Someone shows a bit of character: Ikari Gendo of Neon Genesis Evangelion

gendo-profileI like Ikari Gendo. I don’t mean his treatment of Shinji necessarily (I lived through my own father issues, now happily resolved), nor his obsession with Yui (he took his wife’s name, he animated a super robot with her soul when she died, and cloned her repeatedly in the form of Rei). I like him because he stuck it to the man.

I realize that paragraph I just wrote is one of the most dishonest things I’ve ever said as an anime fan. You see, I realize now that Ikari Gendo is a central figure in a long conversation I’ve been having with myself on the nature of the guilty pleasure. I will address the concept in full in the beginning of next year as the notion of the guilty pleasure is at the very heart of my enjoyment of anime.

For the purposes of this post, however, I’ll just say that for me the guilt in the pleasure has very little to do with high-culture v. low-culture conversations. I won’t pretend that I won’t gladly miss an opportunity to watch El Dude perform live if I could go to this instead (the Nodame Cantabile dorama has turned me into a classical music enthusiast, an ongaku otaku, if you will; Gustavo Dudamel is a real-life Chiaki Shinichi). I’d actually watch Rebuild of Evangelion over any Academy Award-winning film of the last 13 years. I’d rather re-read my wife’s copies of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichihenge than anything by Tolstoy (who I really like as well), to be honest with you. I don’t have a shameful otaku secret, compared to that other fellow who posts on this blog.

p031_i076

The guilt that I deal with is my genuine appreciation for evil, complex characters. Lelouch Vi Britannia is one, and so is Yagami Light. I like them, I root for them. And although I enjoy it too when they die, I am sympathetic to their ambitions and cheer for them throughout the narrative as I experience it. Why the guilt? It’s because at the very least, I tolerate their irresponsible, selfish, underhanded, or malicious acts. At worst, I endorse them; even if I try not to think about this too much. It would be an easy out if I justify their actions as for ‘the greater good’, or they do a heel-face-turn and become good guys in the end. But no, I actually enjoy it when they are in the midst of their monstrosity, at the heights of their evil powers. I know there are many who share this delight, perhaps in varying degrees. But this is nonetheless true because anime like Evangelion, Death Note, and Code Geass are remarkably popular.

So Ikari Gendo, the father of Shinji who is the most angst-ridden and emo pilot in mecha anime. Shinji’s emotional problems are credited to his father, and the narrative as experienced does little to dissuage this notion. If Shinji was to visit a counselor or an analyst, he would actually be tagged as the identified patient. He is a symptom, and the real illness is none other than the father.

eva_t020

Gendo is more terrifying than any angel, than the third impact itself. The impact seems preventable, survivable even even if only by proxy (Shinji and Asuka). But Gendo, he’s the bogeyman in Evangelion, he’s the devil. He’s a lie that humanity: Shinji and Rei and Asuka and Ritsuko and Misato and Fuyutsuki rely on, depend on, cling to. He is the false hope. We are reassured whenever he takes over an operation from Misato. We know it won’t be necessarily good for Shinji but we know we’re going to beat the angel. He’s the Antichrist that will sacrifice humanity and instrumentality itself.

The foretold antichrist is a leader and a liar. But this is no Damian Thorn protected by dark creatures from infancy to ascendance. Everything Gendo achieved he did through no favors, just talent and fortune. And lady fortune has a name, she is Gendo’s only god and love: Ikari Yui.

It is this wrinkle, this twist in the narrative that makes the evil that is Gendo so intoxicatingly romantic. It’s about love now is it? In the BBC television mini-series Jekyll, where evil is manifest in a character-as-device Hyde, evil and love are charmingly juxtaposed. Taking from the maternal instinct, a conversation between one mother to another: “When did you know that for the first time in your life, you can kill another human being?” The answer was, “When my children were threatened.”

p032_i078

There’s nothing parental you can accuse Gendo of, his relationship with Rei being the stuff of nightmares (or fantasies, depending on who you ask). But the driving force, so powerful so as to ruin existence itself, is nothing else but love. I hesitate to call it selfish because Gendo did not want to possess Yui. He took her name, forgoing the extension of his line – the very foundation of selfishness: the biological imperative to pass on one’s genes at the expense of others. One can argue that this is merely a semantic quibble, but it is very clear in his treatment of Shinji how much he thought of his genetic legacy. His obsession with Yui is genetic and spiritual preservation. This was all he ever cared for. This is a great and terrible love, which had no redemption, no heroic reversal. He didn’t deserve one, even if only for his evisceration of two generations of Akagi scientists.

