takes to be bad reasons this does not count as evidence of Anno hating Rei as such.
So the case Anno has ax to grind against Rei as such is nonexistent. This is why P2 is even weaker than P1, because at least we can confidently establish Anno liking Asuka. We can’t establish existence of any hatred of Rei herself on Anno’s part.
As for dislike for Rei fans in contrast to dislike of Rei, I feel no need to repeat what I wrote while criticizing P1. There is no hypocritical divide Anno draws between Rei fans and other obsessive Eva fans or anime fans in general in his 90s/early 00s denunciations – and the fact Rei fans come under special attention more often at the time simply reflects the size and visibility of the 90s Rei Cult, a phenomenon in many ways detached from NGE on the whole, which epitomized the cultish behavior he despised as he wanted to be no leader of Rei Cult then any more than he wants to be leader of Asuka Cult now.
The only contention falling under scope of P2 with any real evidence behind it is Anno singling out Rei’s extraordinary popularity reflecting degradation of character of Japanese people in postwar era. Anno does indeed say this. But to cite this as evidence of anti-Rei agenda is yet another instance of unprincipled exceptions and cherry picking. In the old The Atlantic piece elonna is alluding to with “Anno blaming WW2” for Japanese preferring Rei Anno denounces far more than just Rei fandom emerging from that defeat. This is the norm. If one really reads Anno’s repeated criticisms of life in contemporary Japan in this key Anno denounced not only Japanese love for Rei, he denounces Japanese love for robot anime and manga as such and *Evangelion on the whole* as product of this stymied mind.
So if this critical stance in Anno’s mind affects how he portrays Rei it affects the Eva on the whole, every character, design decision and plot point of it no less. Because despite his misgivings about modern Japan and anime in particular Anno has not renounced creation of anime altogether, it is inconsistent to think he is going to renounce Rei in particular either, if merely “Fans liking X is because they were turned into retards by nukes” is sufficient reason.
As for why Anno thinks of old fandom preference for Rei as reflecting a lamentable shortcoming in Japanese otaku stance towards women it is well illuminated by untranslated bit from that Noda interview. Elona’s persistent, strange NO U ad hominem against Asuka fans is that Anno and Asuka fans are hypocritical in carving “special room” for Asuka as Real Woman Waifu™ while denouncing Rei as 2D dream waifu for otaku escapists. This twisted, hypocritical psychopathology is supposedly behind Anno’s whole evil masterplan.
At least as far as Anno is concerned, he explicitly refutes the core supposition behind this theory in that interview. In discussing challenges in portraying women in Eva and the process of writing the series Anno concludes ultimately and inescapably Eva too portrays its female characters from male perspective. The difference between 2D qt’s of Eva and other anime is only one: in Eva female characters are portrayed as less ‘convenient women’ than is the norm. But that is all there is to it. Anno clearly doesn’t consider Asuka or Misato exempt from 2D qt waifu nature of Rei. What makes Rei fans “worse” in some case is a matter of degree, not kind.
The Japanese expression for what I TL’d as “convenient woman” is “tsugou no ii onna”, an ambivalent phrase which is often used as backhanded compliment for women who are easy to manipulate or to lead on to point of sacrificing themselves for desires of their male partners. Think a girlfriend you can emotionally neglect and semi-coerce her into sex with little effort nevertheless, or a “traditional” Japanese husband putting her obedient wife into sex industry for a while in order to clear his personal debts.
Whatever we make of Rei’s qualities otherwise it is undeniable in her self-sacrificial nature and deep loyalty to first Gendo and then Shinji she has traits of TSUGOU NO II ONNA in a way ambivalent, inconsistent mental wrecks like Misato and Asuka do not have. There is no sex involved, but in essentials the relationship between Gendo and Rei is a perfect portrayal of abusive and manipulative relationship between a self-centered Japanese patriarch and his “convenient woman”. Rei II’s almost consistent kindness and care for Shinji consistent with her self-sacrificial nature makes her more amenable to self-centered male fantasies of stereotypical otaku.
