“Otoko no ko deshou?” Evangelion and Queer Masculinity

Cristopher Smith, University of Florida [About | Email]

Volume 23, Issue 1 (Article 3 in 2023). First published in ejcjs on 17 April 2023.


Shin seiki evangerion is a giant robot anime that famously problematises the giant robot genre. In this paper, I examine the gender dimensions of this genre subversion.  Giant robot shows are often an allegory for socialisation into the gender scripts of normative masculinity; a boy protagonist learns to confront the Other by mastering violence from within the safety of armour created by his father. He therefore “becomes a man” by casting aside childish timidity and internalising the violent scripts of hegemonic masculinity. In Evangerion, however, this gender socialisation largely fails, and far from mastering violence and emerging as an adult man, Shinji’s encounters with battle leave him psychologically damaged and completely without confidence that he has value in adult society. I argue that this failure results from a conflict between Shinji’s queer masculinity and the social pressures to conform to hegemonic masculinity. Examining the TV series, the 1997 movies, and the four new “Rebuild” films, I argue that Evangerion tells a story of a queer man struggling with gender socialisation, but that this narrative thematic has become more ambivalent as the series has iterated over the last two decades.

Keywords: Evangelion, anime, gender, masculinity, queer.


Shin seiki evangerion (English title: Neon Genesis Evangelion) is one of the largest pop cultural phenomena in recent decades. Beginning with a TV anime that aired from 1995-96, Evangelion expanded to two feature films in the 1990s, plus a series of four new “Rebuild” films (2007-2021), a manga spinoff, many video games, and uncounted character goods. Evangerion is a giant robot anime that famously problematises the giant robot genre, which usually features “saintly inventor-fathers creat[ing] giant robots to be piloted against evil by dutiful sons” (Malone 2010, p. 346). In Evangerion an inventor-father does build a robot, but the pilot-son, protagonist Ikari Shinji, is certainly not dutiful and resents his father for his emotional distance. In this paper, I examine the gender dimensions of this genre subversion. Giant robot anime are often coming-of-age stories for the pilot protagonist, showing a boy confronting war and violence within the protective shell of a giant robot and thereby gaining maturity and confidence, and eventually shedding childish naiveté. Giant robot shows, in other words, are often an allegory for socialisation into the gender scripts of normative masculinity; a boy protagonist learns to confront the Other by mastering violence from within the safety of armour created by his father. He therefore “becomes a man” by casting aside childish (and feminised) timidity and internalising the violent scripts of hegemonic masculinity. In Evangerion, however, this gender socialisation largely fails, and far from mastering violence and emerging as an adult man, Shinji’s encounters with battle leave him psychologically damaged and completely without confidence that he has value in adult society. I argue that this failure results from a conflict between Shinji’s queer masculinity and the social pressures to conform to hegemonic masculinity. Evangerion therefore, amidst its more attention-grabbing giant robot battles and religious iconography, tells a story of a queer man struggling with gender socialisation, but ultimately accepting his queer masculinity. However, this narrative thematic has become more ambivalent as the series has iterated over the last two decades.

Evangerion was released in the mid-1990s, a period which Taga Futoshi (2005, p. 155-7) argues saw several trends converge in Japan (such as new gender equity laws and the collapse of the bubble economy and traditional male work roles) that brought masculinity and its construction under new social scrutiny. Evangerion’s depiction of queer masculinity is therefore situated a larger social discourse that denatured and interrogated masculinity. To clarify the use of terms: in popular parlance “queer” is often understood as a synonym for nonnormative sexual and gender identities, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities. In this sense of “queer,” fan cultures have been interested in Evangerion as a queer text since its release in the 1990s due to hints of homosexual attraction between Shinji and another male character who arrives late in the series, Nagisa Kaoru. Although Kaoru only appears for one episode, he seems to form an intimate emotional connection with Shinji that strikes many as homoerotic or homosexual. There was a minor controversy in 2019 when Netflix in the United States released a new English translation of Evangerion that translated Kaoru’s intimate confession of feelings for Shinji as “like,” whereas the 2003 translation had Kaoru saying he “loves” Shinji. This hinges on the Japanese word suki, which is inherently ambiguous, but to many overseas fans who only had access to the work through translation the extant translation had seemed like a stable text that was now being rewritten to erase or reduce homosexual representation (Bauwens-Sugimoto 2021, p. 332). Here, however, I use “queer” in the sense more commonly used in queer theory, where “queer” represents not stable identities but rather the verb “to queer,” an ongoing process of destabilising accepted sexual and gender structures and hierarchies. As Kath Browne (2006, p. 885-6) has written, “queer is more than short hand for LGBT.” Instead, we should “locate ‘queer’ in the radical requirement to question normativities and orthodoxies, in part now by rendering categories of sexualities, genders and spaces fluid. Currently, this project includes the transgressions of dichotomous sexes, genders and sexualities as well as emphasising the artificiality of boundaries around, and connections between these.” Michael Warner (1993, p. xxvi), as well, argues that queer “rejects a minoritizing logic of toleration or simple political interest-representation in favour of a more thorough resistance to regimes of the normal.” Queer, therefore, is not just a pronoun for minority sexual identities, but represents instead a radical questioning of and resistance to normative sexual and gender identities.

To say Ikari Shinji expresses queer masculinity therefore does not necessarily indicate that Shinji is homosexual or bisexual (although it certainly does not exclude that possibility), but rather claims that his masculinity “queers,” or questions and resists, hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is a concept developed most notably by R.W. Connell (1995, p. 77), who writes that “hegemonic masculinity can be defined as the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.” Hegemonic masculinity, however, not only legitimises the domination of men over women, but also “specific gender relations of dominance and subordination between groups of men” (Connell 1995, p. 78). Among these groups:

Gay masculinity is the most conspicuous, but it is not the only subordinated masculinity. Some heterosexual men and boys too are expelled from the circle of legitimacy. The process is marked by a rich vocabulary of abuse: wimp, milksop, nerd, turkey, sissy, lily liver, jellyfish, yellowbelly, candy ass, ladyfinger, pushover, cookie pusher, cream puff, motherfucker, pantywaist, mother’s boy, four-eyes, ear-’ole, dweeb, geek, Milquetoast, Cedric, and so on. Here too the symbolic blurring with femininity is obvious. (Connell 1995, p. 79)

Connell emphasises that the most powerful men in society might not actually be exemplars of hegemonic masculinity. Only a minority of men may in fact exhibit hegemonic masculinity, but as a cultural image that regulates masculine behaviour and establishes relations of domination and subordination between groups of men and between men and women, hegemonic masculinity is important. Hegemonic masculinity is not fixed and may adapt to maintain social domination, even by adopting traits of subordinated masculinities (Connell 1995, p. 77). In general, however, traits of hegemonic masculinity tend to include being independent, risk-taking, aggressive, and rational (Hutchings 2008, p. 391). They may also include competitiveness, and being interested in or participating in competitive sports. Hegemonic masculinity also governs homosocial bonding between men through shared heterosexuality and the objectification of women, as well as the abjection of the feminine, including supposedly feminine masculinities (e.g., homophobia) (Milani 2014, p. 3.2-3).

