Misato, Shinji, and the Difficulties of Empathy (Eva 3&4)

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Helping people is hard. It can take a lot of time and money and, most dangerously, emotional investment. It’s hard to help someone else to achieve happiness or satisfaction or stability if you don’t have those things for yourself; or if helping them to achieve those things will start to take those things away from you. Everyone has a certain amount that they can give, and a certain amount that they’re bound to take; and it’s hard to set these people up in matching pairs. Shin Seiki Evangelion sets up a pair that doesn’t quite match but has to try–both for its own sake, and for the sake of humanity.

Misato Katsuragi is an intelligent, mature adult. She’s a brilliant strategist, an optimistic thinker, and deeply empathetic towards people on the individual level. However, her sense of responsibility is only on par with her recklessness. She’s a messy, unkempt alcoholic with a bit of a confrontational attitude. Even though she cares deeply about people, she can easily be annoyed by them. She keeps most of her friends and relationships at arm’s length, and barely seems to trust some of the people closest to her.

When Ritsuko explains the hedgehog’s dilemma to Misato, which is the idea that the closer two people try to become, the more they are bound to hurt one-another, Misato says that the key is to find a distance at which each party will only hurt the other just enough to be tolerable. In other words, Misato doesn’t let herself get too close to anyone–when it seems like she or someone else are going to cause the other too much pain, she pulls away.

Because of this, Misato struggles in her relationship with Shinji. Everything that she asks of him as his commanding officer causes him incredible pain, and her inability to help him with that pain causes pain for her in return. Unlike Gendo and Ritsuko, Misato cannot face the emotional burden of torturing Shinji. She hopes that he’ll develop the conviction to fight for himself and to shoulder the burden of his position; but since Shinji pushes all the blame for his situation onto Misato and NERV, she can’t take the emotional weight of putting him into that position.

Likewise, Shinji can’t bring himself to give his life over to his work, because he feels he isn’t getting anything in return. He’s being put through constant physical and emotional trauma, only to be punched by his classmate, chewed out by his roommate, and ignored by his father. As someone who doesn’t feel they have any place in the world, it’s difficult for him to convince himself that saving the world is worthwhile. What’s the point of fighting and feeling pain if he’ll only be miserable in the end anyways?

The irony in all of this is that both Shinji and Misato want to be convinced that they should keep working together. Misato wants to see Shinji develop some kind of conviction, but she doesn’t know how to bring it out of him. Shinji wants to believe that there’s a reason for him to pilot the Evangelion, but he just can’t see the good side. Both of them only realize at the last minute that the other has been making an effort to connect with them. Misato comes to it when she realizes that Shinji simply doesn’t know how to communicate his feelings in a straightforward way, while Shinji realizes it when he remembers that Misato had been encouraging him from the beginning. Helping Shinji towards this realization are the actions of his classmates, Touji and Kensuke.

Unlike any other character in the show, authenticity seems to come naturally to Kensuke. He can easily read what other people are thinking and relate to them, and is willing to talk candidly about his own feelings. He doesn’t so much make an effort to support Shinji emotionally, as he does guide both Shinji and Touji towards a deeper understanding of one-another.

Touji’s apology carries some obvious symbolic weight. He says to Shinji, I know that I hurt you, but it’s okay; you can hurt me all you want in return, and I’ll still be your friend. Perhaps without a full grasp of what they’re suggesting, Touji and Kensuke offer understanding for Shinji’s desire not to pilot the Evangelion, even if it means the death of humanity as we know it. This kind of understanding and forgiveness causes Shinji to find a little bit more meaning in his work, and to perceive the way that Misato has been trying to help him all along; which, for now, is enough to inspire him to give it his all once more.

Episodes three and four of Evangelion are some of my favorites because of the way my relationship has changed with them over the years. When I watched them at age 14, nearly a decade ago, I related completely with Shinji Ikari. I was depressed and had no friends, and I didn’t see the point in continuing to try my best and to go on living if I wasn’t enjoying my life or getting any of the things I wanted. I was pretty suicidal at the time and probably thought it would be better if the world just came to an end. Like Shinji, I clung desperately to every bit of encouragement and human connection that I could find, and pulled myself through as best I could.

Now, however, I feel way more strongly connected to Misato. I’m very sure of myself and capable of doing my job and enjoying it, even if my life is mostly a chaotic mess. I try to help the people that I see hurting in front of me, but I only have so much patience and so much of myself to give; especially to people who don’t seem to be helping themselves, or who lack the will to improve and to go on living with confidence. I might be slightly better at communicating with people like Shinji than Misato is, but a big part of my ability to do so is that I grew up with shows like Evangelion helping me to reflect on myself and my situation. Analyzing and relating to this show has been a big part of my own self-actualization over the years, and for that reason, looking at episodes like these ones will always be one of the most special anime experiences for me.

Have you ever found yourself relating to Misato or Shinji, or with the situations presented in these episodes? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this video then please share it around and get the discussion going. Support my channel via patreon or paypal if you’d like to help me to make more content like this, and subscribe if you want to see more. If you love the sound of my voice and just want to hear me ramble about every topic known to man on a day to day basis, then be sure to subscribe to my gaming channel as well; links in to everything in the description. Thanks again for watching, I’ll see you in the next one.

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