For the non-spoiler averse, here’s the Gendo end, c/o Wikipedia:

Gendo pretends to follow Seele’s orders without question, he has his own agenda and tries to out-manipulate the committee. His final outspoken rebellion towards Seele comes from his desire to initiate Third Impact under his complete control. He implants Adam’s embryo in his hand (only shown in Death and Rebirth and the Director’s Cut Edition) and tries to merge with Rei to achieve this purpose.

In The End of Evangelion, Rei finally defies Gendo forwardly and separates with him (after absorbing Adam) to merge with Lilith and start Instrumentality on her own. Seeing that all his plans to be reunited with Yui have come to nothing, Gendo begs Rei to return to him, she refuses. After Instrumentality is started, Gendo confronts specters of the various Reis as well as Kaworu and Yui herself. Gendo confesses that he is afraid of the “invisible bonds” formed by those around him, and that he was afraid to confront his son after Yui’s death. A vision of Unit 01, with much of its armor missing, (the real Unit 01 is at that moment within the Tree of Life, and still fully armored) is seen holding Gendo in much the same manner as Kaworu in Episode 24. Gendo states that “…this is my retribution”, and the spectral Unit 01 bites off his torso as he utters his final words: “Forgive me, Shinji.” The camera then shifts back to Terminal Dogma, where the lower half of Gendo’s body is seen, still standing, with his torso severed.

icon200x150gendo

I nominate Ikari Gendo to the very pinnacle of romantic evil. Tell me, is there a character more completely consumed by love, who has performed more atrocious acts in its name, who is so necessary to the salvation of everyone in the narrative that the same acts are permitted, whose gambits so complex and costly?

And even if Yui would not, cannot absolve nor forgive him, I get him. I appreciate him for everything that he is and for everything he is not. Evangelion would not be what it is without him, and even just for this I will endure being Shinji so just for that moment, I can forgive Gendo.

This post is the fulfillment of a request made by lelangir. You can post your requests here.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, Guilty Pleasures, meta, showing a bit of character and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Someone shows a bit of character: Ikari Gendo of Neon Genesis Evangelion

  1. digitalboy says:

    holy shit that was intense. Very well written character analysis here, I even got chills. Definitely gives me a deeper emotion toward Gendo.

  2. lelangir says:

    Hey great write-up! I was always wondering why Gendo’s hand was “absorbed” by Rei in those last episodes, though now I can see there’s actual significance (I didn’t watch the movie/summary).

    Boy am I sick of glasses, but Gendo is one character that makes exceptional use of the glasses metaphor. There are many scenes where we see his more “human” side (ie. talking to Rei or at his wife’s grave site) literally in his peripheral vision where we see not his glasses but his actual eyes, not those shiny facades but his humanity, or, as you’ve put it, the essence of a romantic evil.

    But I’d disagree with Light being a complex character (though I wanted him to win!). He was “smart”, or tactical, but somehow thought that simply killing people would make the world a better place? (“the human spirit” vs. structural conditions)

  3. ghostlightning says:

    @ digitalboy

    Thanks man, when lelangir posted the request I think I wrote it within an hour. I hemmed and hawed because I felt it was too personal – then I realized that really is the kind of writing I want here. I mean I still hide behind a handle but really it’s not difficult to get to know the person who is the otaku.

    As I write more posts, this guilt I have (and guilt is a feeling I dislike thoroughly) will be explored further and clearer. This blog too is a means for me to create myself in words – interfacing with these cultural products we like to consume.

    @ lelangir

    I’m glad it didn’t disappoint you. Part of my hesitation to post this one was that despite the “honesty” (it’s not that honest until I put my name and face on the blog) was that the writing won’t be solid.

    About Light, you know what… you’re right. I realize that his brilliance in the series was singularly used to survive L and the rest. There was no time wherein his behavior was challenged, or he actually considered alternative ways of living. I may have confused ‘complex’ with provocative in this case.

  4. mechafetish says:

    I want to join the others to congratulate you on what I consider your best writeup yet!

    @ lelangir

    Its funny that you mention Light’s shortsightedness in simply killing criminals. I agree.

