Evangelion episode six is one of the most thoroughly GAINAX parts of the entire series. Misato stands, arms-crossed, in brazen confidence, facing down impossible odds with a cocky smile; just like Noriko and Otaking before her, and just like Nono, Kamina and Simon after. Sci-fi tactics are twisted and taken to a place of over-the-top madness, as all of Japan’s electricity is routed into an untested prototype positron rifle being fired by a giant robot, while another giant robot protects it with literally a giant shield. The whole setup sounds hilarious on paper, yet looks incredibly badass in action thanks to excellent dramatic structure.
Right off the bat, Shinji is nearly one-hit-killed by the enemy the instant he engages with it, establishing that the opposing force is way more threatening than anything faced before. Considering how Shinji was only just talked into piloting the robot again after running away thanks to the anxiety which piloting caused him before, there couldn’t have been a more harsh and demoralizing way for him to start his next battle–and the fact that he’s already being asked to take off again by the time he wakes up hardly helps the situation.
Immediately after Shinji is attacked, we see how Misato starts figuring out the enemy’s abilities and setting up her crazy plan to fight back. 8.7% chances of success are such a high number to her that she walks around with a swagger that says, “I’m a goddamn genius.” The first half of this episode is completely dominated by showing us how Misato can think on her feet and get things going, which is important considering what we’ve seen from the series so far.
Up until this point, NERV has always been struggling and coming back from behind. Getting Shinji into the robot and then trying to somehow manage his actions has been their primary concern in previous battles, and we’ve seen how they’re dealing with a military that talks down the them, financial backers with other priorities, and robots and pilots which have only just been repaired from the beatings that they took before. The only hint we’ve gotten of NERV’s secretly-held insane confidence came from Gendo’s undercover smile in the opening episode.
However, in this episode, NERV steps up to bat as the real overdog in the conflict. Misato’s response to nearly losing her lead pilot is to take a weapon from the military, take power from all of the people that she’s here to protect (almost like a sci-fi spirit bomb), and have that very same pilot launch it all back at the enemy in one giant, “fuck you.”
But Misato isn’t the only one out to prove what she’s capable of: Rei is upfront with Shinji that if he’s not up to the task, then she’ll happily do it for him, and that she’s going to do her job at defending him so well that he shouldn’t even consider the possibility of dying. Shinji is inspired by Rei’s confidence to pilot his robot–and then, after seeing her nearly blown away defending him, springs to make sure that she’s okay as well, in a manner reflecting his own father. When we really consider what Shinji has been through earlier in the day, it’s kind of incredible to see him jumping with concern for someone else like this.
In this episode, Rei explains that she pilots the Evangelion because she is bound to all people. When Shinji says that Ayanami is strong, she replies that this is all she has. On a personal level, it seems like Rei is saying that she has nothing else but piloting Eva in her life, and this seems to be how Shinji interprets it; however, if we can get philosophical about it for a second, Rei is right that piloting the Eva is all that she, and all that humanity itself, has. If NERV fails to destroy the angel then humanity is probably doomed to destruction. The necessity to protect humanity is all that anyone can count on to not die, which Shinji seems to have a difficult time grasping. He’s more likely to be moved by his momentary desire to protect Rei than by the long-term idea that destroying the angels will also protect Rei, along with humanity as a whole. Which one of these mindsets is more strong is a matter up for debate, but both pilots manage to find strength in their viewpoints in order to emerge victorious.
Episode seven is more of a look into specifically what makes Misato a badass, while throwing some neat worldbuilding tidbits into the mix as well. Misato is someone who gets things done, and gets them done right with a cutthroat efficiency. She doesn’t have time to put up with the bullshit theatrics of bureaucracy or social upkeep–all that matters to her is that her job gets done. When she’s not at work, she just wants to relax, have a beer, take a nap, and stay naked.