Of course, you can rightly point out Rei III breaks free of this “doll-like” negative characteristic eventually and even goes through literal apotheosis in End of Evangelion. But if you think it is the inhumane, inscrutable Goddess of Life and Death that led to birth of and flourishing of 90s Rei Cult rather than the perfect wife material bishoujo qt you’re in denial. Even if not, this is how Anno and any other personage involved in critical discussions of Rei fandom at the time (Ikuhara, Noda etc.) *perceived* the reason for Rei’s popularity among fans. In his deeply self-critical understanding of average otaku mentality Anno saw here another instantiation of capricious Japanese male pursuit for TSUGOU NO II ONNA, not love responding to traditional good wife qualities (there’s overlap ofc but attitude on male part is different).
Combine this with Anno’s deeply cynical view of real women at the time as rather inscrutable and harsh *of course* obsession with Rei meant obsession with TSUGOU NO II ONNA even more “convenient” than character like Asuka who at least was somewhat closer approximation to what ‘real’ women were like to him. So, while all waifushittery is bad and product of postwar degeneracy its depth was pronounced in case of 90s Rei Cult because Rei is easier to subsume under that lamentable Japanese male mentality.
If Anno ever consciously tried to torpedo all waifuers and Reifans in particular that was with EoE, not Rebuild.
1 there is no evidence of Anno having negative opinion on or grudge towards Rei at all
2 there is no evidence Anno hates Rei fans to an extent needed to make elonna’s theory about his motivations plausible
Hence P2 fails. Additionally
3 there is direct counterevidence to idea Anno thought of Rei as waifu=bad while Asuka was notwaifu=acceptable (this demolishes core presupposition of elonna’s theory)
4 Anno conclusions about Rei fandom emerging from stymied Japanese mind go for *Eva fandom overall* for very same reasons. Rei is not singled out in the end.
5 Anno dislike of waifushit in case of 90s Rei Cult is about his harsh criticism of Japanese male attitudes to women as being driven by selfish ‘convenience’ considerations, attitude that is easier to indulge in case of Rei vs other Eva girls in whose case this indulgence is easier than with real women. It has nothing to do with Rei as such or Rei as special case. It’s just a difference in degree and the denunciation cuts through the whole male sex (Anno himself very much included) as far as they act on the tendency.
P3 Rei is portrayed weaker in Rebuild than in NGE
There is no evidence for this claim that is not deeply subjective or conditioned by elonna’s overall theory. Elonna talks about Rebuild being conceived as anti-Rei project that has consistently proceeded that way, he even went as far as claiming story decisions in Rebuild are explicable only in light of this theory. I’m going to talk about general absurdity of this account of Rebuild later. In this section I just want to point out his take on Rebuild dissing on Rei is deeply subjective.
*I was there* from the beginning and I can tell you there is zero indication Rei fans at large thought she was getting shafted when 1.0 and especially when 2.0 came out. The impression was wholly opposite. This was the case *everywhere* I saw the issue discussed, from EGF to /a/ to MAL to ANN to professional reviews of the films. In particular 2009-2012 saw endless parade of Rei fans happy to see the anime, too, would finally go to crown the Best Girl as incontestable main heroine while shippers were ecstatic about prospects of ReiShin ship. That this all came crashing down with Q is also well-known, and the resentment of Rei fans for their dashed expectations took on some rather over-the-top forms. (Albeit this level of conspirational thinking was something I hadn’t even thought of.)
