Blood and Fire — Soryu Asuka Langley


Why Asuka?

What is it about that “egotistical redhead”?

Well, it wasn't intentional on my part.

A Bad Start

With very little exposure to anime, and most of my knowledge of the tropes coming from Big Eyes, Small Mouth, after the first half-dozen episodes I had been expecting the series to be a two-level thing, the mecha action in one strand, and the schooldays story in the other, with a slow, shy blossoming of a romance between the pilots of the first two Evangelions. And then this noisy strident interloper seemed to arrive in order to steer the series into broad comedy, destroying the quiet slice-of-life aspect.

Towards the end of ep #10, I was thinking “Ah — this is anime — they can and do kill characters here.”, and was bracing myself for Asuka to leave the series abruptly as she arrived, and against a super-size installment of Ikari-kun angst the next episode. Then, during much of ep #11 I was thinking “She is such a complete cow! She should have taken an early bath, so she wouldn't be picking on poor Rei.” and observing to myself that Rei was doing pretty much the same as I would in equivalent circumstances.

But by ep #16, I'd found myself doing a complete 180°. They served her a low blow that time, and one that touched on a personal traumatic episode that is still a little tender even nearly thirty years on. And as things went downhill from there, there was a lot more of Asuka that hit me where it hurts than either of the other pilots (even if my exterior demeanour is more Shinji and/or Rei). And from there it was all downhill for her, almost to the end.

The end of the TV series seemed to provide some closure, some redemption.

From the Jaws of Victory

And then I saw End of Evangelion. Asuka finally wakens to what it is she has been missing all this time, has realised the love her mother has for her — if not healed, her feet have been set on the path to healing — and then at the moment of her seeming triumph, she is again knocked down, to vicariously suffer her mother's violation, dismemberment and death; then the indignities of Instrumentality, to end up spat out on the darkling shore, defeated, worn, perhaps broken once again.

Wouldn't you decide that “This sucks!” under those circumstances?

Troubled Youth

Perhaps I'm slightly biassed — rather than seeing the pilots as identification figures, being older than the entire cast apart from Fuyutsuki [at time of writing], I don't see myself as someone who would be exposed to the treatment she met out to her classmates, but as one who would be shown her talking-to-adults side (though hopefully not the sort of attention seeking she turned on Kaji!).

Yes, she was indulging in a lot of displacement activity in the early episodes — but at the time, Asuka is 13 (her 14th birthday is 4-Dec-2015). How many people can honestly say that they were serious, sober, responsible, together, introspective, mature personalities at that age? Not me, for one.

Now add to that the fact of having been hot-housed through university already — and if you look at real-life examples of the same, the results are in the main not very pretty. Intellectual and emotional maturity don't correlate — you end up with someone who is a mess of coping strategies. And that's before we add in the particular idiosyncracies of her background, which were not conducive to emotional support, the suicide of her mother before her 4th birthday, and the madness preceeding it.

Being able to emulate something approaching to normal social behaviour is actually quite good going under the circumstances. Even if that emulation is hard and spiny (hedgehog's dilemma from the other side to that which Shinji displays).

And then she gets cooped up with a mixed bunch of other damage cases.

If ep#22 didn't make it clear enough, the added DC material (“You won't even hold me.”) makes it quite blatant that there is a lonely, abused child under all that armour.

Setting aside the issue of how much of her behaviour is sexualised against how much is merely infantile (a distinction which even the supposedly adult Misato can't seem to make, so what can we expect of a hormonally turbulent early teen with other emotional difficulties?) — we get straight at the nub of the whole series : the precarious nature of human relationships, and the quest for unconditional acceptance.

Love, actually

Yes, I am that atypical beast, the Asuka fan who is a Rei/Shinji shipper, even (especially) in the teeth of much sub- and extra- textual material that points the other way.

After all, the added material in the DC/NPC versions of the later episodes, where not revealing secrets of “what is really going on”, are all directed at ret-conning Asuka's feelings for Shinji into more than more than just ego-feeding demands for attention from a pliable victim.

The only thing that Shinji has to offer Asuka beyond that, something that would make him have any sort of claim to be a match for her, is the fact that he is another pilot, another of the Chosen Children. But even there, he does come rather last in a field of one. Only their proximity in the face of a lack of competition (the stock-breeder's adage of “put them together and they will breed.” comes to mind here) offers any reason for that relationship to go anywhere.

(Shinji/Rei, OTOH, had much more potential as a quiet, understated, and very sweet romance, with the two hesitantly encouraging each other out of their shells — rather more like the manga, in fact — at least until the point that the players have to remove their masks in the end-game. And even there, the canon has Rei's last words in Terminal Dogma as “Ikari is calling.”)

Kiss me, Kate

Given some of the supposed real-world events mirrored in NGE, and EoE in particular, is that final scene meant to echo The Taming of the Shrew? That was a play I first saw performed as a feminist polemic, and in that manner it was pretty much as gruelling as EoE.

That would offer an explanation as to why the concept art for the Live Action movie renames her as Kate Rose.

For better, for worse

Why choose that particular image at the top of the page, when there are simply dozens of far more sexy (or ecchi or hentai) images to choose? [Or, in 2023, can be invoked as generative art?]

Because it is the best depiction I've seen of how she really is, lost and sad.