I'll be honest, I never got the appeal of Rei. I don't hate her, and am fine with her being the show's mascot, but she felt like more of a piece for the other characters to bounce off of than much of anything herself. It's not so much that there's nothing to latch onto to analyze and feel emotions about, it's more that I'm not interested in investing in a character that has such relatively little meat.
I liked your comment praising Asuka because I think she gets a lot of hate for no reason as well, but Rei is misunderstood and the best girl meme is an extreme result of people not getting her character. Rei is literally a supernatural being combined with a science experiment. Her arc is defined by her choice for humanity. Rei is not meant to be super relatable because she’s not normal in any sense of the word. Rei is an angel who's soul moves between multiple clones and has a memory and personality of the child body/clone that she is. Rei at first suffers from lack of self worth due to her absurd circumstances and she overcomes this by saving her friends and humanity against what she sees as evil as she grows to find meaning. Crushing the glasses and seemingly forcing the suicide of the mass production units are small pieces of evidence to this puzzle. Rei is choosing the good she sees in Shinji and Asuka and allowing Lilin (humanity) to continue on an unknown path rather than Gendo’s personal god complex path or SEELE’s dogmatic eugenic path for evolution. Rei rejects SEELE without them knowing of each other directly throughout the series because their path crosses once she takes control of instrumentality. Her character is about sacrifice. She was created to be used as a sacrifice for Gendo and she ultimately chooses to sacrifice herself in a way that would help her friends.
I believe her arc and the story as a whole is meant to display the sort of positive overcome of nihilism that I think Ano probably relates to. (This last sentence is speculation because his interviews are all over the place and ultimately he doesn’t want the meaning to be explained in an on the nose way so he self contradicts himself sometimes, I simply use all the information we are given in the best way I can) Her character in some aspects is similar to Aeris/th from FF7, but an even more depressing set of circumstances and higher level of power over events. They really aren't the same for a variety of reasons, but I'm just using this comparison to help people better understand how Rei fits into the story of Evangelion.
To be fair I never got the Shinji-Rei ships or the best girl meme. It’s so obvious from any point in the series that Shinji and Asuka make better sense together. From their complimentary opposite design to their synchronization scenes. It’s obviously a complex relationship that is messy, but it also reflects their crazy circumstances and youthful understanding of the world and each other. Deep down they both want to be accepted by each other, but Asuka wants acceptance more than Shinji. Shinji is so defeatist through most of the anime it really takes until the last couple episodes and End of Eva - which compliment those same episodes - for his growth to fully realize. Shinji’s relationship with Rei is more of a friendship and doing the right thing by each other. Shinji might have been sexually attracted to her to an extent, but only in a youthful immature way. The scene showing a "naked" version of Rei, Misato, and Asuka was simply there for the angel Leliel to abuse his weaknesses at that point in the anime and doesn't reflect a Harem or something being desired by Shinji. That scene took place in episode 16 far before Shinji developed in these last episodes.
Almost every character in Evangelion has value so to suggest she's just a piece is kind of downplaying how important that piece is to the overall story.
Like I said, there's stuff to analyze if you care to dive deep. If you wanted to, you could write papers on Gendo Ikari as well, but that doesn't make him a fan favorite or a favorite of mine. In the end, you're correct, Rei is a supernatural being. Her character is connected with the mythology of the show, and that never really appealed to me because the show's mythology feels pretentious a good amount of the time. As a viewer, I preferred to accept that mythology as a spice, but was not interested in it as the main thrust. It's too dense and intentionally unknowable for me to find interesting outside of occasionally looking up fan theories on what it all means. If I'd tried to take it all in as a pre-requisite for my enjoyment of the show, I would wind up as lost, confused, and belligerent as the original poster of this thread.
Last edited by NightlyPoe - on 23 May 2020
That's why I'm more drawn towards Asuka. Her story is that of a human young girl, not the story of an otherworldly element laying judgement on humanity's worth. In Asuka's case, the mythology of the is used to expose a confident, proud, and brash young girl's layers as brittle shells one step at a time until there is nothing left. To me, that is the peak of the show's storytelling capabilities. Shinji's story is told in much the same way of being somewhat outside of caring about the grand plots and angels going on around him, but is constantly touched by it all as it intrudes. I consider the execution of Asuka's story to just be better than his. Probably because it's more condensed and simplified. Also probably because I just like Asuka a lot more than Shinji to begin with.
Also, for what it's worth, I don't think Shinji and Asuka really work all that well either. Shinji, I don't believe is ready to do any more than take in any particular relationship (Rei as an exception), while Asuka needs a lot of emotional support at this point in her life. Conversely, Shinji requires a lot of understanding, but Asuka is something of an emotional blunt object. What she really needs is a parent to anchor her, but the closest two that she has in Kaji and Misato have been mixed up in a rather overt Electra complex.
As a character, I stand by what I said about Rei earlier. She's a piece for the other characters and for the story. Really, she's the hub of the whole show as most of the main characters have primary conflicts that she highlights. With Shinji, a connection to a person more detached than himself and the inherent vestiges of his mother, with Gendo, as a means to fulfilling Yui's goals, with Asuka as the living doll that she despises after nearly throwing her life away in a suicide-pact with her mother, with Ritsuko, the life-defining moment of her mother's death after murdering Rei's 1st clone and her coming full-circle to almost exactly the same ending. And, of course, the ending revolves around her.
While interesting from a story-telling perspective, it still does not engender much love from me as a viewer.