If we talk about Q in particular I have some sympathy with “we wuz robbed” feelings. But this is not the case for Rebuild on the whole – and not even Q is anti-Rei in any meaningful way. The parallels between NGE and Rebuild make this clear:
Eps 1-6 = 1.0
Eps 7-23 = 2.0
Ep 24 = 3.0
EoTV/EoE = Final
Rei’s character arc in 1-6 and 1.0 are for all purposes identical. So is that of Rei II and Rei in 2.0, *except* events get condensed in some respects and *Rei is portrayed as more humane and lovable in comparison to her NGE version*. Aka she gets “upgrade” the way elona talks about Shikinami.
Rei’s positive qualities and heroism in Action Arc & Descend Arc are fundamentally unchanged. She’s shown to care deeply for Shinji and she goes out in heroic self-sacrifice in 2.0 too. There’s nothing about her actions in 2.0 that is less heroic than her self-sacrifice attempt in ep 19 and accomplished self-sacrifice in ep 23. 2.0 climax combines these two climactic destructions of Tokyo-3 so yes, Rei “only” gets to sacrifice herself once instead of twice, but this is due to running time/story structure constraints and nothing else, as if anything about nobility of her actions changes by change in number of times she commits essentially same action.
NGE spends most of the screen time with Rei during eps 7-19 building false leads and expectations about Rei II opening up to Shinji and becoming more proactive about her own life and self-motivated. Most of these bits, like Rei-Shinji interactions in eps 15 & 17, ultimately come down to nothing. Rei never makes a proactive step forward in her “relationship” with Shinji, romantic or not. This is because Rei II never overcomes her doll-like passivity and disregard for her own value in time. Even her self-sacrificial actions in ep 19 speak more about her devotion to her duty, death drive and “knowledge” of her own individual irrelevance. It’s only in ep 23 she consciously sacrifices herself for sake of Shinji (and perhaps Gendo too, sorta).
The whole thing ends tragically with Rei II’s noble self-sacrifice after she realizes she cares for Shinji and final nail in the coffin is driven in by Shinji finding out the truth about Rei, Reiquarium and the different and even less “human” nature of Rei III. By end of ep 23 Rei II is dead and so is the individual friendship/budding romance with Shinji, to be replaced by quite different dynamic between Rei III and Shinji for what remains of the show.
2.0 takes the same Rei but instead of false leads that take her character arc nowhere this time around those moments of interaction do develop her character further in a humanizing and “orthodox” way. Her alien, incommunicative, creepy quality is notably lessened. Rei comes to *very consciously* care for Shinji much earlier and goes through cute cooking hardships of her own volition and for his sake. She confronts Gendo and makes major effort to close the gap between him and Shinji in a way unthinkable for NGE Rei II, her motivation clearly being genuine care for Shinji or the father-son pair as such. NGE Rei never did anything like this in the whole span of 7-19. She comes to socialize more strongly with supporting cast (classmates) than she ever did in NGE, rounding out her humanity. In a blunt illustration how much *stronger* and self-assertive 2.0 Rei is ep 22 elevator scene gets replayed with quite different portrayal of both.
And when in the end she goes out fighting self-sacrificially against Zeruel in 2.0 she does so *explicitly* and boldly out of love for Shinji. This is not Rei sacrificing herself because her life does not matter and it’s her duty to NERV/Gendo. This is Rei doing it because there are people she cares about.
That Rebuild via Q may portray Shinji’s actions in doing the “impossible” and saving Rei after she has sacrificed her life for him in negative way *does not in any respect make her own actions in 2.0 suspect or reproachable*.
So, if we’re going to compare NGE Rei II with Rebuild Rei thru 1.0 and 2.0 we find out she’s essentially the same character with her negative traits (nihilistic death drive, eerie alien inscrutability etc.) lessened in favor of humanizing her and having her go through more ‘orthodox’ character development. Using elona’s own criteria for “stronger” character we can say Rei is the strongest she has ever been, EoE GNR incarnation aside. She is certainly “stronger” character than her NGE counterpart was at corresponding parts of the narrative, hence why those of us who were unhappy with Rebuild going soft on us referred to her dismissively as “Poka Poka Rei”.
