Loved this episode for a variety of reasons and Imma try to put it to words here and see where that leads.
Part 1: On Evangelion’s Shinji Voice Actor:
I love Evangelion. I think Hideaki Ano was extremely successful in opening up a textbook of psychoanalysis, one on Judeo Christian Imagery and one on the History of Mecha/Kaiju anime and synthesizing those works into a singular work of art. It’s a series that people tend to love or hate. I have multiple memories of my teenage self getting on forums to debate some dude who was throwing shade on Shinji as a character. To me, Shinji has always been one of my favorite heroes in media because his arc isn’t a straight line. It’s incredibly convoluted, you can get an episode where he feels like he got his shit together only to fall back in the next episode. There’s a lot about it that I could relate to when I was struggling with my mental illness. The idea that, especially when mental illness is chronic, an accurate character arc is not usually as neat as what you can fit into a series/movie. We have moments of victory and failure intermixed in a given amount of time and being able to juggle them constantly without losing sight of the minuscule ways in which you are growing is half the battle.
When it comes to the representation of Shinji’s gender, it’s a topic that I struggle with. Mainly a debate on whether the enactment of his gender is something that Hideaki Ano sees as a positive representation of his identity that he has to comes to terms with or a pathologic representation of his fractured masculinity as a result of an absent father figure. And I’ll try to explain what I mean by both and later explain how I feel the new voice acting plays into this.
~Shinji’s “Fractured Masculinity”~
One way we can interpret Shinji’s genderqueer expression is deeply founded in the classical psychoanalytic ideas of early psychoanalysis and how Hideaki Ano portrays these ideas throughout his work. A lot of Freud’s earlier works and certainly the most studies hinge on the acceptance of binary gender as a norm. The perceived appropriateness development of men requires the child to learn to desire his mother while simultaneously hating and seeking to emulate his father in an attempt to win his mother over. This is a requirement for men to grow into their masculinity and can be pathological if the child stays in this stage for too long or represses it. Hideaki Ano is very direct in his references to psychoanalysis. I do not believe he makes an attempt to question the theory but rather he uses psychoanalysis as a theory for which he develops the relationships in EVA. Everything from Shinji’s relationship with his father; to the way the diverse cast of women all fit nicely into tropes within psychoanalysis strictly about women; to the way the EVAs are literally and metaphorically a mother’s womb; leads me to believe that Ano subscribed to the interpretation of psychoanalysis that depends on the acceptance of a purely binary gender.
A lot of the show confirms a lot of biases that Freud admitted as a flaw in his theory in his later years. Characters like Kaji remind the viewer that women are intrinsically mysterious and far off. Asuka and Rei play out the Foreign Liberated woman vs Docile Traditional woman trope that tightly binds to the whore/virgin dichotomy. Both Misato and Ritsuko are women who attempt to fill male roles (effectively working through their penis envy) but their flaws lie in their inability to break through their Electra complex. Misato keeps coming back to Kaji because he reminds her of her father and she feels dirty because of it. Ritsuko successfully plays out the Electra complex as she attempts to romance the man her mother had attempted to romance before only to find herself discarded by Gendo’s cold and removed demeanor. Essentially this leads me to believe that Ano did not mean to exalt Shinji’s genderqueerness but instead frame it as an unfortunate aftereffect of his broken relationship with his father. This is further supported by the fact that near the end of the series Shinji envisions a possible universe in which he was emotionally well adjusted, in this world Shinji can accurately perform masculinity not only in his voice but also by successfully and unabashedly objectifying Misato when she appears at school as teenaged men should.
~Shinji’s Wonderful Genderqueerness~
When I take this interpretation on EVA I try to take in mind that there’s a big difference between what is portrayed in a scene as-is, what is interpreted defacto by the general audience and what certain, often marginalized groups, interpret in an attempt to adapt aspects of a narrative to their struggles. Shinji’s genderqueerness can be seen as an intrinsic part of who he is which he has to come to grips with. Often throughout the series Gendo, Misato and Asuka all in their ways try to push Shinji into becoming more masculine-presenting. Gendo does so to get Shinji to bury his emotions and stick his mind to the task of piloting an EVA. Misato will often tell Shinji to be a “big boy” or a “man” when she tries to convince him to have a better hold on his emotions, a tactic often used to shame men into foregoing introspection in favor of perming masculinity that is unscathed by trauma or indecision. Asuka often goads or shames Shinji into presenting as more masculine by telling him to be a man and take charge etc. Throughout the series, Shinji struggles from being a deeply introspective person who struggles with mental illness and simultaneously trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations of who he should be. One of which is, Masculine. There are moments that I love in the series where Shinji questions the perceived models of toxic masculinity in the series. One of my favorite ones is when he confronts Kaji (A figure that I believe is portrayed as a “misunderstood” idealized version of masculinity as the series drags on) and tells him that he does not find that he is a good man. There are also these moments of empathy in the series when Kaworu appears where Shinji allows himself to be more feminine, implying in a sense that his femininity is not a product of mental illness but rather a part of him that he is constantly trying to repress but that surfaces brilliantly when he is shown a sliver of kindness.
In many ways one can view Shinji’s arc as an attempt to accept himself as he is. Especially in the end of the series when there is that monologue and each character talks about how perception is key, about how self-hatred is projected unto others as perceived hatred. The completion of his arc can be interpreted as “what matters is that you accept this version of yourself and you learn to view it favorably”. The alternate universe I mentioned earlier could be a percieved future in which perhaps Shinji fools himself into believing he would be happier if he could accurately perform his masculinity, to which the show answers: “Perhaps it’s enough that you reconsider the way you view what are and aren’t flaws in your character.”
I believe what casting a nonbinary voice actor achieves for this new dub is a twofold improvement. Even if my earlier argument that Shinji’s genderqueerness is pathological were to be true, the act of hiring a nonbinary trans woman for the role is a commentary on this new adaptation. Viewed from the outside It shows that the people making this new adaptation are engaging with it critically, that they view nonbinary identities as valid and want them to participate in this work. That this interpretation of Shinji’s gender is something to be celebrated and is what the series needs if it were to be reproduced for contemporary audiences. On the series what I see is a voice actor who isn’t afraid to shift between different tonalities of gender in Shinji’s voice. When he screams (that incredible scary vulnerable hair raising scream) part of what I found disconcerting is that his scream goes from masculine to shrill, childlike and female-pitched. What I felt in this moment (before I knew the voice actor was nonbinary) is the layers of psyche that his voice goes through as Shinji reaches the most primal and essential part of himself in a moment of fear and fight or flight. When Shinji allows himself to sound more feminine in Kaworu’s presence it shows that the producers are interested in the story of a character that struggles with their gender as opposed to a character with a stunted masculine development. I think it does a lot to nudge the series in this direction and I am grateful for that in this adaptation.