Significantly, valorised hegemonic masculinity also includes an affinity for violence and a willingness to use it when socially appropriate (inappropriate violence being devalorised). The most important example of the connection between hegemonic masculinity and violence is the military man. As Kimberly Hutchings (2008, p. 389) notes, war and masculinity have been intimately connected through a shared set of seeming commonalities, with qualities like aggression, rationality, or physical courage identified as essential to both war and masculinity. Hutchings (2008, p. 393) writes that “war anchors masculinity, in the sense that the meaning of masculinity reflects the requirements of war.… Masculinity anchors war, in the sense that it provides a framework through which war may be recognized, understood, and judged.”

Hegemonic masculinity is crucial to the ways in which war gains social meaning (e.g., these acts of violence are valorised by masculine courage), and war in turn renders hegemonic masculinity intelligible (e.g., masculinity becomes understandable as qualities necessary for prosecuting and winning wars). Hutchings (2008, p. 401) concludes:

To be possible at all, war requires the institutionalization of a range of beliefs, skills, and capacities, which shift according to context. To be grasped and evaluated as a distinctive social practice, war also requires the authorization of a series of discriminations such as between wars fought well or badly, between good and bad war, between war and other forms of organised violence, and between war and peace. Identifying war with masculinity provides conceptual resources that can authorize such discriminations. At the same time, identifying masculinity with war provides a repertoire of possibilities for what masculinity may mean, which occlude the extent to which masculinity is a genuinely empty signifier.

The exercise of violence in war is therefore an essential component of hegemonic masculinity, creating social meaning for both war and masculinity. And while war may be the most significant example of socially authorised masculine violence, other archetypes abound. Films in the Western genre, for example, usually feature a valorised man who must be convinced to do violence on behalf of a small-town society. This Western archetype was taken up in samurai movies such as Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) and Yojinbō (Yojimbo), which in turn inspired Western films like Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars. The easy transferability of this trope suggests the transnational importance of violence in configurations of masculinity.

Therefore, masculinities that resist or provide an alternative to hegemonic masculinity with its traits of aggression, risk-taking, competition, violence, and heterosexual objectification can be read as queer masculinities. Robert Heasley (2005, p. 310) defines queer masculinity as “ways of being masculine outside hetero-normative constructions of masculinity that disrupt, or have the potential to disrupt, traditional images of the hegemonic heterosexual masculine.” Queer masculinities may include certain gay masculinities, but may also be attested by heterosexual men. Heasley (2005, p. 315) proposes a typology of queer masculinities, including “straight sissy boy[s]… straight males who just cannot ‘do’ straight masculinity. The sissy boy presents to others as queer, though that is not his intention nor identity, and experiences a response from the dominant culture, and perhaps from queers, as being queer.” Heasley (2005, p. 318) also describes, “males living in the shadow of masculinity,” men who:

may realise they do not “fit” within traditional straight masculinity and are not necessarily comfortable with the status quo, but they do not perceive that change is possible, individually or culturally. These males do not appear gay or connect to a queer world in any way, but they also do not do straight hegemonic masculinity. Having no awareness of what queer masculinity is, their life in the “shadow of masculinity” leads them to do enough straight masculinity to get by, which means wearing appropriate male clothing so they do not stand out and knowing enough about normative hetero-masculine expectations to “pass.”

Heasley (2005, p. 320) argues that “these males queer the environment of the hetero-masculine by not, for whatever reason, fully participating… Queer-straight males respective refusal to actively participate in the dominant system serves to stall the system itself.” Similarly, Calvin Thomas (2000, p. 31) argues that straight queer masculinities can “work to mitigate, or militate against, those institutional, compulsory ideals, those compulsory performances” of normative heterosexual gender. By refusing or failing to “become a (hegemonic) man,” queer males open space for new kinds of masculinity. But because hegemonic masculinity is, according to Connell, a system for ensuring patriarchal dominance, society will act to suppress or exclude such queer expressions which threaten the stability of current power hierarchies.

I argue that Evangerion features queer masculinity in Shinji. Shinji is conscripted into a quasi-military role, but is reluctant to perform violence on behalf of society and, when coerced into doing so, is not terribly good at it. While he may be heterosexual, he fails to abject femininity though the objectification of women, and does not understand the homosocial bonding rituals with other men performed through violent play or heterosexual talk. As is common of boy characters in anime, Shinji is voiced by a woman, Ogata Megumi, giving him a more feminine presentation (Ishida 2021). Shinji might be categorised in Heasley’s typology as a combination of a “straight sissy boy” and a “male living in the shadow of masculinity,” a male who can perform just enough masculinity to “pass” in casual interactions (he wears masculine clothing, for example, although almost always his prescribed school uniform), but cannot internalise hegemonic masculinity or “do” it in earnest. Shinji has associated himself with a series of feminised abject qualities, and because he has internalised the valorisation of hegemonic masculinity these qualities engender self-loathing. He fails to be socialised into adult masculine gender throughout the series, disrupting the genre norm of a boy becoming a man through fighting in a robot. The remainder of this article is a close reading of the original television series, the 1990s films, and the twenty-first century “Rebuild” films that investigates queer masculinity in Evangerion and how its representation has changed across the story’s iterations.

The Original TV Anime

In the first episode of the 1995-96 TV anime, Shinji is summoned by his estranged father Gendō to the city Tokyo-3 where he runs a giant international organisation called NERV. Coincidentally, upon his arrival a giant monster called a shito, or “disciple” (rendered as “Angel” in English translations), begins attacking. Gendō immediately orders Shinji to pilot the giant robot Eva shogōki (Eva Unit 01) to defend the city (later it is revealed that the Eva “robots” are actually biological clones of a shito clad in armour). Symbolically, then, Shinji is called into the world of adult men and immediately ordered to perform normative masculine violence on behalf of society. Shinji is clearly unsuited to and unwilling to perform this kind of masculinity, but the pressure is enormous. In this important scene the patriarchal father imperiously looks down on him from above, unreachable through a pane of glass but demanding his compliance. He is flanked on either side by a scientist and a military commander, the latter of which is a mature woman who has flirted with him, playfully hinting at sexual availability. He is furthermore in a giant fortress of capital and state power, evidence that the entire nation supports this project and needs him to perform violent masculinity to advance it. And finally, the ordinary workers in the Eva project look on reproachfully as Shinji struggles with the decision to pilot the robot that they depend on both for their livelihoods and their defense. The authority of the father, the military, scientists, the state, and capital, as well as the promise of acceptance by society and sexual gratification, are all brought to bear to pressure Shinji into performing hegemonic masculinity and exercising violence on behalf of society. Shinji, in other words, is faced with tremendous coercive social pressure to conform to hegemonic masculinity, specifically hegemonic masculinity’s demand that males perform socially useful violence. Nonetheless, Shinji resists and refuses to pilot the robot. Everyone immediately abandons him, confirming to Shinji that he is an “unnecessary person” (iranai ningen), a phrase that will be repeated throughout the series as Shinji’s bitter evaluation of his place in society. In other words, society has no use for men who cannot perform normative masculine violence on its behalf.