Now just like Elona says salty Soryuu fans can’t deny Shikinani is the strongest and most appealing version of Asuka, I say the same about Poka Poka Rei. For *most* Rei fans this is the kind of treatment they wanted and Rei reached her peak “general” anime popularity with 2.0, just like Asuka did simultaneously.
I know this because I WAS THERE all along in 2009-2012 Eva fandom as observer of gaijin scene, and after I became moon fluent I’ve spent enough time on measuring the ambience of fandom in Japan during that era.
Especially for Japanese fans overall Poka Poka Rei was undeniably the most popular and beloved take on the character to have existed and adoration for her was universal, from doujin artists to superpopular AKB idols
So P3 is total nonsense as far as Rebuild overall is considered. If Anno’s goal was destroying Rei’s popularity with Rebuild he went about it the worst way possible, by adapting the most iconically Rei part of the story (eps 1-6) straight and vastly “strengthening” Rei for 2.0 to great popular acclaim and deep joy of Rei fans across the globe.
As for Q, Rei is indeed shifted away from the central focus. But this is completely explicable by the fact Q is the counterpart of ep 24. Leaving aside first act setting up this new setting the film is frankly all about Shinji and Kaworu and that relationship gets monomaniacal, feature film expanded treatment. Rei gets shafted, but so does every other heroine.
Shinji’s relationship to Rei(s) parallels him finding out truth about her during 2nd half of ep 23 and then rejecting/running away from her in ep 24. So once again if we compare relevant section of NGE’s narrative to Q we see Rebuild does not fundamentally shaft Rei any harder than the original.
I would argue it’s contrary, in fact. Rei Q is far more integral to proceedings of Q’s storyline than Rei III is during latter half of ep 23 or ep 24. Q does nothing to diminish her status as Rebuild’s main heroine, because Shinji continues to have his most important heroine-interaction scenes with version of her.
In fact, it seems to me Rebuild is building a far bigger role for the “human” Rei in the Final than what EoE did. Rei II died and was replaced by Rei III. In Q “Rei II” and Rei Q (III) BOTH are alive and are set to play a major role in whatever happens in Final.
Fwiw whether Rei gets “shafted” by Rebuild overall is silly thing to argue about before Final comes out. Rei III did not decisively reject Gendo, go rogue and ascend to divinity level before End of Evangelion. You need to compare Rei’s relevance at Ep 24 to Rei(s) in Q to evaluate if her role has been unduly diminished in Q. It clearly has not.
All in all, Rei still seems to have quite clear status as “main heroine” of Rebuild, which is upgrade on her status in NGE. Any talk of her being portrayed as “weaker” in Rebuild is just absurd to me and as someone who remembers the fandom atmosphere 10 years it only feels like I’m being gaslighted.
P4 Asuka is portrayed stronger in Rebuild than in NGE
This has already been discussed in some detail earlier. If we define “stronger” as more easily likeable and less dysfunctional this is true – but in a way that is uninteresting, because same could be said about the whole cast, Shinji aside. It is not a matter of favoritism to Asuka as Shikinami is to Soryu what Poka Poka Rei is to Rei II. So as premise substantiating theory of anti-Rei conspiracy P4 doesn’t get off the ground either, even if in a less hyperbolic sense it is true. But this has everything to do with differences between NGE and Rebuild as works on the whole rather than any waifu war nonsense.
In terms of narrative position – which I take to be more important indication of emphasis given to character than cool action scenes or whether she is more or less fucked up than her original incarnation – Asuka clearly loses out, hard.
I said earlier elona’s case about Anno’s interest in Asuka’s character taking over the anime would be stronger for original Eva, because further the series goes more central stage Asuka claims. Eva’s protagonists are Shinji and Misato, but towards the end Asuka seriously threatens Misato’s status and she could easily be seen as deuteragonist of the whole anime.