While we can see Misato get easily frustrated when people talk down to her or doubt her position, her stance and personality remains uncompromising. All around her are people telling her what to do and how to act, from Shinji trying to get her to be less of a slob, to Ritsuko trying to get her emotions under control–but she never lets herself be swayed. Coming back to this episode with knowledge of Misato’s backstory, we’ll see that she probably feels so strongly about stopping the Jet Alone rampage because of the way that her father died in a giant explosion during second impact, which is likely what drives her to act under impossible odds to save everyone.
This episode even presents some subtle messages about the sexism which both Misato and Ritsuko face in their everyday lives. When making fun of NERV, the leader of the Jet Alone program compares the Eva losing control to a woman on her period, obviously targeted at the fact that NERV’s representatives at the event are both women. Shinji criticizes Misato for being unladylike and says that he isn’t surprised that she remains unmarried, while his friends, though overall supportive of Misato’s attitude, spend most of the episode drooling over her. Touji and Kensuke’s chastisement of Shinji for not understanding the appeal of Misato could actually be taken as them criticizing his sexist attitude, since they cite Misato’s independence and leadership role as some of the things which make her attractive.
Meanwhile, in the background, Ritsuko reveals herself to be a sort of conniving badass in her own way. If you already know that she’s a part of the setup to make Jet Alone fail, then you can see her vindictive and sadistic side as she prepares to watch the fireworks. The people at NERV are putting up a front that they’re an underdog organization, when really they’re the overdogs pulling all the strings and letting things fall into their laps.
So why is any of this interesting? Mostly because of how deep into the series it all happens. Most dramatic stories tend to start off by presenting their character’s heroism–or at least by presenting us with a goal that they strive for. In Eva, we aren’t even told exactly what NERV is trying to prevent until episode seven; we had just kind of inferred from the fact that they were fighting against giant monsters that they were defending civilization, and that for some reason they needed 14 year-olds to pilot their robots. Up until now, Shinji has been nothing more than a depressed kid thrown into an overwhelming circumstance; Rei has been a mysterious quiet girl who only cares about pleasing Gendo; and Misato has just been someone doing her job normally. It’s only in episode six that we first see how these characters can achieve some kind of heroism as a result of their nature.
What’s cool about this setup is that it de-emphasizes the nature of the characters as exceptional heroes, and puts the emphasis on them as people. Shinji, Misato, and Rei are regular humans first, and heroes second, which is a big part of what keeps them feeling so relatable and real. Eva isn’t the story of abnormal and exceptional chosen ones saving the world, it’s about humanity trying to save itself, and it presents us with characters who we can look at and think about how we would handle being in the same situations.
Because the characters are real people, when they do achieve something heroic, it’s that much more empowering. Eva shows us how normal people can use what abilities they have to do great things, and assures us that no matter how crazy the odds are against us, we can keep fighting and finding inventive ways to survive as long as we never give up.
Evangelion is not an escapist fantasy. It doesn’t present us with characters who we wish we could be, or who do things that we wish we could do–it presents us with character who we are, who do things that it believes we could do. Even though it presents humanity with all of our flaws and defects and mental hangups, the show still has faith in our ability to lift ourselves up again and again. It celebrates not the exceptional abilities of abnormal humans, but the ability of every normal human to sometimes be exceptional.
One of the best subtleties in episode seven happens after Misato has taken control of the Jet Alone situation and decided to go in and stop the robot manually. The Jet Alone team decides that they can’t wait around for bureaucracy anymore and take matters into their own hands, and the program leader reveals to Misato the robot’s password: hope. Beyond all the posturing, rivalries, and arguments over budget, in the end the real purpose of this robot was always the hope of victory–the hope of developing a robot which could be used to stop the angel invasion and to save humanity, when the Evangelion units didn’t prove trustworthy enough. In the end, when Misato stops the robot, the leader of the Jet Alone project smiles with relief, because putting a stop to the robotic rampage was more important than his pride or protecting his project. This small, redemptive moment is, I think, as indicative as any of Evangelion’s stance on humankind–that we may be plagued with problems and differ in our ideals, but in the end we all want the same thing.