But it's not really the audience staring. It's Shinji. You are made to view things from his eyes - horny 14 year old eyes. Anyway, I think we're going in circles here. You chose to view the scene in the bath house as Misato groping Asuka's breasts in a sexual manner (or whatever came to your mind). I saw it more as Misato trying to play big sister to Asuka, teasing her a little, showing how she has a childish side. For all we know, she could be trying to tickle Asuka ... Now, is that inappropriate? Yes, for sure - but again, there's more going on here than "omg pedophilia/audience titillation." Like Shinji, we don't see what's actually going on. And, in the best case, we react the same way Shinji does: imagine stuff that isn't there, become embarrassed because of it. And voilla, the audience can identify with Shinji. Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean it's bad.
BusterMachine4 wrote:but completely hijacking the tone of the show for a few episodes before changing it back to what it was originally is not a good idea in my book.
It was a brilliant idea. Asuka gets introduced and hijacks the show completely for a few episodes. Suddenly, there's action and funny stuff happening, things become lively. Shinji is ripped out of his small little world of worry and depression and sees that there's actually light in the world. Now, we all know it's a ruse, but still. And it's not like the show loses its depth completely. How does the Onsen scene end? With Misato and Asuka sharing a moment of somber reflection. "You know all about my past, don't you?" It doesn't end on a high note, or a comedic one. It has these darker moments throughout. Like when Asuka asks what will happen if they don't capture Sandalphon, and Ritsuko answers that the JSSDF is on standby, ready to nuke them into The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Which is exactly what happens in EoE.
Then you have Asuka's highly inappropriate attempt to seduce Kaji when she goes swimsuit shopping with him. Her later showing off to Shinji is her trying the same thing again, to combat her insecurities. It didn't work on Kaji - but it should work on baka hentai Shinji, right? Except it doesn't. He doesn't stare at her, he looks away. He's no fun like that. She even has to call out to him when she does her dynamic entry into the bath, practicing her diving skills, to get him to look at her - "You wouldn't even look at me!" (As for why Shinji is studying besides the pool: eeeh ... it's "be at the pool" time in school. But he hasn't finished his homework yet. So instead of going swimming, he uses the time the best he can to catch up. Could he have gone somewhere else? Yes, sure, but he didn't. It's not a massive plothole or inconsistency. It's just Shinji stuff: he was told to go to the pool with the rest of class (which in this case is only him, Asuka and Rei), and he does, because Shinji does what he is told. Anyway ...)
Eeeh, where was I. Oh, right, volcano. Notice how Misato ignores the safe depths warnings, not giving a second thought to Asuka's safety? That's because her main goal is taking revenge against the angels. She's willing to let Asuka die, here - just like in EoE, when she orders her to fight the MP-Evas. In this case, she's trying to capture or kill an embryonic angel. I bet there's an abortion metaphor somewhere in there. Remember what was said about Kaworu: "He is human like us" - well, Kaworu is an Angel - Sandalphon is an Angel. He's human, like us. A baby, to be more precise. Notice how Sandalphon does this sucking motion with his mouth when he "bites" down on 02's head? Remember that 02 is a clone of Adam. Adam is the mother of the angels. Sandalphon is lonely and wants his mama - and he's just minutes old. He sees something that could be his mother and tries to get her to feed him. That's where the noose comes into play: Asuka, like Kyoko, ignores her "child". In fact, she kills it, ironically by "feeding" it the cooling liquid. That whole scene looks like a "enter the womb" metaphor. It gets picked up later in EoE, complete with Asuka reaching out for somebody and her plug interior turning red. In EoE, her mother takes her hand. Here, it's Shinji, and it's (iirc) the only time she smiles fondly at him. Baka showed some backbone for once, and nobody ordered him to. He's actually capable of helping her - which makes it all the more tragic that he doesn't come to her aid when she calls for him in EoE.
The point of the deep dive example was that there's a difference between static and dynamic stress. Dynamic stress means the stress is applied for a short time. Punch a plastic bottle - peak stress will be pretty high, but very short in duration. Bottle stays intact. Place a heavy stone on top of the same bottle - sooner or later, it will get crunched. Static (or constant) stress leading to material failure. Same principle applies to the dive into magma. Shinji is fine diving for a short time - but notice how even then, 01's armor begins to melt. Asuka was down there much longer. She needed additional protection. Besides, at the point Shinji was jumping in to rescue her, she had been ascending for a long time. So she was in an environment with less ambient pressure.
Anyway, I'll stop my rambling now. I typed all this out from memory, I'm sure there's more to the episode than this, and it's a disservice to reduce it to silly Shonen anime antics. It plays with the tropes, yes, but it isn't a pointless or bad episode. It sets up a lot of what will be picked up on again later.