Textual and thematic Analysis of Shinji's & Rei's relationship - an Essay

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Textual and thematic Analysis of Shinji's & Rei's relationship - an Essay

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Jun 01, 2021 3:33 pm

I made this writeup to answer a question by a guy on reddit who asked for an explanation/analysis on Rei's & Shinji's dynamic, but ppl encouraged me to post it on its own, so, uh, I thought I'd risk it.

I'd want to break this into three separate points, which can all stand separately from each other:

1. What's their relationship like in general?

2. Was there a romantic component to it?

3. What does it mean in the narrative?

Part 1: General Relationship Dynamic

So while Rei vaguely exists in Shinji's vicinity since ep 1, he only really gets to know her when he's settled down with friends & all, and notices there's one person in his class who still has no friends. He figures that since they're in the same boat as pilots, they should band together.

However, due to multiple embarrassing accidents, Ramiel's attack, Shinji's awkwardness, and Rei's general closed-off ness, it takes him 2 whole episodes to befriend her. Up until this point Shinji has just gone from one emotional outburst to the next, just reacting to things, concerned with his own fear, bitterness & ambivalence, but now that he's attained a semi-regular life, he is actually trying to do something nice. He sees someone who is all alone, known how much that sucks, and wants to do something about it, even when the others tell him that she's basically the class weirdo.

He has some serious foot in mouth moments like insulting someone she's loyal to or postulating that cause she dutifully does it, she must not have really suffered while piloting (the whole topic of Gendo just sets them both off in different ways) but he's determined to try.

Then the angel attacks, and while Rei doesn't suddenly become all friendly or mince words about the reality of the situation (at all!), she is markedly the one person who doesn't judge Shinji for considering to quit, or try to make him do it. With no pressure to reflexively hold against or use as an excuse, Shinji has to consider what HE actually wants... and turns out that he doesn't want to let her fight the monster alone. (that, and he wants Misato & co to need him, it's not 100% black or white)

(the og series doesn't go into detail about why, but in the Rebuilds its show that since she feel she can't leave or be happy outside EVA, she thinks the ones who can leave & be happy elsewhere might as well do it; - see the elevator scene. She is, after all, expendable, & was created "for" the awful parts - or that's what she thinks at the time.)

Of course during the fight, Shinji saves her, & Rei barely knows how to react to the idea that someone wants to protect her - but from that point on, there's a bond between them - markedly, this is when she goes from calling him just 'you' to using his name (something that maybe went over our heads, but is explicitly noted on the jp wiki - notably when the 'third' shows up in ep 23, she's back to just 'you', up until she betrays Gendo.)

Earlier on, she probably visited the hospital because she's a nice person (she shown similar concern when bad things happen to Asuka and Touji) and she said she'd protect him because it is her job, but now she's come to actually like him.

The thing is that Rei is feeling really alone but she's not fully aware of that, still it shown in her actions that, when someone is nice to her, she really values that. All the more so when here comes someone who, unlike Gendo, has no ulterior motive & doesn't see her as anyone else's bargain basement standin. He just wants to be her friend.

& it more or less continues like that the rest of the show, with Shinji trying as best as he can to awkwardly talk to her & do nice things for her, & Rei in turn grows pretty attached to him to the point that she gets really angry when Asuka insults him while he's MIA.

So, if I had to boil their relationship down to a few bullet points,

  • it's very much a "same boat" dynamic - both are socially awkward teens used & exploited by a big scary organization, but at least they can help each other & brave all of this difficult stuff of learning people skills & fighting the angels together
  • She's even more introverted than he is, so, if Shinji just passively waited, nothing would happen, so he has to be proactive here. On the other hand, since neither is super loud & talkative, they don't talk over each other either & eventually get fairly comfortable in each other's presence (well, as much as Shinji can chill - but see that clip from ep 22 that implies they have regular talks on their train rides) As a result, you really see their better characteristics in this interaction; it gets them both out of their comfort zones showing their caring sides
  • There's also a huge aspect of inspiration - She's very often someone whose example spurs Shinji into action; He admires her strength & determination since he finds it very hard to keep soldiering on

Of course towards the end of the series everything goes downhill, Rei sort of dies & then Shinji just doesn't have the nerve to go talk to the other clone. He is told she's an artificial creation, more or less figured out the Yui thing, he's not even sure in how far she's the same person as the one he knew- He just doesn't know what to do, & has no reliable adults left to even talk this over with.

