Part mecha, part psychological drama, Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most iconic anime series ever made. Even now, 25 years after the original series first aired, Evangelion is still discussed and debated by both fans and critics alike. Voiced by Supa-Star Spike Spencer, series protagonist Shinji Ikari is as divisive as the show itself, with fans either empathising with the young pilot or wishing he’d just hurry up and get in the robot.
Love him or hate him, Shinji is undeniably one of the most memorable characters in all of anime. Here are just some of Shinji’s greatest moments from the series!
SHINJI AGREES TO PILOT EVA-UNIT 01
Shinji, the son of Commander Gendo Ikari, was summoned to NERV HQ for one reason: to pilot Evangelion Unit-01 into battle against humanity’s greatest enemy, the Angels. A terrified Shinji initially refuses, but quickly changes his mind after seeing the seriously injured Rei Ayanami would be forced to battle in his place.
Shinji Ikari may not be brave, but this moment proves he is selfless.
RESCUING HIS CLASSMATES FROM SHAMSHEL
Though his Eva is damaged and running low on power, Shinji refuses to retreat from a battle against the fourth Angel, Shamshel, until he rescues his new classmates, Toji and Kensuke, who are trapped on a hill nearby. The event brokers peace between Shinji and Toji, who had initially disliked Shinji due to Unit-01 injuring his little sister during an earlier battle.
SAVING ASUKA FROM THE VOLCANO
While most of the best moments in Evangelion’s tenth episode belong to Asuka, she wouldn’t have survived without Shinji’s intervention. After defeating the Angel Sandalphon inside an active volcano, Unit-02’s safety equipment fails. Just as the Eva is about to sink past the point of no return with Asuka still inside, Shinji jumps into the volcano in Unit-01 to save her. He does this without safety equipment, knowing full well that he will feel whatever his Eva feels. This makes his act of heroism an extremely brave one.
VICTORY THROUGH SYNCHRONISED DANCE
This one was a joint awesome moment for Shinji and Asuka. The Angel Israfel splits in two and easily defeats the quarrelling Eva pilots, embarrassing NERV when United Nation forces must step in and help. Shinji and Asuka have six days to get in sync before taking on Israfel again. They accomplish this through the use of a weaponised synchronised dance routine. The Angel is defeated, in a scene that is equal parts awesome and hilarious.
SHINJI REFUSES TO DESTROY EVANGELION UNIT-04
During a routine synch test, the just activated Evangelion Unit-04 is possessed by the Angel Bardiel, with its new pilot, Toji, still trapped inside. With Bardiel about to commence a rampage on Tokyo-3, Gendo orders Shinji to destroy Unit-04. Shinji, hoping to save Toji’s, refuses to obey Gendo even when the possessed Eva begins to strangle Unit-01 and, by extension, Shinji himself. Having recently come to the realization that he pilots an Eva solely to receive Gendo’s approval, Shinji’s decision to stand against his Father is an especially noble one.
“I AM SHINJI IKARI, THE PILOT OF EVA UNIT-01!”
Shinji is horrified when Gendo’s Dummy Plug system forces Unit-01 to crush Unit-04’s entry plug, and Toji along with it. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Shinji quits his position as an Eva pilot. But before he can leave Tokyo-3, the fourteenth Angel, Zeruel, attacks. Zeruel quickly defeats both Asuka and Rei. Unable to watch the destruction continue, Shinji returns to NERV and pilots Unit-01 once more, just in time to save Misato when Zeruel breaches Central Dogma. Later in the same episode, Shinji achieves a level of synchronization with Unit-01 previously thought impossible, effectively merging with his Eva.
In both of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s canon endings (the final two episodes of the series, and the movie End of Evangelion), Shinji Ikari is the one who gains the power to either accept or reject Instrumentality. Instrumentality would mean a loss of individuality and emotion, merging all of humanity into a single being. In both endings, Shinji ultimately decides to reject instrumentality and remain an individual. All the pain and joy he has experienced is just a part of life, a life that is very much worth living.
For a character who spent the entire series with pretty serious self-esteem issues, choosing to be himself is an epic final victory of its own. Then on top of that, in making the choice to reject Instrumentality, Shinji leaves the door open for the rest of humanity to make the same choice should they wish to. Shinji has effectively saved the world for those who want it.