Shinji is only convinced to operate the robot when he sees the only other available pilot, Ayanami Rei. Injured in a recent accident, her slender, frail, sexually attractive, and very damaged body is rather transparently paraded past Shinji. Whereas the full panoply of state and social pressure could not coerce Shinji into performing hegemonic masculinity, the shame that his refusal to perform as a normative man might force an injured girl to fight in his place finally breaks his resolve. As he watches Rei suffering, he tells himself repeatedly “I mustn’t run away” (nigecha dame da). Here it is apparent that Shinji understands the requirements of hegemonic masculinity—protection of the frail and feminine, courage to face a fight rather than flee—but they are not naturalised for him. He must literally tell himself not to run away.

Shinji therefore agrees, however reluctantly, to attempt to perform the socially useful violence of hegemonic masculinity. He is largely unsuccessful, and the violent power of Eva shogōki is only displayed in the second episode when it goes “berserk” and operates independently of him. Katsuragi Misato, the military commander mentioned earlier, is nearly the only character who attempts to take care of Shinji or attend to his emotional wellbeing, serving for him the role of surrogate mother as well as, confusingly, a sexually provocative older roommate. But even Misato regularly pressures Shinji to perform as a normative male, often calling attention to his failure to do so with the phrase “otoko no ko desho?” (“aren’t you a boy?”). This pressure begins immediately, when Shinji first pilots the Eva robot and is without warning drowned in an oxygenating buffering liquid that he must inhale. When he complains that the terrifying and no doubt painful experience has left him feeling sick, Misato tells him to stop complaining and adds “otoko no ko desho?” She calls attention to his humiliating failure to perform as a normative male, or “otoko no ko,” precisely to enforce normative masculinity. This phrase becomes a sort of mantra of gender policing repeated throughout the text.[1]

Outside of his piloting of the Eva robot, Shinji also fails to perform or internalise hegemonic violent masculinity in his homosocial relations. At one point a classmate, Suzuhara Toji, punches him due to perceived failures with his piloting. Shinji does not engage in this schoolyard scrap by fighting back, but passively accepts the violence. More importantly, later Suzuhara realises he was in error and demands that Shinji punch him back to make them even, a stereotypical manly exchange of violence expected to lead to homosocial bonding, at least in anime tropes. Although reluctant, Shinji agrees and punches Suzuhara in earnest, thereby momentarily performing hegemonic violent masculinity. However, he cannot sustain this performance. Immediately afterwards he returns to Suzuhara with tears in his eyes proclaiming that he, Shinji, is the one who should be hit because he is “hikyō de, okubyō de, zurukute, yowamushi,” or “cowardly, timid, sneaky, weak” (ep. 4). These four words are a catalogue of his failures to perform hegemonic masculinity: cowardly and timid rather than courageous and confident, sneaky and weak instead of straightforward and strong. As noted by Connell above, such a vocabulary of traits associated with the feminine or feminised masculinity is used to reject non-normative and queer masculinities as the abject against which hegemonic masculinity must define itself. This is Shinji’s litany of abuse that he directs against himself. Indeed, these words could well be replaced with the “vocabulary of abuse” of subordinate masculinities which Connell (1995, p. 79) lists above, e.g., “wimp, sissy, lily liver, yellowbelly, pushover.” Here it is clear that Shinji has internalised society’s normative critique of his queer masculinity and loathes himself for his failure to perform hegemonic masculinity. He even believes that it is proper that he be the recipient of violence because of these failures.

Aside from the inability to “get” masculine violence, Shinji is unable to perform normative masculinity in other ways as well, such as male bonding over the objectification of women. In one scene, Shinji’s male friends catch him looking at Rei during gym class. They teasingly ask “what are you looking at so intently?... Ayanami’s breasts? Ayanami’s thighs? Ayanami’s calves?” (ep.5). His friends slice Rei up into a series of objects to be examined for their potential to excite heterosexual male sexual desire. Shinji, however, responds “I was just wondering why she’s always sitting by herself” (ep. 5). Shinji, therefore, apprehends Rei as a subject rather than a series of objects, and wonders about her subjective experience. He fails to perform the bonding rituals of hegemonic masculinity through heterosexual talk and objectification of women. In a later scene another female pilot, Sōryū Asuka Langley, who has moved into Shinji and Misato’s apartment, accidentally lies down in Shinji’s bed rather than her own after a late-night trip to the bathroom. Flustered and aroused, Shinji begins to break Asuka up into a series of desired objects, staring first at her breasts and then at her lips, with the camera showing viewers his gaze tightly focused on individual parts of her body. However, Asuka then whispers “mama” in her sleep, and Shinji’s hegemonic masculine objectification of women is disrupted. The indication that Asuka is dreaming of her mother reminds Shinji that she is a subject rather than a series of objects, and he immediately moves his blankets and turns away from her. Generally, Shinji is sexually attracted to women but too aware of women as subjects to perform normative hetero-masculine objectification of female bodies.

In the sixth episode, after a period of depression and self-doubt, Shinji chooses to pilot the Evangelion again. He successfully participates in a complicated plan to destroy a shito, thus earning him social recognition for participating in violence. He also rescues Rei from the burned remains of her Evangelion, unwittingly repeating his father’s similar rescue of Rei after an accident. Shinji therefore begins to mirror the patriarchal Gendō through the masculine rescue of women, apparently taking a step towards hegemonic masculinity. However, as feminist critic Kotani Mari (1997, p. 29-30) puts it, “the minute Shinji displays a representation of ‘adult masculinity’ and takes a step into the masculine world, who should appear but the prideful and headstrong Asuka Langley Sōryū.” Asuka, who enters the series from episode eight, is happy to pilot an Evangelion (unlike Shinji) and partake in violence against the shito. According to Kotani (1997, p. 85), she is “a girl like an unruly boy, who can fight equal to a man, gets top marks at school, and has internalised the idea that femininity is something to be ashamed of.” Asuka performs hegemonic masculinity far better than Shinji, and her internalisation of the patriarchal order that makes femininity into the abject means she is disgusted by the perceived feminine aspects of Shinji’s queer masculinity. Consequently, Asuka polices Shinji’s gender performance throughout the series, pointing out his failures to perform hegemonic masculinity. She repeats Misato’s disciplinary querying of his gender, the phrase “otoko no ko desho?” [2] She calls him a “kainarasareta otoko,” a tamed or domesticated man, when he fails to show what she feels is appropriate masculine anger at a situation (anger she herself feels). At one point, apparently out of boredom, she proposes that she and Shinji kiss. When Shinji hesitates she mocks him, asking him if he is afraid or worried that his mother is watching from the afterlife, accusing him of both feminine timidity and childish maternal attachment and critiquing his inability to perform the heterosexual aggressiveness of hegemonic masculinity. When they do kiss, she runs away to retch and gargle. Asuka, therefore, is an ambivalent figure in Evangelion, simultaneously pointing out the constructedness of gender by performing masculinity better than Shinji, but also fully committed to the patriarchal order that holds hegemonic masculinity more valuable or admirable than femininity or subordinate masculinities. She reminds Shinji that despite the small successes he accumulates in his victories over shito, his queer masculinity will always leave him socially marginalised.