The segment in EoE implies he's a bit mad she never told him; mostly he's just overwhelmed, doesn't know how to act - even so, he most certainly dropped the ball here & could have been a better friend, after all, if it weirds him out, think hoe disorienting this must be to Rei!

But they more or less each stew in their own issues until the big finale happens.

At this point Rei has lost most of her faith in Gendo & doesn't know if instrumentality is really for the better. So she does what most of us would do: Ask a friend. Alas, she has only one, and he's currently in mid-existential crisis. (which isn't improved by Rei showing merged with lillith)

She had her own reasons too for merging with lillith - she hoped she'd find a place where she belongs, ("I'm home") since that's where she originally came from. Or at least, she hoped her painful existence would finally be over - but Shinji screaming his lungs out up there was the last straw.

Once third impact gets going, she does tell him to like consider it properly & gives arguments against instrumentality ("Then what is your hand for?") but she can't give him all the answers either since she doesn't have it any more figured out...

When Shinji requests one Third Impact, please, tho, she accepts - as for why, look at what her many apparitions say while they tang the JSDF corpses: "The world is full of loneliness and emptiness etc." -her own experience in life was no better than Shinjis.

So, they give it a good try. But Shinji decides it sucks. He still thanks Rei for coming to help him & giving him the option, tho as it helped him sort his issues out.

Part 2: Romantic Component
First I want to point out that friendship is not 'lesser' than romance, nor are the two mutually exclusive. Everything I said above would still be 100% true if they're simply important friends. That said, the answer is definitely yes:

  • The proposal (that is, the very first "pitch document" for evangelion) introduces Rei as "...learned about feelings after falling in love"
  • In one interview from around the time when EoE was made, Shinji was asked which of the two pilot girls he likes, & the answer was "both... but also neither" (because his issues get in the way to an extent - as Rei said in EoTV, he needs to love himself first...)
  • She also brought out an 'inofficial image song' after the last rebuild. The first verse is about Rei, the second about Asuka. Going on about someone's "perfect white arms" is definitely love interest talk.
  • One interview relating to the Manga had Sadamoto describing the type of love between them as "love between man & woman" (you can find it on all the Japanese fanwikis since she ship is more popular there) & describing the situation with Kaworu as a "love triangle" - though he flip flops on both their cases depending which interview you look at.
  • Various characters like Misato & Touji tease Shinji about having a crush on her, Asuka acts all jealous etc.
  • ...her whole death scene where the angel takes her shape & does that weird embrace & she concludes that that's a reflection of her deep desire
  • ...just, a whole lot of the cinematography there, the blushes, emphasis on gazes etc.

It's simply what canon depicts, regardless of whether they "should". The whole 'ppl find out they're secretly related' thing is a common tragedy trope as old as books, and in jp media it doesn't even always go hand-in hand with an unhappy ending. It's also not that uncommon in real life for ppl to be ready to get married & then find out one of them is adopted, or a bastard child of the other's parents, or from the same sperm donor etc.

You can't really compare consenting adults (or teens the same age) to, like, some dude raping their daughter or little sister, abusing the preexisting trust to do so & causing lifelong trauma. That sort of thing is bad because its rape, it's exploiting what should be a caregiving bond, & it causes trauma.

None of these things really apply to two people who met as teens and have like a normal classmate relationship. It seems pretty nonsensical that they would somehow think of each other as family if they never lived together. Though it's not an exact match for obvious reasons, even Asuka is almost closer to being a 'sister' because they use first names, live together, act very familiar/casual share parental figures in Misato and Kaji and have some rivalry/spats. Dear only children, take note that a sibling isn't just someone you like but don't boink, it's a specific type of relationship.

