Neon Genesis Evangelion is a cult classic anime with a lofty reputation that’s boosted it into the mainstream as a must-watch series for anime aficionados. Evangelion‘s focus on psychological depth and the tenuous, complicated bonds that form between people is its primary claim to fame. Out of all its relationships, however, the relationship between the father-son duo of Gendo and Shinji Ikari is perhaps the most important one.
Despite seeming very different on the surface, Gendo and Shinji are essentially mirror images with the same kinds of insecurities plaguing their every waking moment. There are several clues in their relationship (or lack thereof) that hint at how similar they actually are.
They Both Hate Themselves
Despite having very different attitudes toward life, Shinji and Gendo have a lot in common when it comes to their self-esteem. In fact, Gendo is effectively a grown version of Shinji since he shares Shinji’s insecurities. Both Shinji and Gendo foster deeply held beliefs that they’re not worthy of love, and Gendo’s obsession with Yui is predicated on the fact that he believes she is the only person who can love him. While Shinji’s self-loathing doesn’t quite have an outlet, however, Gendo has chosen to focus on the Human Instrumentality Project to reunite with Yui.
Gendo Pushes Shinji Away Out Of Fear
Just like his son, Gendo is afraid of becoming close to others. But unlike Shinji, audiences aren’t completely sure what caused Gendo’s fears of rejection and abandonment. Nevertheless, Gendo admits that he is afraid of the “invisible bonds” between people, indicating his reluctance to foster healthy relationships or open up to others. Even Rei Ayanami, who Gendo seems to genuinely care for, is kept at a comfortable distance and used as a tool to enact the Human Instrumentality Project under Gendo’s complete control.
Shinji Relies On Gendo’s Praise For His Own Sense Of Self-Worth
As an abandoned child, Shinji doesn’t have a lot of evidence that he’s a worthy or loveable human being. His mother’s death may have been an unfortunate accident, but his own father left him behind shortly after Yui’s death.
This left Shinji with no foundation upon which to build a healthy self-image since he feared being rejected by others as a result of early abandonment. Instead of an inner sense of self-worth, Shinji looks for external proof of his worthiness. Gendo’s praise is an especially meaningful source of comfort for him.
Gendo Fundamentally Rejects His Status As A Father
A bond between parent and child is supposed to be one of the strongest human bonds possible, so it makes complete sense that Gendo avoids acting as a father should. Instead of staying in touch with Shinji or comforting him after Yui’s death, he abandons his son while he’s still a child. Furthermore, Gendo only contacts Shinji when there’s an explicit purpose to do so, proving that he’s not willing to make any healthy contact with Shinji. The only thing Gendo gets out of being a father is the authority to manipulate his son.
Gendo Is Aware He Hurts Shinji & Thinks It’s Better To Do Nothing
Gendo is definitely one of the most mysterious characters in Neon Genesis Evangelion, especially since his goals are essential to the anime’s big reveal. Near the end of the series, after Rei rejects him and leaves the Human Instrumentality Project in Shinji’s hands, Gendo has a rare moment of honesty. He confesses to Yui that he knows his presence hurts Shinji and believes it’s better to do nothing about it. This scene reveals Gendo as a selfish, tortured man with no confidence in his ability to be a father.
Yui Is Their Only Point Of Semi-Healthy Connection
After abandoning Shinji in his youth and the subsequent mutual avoidance of one another, Gendo and Shinji only made contact with one another on a yearly basis to visit Yui’s grave. Yui Ikari is a strong motivational force for both Shinji and Gendo, and she’s essentially the one thing that both of them can agree on. But although they can agree on Yui’s importance to them, they’re unable to fight off their basic instincts of avoidance and come together as a unit outside of visiting her grave.
Yui’s Death Is The Central Reason They Became Estranged
For better or for worse, Yui Ikari acted as a proverbial glue that held the fragile Ikari family together. Both Shinji and Gendo adored Yui in such a way that losing her was absolutely devastating. Gendo felt incomplete and awkward without her, which resulted in him believing he could not be a good father to Shinji unless she was there to support him.
Instead, Gendo became obsessed with the Human Instrumentality Project and poured all his energy into commandeering it so he could be reunited with Yui, become a god, and make a better world.
They Both Tend To Run From Their Problems
Very little is known about Gendo’s early life and adolescence, but his devotion to Yui becomes obvious during the series. After losing her during the failed Eva Unit 01 experiment, it becomes obvious that Gendo was using Yui as external validation of his own self-worth. Instead of properly mourning Yui’s death with Shinji, Gendo runs away into the fantasy that he can be reunited with her through the Human Instrumentality Project. Despite Gendo appearing to be a stern and confident man, he is just as cowardly and hopeless as his own son.
Their Relationship Is Purely Exploitative
While Shinji is earnestly seeking praise and validation from his father, Gendo isn’t prepared to give Shinji anything unless Shinji does what he wants. Gendo makes it obvious several times throughout the series that Shinji is only as good as how useful he is to Gendo’s grander schemes. When Shinji refuses to pilot the Eva, Gendo makes his disappointment clear. When Shinji does pilot and performs well, however, Gendo praises Shinji by name. This sets up their relationship as one between manipulator and manipulated, devoid of any true familial warmth or closeness.
They Don’t Hate Each Other
Although Shinji openly states that he hates his father on more than one occasion and Gendo himself tries to avoid Shinji as much as possible, they don’t actually hate each other. Rather, both Shinji and Gendo are deeply hurt people who need to come together as a family and heal their respective wounds. In fact, they’re so similar that they may even be rejecting themselves at the same time they are rejecting each other. Instead of turning away from his responsibility as a father, Gendo should have embraced Shinji as the only remaining proof of Yui’s love.
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