Nevertheless, Shinji does, for a time, seem begin to undergo successful socialisation into hegemonic hetero-masculinity. He starts to “come of age” and “become a man” in the manner of typical giant robot anime protagonists by suppressing his queer masculinity and performing violent hegemonic masculinity. For the first fifteen episodes, through repeated training, battles against monsters, and socialisation with school and work friends, Shinji seems to be growing in confidence and skill in exercising violence. By episode sixteen he seems to be ready to perform as a normative male. The episode begins as he contemplates his own hand while sitting on a bus, squeezing his flaccid (the word is used advisedly) fingers until they form a fist capable of performing violence, upon which he says “yosh” a masculine-language phrase that means “all right” (ep. 16). Yokohama Yūji (2002, p. 22) has noted that hands are an important motif in Evangerion, often indicating an inflection point, such as Rei’s blood on Shinji’s hands marking his decision to pilot the Eva robot in the first episode. Here the focus on his hand made into a fist emblematic of violence, the use of masculine language, and the apparent budding confidence signal that he has begun to feel he can perform hegemonic masculinity and masculine violence passably. However, two children on the bus snicker at Shinji for staring at his own hand, perhaps signaling that his performance of hegemonic masculinity is a laughable imitation. Shortly afterwards, Shinji enters battle against a shito with unusual confidence. When Asuka teasingly suggests he take the lead in battle, calling him “Shin-chan,” using the diminutive effeminising “chan” suffix, he responds “otehon misete yaru yo,” or “I’ll show you how it’s done,” but with the masculine and haughty directional suffix “te yaru.” Te yaru indicates one will do something for someone of lower status, requiring therefore a great deal of self-confidence to use, and usually used only by men who have confidence in their superior social positionality. By saying this to Asuka, Shinji rhetorically positions himself in a higher social position than a female. Shinji therefore begins to identify with (or perform identifying with) the dominant social position of hegemonic masculinity, which legitimises hegemonic male domination of women and subordinate masculinities. He then flashes Misato a thumbs-up and says “tatakai wa otoko no shigoto” or “fighting is a man’s job,” indicating he is performing an “otoko,” a man who is capable of fighting, and of committing violence on behalf of society.

This is the high point of Shinji’s assimilation into hegemonic masculinity, which quickly falls apart. The enemy he was so confident he would exercise violence upon turns out to have no form he can grapple with, and manifests as a kind of shadow that, like quicksand, sucks him into another dimension. He is trapped in an empty, womblike void with nothing to enact violence upon, and where no amount of violence will deliver a solution. He is instead forced to conserve energy by shutting down the Eva robot—the avatar of violence—and curling up in a foetal position in a uterine bath of oxygenating liquid. As Kotani (1997, p. 57) remarks (of a different shito fight, but with applicability here as well), “just when Shinji musters up all the manliness he can, the abjected things normally suppressed by society start flooding out one after another.” Shinji is subsumed in the feminine abject he had begun to align himself against, and far from occupying a masculine social position through the performance of violence that would allow him to speak down to women with te yaru, he ends up passively dependent on women to save him: Misato, the head scientist of the Evangerion project named Ritsuko, and, significantly, his mother, who has merged with the Eva robot and protects him by again going “berserk” and tearing apart the shito from the inside.

From this moment on, Shinji’s pretense at performing hegemonic violent masculinity collapses, and in the next episode he returns to his normal speech patterns and happily cleans up Rei’s apartment even as Suzuhara refuses to because cleaning is “not something a man does” (ep. 17). His experience of helplessness in the womb (of both his mother and the shito) seems to have led him to abandon his attempt to socialise himself in hegemonic masculinity and return to queer masculinity. However, Shinji’s emotional state—and the normal narrative arc of the boy protagonist coming of age and growing in confidence—falls apart shortly thereafter, not coincidentally in an act of extreme violence. When Suzuhara is selected as the next Eva pilot, his new Eva robot is immediately hijacked by one of the antagonistic shito. Shinji is ordered by his father to destroy the Eva-turned-enemy with Suzuhara still inside, which Shinji refuses to do. Shinji has accepted, however awkwardly and reluctantly, performing masculine violence on the monstrous shito on behalf of society, but he cannot perform it on his friends. His father then uses a device called a “dummy plug,” which apparently is designed to convince an Eva robot that a pilot is present but not sending command signals in order to make it go berserk.

The attempt is successful, and Shinji’s Eva performs an excessive orgy of violence on Suzuhara’s Eva, breaking its neck, tearing it apart limb from limb, and literally making rivers run red with blood. Shinji, still in the cockpit, is forced to watch as the Eva’s hands, which he has come to think of as his own hands, perform extreme violence on his own friend. Afterwards he accuses his father of trying to kill Suzuhara with “these hands of mine” (“kono boku no te de)” (ep. 19). He tries to stop those hands, but the controls no longer respond. The one-to-one relationship between the body of the pilot and the body of the robot is usually the fulfillment of power fantasies in such anime, transforming the pilot’s body into a strong, tough metallic body, giving him the power to enact his will on the world, the fantasy of the masculine subject. Here it ironically becomes a mechanism of trauma rather than empowerment, robbing him of his bodily autonomy rather than enhancing it, forcing him to watch his second skin, as it were, perform violence that he does not desire (ep. 18). This episode brings the contradictions in the text to a head. Afterwards, Shinji threatens to use the Eva in retaliation against his father, is arrested, and resigns as an Eva pilot. He has seen where the performance of violent masculinity ultimately leads, and concludes it is not something he desires or which is aligned with his own masculinity. Exposure to extreme hegemonic masculine violence leads Shinji to finally reject both it and the patriarchal organisation run by his father. Nevertheless, an attack by a profoundly powerful shito that defeats all the other Eva robots and threatens to kill everyone forces him to pilot again. For the first time he performs violence exceptionally, defeating the shito that no one else could. Significantly, he repeats some of the same violent actions that his father forced him (with the dummy plug) to perform earlier, including tearing the shito apart. He has a deranged look on his face as he does so. He is no longer the gallant young man flashing a thumbs up as he goes forth to perform sanctioned violence that will secure his social positionality as a normative male. Now he has realised the depravity of hegemonic masculinity and the violence it demands, but here indulges in that depravity with full awareness, since there is no other way to save the world (ep. 20).

