Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Uncovering New Secrets
The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion had a lot of weird stuff going on. Well, oddities were its selling point much like other anime, though much to our disappointment, most of the symbolism meant nothing. The crosses looming in the background and the religious imagery were just there for aesthetics. And who knows if the cryptic endings were all for empty shock value. Again, the murky context of the EVA series is proof of how deep the series is, based on how it wracked your brain.
But that doesn’t mean that it is all meaningless gibberish.
Depressions and philosophies were well represented in encoded sketches. And just recently (which was briefly covered in an earlier article), I uncovered a rather curious revelation by our troll-in-chief Hideaki Anno. In an interview, he claimed that this sexually ambiguous character, Kaworu, was intended as Shinji’s idealized version of himself.
Okay, that got me. I tried to do some research about the subject. Turns out it happened in the 1996 interview for the JUNE magazine. Now JUNE is Japan’s oldest yaoi magazine to anyone who didn’t know. Now I’m not into any guy-to-guy romance, and for me the "Kawoshin” is the silliest EVA theory I've heard. Yet the fact that Shinji met the perfect version of himself got my mental gears going.
The Interview With JUNE
Before anything else, let’s get straight to the interview. At several pages long and with the threat of plagiarism, I won’t post everything. But we will get to some supporting phrases anyway. Again, it happened in August 1996. As the interview goes on about the character Kaworu Nagisa, Anno mentioned something like this:
Interviewer: But wouldn’t the name Nagisa Kaworu fit even a girl?
Anno: But that’s a young man! There’s no feminine sense whatsoever, right? Because it’s Shinji and another Shinji. Since it’s an ideal of Shinji’s* that’s appearing, it can’t be a girl.
Interviewer: Ah, I see.
As Anno mentions, Kaworu would be Shinji as how he wanted to be; good looking, gentle, and friendly. In fact, if Shinji could remake himself, he would be Kaworu. This might explain why Kaworu never became a girl despite his feminine name. We are talking about a Shinji recreation here and we will see someone like Nadia if we insist on a girl.
Kaworu’s Appearance in the Evangelion Series
Kaworu’s sudden appearance in the Evangelion series captured fans’ imagination. He was only there for an episode yet the dirty minds of shippers got the best of them. I mean what were they doing together in the shower? Anyway, in general he was intended as the 17th Angel Tabris. Unlike many others, he was an Angel of free will, not an abstract figure out to wreck Tokyo 3. What’s more, he was the vessel of Adam’s soul.
Now for some fans the sudden appearance of Kaworu in Shinji’s life has deeper meaning. He suddenly popped in when Shinji was a virtual waste. After Toji’s entry plug was crushed, he hated his dad. All his friends left after the city went to pieces. Asuka had a mental breakdown, Rei is a new clone, and Misato was turning into a pedophile. And to see a better version of him befriending him was a relief from these harsh realities, almost like a surreal dream.
How I See Kaworu
Now being a mind-wracking anime, the Evangelion series could mean anything. When others see this as yaoi material, some fans took it a step deeper. Right now Shinji got his wish, but it is Anno we are talking here. It is bound to have a darker ending. You might have guessed that being an Angel, a friendship between him and the human Shinji is not meant to be. In the series, when Angels and human collides, someone will go. A fan once pointed out that Kaworu is a representation of a perfect world that doesn’t exist. He is too nice and perfect to exist, and this seems to convey to the audience that in the flawed world, perfection is an escape. And Kaworu’s death is an awakening to a darker, but real world (we will have more of that below).
In my case I found Shinji’s close relationship with Kaworu as a sign of self-hate and lack of confidence. Again, Kaworu is Shinji’s idealized version. A version he loved more than his small and weak self. I find it similar to Ron Weasley’s encounter with the Mirror of the Erised. But now he sees a tangible version of a perfect self, and his friendship to him is an indication of how he is drawn to a better Shinji rather than this depressed soul.
How I See Kaworu's Death
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Kaworu met a rather gory death in the hands of the EVA Unit 01, with Shinji inside. Yup, it was Shinji who killed him. Under his control, his EVA unit took off Kaworu’s head like a cork from a bottle. The remnants of his blood was seen in the EVA’s hand during the unit’s clean up (I’m not sure though if they are cleaning the unit).
Actually, Kaworu’s death is an act of self-sacrifice. He let Shinji willingly kill him to let Lilin live and the Angels to remain dead. Again, as what’s mentioned above, some fans interpret his death as an awakening to reality. He represents an idealized world, an escape or a fantasy that we must awaken from. Killing Kaworu is an act of rejecting this fantasy and embracing the real, but darker world.
As for me, this is another sign of Shinji’s weakness. The killing of an idealized self by a weaker version is an animated personification of self-defeat. It is like telling the audience how Shinji’s weakness overpowers his strength, shown on how the weaker Shinji killed Kaworu.