This is not the case in Rebuild in which Asuka has been bluntly been reduced to supporting cast member. Even in 2.0 which should in many ways be her central stage (Asuka’s character dominates whole Action Arc and she has three eps in a row 8-10 where she dominates interactions with Shinji, even during Descend Arc she maintains lead over Rei in terms of important drama scenes) and the film that introduces her like Rei was introduced in 1.0 shafts her: her screen time and count of dramaturgically important scenes is squeezed out by both increased focus on Poka Poka Rei and need to cram Mari in the narrative at least in some form.
If one rereads 2.0 CRC interviews where Tsurumaki’s intervention for Asuka appears it is obvious he was not trying to give her undue attention detrimental to the overall feature. It was a valid concern because at that point of story planning her role had been reduced into much weaker one that it is in the final feature: and Asuka never threatens to upstage Shinji or even Rei in 2.0. As for Anno, he was at one point ready to see Asuka replaced by Mari to much larger extent than actually happened as he had no idea what to do with Asuka. This is not how a man with undue fixation on his favorite character acts.
Unlike Rei whose role compared to Action/Descend Arc is expanded Asuka’s whole character is contracted. If it wasn’t for her taking over Touji’s role with Eva-03 she’d be borderline irrelevant to the main narrative. In Q only dramatically important role she plays is in the early confrontation with Shinji and at the very end which does nothing more than set the ground for Final. Inbetween she is just other half of cool action girl combo with Mari.
I expect Final to bring back focus on Asuka as well as Rei, but I find it highly unlikely she’ll play anywhere near as important role as she does in NGE and especially EoE.
So as for P4, it is false if we take it to imply Asuka got special treatment in this regard. If we take it to mean she resembles her “polished”, stereotyped fandom image more than the less neat original incarnation P4 is true, but trivially so because this goes for the work and the cast on the whole.
Popularity polls and Asuka’s triumph over Rei in late 00s and 10s
As for those popularity polls, I think I should address the issue here in Asuka section. Evangelion reached peak mainstream acceptability/osmosis point in Japan with 2.0. Relatively speaking Evangelion was much bigger deal in 90s than Rebuild was in 00s of course, but if we’re talking about box office and reach among casual fans the 2nd Eva boom ignited by Rebuild is more important as commercial phenomenon.
This is because NGE did a lot to create the modern anime market place whereas Rebuild was launched to capitalize on it, commercially speaking. Theatre run for D&R and EoE were nowhere near as extensive as one for Rebuild has been, for example, and this is simply because there weren’t that many movie theatres in the 90s willing to show non-Ghibli anime like that. Esoteric, dark and complex nature of NGE also made it more difficult to approach.
Eva 2.0 was a gigantic blockbuster hit that did equally well in home video sales and was critically well received too. I personally met many casual younger anime fans in Japan who’d never seen NGE proper but who were caught up with Eva hype post-1.0 and went to see 2.0 in theatre – and like it a lot.
This is why I think it’s fair to say both Asuka and Rei reached their PEAK popularity in at least in terms of eyeballs who’d seen them in anime (I’ve not compared sales numbers for character goods between 1st and 2nd Eva booms so I can’t say for certain which one triumphs in terms of goods sold).
Shikinami was more casually likeable than Soryuu – and so was Poka Poka Rei over her gloomier predecessor.
The very same things that made NGE’s gloominess, complexity, and unintelligibility boosts for popularity in the 90s would’ve been a stumbling block in late 00s. Acclimation to changing moods of the era is big explainer for differences between NGE and Rebuild.
Asuka emerging supreme over Rei reflects these many changes. Rei was perfect fit for the mood of Lost Decade, 90s Japan, a tragic pinup beauty in a plugsuit with otherworldly touch and vulnerability. (Rei’s decline in popularity reflects decline of popularity of many tropes associated with her, like that of bandaged, wounded bishoujo.) Japan of late 00s was different and the new generation of anime fans was different, while the older fan generation was in different place. In part Asuka’s popularity reflects increasing westernization of (esp younger generations) attitudes towards women. Hence increasing convergence between western and Japanese fan polls.