    Have you ever thought of what you would do with the death note? Light had the power to hold every world leader and public personality in the world hostage to force them to work for the betterment of mankind. All it would take would be the deaths of a few examples for them to fall in line and create a true equitable world for the good of humanity. Granted it would not be quite simple, but fewer and less localized murders (by nature of the plan) would also have made it far more difficult for L to have caught him.

  5. I thought Deathnote actually became a story of mind games, and I think that eventually became Light’s primary reason why he continued to kill, and not because of his ‘justice-is-served’ ideology. He does come off as shallow but I ask myself if being an naive idealist with POWER (c/o DN) would constitute to lack of depth in character–I don’t think he’s a profound but there could be some things we were unable to see because the plot didn’t demand it.

    ON TOPIC, good job on the character analysis! Your theory about how love can fuel almost all the things Gendo does is very interesting, almost bordering to obssession without being obvious that it could be destructive, and that’s quite ironic of him. Oh, and seeing Shinji as the IP–you’d probably make a better therapist than I would.

  6. coburn says:

    Like the others, I enjoyed reading this a great deal.

    It’s interesting that you’re not so interested in the Greater Good. A lot of complex-evil types fall back on that one. It’s probably the easiest way to draw “he’s evil, but…”. On reflection, I might prefer those guys (thinks of Rossiu) to the more romantically self-absorbed Gendos of the world. I most certainly do not “get him”.

    I’ve always thought of Gendo as one of the least interesting characters in this show – mainly due to the way he retains his emotional distance from the audience for almost the entire story. Like Rei, he’s magnetic but inhuman. I didn’t feel the sort of involvement with him which could make me start to admire him, let alone identify with his quest.

    I suppose that lack of character detail kind of suits the sort of obsessional subjectivity he offers. We don’t get a chance to really emphasise with him – we’re told why he’s doing it, and that single unexplored motivation is all we get. The bluntness of the characterisation rather suits his style.

  7. choujin1 says:

    Gah! I haven’t finished watching Death Note yet! 😦

    Very well written analysis. You wrote that in an hour, without having to go back and re-watch any??

  8. ghostlightning says:

    @ asher

    Thanks. Lack of complexity does not necessarily mean lack of depth. If Light were as shallow as you make him sound he wouldn’t be half as interesting or provocative. He is not a profound thinker, the way let’s say L seems to be. But the experience of him is profound, in my own experience at least.

    @ coburn

    Doing evil acts for the greater good is not as interesting to me because it reminds me of weakness instead of steadfastness. The character is compromised. Rossiu is hard for me seems convinced of the righteousness of his actions – which to me is admirable, and the evilness in his path seems circumstantial. It was a judgment call on his part, and the smaller injustices he’s called upon to do are done in fulfillment of the judgment he’s committed to.

    Gendo is utterly and shamelessly and disgustingly selfish. I shouldn’t be attracted to him, nor should I further romanticize him than I already have, but here I am. I don’t agree with what he did, but I’m drawn to him.

    Perhaps this feeling I have I can imagine you having when you watch Gendo negotiate with STEELE. Who were you rooting for? Whose side were you on (if you had to choose in that moment)?

    @ choujin

    Thanks. I didn’t re-watch any and you’d notice this through a clear lack of specifics up until the quote from wikipedia. The post wrote itself because of the strong impression Evangelion has made on me, and how little of it I’ve expressed in my life up until now. You can say that this post has been in the making for the last four years.

  9. omisyth says:

    I think I purposefully tried to look deeper into Evangeliion and its characters due to the fact that almost everywhere I went on the internet after finishing the series a few years ago led me to believe it was one of the greatest, deepest and most intricately woven piece of media in existence and if I couldn’t see that i was a complete n00b.

    You’ve given me a completely new perspevtice on Gendo’s character; years ago I was (as cliche as it may sound) young and naive, but thinking back, I can see how Gendo was hopelessly in love with Yui and, though he was kind of trying that whole “saving humanity” thing as a secondary goal, his deeds seemed to me to be focused on bringing back his wife. If you look beneath that cold, heartless, hateful exterior, you do find a romantic.

    Crazy yet cunning old man has a broken heart, awwwwwww.

  10. Pingback: Late To The (De)culture Party: Ten Shows That Influenced My Anime Fandom. « Anime Chatter

  11. Cuchlann says:

    I haven’t actually read them yet, but supposedly Lord Byron’s works figure on this — indeed, Byron himself did terrible things, seemingly for the purpose of “being” evil, and people put up with it because he was a genius. Maybe over this winter break I can finally read some Byron.