And Then Comes the Shippers
I know people will disagree, but I’m prepared for the backlash. With those mentioned above, you might understand how I don’t approve of this “Kawoshin” thingy. Far from male romance, Shinji is simply drawn to his idealized self, nothing romantic really. Kaworu is also the friend he longed for in these dark times where the people around him are in need of therapy. Deeper still, Kaworu might just be some symbolism, one of those cryptic mind wracks that Anno made to give the otakus migraines. And who knows if Anno made him to annoy the shippers everywhere? We are not even sure why Kaworu befriended Shinji, and such ambiguity is what tickled the dirty minds of some naughty fans. In the end, the ever mysterious (and somehow disturbing) Kaworu further deepens the Evangelion mythos.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
AJ on September 10, 2020:
This is a very thoughtful article, and I agree with most of the points made, however I don't think that Shinji killing Kaworu is an act of weakness. On the contrary, I interpret this as an act of acceptance. Kaworu swans in and befriend Shinji, and Shinji himself has no idea why Kaworu is even interested in being friends with him bevause in Shinji's eyes Kaworu is so much better than him. Bit this friendship serves as a message to Shinji that he is worth it and he should accept himself just as Kaworu (the idealized version of himself) does. When Kaworu has Shinji kill him, what I think he is doing is helping Shinji to let go of this ideal and accept himself as he is. Kaworu is an angel, the ideal, but for the sake of the world, humanity, and even Shinji himself, he must be destroyed. Kaworu can do nothing to save humanity despite his perfection, only Shinji can. Ideals can save anything. I think its this idea, and the character development it creates is what the message of Kaworu's existenxe and subsequent death is.
Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on October 05, 2019:
Thanks! I will check that evageeks website. I might learn more from it.
Jeremy Gill from Louisiana on October 05, 2019:
@Mamerto and Rachael
For some interesting tidbits regarding Shinji's relationship (and romance or lack thereof) with Kaworu, I recommend checking out the EvaGeeks website, which has all kinds of in-depth analyses.
There I learned that when Kaworu "held" Shinji's hand (episode 24), it was supposed to be a briefer "touch" but was miscommunicated to the animators. Additionally, many (myself included) believe that Kaworu's interactions with Shinji represent his feelings for humanity in general.
I might do a full article on it at some point, but to me it wasn't so much romance as it was Shinji needing attention and Kaworu discovering more about mankind. But, like just about everything in NGE, it's ambiguous.
magius2013 on August 22, 2018:
throughout the anime, the angels tried to understand humans. As beings in close genetic makeup,that was easy. the angels tried to understand the mind and soul, and thats where it gets interesting. Kaworu is an angel, and to be capable of form, Kaworu form is almost androgynous because if you can accept a higher version of a human being...both sexes...in one. isnt that what the show was about. A return to the whole. And in being, Kaworu thoughts and self was caable of love for both sexes, even though he wasnt sexual in nature. Kaworu acted to make Shinji happy. Shinji was wasted...and willing to give into anything..but they were never "gay" in the sense...it was about love. pure form
Naomi Starlight from Illinois on May 16, 2018:
Plus in End of Eva, Shinji is terrified of Giant Naked Rei and only accepts Instrumentality when she changes form. Becoming Giant Naked Kaworu. It's shown by the infamous 'tang' scene that she changes form to look like people the target person loves, Yui for Gendo, Ritsuko for Maya, etc. So that proves that Shinji loves Kaworu.
Sevy on May 15, 2018:
Kaworu being an idealized version of Shinji =/= romantic feelings between them is impossible.
They are two SEPARATE individuals who hit it off right away. Shinji was desperate for affection and comfort and Kaworu is fascinated by Shinji's dismal existence and later on came to sympathize and love him. It's that simple. The mental gymnastics some Eva fans go to to deny Kaworu and Shinji being gay for each other despite it being so blatantly obvious because it makes them comfortable is quite frankly hilarious.
Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on April 19, 2018:
Thanks for sharing your lovely views Rachael. Well there could be a bit of romance between the two boys, or something even deeper than what I could understand. But thanks for clearing up something!
Naomi Starlight from Illinois on April 19, 2018:
Shinji is also a deconstruction of the harem anime protagonist archetype. He can't form a relationship with anyone, even if he wants to, because of how broken he is, how broken the "deres" he meets are, who would normally be willing sex objects for his fantasies, and how flawed the world is in general. He starts with Rei. He cannot have a real relationship with her. She's not a kuudere, in a cutesy harem anime sense, but a soulless clone with many battle scars. And she's blindly loyal to Gendo, which puts him off. Then there's Asuka. She acts like a harem anime tsundere. But she has no sweeter side. She just acts superior and haughty because of her psychological scars. Then there's Misato. Normally in anime, an older woman who drinks and acts sexy is hot, a teen boy's fantasy. And living with such a woman is a sexual fantasy. But Misato spirals into depression after losing Kaji and seeks to uncover the truth behind the SEELE conspiracy he was trying to unveil when he was murdered. No time to be the cute, fun 'bottle fairy' she was introduced as. This show is saying people exist for their own reasons, not for your (the viewer's) sexual fantasies. Then Kaworu's story is a breaking down of the yaoi idea that a boy who has no success with women will be uplifted by a Manic Pixie Dream Man. That realizing he was gay was the reason he had no luck. It's deconstructing many anime tropes but also showing how flawed it is to assume that someone with problems like Shinji has (depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, paranoia, etc.) can be "fixed" by finding the right partner.
Naomi Starlight from Illinois on April 19, 2018:
" sexually ambiguous "
Lol, he's clearly gay or at least very clearly sexually attracted to Shinji. If a girl had done half of the things with Shinji that Kaworu had done they would have called them the official couple!
Also, didn't Gendo force Shinji to kill him? He did it technically, but he was not controlling the Eva at that time IIRC.
Anyway, it seems weird to ignore the romantic aspect of something that's clearly and obviously a romantic relationship. Albeit, one-sided. Shinji doesn't seem to return Kaworu's feelings. He likes having someone pay attention to him, but I think the killing of Kaworu represents Shinji seeing himself as unworthy of being loved. So it IS about love.