But most importantly late 00s was the era of Peak Tsundere in anime fandom. The last really successful Rei clone was Haruhi’s Nagano back in 2006. She ended a run of more or less blatant Rei expys dominant in anime. When 2.0 came out in 2009 anime was FULL of extremely popular feisty tsunderes all over the place, many of them lolis played by Rie Kugimiya. Toradora’s Taiga, Shana from Shagukan no Shana, Louise from The Familiar of Zero, Nagi from the Hayate The Combat Butler. One could also mention other massively popular heroines of the era like Sheryl Nome from Macross Frontier.
Thus there is no need to bicker about “foul play” or whatever as explanation for changing fortunes of Rei and Asuka in the polls. They just represent shifting winds and fashions in taste in Japanese society in general and among anime fans in particular.
In any number of 5ch threads on the subject I’ve idly browsed over last decade there is a definitive change of opinion towards Rei (even from 2009). It has nothing to do with her Rebuild specific characteristics, newer anime fans in Japan just do not see the appeal of the type in general or Rei the same way. This does not change the fact she’s still extremely popular character, but that’s just how it is.
Story changes and creative motivations for Rebuild in general
Finally, some general comments on this. Weakness of the argument itself aside, I see no reason to pay heed to this anti-Rei waifu wars idea because I do not see it as having sufficient explanatory power – and even worse, I don’t see any need to postulate such overarching aims to Anno or other staff members.
We have statements from Anno that make it clear he does not see Rei fans in unjustly, uniquely, and hypocritically negative light vis-à-vis Eva fans or anime fans in general. We have statements from him that make clear his lack of interest in becoming a “cult leader”, despite this being the proffered motivation. We have any number of candid explanations of his creative interests and motivations in general or in case of Rebuild in particular, scattered over decades of interviews, film discussion panels etc. Absolutely none indicate any deep interest in ruining Rei and boosting Asuka in waifu wars. As if all of this wasn’t bad enough for this conspiracy theory Anno is also on the paper on having given up on “social engineering” otakus to get better. I remember when this happened and being vaguely disappoint about Anno not going full postmodern assault on the audience anymore. Anno assaulting waifufans is arguably what in part happened in NGE and esp. EoE (as overblown as “revenge on fans” theories are), after all. That confrontational attitude is good as dead in Rebuild as Anno has seemingly given up.
Thus, the idea he would seek to ruin Rei fans in revenge for not appreciating Asuka all this time later doesn’t even rise to level of absurdity. It’s just inane.
To discount all this testimonial evidence that renders anti-Rei “conspiracy” (and it indeed is conspiracy if real main motivation for making Rebuild is something no one involved in the production process has shed light on during past 15 years) null one has to assume Anno et al have been lying constantly about these matters while arbitrarily speaking the truth about liking Asuka. It is just absurd.
Let me give some examples of “inexplicable” story changes being perfectly explicable without positing such conspiracy. Asuka’s interest in Kaji getting cut and there being explicit scene drawing attention to this fact. It is postulated this is explained through Asuka being made “purer” for waifuers.
This is logically possible, but we know from staff interviews the main reason they had to cut this settei from Asuka’s character was running time considerations + having to keep her status as side character firm. Asuka’s interest in Kaji would’ve been nothing but narrative extra noise, just like throwing in Angel battles from ep 10 and ep 11 wouldn’t have fit in the narrative structure or the limited feature running time. Anno in particular talks about having to cut this and other character building settei from Shikinami, because a) they threatened narrative unity and focus on Shinji b) the didn’t have running time for this stuff anyway.
Anno talks about differences between TV and Film narrative in general and how in usual feature film it is only possible to truly explore in-depth the main character. This is why Rebuild films have been centered so strongly on Shinji and his character arc. Characters that used to have more independent life before like Asuka have been relegated as supporting players to our protagonist and his journey of (non-)growth.