Family bonds aren't something that cheap or automatic, they're built over time. If some deadbeat showed up out of nowhere and wanted to start acting like a father, we'd think that is ridiculous. He'd have to get to know the kid & build trust first. So while it is thinkable that, after hearing the revelation, they could eventually build a sibling-like relationship, that would need to be built first.

Stories aren't supposed to be perfect example to imitate, but simply interesting stories, and depictions of feelings.

Part 3: What does it mean
The first thing you've got to understand about Rei is that the point of her is that she is ultimately fundamentally human (there's a really beautiful statement by her VA on this), & that she is her own person, not just a watered-down version of any of the components she was created from.

She was created as a piece of organic hardware, a perfect soldier, an empty vessel to hold Lillith's soul, raised in a sterile, loveless environment with no hope, no dreams, nothing but a cold. clear-cut purpose in the service of someone else, like a mass-produced commodity. No wonder then that she is barely attached to that sort of life. She has little that's truly her own. Not even her face. But under all the numbness & damagedness & the doubt, there's a person with thoughts, feelings, opinions etc if you only bother to pay attention.

She's not a cheap bargain Yui (no matter what Gendo would want), she's just herself.

I really wish ppl who want to pair Shinji with Asuka/kaworu/Mana/Mayumi/Mari/whatevs would just write Shinji & Rei as friends (which they certainly are) instead of erasing her whole struggle & individuality & treat her like the cheap knockoff Yui or lifeless tool that Gendo wants her to be -.-

So, onto the thematic meaning.

Rei as part of a contrast duo

Ovsly EVA is not your usual simple "love triangle story" - rather, the girls, though they each have their own stories, have certain symbolic meanings in regards to Shinji. Sadamoto has described them as "like Ying and Yang" - they're conflicting desires & different drives that act on the human psyches, and Shinji being drawn to both very different girls symbolizes the conflictedness between those disparate drives.

  • Asuka - Rei
  • Sun - Moon
  • extrovert - introvert
  • Body/instinct - Spirit/mind
  • lust/physical love - spiritual/idealized love
  • "Eros" - "thanatos"
  • vitality - sterility/ lifelessness
  • resistance - resignation,
  • defiance - fatalism
  • selfish(but also positive self-assertion) - selfless (but also self-abandoning)
  • excitement, novelty, risk - calm, security, peaceful
  • Pain in interaction - Hope of Understanding
  • Misunderstanding - Communication
  • pretend - genuine
  • tangible, material - ephemeral, ethereal
  • life - death

As you see, both have both negative & positive associations. Both were designed to appeal to fundamental parts of human nature, but also human absurdity (There's one interview where Anno says something like "Rei is for the sadists, Asuka is for the masochists" before thating that we all have both tendencies & just vary in their strength. )

Though I don't think Rei fans are generally sadists, my impression is more that extroverts like Asuka & introverts like Rei. But eh, artists are weird

Rei & Shinji as specific themes

While a lot in EVA was left open for interpretation, this is actually one apparently seemed important enough to actually spell it out in EoE:

Shinji: "Who are you, inside my heart?"

Rei: "The hope that people can understand each other"

Kaworu: "The words 'I like you'"

So there you have it: The 'message' is about hope and communication. This is further corroborated by another interview where Anno talks about how he felt he'd written himself into a corner after ep 6 because the two already "fully communicated" in that scene.

You'll notice that in the train/introspection scenes, Rei often gets the part of the 'conscience'. "But did you REALLY try to understand people?"

When Shinji first shows up he's spent his life having super low expectations to protect himself from disappointment, so hope, to him, is something unsettling & distant, kind of like Rei appears at first. Also, at the very early beginning, seeing one person that Gendo is nice to allows Shinji to think that maybe he has a good side after all.

Gradually he comes to have more hope & maybe outright embrace it, then of course everything goes down the drain & he loses it, but some vague ghost of it remains & turns the tide at the end.

Of course the very next line in that scene from EoE is "But that's like an illusion, a kind of prayer, it doesn't last" - they're ephemeral, transient figures, Kaworu & Rei. Rei, in particular, is an ethereal person that you long for but can't quite grasp, since she dies tragically & what not.