Shinji subsequently merges with the Eva robot, entering a confusing montage of dream images that explore his inner psyche. Significantly, here he confronts the fact that others treat him kindly only because he pilots the Eva—i.e., because he performs hegemonic masculine violence. That is the reason people care for him (“daiji ni shite kureru”), and the reason that he is allowed to exist (“boku ga koko ni itemo ii”) (ep. 20). Performing violence for society, in other words, is a precondition for being cared for by others or even allowed to exist. Men with queer masculinities that cannot perform hegemonic masculine violence have no place in society, and therefore no right to exist. However, in the same dream Misato tells him that he is the person he is now because he piloted the Eva and, it is implied, because he performed violence. But she also tells him that he must decide what he should do from now on, telling himself, in effect, that there is a choice, that he can let hegemonic violent masculinity define him, or he can choose something else (ep. 20).

The rest of the series, arguably, is Shinji’s struggle to find that other choice; a way to give up on performing hegemonic violent masculinity and to stay true to his own queer masculinity while also being valued by society. This, I argue, is the significance of Kaoru’s appearance late in the series. Kaoru is the first person to show Shinji an alternative masculinity. Immediately upon meeting Shinji, who addresses him formally as “Nagisa-kun,” Kaoru tells him to just call him “Kaoru” with no honorifics, quickly and dramatically shortening the distance between them. He seeks out time with Shinji, famously taking a bath with him, but in the bath he talks to Shinji sympathetically about his loneliness, becoming virtually the only person to care for Shinji’s emotional well-being. Kaoru gently holds Shinji’s hand, and tells him suki, apparently the first person ever to do so (ep. 24). Regardless of whether this suki should be translated as “love” or “like,” it is more significant here that Kaoru displays a kind of gentle queer masculinity similar to Shinji’s. However, Kaoru has none of Shinji’s self-loathing and appears to be supremely confident in his queer masculinity and unworried about his value to society, or potential lack thereof. Director Anno Hideaki has commented that Kaoru is an idealised version of Shinji, everything Shinji aspires to be (Bauwens-Sugimoto 2021, p. 334). I would agree, and argue that Shinji specifically aspires to Kaoru’s untroubled queer masculinity. Kaoru offers to Shinji exactly the choice he had been looking for, a way to be true to his own queer masculinity while still having self-worth and social value. This is precisely why Shinji is so enraged when it turns out that Kaoru is another shito. Not only does he feel a sense of betrayal because he suspects Kaoru’s friendship was mere manipulation, but he probably realises Kaoru’s confidence in his queer masculinity stems from his status as a shito, a being who comes from outside human society and therefore never had to concern himself with finding a place in that society as a queer man. Shinji ends the episode loathing himself for killing Kaoru, and with no apparent way forward. Thus, as the text enters its final episodes, Shinji is tormented by the knowledge that he cannot live as a queer male, that he also cannot internalise the violent hegemonic masculinity demanded by society, but afraid that unless he does so he will cease to have value to others and be abandoned by his friends and thrown back into the pit of his own loneliness and isolation.

In the text the shadowy organisation behind NERV and the Evangerion project, SEELE, is also pursuing something called the “human completion project” (jinrui hokan keikaku), which is supposed to break down the barriers between people to create a paradise of perfect understanding and intimate connection. Controversially, the final two episodes of the TV series did not depict the narrative events of human completion, but only Shinji’s internal psychological experience as he is incorporated into the merging of humanity into a single organism without individual egos. Although critical of this ending, Uno Tsunehiro (2018, p. 198) tellingly notes that it was “a confession of lack of belief in robot anime, which is an expression of masculinity developed in this country for twenty years, done in the form of that same robot anime.” The ending of the TV series, in other words, rejects the trajectory of socialisation into masculinity found in other robot anime for a queer resolution. In the dream-like sequence of these two episodes, Shinji hears everyone he knows telling him they hate him, and he feels sure that this must be the case because he, in fact, hates himself. But nonetheless, people praise him as long as he pilots the Eva. Shinji hates himself, and is convinced everyone else hates him as well, because he has internalised the patriarchal abjection of his subordinate queer masculinity and his perceived failure to exhibit normative masculinity. However, when he pilots the Eva and performs violent masculinity, he is able to receive praise. He says this makes him both happy and that it does not. In other words, he is happy to receive praise, but not for a performativity that betrays his queer masculinity. He also realises he wants kachi, or value—to be valued by society—so that people will not abandon him, and for that reason he is committing violence with the Eva (Napier 2002, p. 426). This, I argue, is the root of Shinji’s debilitating angst in the later episodes: after realising he has failed to be socialised in hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal dominance, Shinji struggles to find a way a queer man might still be valued by society. He seemed to have found the answer in Kaoru, but Kaoru was a false model. He therefore can see no way to live except by piloting the Eva, performing the violence of hegemonic masculinity that is deeply incompatible with his own queer masculinity.

Shinji’s breakthrough comes in the final episode when he has a dream vision of an alternate reality. In this reality there are no Evas or shito. He is a normal middle-school student, his mother and father are ordinary parents, Asuka is his childhood friend, Rei is a new transfer student, Misato is their teacher, etc. This surprisingly quotidian interlude shows Shinji that there is an alternative way of living where he is not an Eva pilot performing violence but still has value, kachi, queer masculinity and all (Chida 2010, p. 10). Finally, he protests one last time, repeating the mantra of ways he fails to live up to hegemonic masculinity and therefore deserves to be hated by himself and others: “hikyō de, okubyō de, zurukute, yowamushi,” “cowardly, timid, sneaky, weak.” But then he says he might be able to learn to like himself (“suki ni nareru kamoshirenai”), that it might be alright for him to exist (“itemo ii kamoshirenai”) even as he is, and that he is who he is (“boku wa boku da”) and that is who he wants to be (“boku de itai”), and, finally, as if in epiphany, that it is okay for him to exist (“boku wa koko ni itemo iinda”) (ep. 26). It is at that moment that the walls around his heart shatter and he joins the rest of humanity in their completed state, where all his friends applaud his psychological breakthrough. This is the moment when he gives up loathing himself because he cannot perform hegemonic masculinity and accepts his own queer masculinity, accepts that he has a right to exist as a queer man, and that furthermore that is exactly who he wants to be rather than a hegemonic male. Having come to this realisation, he can finally join humanity and the series ends triumphantly.