    Your description of Gendo matches, almost point for point, the Byronic-romantic Gothic hero. The Shelleys were friends with Byron, and he certainly influenced Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein.

    Sigh. As I told a friend last night, you can always tell what someone studies, because that’s always where they will get their comparisons.

    Oh, by the way — if anyone compares Gendo with Snape, you have my express permission to shoot him or her. In fact, I request it. 😀

  12. coburn says:

    re. SEELE v Gendo: I hadn’t really thought of rooting for anyone in those encounters!

    Anyway, I wasn’t on their side, but I guess I would consider them preferable to Gendo. I tend to think that there’s more nobility in making a hard call and sticking by it regardless than in choosing a personal goal and sticking by it regardless. A different breed of self-centredness really, but one I’m happier with. With ‘my one’ I think the implied character fault is arrogance (rather than selfishness). For some reason empathising with overconfident rationalists doesn’t seem to make me feel guilty, just a bit sad.

  13. ghostlightning says:

    @ omisyth

    The romance of the evil in Gendo in my view is less about the rabu-rabu feelings he may have towards Yui, but rather the scope of the acts he did to bring her back. I think Cuchlann’s comment says much about this – though I haven’t read Byron myself outside a few of his poems.

    @ cuchlann

    It never crossed my mind to compare Gendo and Severus. What you said about how what someone studies shows through the comparisons they make rings true. I realize I’ve mentioned Nietzche and Camus a fair bit in my posts. I took a minor in philosophy back at uni.

    @ coburn

    I think I need to be clear that I don’t find anything ennobling about Gendo. Your choice of compromised/tragic characters are morally preferable by all means. Gendo cannot be redeemed. This is why I feel this guilt for liking Gendo as much as I do. Your empathising with your confident rationalists I assume requires no tolerance nor endorsement of their actions on your end, unless you do make the same choices, had you been in their place. Is this even the case?

  14. Roland says:

    you’ve watch the local dub of this series wayback years ago? 😀

  15. ghostlightning says:

    @ Roland

    I am aware of the dub but I watched the bootleg dvds first – ripped from the US dub. I’ve been re-watching the subbed copies since.

  16. Roland says:

    oic…

    The US dub is good. I have some DVDs here of it. Good watch. 😀

    n_n

  17. yaku says:

    WTF? did you just make me LIKE Gendou Ikari?

    I hate him with all my guts (heck, I’m a Shinji fan) but damn this post made me think “what a f*ing cool guy”.
    You sir, need to write more epic posts.

  18. ghostlightning says:

    @ yaku

    This is what makes me feel so guilty about him. I actually believe that he’s a f*ing cool guy. He’s a bad, bad, man, and I end up endorsing him. Thank you, I wrote this with all that I have and I promise to continue. Feel free to request characters for “Someone’s showing a bit of character“.

  19. Pingback: Ephebophilia, here I split hairs « Miao on My Mind

  20. Pingback: Determining Decisive Contexts for Evil Behavior: an annotation of Dr. Chiba Atsuko’s experiment logs | Super Fanicom

  21. Phäzys says:

    I haven’t watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, but how about characters like Iago in Othello, or Palpatine in Star Wars, they are quite…evil; although probably not as “romantically evil” as Gendo…

  22. ghostlightning says:

    @Phazys

    Those are cool characters, only that I write about anime ^_^

    • Myssa Rei says:

      Well, while twisted and misguided, the TV series version of Gendou Ikari has never been obviously evil, ESPECIALLY when you compare him to his Sadamoto-written manga counterpart (the most recent chapter adds implied Electra Complex), or the guy running around in Daitenroku (who is… seriously messed up).

      • This lack of obviousness is what makes it more delicious!

        He’s the equivalent of Dr. Smith or Dr. Hook in Voltes V and yet he’s not really out for the interests of humanity, nor even his own son. He’s supposed to be one of the good guys, this is what makes his evil terrible.

        All we’re fed is a casual dismissive coldness towards Shinji, and creepy preference for Rei, until the reveals start showing up.

        • Myssa Rei says:

          You’d be surprised at the implications in Daitenroku then — we’re not only treated to the only real look we’ve ever had of Asuka’s parents ever in any Gainax-produced story, but also of how… scary Gendou’s obsession with Yui really is. ANY Yui (Daitenroku is built upon the idea of parallel worlds, and the issue of them collapsing upon one another).