Maybe he lost Rei & Kaworu, but from their example, he knows that connection & understanding are possible, & he can find it again. That won't last forever, either, no relationship will be all sunshine & roses without hardship or misunderstanding (that's what the beach scene is all about), but he accepts this at that point because there are good things, too

In that sense Shinji manages to take a very different path from Gendo, who had one person he loved & then when he lost her figured that all is lost & the world can only be fixed through instrumentality.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Textual and thematic Analysis of Shinji's & Rei's relationship - an Essay

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Postby eldomtom2 » Thu Jun 03, 2021 7:24 pm

And the Oedipus Complex? You can hardly ignore that.

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Re: Textual and thematic Analysis of Shinji's & Rei's relationship - an Essay

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Postby Kendrix » Fri Jun 04, 2021 5:41 am

It's certainly quite likely that Shinji had, like, some eeries sense of foreboding or weird familiarity - just from the superficial resemblance, but this was probably something that he would have perceived as more unsettling than anything else, since it would've brought the buried traumatic memories of the activation experiment closer to the surface -
But ultimately that's all it is, superficial resemblance. You could maybe chalk up the initial interest to that, but not their whole friendship.
Rei is Rei. If you're looking for Yui in there, like Gendo did, you'll be sorely disappointed.
& when Shinji does remember, & consciously realize the connection, he withdraws.
As I mentioned above, it's definitely a point where he effs up, cause he used to be that one person who saw Rei as just a normal classmate, & now he won't got to her - among other reasons - cause he sees this overlay of something else, can't deal with the added complexity, as with the others.

Now I don't wanna go to far in saying that Shinji could/should have done more to help the ppl around him in the descent arc - he could've tried, but it's also very important to get that it's only normal for a young inexperienced person to be overwhelmed there & part of the problem is that he blames himself too much for everything that ever goes wrong.

Clearly it would've been worth a try to like go & talk it out; Rei herself would've been very confused at the time and unable to give him clear answers she doesn't really have so this could just as easily have blown up, what they're gonna do with this info - wether they decide that they don't mind & want to keep everything as it was, or if they want to try building a family-type relationship there.

Ppl keep throwing that out as a gotcha without reading up on the actual theory (or how it's since been revised by modern analysts) & end up treating Rei as just an one-dimensional symbol while ignoring that whole arc & huge level of detail going on in the actual show.
It was certainly the idea at the start but not necessarily what resulted when they actually started writing the character & she ended up becoming not a symbol but almost this self-portrait of anno in a way -
She's got his dislike of meat, his disinterest in people/ detached nature, affinity for 'artificial' surroundings, bad eating habits (& when those changed, so did Rei's in the rebuilds) the soot stains in her house is a reference to one time he didn't notice a fire in his own etc. - I guess all the deep subconscious bits that feel too "weird" to be voiced on-metaphorically.
I don't think anyone would give so many of their own traits to a character who was just meant to be a cautionary symbol of everything bad instead of a genuine expression of feelings we're supposed to pay attention to.

But I feel like ppl a lot of time take that one idea & extrapolate everything from that instead of paying attention to what's actually on screen like a lot of the time I hear stuff like "Rei is all pliable and welcoming" - no she's not, she's universally shown as distant & hard to get to know, & she's often the one pointing out the uncomfortable truths, including down to the very instrumentality scene, or, "Rei encourages passivity" when she's often the one who inspires Shinji to do more active, brave things - he kinda has to be active, cause she's not going to push him or approach of her own accord, so if he does nothing, nothing will happen.
So ppl equate her with something that she's actually really ambivalent on (instrumentality), brings up counterarguments for & ultimately goes through with cause her life sucked ("the world is filled with emptiness...") when the actual movie instead identifies her with the sort of hope that led Shinji to want to go back...
And definitely not as the 'easy option' considering she's right there with Misato and Asuka in the train montage about difficulties and uncertainties, getting a lot of underrated dialogue.