The 1990s Films

In 1997, Evangerion director Hideaki Anno released two feature-length theatrical films, Shin seiki evangerion gekijōban shi to shinsei (English title: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth), which largely reviews the TV series, and Shin seiki evangerion gekijōban Air / magokoro o / kimi ni (English title: The End of Evangelion), which depicts the narrative events of human completion elided in the TV anime and changes the ending significantly. In this version, the issues of queer masculinity are heightened, although the triumphant conclusion of the TV series, in which Shinji learns to accept himself as a queer man, are made much more ambivalent. Famously, Air / magokoro o / kimi ni opens with a scene wherein Shinji masturbates to the sight of Asuka’s exposed breasts as she lies comatose or unresponsive on a hospital bed. Several scholars have pointed out that this shocking scene serves as a kind of otaku (fan) autocritique, depicting a boy masturbating to the inert image of a beautiful girl as grotesque (Kacsuk 2021, p. 236). I would argue that this scene is also significant for Shinji’s narrative of struggle with masculinity. This scene occurs just after Shinji has killed Kaoru, who is again the sole example of a man exhibiting queer masculinity who is happy with his place in the world, revealed as a false model. Shinji goes to Asuka’s hospital room in despair to beg her for help, but she will not respond. When her breasts become exposed, he masturbates. Here Shinji finally objectifies a female body, ignoring Asuka’s subjectivity and pleasuring himself to the visual stimulus of her body. In other words, at the very moment of despair at the possibility of living with queer masculinity, Shinji attempts to adopt this characteristic of hegemonic masculinity, perhaps feeling that capitulation to hegemonic masculinity is the only way forward. Significantly, while contemplating the semen on his hand, Shinji says “saitei da, ore tte,” or “I’m pathetic.” But he uses the first-person pronoun “ore,” a haughty masculine pronoun Shinji almost never uses, preferring the softer and somewhat more childish first-person pronoun “boku.” His use of “ore” here signals that this act has aligned him with hegemonic masculinity, and he has found that this has made him pathetic (literally “the worst”). Furthermore, “tte” is a quotative particle, and while it is not uncommon in colloquial speech for it to mark a subject or topic, it introduces enough ambiguity that this sentence could be read to mean “it’s pathetic, this thing called ore,” and ore again marks the speech of hegemonic masculinity. Shinji here tries to perform hegemonic masculinity by objectifying Asuka, but in doing so he discovers hegemonic masculinity is “the worst.” He is therefore back to his dead end: unable to see how he can be valued by society as a queer man, and unable to embrace hegemonic masculinity. When he refuses to pilot his Eva shortly thereafter, he tells Misato he is unfit to pilot because not only is he “zurukute okubyō” (sneaky and timid)—his earlier refrain of internalised hatred for his queer masculinity—but also that he did terrible things to Asuka. He now hates himself for both his queer masculinity, and for his betrayal of that queer masculinity by objectifying Asuka. Shinji seems to have no way forward.

In Air / magokoro o / kimi ni NERV and SEELE each compete to achieve human completion in their own way (although the difference between their goals is unclear). Gendō chooses Ayanami Rei to activate human completion according to his vision, while SEELE chooses Shinji. After many complex events, ultimately all humans are dissolved into amniotic fluid and merged into a single organism, a universal consciousness where the barriers between individuals melt away. Rei, having merged with one of the shito, and Shinji, piloting Eva shogōki (again, a shito clone) are essential to this radical step in human evolution. The SEELE members recite, as if in prayer, that their reward (human completion) will be granted once Shinji’s jiga, self or subjectivity, collapses. This collapse of Shinji’s jiga seems to happen after a moment of hegemonic masculine violence. Immersed in the esoteric processes of human completion, Shinji experiences a kind of dream or vision. The setting of this vision recalls the earlier scene where Asuka kissed Shinji. This time, however, Shinji begs Asuka to save him, just as he did in the hospital room. Asuka—who again performs hegemonic masculinity better than Shinji—in this vision represents both hegemonic masculinity and women (although not femininity). She responds by abusing him both verbally and physically, kicking him, shoving him, and knocking him down into a pool of scalding hot coffee. Shinji then, completely out of character, becomes violent himself, overturing a table and throwing a chair. He begs Asuka, “don’t isolate me! Don’t abandon me! Don’t kill me!” Asuka looks down upon him imperiously and simply says “no.” Here a man with queer masculinity begs the representation of hegemonic masculinity not to isolate, exclude, and kill him. The representative of that dominant masculinity refuses. Left with no way to live in society true to his queer masculinity, Shinji seems to finally give up and perform hegemonic masculinity while simultaneously enacting his revenge on it. He lunges at Asuka and begins to strangle her with earnest killing intent. He performs the normative masculine violence he has long felt uncomfortable with on a female body, on the individual that represents hegemonic masculinity and has continually taunted him for his queer masculinity. At that moment the film’s theme song “Komm, Süsser Tod” begins to play, which will continue through all the events of human completion, signaling that this violent moment marks the destruction of Shinji’s jiga and the key to unlocking human completion. Over a montage of abstract images, Shinji says “I’m unnecessary to everyone, so everyone can just die… And it would be better if I weren’t here, so I should die too.” Shinji echoes his thoughts at the beginning of the series, that a queer man who cannot perform hegemonic masculine violence on behalf of society is unnecessary for that society, and concludes that such a society should be destroyed. Subsequently, society is indeed destroyed as individuals are dissolved into a new collective single organism. The key to SEELE’s human completion, then, was for Shinji to finally perform an act of hegemonic masculine violence so extreme and despicable (murdering a woman) that he hates both himself and the society that forced such masculinity upon him, leading him to want everything to be destroyed.

Ultimately, however, Shinji decides that such a world, while it is free of pain, is a world where he as an individual does not exist. He wants to meet other people again, and therefore the existential other is necessary. Human completion is undone, the souls of humanity spread across the Earth once again, and humans are precipitated from an ocean of amniotic fluid. In the final scene, Shinji and Asuka are individual, embodied humans once again, lying on a beach in an apparently empty world, a new Adam and Eve. Shinji gets up and calmy begins to strangle Asuka. Asuka reaches up and caresses Shinji’s face, after which Shinji removes his hands and begins to sob. Then Asuka utters what Chida Hiroyuki (2010, p. 10) calls the most famous line in animation history: “kimochi warui,” or “disgusting.” This ending’s vision for queer masculinity is far more ambivalent than the TV series’ ending. Having destroyed society and at the genesis of a new world, Shinji seems determined to repeat his actions from the vision, killing the enforcer of hegemonic masculinity, but thereby simultaneously aligning himself with the violence of that hegemonic masculinity and betraying his queer masculinity. Asuka, on the other hand, betrays hegemonic masculinity just long enough to show Shinji a moment of gentle tenderness. Shinji then reverts to his queer masculinity, giving up on violence and sobbing. Asuka reverts to hegemonic masculinity, calling this display disgusting. Ōtsuka Eiji argues that Shinji’s choking of Asuka destroys any possibility of identifying with him, upon which identification is transferred to Asuka, but her words destroy identification with her as well (Ōtsuka 2007, p. 407-9, cited in Kacsuk 2021, p. 238). The film forecloses identification with a man who has betrayed queer masculinity to perform violence, but also with hegemonic masculinity, however slightly “queered.” Unlike the TV series’ ending, in which Shinji learns to accept his queer masculinity and is applauded by the world, the film ending seems to suggest that even in a new world created by teenagers there might be some small space for a man to live true to his queer masculinity and have value to society, but that this will be difficult and fraught, with continued social contempt and exclusion. Still, despite the difficulties, Air / magokoro o / kimi ni seems to suggest a way forward for Shinji to live as a queer man.