  23. Pingback: Keeping it Real Robot « We Remember Love

  24. Pingback: The DVD Collection Part 8: Neon Genesis Evangelion (Marathon Rewatch Live Blog) « Lower Mid-Table

  25. Pingback: Exploring the Spectrum of Pleasure: Guilt in Narutaru (NSFW) « We Remember Love

  26. Pingback: Exploring the Spectrum of Pleasure: Guilt in Narutaru (NSFW) « We Remember Love

  27. Pingback: Acknowledging Our Guilt for Our Choice of Heroes: Code Geass’ Lelouch Lamperouge « We Remember Love

  28. Pingback: Anime is Serious Business Because Guilt is Serious Business | We Remember Love

  29. ifjakfjsdkf says:

    heh, i like gendo because we think along similar lines. light and lelouch annoyed the hell out of me, lol.

    i don’t really re-watch anime too much, so i might have missed it, but one problem i had with gendo’s character was a lack of explanation for his coldness towards shinji.

    an easy explanation would be that the void in his heart was what drove him uncompromisingly towards bringing back yui. if that void were ever to be filled – by love for his son – then he would be unable to resurrect her. he would no longer be able to sacrifice the world if necessary, and he would no longer feel the need to … because there would be someone in this world that he loved just as much as yui.

    however, i don’t recall this possibility ever being offered up in the series … anyhoo, just watched 2.22 – very interesting. i think it’s really different from the original series in spirit – a completely different beast in some ways, but could be wrong tho … just a gut feeling thing.

    • Regarding 2.22 relative to the TV series, check this one [->], and at the bottom of the “Further Reading” section there are links to useful articles.

      I think Gendo’s indifference to Shinji doesn’t need a lot of justification. It isn’t too difficult to imagine how Gendo in his youth turns out to be this obsessive nutcase with no scruples. With lack of scruples, all bets are off.

      That said, it’s not difficult for me to imagine because I am familiar with cases of cold and indifferent parents. Mine are awesome, but there are other unfortunate families with such cold parents.

  30. Pingback: Char, I am Disappoint: Revelations of a 3rd Viewing of Char’s Counterattack | We Remember Love

  31. Pingback: A Criticism of (My Own) Critical Approaches | We Remember Love

  32. Matt Wells says:

    VERRRRRYYY late to this topic, but I just want to say one thing: I can’t BELIEVE you’ve seen the BBC Jekyll series! Did they show it dubbed in the Phillipines, or did you watch it online? It’s an excellent little modern day reimagining of the original story as a sci-fi thriller, and as a bonus it was masterminded by Stephen Moffat, the man currently in charge of Doctor Who!

    I’ve never watched EVA, but Gendo’s reputation as an utter bastard precedes him. Love your interesting discussion of “guilty pleasure” villains. As for myself, I do take as much enjoyment from watching my heroes as I do a truly excellent villain, I think it’s tied in with the whole thing about love and hate being polar opposites, so they therefore attract in equal measure. The best example of a guilty pleasure villain I can think of is Dio Brando in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s no Mecha series, but Dio is so gloriously evil for the sake of evil that you almost want to cheer him on.

    He is so conniving and wholeheartedly unredeemable, we watch him burn his rival’s dog to death, steal his girlfriend’s first kiss, and turns all his friends against him. You don’t empathise with him, and you don’t pity him. He is unrepenting to the end, and looks down upon ordinary humans as less worthy of his respect than ants. He’s just so gloriously over the top in his evil that he steals every scene he’s in, and you love him for it.

  33. stratos says:

    I disagree Yui didn’t forgive him.

    The initiation of third impact was by giving what one truly desires. Gendo wanted to see Yui but he’s aware he was an arsehole, so he also wanted to be punished (“forgive me shinji”). So he is both. He has a trial and is eaten as punishment, then he joins Yui in the soup of shared consciousness (they are seen standing together in the tv series and rei notes all souls will be together – no exception is noted). Note as well that what’s left of Yui phyiscally (Rei) rejects the union with Gendo, but what’s left of Yui metaphorically (her soul, eva-01), eats him and inconporates part of him (probably including the soul) within her entrails. Not very subtle.

    The manga makes it even more explicit. Yui gives him a requited speech and (again) they’re seen together under a tree.

    Oh this was written in 2008. 😛

  34. Pingback: Shinji Ikari: Sinking in Angels and Building on Sand | Beneath the Tangles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s