This is why Q maintains such a strong dramaturgical focus on Shinji, Gendo and (kinda) Rei (Q) despite everything. This time around Eva really is a story of Shinji and Ikari/Ayanami family.
The most conspicuous case of character getting shafted because of this (necessary) narrative reorientation around Shinji is Misato. Misato is the co-protagonist of Evangelion together with Shinji, originally. But in Rebuild she has become another supporting character, just like Rei and Asuka. That if anything is a demotion.
Regarding 2.0 Anno also talks about having written more ‘adult’ drama scenes around Misato and Kaji, but these again had to be sacrificed for sake of overall coherence and focus on Shinji’s narrative. Characters that started out as side characters like Ritsuko are now bit players.
Even Rei’s increased and more proactive role in 2.0 is explicable through centrality of Shinji/Rei/Gendo trinity to how Rebuild’s storyline has been framed so far.
Of course, this is also why Kaworu dominates Q, and why Rei (II?) is such a non-entity. The whole film and its exploration of Shinji’s character is premised upon loss of Rei and to lesser extent rest of the ‘friendly’ cast. JUST LIKE EPISODE 24. To have a film focused on Shinji’s isolation and resultant exclusive entanglement with Kaworu necessitates removal of Rei (II) from playing a major narrative role.
As for general “strengthening” of Asuka, that just comes with the territory and style of Rebuild. We know they made a conscious choice to make Eva more approachable and less “fucked up & weird” and in case of 2.0 it was toned down to make it more accessible to somewhat younger (teenage) audiences too. This is secondary reason why some adult drama with Misato, Kaji and I assume Ritsuko was cut and why they discarded storyboards for climax that featured more grotesque, fucked up sexual imagery & symbolism in classical Eva style. Poka Poka Rei, cuter tsundere Shikinami, Shinji being more proactive etc. all reflect these choices above all.
I think it is fair to argue Rebuild flattens the cast in general in a way that fits the simplified, somewhat beautified fan image characters have. Poka Poka Rei reflects the demure, mysterious maiden image of Ayanami just like Shikinami engaging in cute tsundere stuff reflects the general impression of Asuka as archetype and deep influence on all tsunderes to come later. Q also does this with Q Kaworu seemingly being exactly as perfect homojesus with singleminded devotion to Shinji as fans have imagined and reimagined him over 25 years.
Partly this flattening is due to general narrative style choices (Anno wants to play it relatively straight this time around), partly due to necessities of feature format, partly due to Eva this time around being created by industry-wide fanbase among pros who want to partake in creating more of the “legend” – and partly because this is what fans want and like.
Where the anti-Rei conspiracy argument goes horribly wrong is making the unjust assumption this is something that concerns only Asuka positively and Rei exclusively negatively.
Also, whether or not Shinji saving Rei in 2.0 is an “unforgivable sin” or not has nothing to do with Rei beyond at most counting as point against ReiShin. But undesirability of those two as romantic pairing has been settled matter since the original series, so whatever.
Justin Sevakis's contemporary review of 2.0 is very good summary how this "normalization" - or strenghtening - of Evangelion and its cast was received among less hardcore fans.
Anno as otaku
Cursory point on otaku. Anno is otaku, yes, but for him that involved making Ultraman shorts or rewatching Space Battleship Yamato for millionth time in the main. Waifushitting Sailor Moons was, at most, a side dish consideration for his cohort. The sociological layer those members of “otaku generation” belonged to is wholly different from the post-eva Asuka/Rei cultist moe waifu stuff.
In the end, anti-Rei conspiracy theory as explanation of Rebuild and its changes (whether one likes them or not) can be discarded as not only wrong but superfluent hypothesis. There is no mystery regarding treatment of Rei or Asuka that needs to be solved. It is what it is.