The Rebuild Movies

A decade after End of Evangelion a new series of films began to retell the Evangerion story, known as the Rebuild of Evangelion, or Evangerion shin gekijōban. The Rebuild films consist of Evangerion shin gekijōban: jo (2007, English title: Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone), Evangerion shin gekijōban: ha (2009, English title: Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance), Evangerion shin gekijōban: kyū (2012, English title: Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo), and Shin evangerion gekijōban:‖ (2021, English title: Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time). The first two films follow the events of the TV animation fairly closely, although there are a few notable differences. At the end of the second film, Shinji accidentally causes “Near Third Impact” with his Eva, an event that almost triggers human completion and destroys most of the world. The third and fourth films depict events fourteen years later, when Shinji awakens from stasis to find that his friends have formed a resistance organisation called WILLE that fights against NERV and Gendō, who are still trying to finish human completion. In these films, I argue, Evangerion loses its commitment to queer masculinity and depicts Shinji going through a successful socialisation into normative masculinity and “coming of age,” a return to genre norms and a betrayal of Evangerion’s genre critique.

The first two films contain many scenes and events that mirror the television series, but with differences that deemphasise Shinji’s queer masculinity. Shinji still gazes at Ayanami during a gym class, but in the Rebuild version his friends do not tease him about the parts of her body he might be interested in, and he therefore does not reject that objectification. The scene where Asuka sleeps in his bed is repeated here, but this time Asuka is awake and lies down behind him, telling him not to turn around, so there is no opportunity to observe Shinji begin to objectify her and then fail. The scenes where Suzuhara punches Shinji, then later demands Shinji punch him back are repeated, but in the Rebuild version Shinji does not run back with his litany of perceived failures to perform hegemonic masculinity (hikyō de, okybyō de, zurukute, yowamushi), but actually gazes at his hand as his fingers unclench from a fist. If shots of hands mark inflection points in Evangerion, this seems to signal Shinji becoming more comfortable with masculine violence. Although he does initially refuse to perform violence in the Eva, and he does take on domestic roles like cooking and cleaning (which Suzuhara again finds unmanly), with the queer masculinity of the TV series deemphasised Shinji gradually seems to socialise into hegemonic masculinity.

At the end of the second film, Shinji takes part in a battle in which Rei is seemingly eaten by a shito. Desperate to save her, Shinji “awakens” Eva shogōki and uses its full power to bring her back to life, yelling with determination in the manner of a shōnen (boys) anime protagonist as he pushes his hands past the border between life and death. He exercises “strong, forceful explosive action” (Smith 2000, p. 61) typically identified as masculine movement. Shinji therefore exhibits stereotypical masculine anger and determination in order to rescue a woman, performing heterosexual hegemonic masculinity and conforming to masculine gender roles (while Rei waits for rescue with feminine passivity). It is this desire to change reality to bring Rei back to life that triggers Near Third Impact, the interrupted human completion. In stark contrast to Air / magokoro o / kimi ni, it is not his desire to destroy a society that would ostracize and kill a queer man that triggers the remaking of the world, but rather the desire to perform the masculine role of rescuing a princess.

Shinji experiences some doubt about this performance of hegemonic masculinity in the third film, when he realises that his actions destroyed most of the world. He meets Kaoru in this film, and his interactions with him and the development of their friendship are even more significant than in the TV series. Shinji seems to enjoy Kaoru’s gentle, queer masculinity here as well. But when Kaoru urges Shinji to pilot an Eva again to restore the world he agrees, still seemingly believing he should perform hegemonic masculine scripts to use positive violent action to save the world, and to furthermore restore a world that excludes queer masculinity. This effort fails, however, and Kaoru dies, once again throwing Shinji into a deep depression, although because he himself has not exhibited as many signs of queer masculinity the link between his depression and the falseness of Kaoru’s queer masculinity is weaker. Also, while in the TV series Shinji fully realises Kaoru is a shito and feels anger at his betrayal, in Rebuild Kaoru’s status as a shito is unclear and Shinji is simply confused, watching as Kaoru dies for reasons he cannot understand.

Nevertheless, Shinji is thrown into a deep depression as Asuka takes him and Rei to Village 3. Village 3 is an agricultural village where survivors of Near Third Impact, including several of Shinji’s old classmates, lead simple lives farming and raising children. Village 3 is protected from the effects of Near Third Impact by containment pillars supplied by WILLE that allow growing things to thrive, and the village is an explosion of green life in a desolate world dyed a monochrome red that indicates contamination. Surprisingly, a quarter of the fourth film is spent away from giant robot battles and apocalyptic events, instead detailing Shinji and Rei’s time living a quotidian life in Village 3. It is his time in this village that allows Shinji to climb out of his despair, come to terms with his actions and Kaoru’s death, and gather the resolve to face the final battle against his father. Kondō Ginga (2021, p. 155) argues that the depiction of Village 3 betrays Evangarion’s commitment to gender equality. In contrast to the world of the first two movies and the TV series, where competent women have major roles in leadership and science, Village 3 has reverted to traditional gender roles, with men leading and handling technical work while women are relegated to agricultural and child-rearing labor. She further notes that this space for Shinji’s recovery of humanity is a gendered space:

For the men who work in the city, and for women who take on male roles like Asuka, the countryside is a place of rest associated with images of Earth and Mother…. The village is feminised by the obvious metaphor of the erect pillars that revitalize nature within it, and it is placed in the role of supporting and caring for WILLE, the “city.” That is why the village must be the good old world (furuki yoki sekai). It is an agricultural village as a temporary place of retreat that people can return to before going out into the city once again. Egoists who portray the village this way erase the traces of the various political movements that have happened in agricultural villages.

As Kondō astutely notes, Shinji must go to a space that is both traditional (in lifestyle, in gender roles) and feminised (the fertility of agriculture and families) to recover and return to the important work of saving the world. Gone is the feminine as abject that exploded to the surface in the TV series as soon as Shinji tried to perform hegemonic masculinity, and which forced him to give up his pretensions at that masculinity. Instead, Village 3 is the feminine made pleasant for the healing of the masculine ego. Shinji here takes a step towards aligning with hegemonic masculinity, consuming the feminine rather than aligning with it.

