Decisive Battle in Tokyo-III
The Battle of Yashima was a skirmish long ago in Japan’s history in which a great many famous personages figured. The central figure, however, was a guy by the name of Yoichi, whom you nerds may recognize from the weapon in Final Fantasy IV called Yoichi’s Bow. This is where it’s from: Yoichi was an archer who was dared by his opponents to shoot a folding paper fan high atop the mast of their boat, so he rode out into the sea on horseback and did precisely that.
Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s sixth episode revolves around Operation Yashima, a battle to be won or lost based on a similarly improbable act of sniping: Shinji has to use an Evangelion-sized particle beam rifle to pierce the Fifth Angel’s energy shield (“AT field”) and core in a single shot from a sufficient range that Unit-01 won’t be melted to a puddle before Shinji can even draw a bead on it. It’s a simple premise for an episode, with the looming threat of the Angel’s attempts to drill down into the Geofront and destroy (?) NERV headquarters providing a hard deadline, and the clear simplicity of the linear story path offers a number of opportunities for character shading on the side.
We see Misato acting as an actual professional for the first time. Not only does she bark out orders to her young roommate, she’s also in charge of NERV’s tactical planning. Once Shinji and the battered Unit-01 are retrieved from the Angel’s line of fire — Episode 06 follows immediately on from the events of Episode 05 — Misato’s role is to oversee the development of a strategy capable of countering the marauder, then presenting it to her roommate’s dad. She’s very professional about it, but all the weird family stuff that provides much of Evangelion’s central drama can feel oddly out of place in these tense moments.
You also begin to develop a sense of NERV’s place in the grand scheme of things. Misato’s plan involves the aforementioned giant particle rifle, which is a device currently being prototyped by Japan’s Special Self Defense Force. Moreover, the rifle requires such a tremendous amount of energy output to snipe the Angel that it has to be plugged into the sum total of Japan’s power resources. NERV evidently has the clout to requisition the SSDF’s secret project, rewire all of Japan to feed a gun, and enact a nationwide power outage.
The most important developments, however, happen between Shinji and Rei. Things are still weird between them after Shinji’s intrusion at her apartment, but the reality is that things are weird between Rei and everyone and haven’t become particularly weirder with Shinji as a result of what transpired earlier in the day — which makes it all even weirder. If that makes sense. Shinji, though, doesn’t really seem to understand the utter emptiness that is Rei and mistakes her complete apathy and lack of self as courage. In part, this is because he’s unaware of exactly what kind of trauma Rei has suffered in her short stint in Unit-00’s cockpit; he somewhat selfishly assumes she hasn’t suffered the way he has, perhaps thinking her head injuries came from a car accident or something.
But Rei tells him she has no purpose in life but to pilot her Eva. “It’s a bond — a bond with all people,” she explains. This sounds high-minded and noble, though she’s probably referring to her own nature, of which she seems vaguely aware if not fully conscious: She’s a cloned human body containing the soul of the being that spawned the entire human race. Though of course the series never actually explains this fact in any clear terms.
This remark, along with her flat promise that Shinji won’t die in combat because she’ll protect him, seems to cement his comprehension of her lack of emotion and ego. So when she sacrifices herself to buy him time to gun down the Angel, he leaps into action to rescue her from her damaged Entry Plug. Just like his father, of course — except that instead of calmly taking in Rei’s injuries like Gendo did weeks before, Shinji breaks down into tears. Nonplussed, Rei admits she has no idea how to respond to the fact the Shinji came to her rescue and immediately began crying.
“Just try smiling,” he says, and she does, and a bond forms between the two of them. It’s a touching moment, perhaps the most touching in the entire series, as two damaged children find strength in one another and begin the process of emotional healing by becoming friends. Because this is Evangelion, this is one of the last moments they’ll either one be happy in one another’s company, but the series hasn’t really bared its fangs yet and thus you can feel good about their breakthrough. You also don’t really appreciate the vaguely oedipal overtones of Rei bonding with Shinji as a mirror of her bond with his father, since Rei’s clone donor’s identity isn’t revealed until much later in the series. Suffice it to say that this episode reads as rather sweet on a first viewing and somewhat discomfiting the second time through.