If you really wanted to get into it that would be a separate thread & would involve discussing Shinji's actual parents, his lack of independence etc.
The way this is supposed to be resolved in child development is that you eventually don't stay attached to your mom but end up looking for someone vaguely like her with similar good characteristics.
Much of the OG theory was very gendery in ways typical of the age it's from, though nowadays modern psychology still believes that your basic 'attachment system' is still shaped by your parents & that there's various 'traps' you can fall into like ending up with a similar type of asshat in trying to get love you were missing in child. Or sometimes the partner is fine and the problem is you falling back into your childhood reactions, like defensiveness or people pleasing - see Misato's case where she freaks out when a genuinely good match vaguely reminds her of someone who treated her bad.
Though it's worth noting that trauma always makes you hypersentive & afraid of reliving the same trauma again.
It should be noted though that in the regular case, copying what evidently got your parents laid and produced you would be a good thing, which is why humans evolved that way - if you saw your parents treating each other good and treating you good, you'll go looking for the same good treatment and repeat it to your own kids.

I don't think Shinji remembers enough about Yui to have any idea what she's like - all he has are vague, idealized, highly incomplete memories; Her impact on his development was mostly creating inconstancy by suddenly disappearing. - maybe if you squint/insist you could see as trying to getto know Rei as trying love from someone similar to Gendo (standoffish, unreadable, mission-focussed, similar mannerisms etc.), but that would be a problem if she too had ignored him etc. but he actually did get a real positive bond/friendship out of it.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Textual and thematic Analysis of Shinji's & Rei's relationship - an Essay

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Postby Sefirot Tree Of Life » Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:45 pm

Thank you for the writeup! Shinji and Rei are both among my favorite fictional characters of all time, and their relationship is one of the most beautiful in the show - they quintessentially help make Eva what it is.

I completely agree with you on how Rei is completely mischaracterized by the fandom. She is NOT a submissive waifu doll - this is just blatant misinformation and disingenuous lies. Rei is one of the most proactive and independent characters in the show.

I am very disappointed when Anno seemingly does not understand the appeal of Rei or know what to do with her - especially when you pointed out that Anno seeming put a lot of his own traits into her. I fully believe Shinji and Rei had very solid momentum established in the earlier episodes, and thus could have been explored well into the Action Arc, as both the positives and negatives of Rei and her relationships are explored. Like you said, Rei is completely and utterly HUMAN - and exploring her at her good and bad would have only further shown this and made her human. It’s a damn shame she rarely is, and is reduced to a plot device and a meta character.

Rei’s differences and how she is a foil to Shinji and Asuka - really, she’s almost their exact opposite, and to Kaworu as well. It’s something I wish fanfics and fandom and writers acknowledged, rather then making them so similar.

Regardless of whether or not Rei and Shinji continue their relationship post EoE (Given Rei is apparently fucking dead, which again to me just seems like a way to unnecessarily stagnate her character) as a romance, as siblings, or just as friends, I truly think they’ll both bring nothing but positives and a strong benefit to each other’s lives. ReiShin’s potential conflict (Which is not really expanded on in the series aside from a few moments) showcases them as radically different people who argue on a different way then AsuShin, but they’re not nearly as dysfunctional- really, given the positive effect they both have on each other, it’s probably the single most mutually beneficial in the show.

If Anno hadn’t dropped Rei’s character, what do you wish/think could or would happen with her character? Would she have any conflicts with Shinji? What would they be like?
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Re: Textual and thematic Analysis of Shinji's & Rei's relationship - an Essay

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Postby Kendrix » Fri Jun 11, 2021 4:40 am

This whole "Anno hates Rei" thing is entirely unfounded and the result of people taking bits from an interview filled with artist-speak out of context. In the very same one, he says she comes from the "purest, most core" part of his unconscious.

As for "forgetting" about her, he's been known to say the same of Shinji in the midst of making 2.0 or the show as a whole.

Among authors there are those who view their characters like their children, and those who look at them through an unattached, tool-like perspective. You kinda need the tool view a little bit if you want to give them edges or have dramatic events kill them all.

as far as my opinion goes, I think in the end it all worked out in his favor as far as the OG series went, it looked like he was being mysterious on purpose and he got the idea tap flowing again by the climax arc. Besides, I feel like ep 11 has some rly good Rei moments whose presence I kinda missed a bit in the rebuilds.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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