On Character Criticism and the Trouble with Nuance
The last post prompted some complaining on EvaGeeks about my NTE!Kaworu-“bashing” tendencies. (The festivities begin here.) Since I’ve parted ways with the forum, allow me to set the record straight here on Arqa.
I do realize that NTE!Kaworu is extremely popular, and that the overall view of him is exceedingly charitable. However, I do not feel bound by these restrictions. They are imposed by others who have a different point of view, and what is “obvious” to them is not necessarily “obvious” to me or others. For my part, I have no requirement whatsoever that interesting and complex characters must be moralistically pure. I do think “purity” can exist in some sense, but there is no possible way it can encompass every aspect of someone’s existence; every light must cast a shadow. Much of the reason I like Eva because of its combination of brutal honesty and relentless compassion. A character being written with a dark side is not an automatic indictment of that character — it’s simply part of them, same as all the good stuff. Humans are complicated and paradoxical; none of us are simply one thing. Our less than savory traits, all of the questionable things we do and justify within our hearts, everything that would make us cower in shame if it were exposed… despite best efforts, these things persist, and they should be acknowledged. Fictional characters provide a safe way to explore the darkness within ourselves and learn to preemptively recognize it so it’s less able to take us by surprise and exert power over us. Eva’s characters accomplish this splendidly, but only if you let them.
I understand that hearing unpleasant things about your favorite is not fun. I’ve been on the other side of that equation. I could certainly have conducted myself with a bit more grace in the past. (However, the only thing about the "gay piano thread" that I regret is that an intentionally over-the-top tone doesn’t transmit through text reliably.) But underlying it all, I’ve never been motivated by anything other than wanting to know what’s really going on. Such as: What is the nature of Kaworu’s relationship with Seele? Why is Kaworu singularly obsessed with Shinji, to the point he seems to care about nothing else? (That would be considered unhealthy and creepy in any other person; why is it okay when Eva’s resident pretty boy does it?) Why does he think he has the right to decide what will make Shinji happy? Why does he not tell Shinji the things Shinji would need to know to make an informed decision about Fourth Impact himself? Where is the interpersonal respect? Is there truly any, or is Shinji more of an abstract concept for Kaworu to project a messiah complex onto than a person? What kind of love are we really dealing with if Kaworu is willing to pummel Shinji with emotionally devastating expo-speak about a mind-blowing level of catastrophe that Shinji does not have the context to grasp in any way… but he isn’t willing to so much as let Shinji know something as freakishly important as the fact that Kaworu knew who Shinji was over fourteen years before they met?
Think, seriously just think, about the situation unfolding in Q, and how things really look when you strip away the romantic glamor. There’s a reason I’ve compared Kaworu and Shinji's relationship (from the piano lessons to them getting into Eva-13 together) to child grooming, and it wasn’t to be a controversial asshole. I did it because the parallels are right there and ignoring them won’t make them go away. All of these questions and observations are valid, and, no matter how unpleasant they might be, they deserve to be properly addressed. If you’re a true fan of any given character, you won’t be afraid to earnestly consider their more troubling aspects. Kaworu/Shinji is not a perfect pure tragic love just because you wish it were so. This isn’t that kind of story, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re looking in the entirely wrong place.
To make things absolutely clear: Kaworu is “just” a fictional character, meaning he cannot cause any actual harm to anyone. Whatever my feelings for him, whether the NGE or NTE incarnation, I don’t truly have anything against him, because that would be nonsensical. I certainly don’t think he’s “evil”, because I don’t think any of Eva’s characters can be reduced like that. Another thing to keep in mind is that my opinions are far from stationary, so what you may have read years or even mere months ago is not necessarily true for me now. Of course you have no way of knowing this short of me writing an up-to-date character analysis (its time will come, no worries), but notice how in my previous post I offered a balanced interpretation of the light/dark theming and spatial composition in the Asuka/Mari and Shinji/Kaworu shots. This was done intentionally, knowing full well that the “Reichu thinks Kaworu is evil” meme would follow me here, in an attempt to preempt the usual complaints. Even an old Reichu can learn new tricks, and, in many ways, I want this blog to represent a fresh new start.