But nonetheless Shinji’s ego is healed in Village 3, and finally he returns to the last battle against Gendō, who tries to cause Fourth Impact and finish human completion. Shinji pilots an Eva again and moves to stop him. He succeeds because Misato creates a “lance” for him, a mystical device with the power to change reality. It is shaped as a lance, a weapon of violence that Shinji must wield, cementing his socialisation into the martial violence of hegemonic masculinity. Shinji never touched a lance in the 1990s instantiations of Evangerion, but here he receives an obviously phallic object from his pseudo-mother in order to defeat his father in an oedipal struggle and become a man. With the power of the lance Shinji rescues Rei, Asuka, and Kaoru from death and entrapment in a strange negative energy universe, telling Kaoru that he can now bear any pain for himself but that he must rescue others. Put differently, the boy with a phallic weapon rescues two girls and a queer man, performing the socially valorised violence of heterosexual hegemonic masculinity, rescuing those of subordinate gender from his socially dominant position.

Finally, Shinji restores the world, erasing Near Third Impact (and possibly an earlier disaster called Second Impact as well), restoring humanity and the planet. The final scene depicts Shinji, Rei, Asuka, and Kaoru as adults in an everyday setting at the Ubeshinkawa train station in Yamaguchi prefecture, waiting for a train. Shinji seems to have restored the world to exactly as it was before. Unlike Air / magokoro o / kimi ni, Shinji did not create a new world with a new Adam and Eve that could rebuild society with new possibilities for queer masculinities, however fraught. In the conclusion to the Rebuild movies Shinji simply returns the world to its previous state, just with the omission of Evangerion units that could be used to destroy the world again. Shinji has no need to remake the world into a new one with the possibility of queer acceptance here because by this point he has already fully socialised into hegemonic masculinity and “become a man” in typical giant robot genre fashion. He performed valorised violence, gained confidence, and is now clearly no longer cowardly, timid, sneaky, or weak. Rather than show Shinji accepting his queer masculinity or creating a world with a possibility for queer masculinity to have value in society, the Rebuild movies simply erase queer masculinity. The final line of the film is a stark contrast to the final line of Air / magokoro o / kimi ni. Shinji grabs the hand of Makinami Mari (another female pilot newly introduced in these films) and says “ikō,” or “let’s go,” before pulling her forward to run out of the train station. Shinji’s voice actor has switched in this scene from Megumi Ota to Kamiki Ryūnosuke, a male actor who plays romantic leads like the character Taki in Kimi no na wa. Rather than the ambiguity at queer acceptance indicated by “kimochi warui,” the Rebuild films end with Shinji cheerfully suggesting (in a masculine-presenting voice) positive action forward into the world as a masculine subject, leading a woman by the hand. Shinji has literally aged and become an adult in this scene, but he has also come of age in accordance with genre convention, having been successfully socialised into hegemonic masculinity.


Heasley (2005, p. 320) argues that queer masculinities “queer the environment of the hetero-masculine” and “stall the system” that produces gendered hierarchies and dominance. In the Evangerion TV series Shinji’s queer masculinity disrupts the patriarchal organisation that produces socialisation in adult, hegemonic masculinity. Run by the patriarch Gendō, NERV is an organisation that—in giant robot genre tradition—produces giant robots and induces young people to fight in them, inducting them into the violence of hegemonic masculinity. Shinji does not entirely disrupt this system—it still induces him to fight shito—but his presence queers the hetero-masculine environment of NERV and stalls the system of reproduction of hegemonic masculinity. However, Evangerion has shifting stances on the possibility of social acceptance of queer masculinity. In the original TV anime, Shinji’s adherence to his queer masculinity and disruption of the system of production of hegemonic masculinity production leads him eventually to a paradise where he can accept himself and the rest of humanity accepts him as well. By the 1997 films, however, the ending shifts to indicate that social acceptance of queer masculinity might be only barely possible in a fraught and difficult process. It is beyond the scope of this paper to answer why this change occurred. If some speculation might be permitted, however, it is possible the change was in reaction to fan response. Although the Evangerion TV series was very popular, its popularity rested largely on the female characters and giant robots. It is well known that Shinji himself was widely critiqued in fan discourse. Fans who expected an adventurous masculine protagonist in genre tradition critiqued Shinji’s passivity and timidity—queer characteristics that deviate from hegemonic masculinity. Air / magokoro o / kimi ni has been noted as a critique of otaku fetishization of both girl characters and military hardware, perhaps a reaction to this fan criticism (Kondō 2021, p. 157, Galbraith 2022, p. 240). We might speculate that fan critique informed the ending as well, after encounters with fan reactions to Shinji’s queer masculinity made the possibility of a world of queer acceptance seem less likely.

Finally, the Rebuild movies are the complete reverse of the TV anime, showing a queer man being socialised into hegemonic masculinity and being accepted by dominant society, rather than society changing to accept queer masculinity. Investigating the reason for this shift is, again, beyond the scope of this study. One might guess, however, that the the main production staff, who were all born in the 1960s (e.g., Anno, 1960, co-director Tsurumaki Kazuya 1966) have become old enough that adolescent struggles with gender socialisation have come to seem more distant. Also relevant might be the more muscular conservative politics of the twenty-first century. The release of the Rebuild movies overlaps roughly with the emergence of an energetic conservatism in Japan led by Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Abe Shinzō (2006-7, 2012-20), and it is possible that the climate of conservative ascendancy affected directorial choices. However, it may be just as likely that by the time of the Rebuild films the Evangerion franchise had simply gotten too large. The original TV series was a famously low-budget, relatively small-scale production. However, by the twenty-first century Evangerion had become an extremely valuable intellectual property and spawned a massive (and profitable) web of commercial tie-ins. It may simply be that the Evangerion franchise and the demands for ever-increasing profitability grew so large it became impossible to betray viewer and genre expectations of a sympathetic protagonist coming of age and learning to perform hegemonic masculinity.  Mizobe Kōji (2018, p. 54) notes that Evangerion is a story that iterates around the theme “can Shinji be happy or not?” The Rebuild iteration seems to find a way for Shinji to be happy, and thus finally satisfies fans and viewers who buy tickets and character goods. The cost of making Shinji happy, however, is erasing his queer masculinity and depicting him acquiescing to socialisation into hegemonic masculinity. On a metatexual level, this itself may be the Rebuild films’ sharpest critique of the possibility of living in society with queer masculinity.


1. E.g., in ep. 1, 2. Also repeated by Asuka: ep. 9, 10, 11.

2.  Ep. 9, ep. 10, ep. 11 (minor variations)


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About the Author

Christopher Smith received a PhD in Japanese literature from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and is currently an Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese Literature at the University of Florida, where he teaches courses on modern Japanese literature, Japanese culture, manga, and anime. His research focuses on postwar Japanese literature, particularly contemporary literature (Heisei-Reiwa), as well as Japanese pop culture, including manga and anime. He is especially interested in examining how contemporary literature and culture represents, manipulates, and ultimately plays with Japanese history and identity. He recently published a translation of Tanaka Yasuo’s Somehow, Crystal (Kurodahan Press).

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