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ayanami Rei -- Binah, the gloominess of death

essay by Stephen Chung

Ayanami Rei is a riddle inside an enigma. She shows few emotions, causing others to conjecture whether she has them in the first place. Nevertheless, such mystery strikes a dark cord in people's hearts and she is nearly always at the top of popularity polls.

Asuka actually puts it very well in the EVA Additional Drama Track: "And that's what I can't figure out! She [Rei] has few appearances and fewer lines. She has the easy job of just standing in the corner of the frame and she gets all the votes. She's like a pull-string doll, she goes (imitating Rei's voice) 'Fine, do so' or 'Oh, that's nice' or 'Bye' AND THAT'S ALL SHE EVER SAYS!!"

However, when one searches deeply one finds a darker side to Rei's entire existence. Her connections with the theme of "death" is obvious: so much so that it tops the list in Ten Most Annoying Things in Evangelion: "Will Rei stop dying?? GOD we get the point!!!" and Asuka called her "gloominess personified" in the EVA Additional Drama Track. Rei's life(s) seem destined to be forever entwined with death or the possibility of death, and she seems to have an aura of darkness constantly surrounding her, which manifests externally as gloominess. This is probably the dark side of Rei that strikes so much a cord in all of us -- and does that mean that inside our hearts we are also touched by the darkness of death?

But ironically, Rei is not a person who fears death. In an early TV episode, Shinji showed how naive and immature he was by fearing to step into EVA-01 again: "You won't understand... you have not been through those horrible events." Even before the battle (with a giant blue grain of salt) Shinji constantly expressed his fears of death. Rei later would prove her worth by ignoring death in an in-your-face manner by voluntarily stepping into the path of the beam to protect Shinji. Such showing of courage dwarfs Shinji entirely, making him look like a small child. In the real world, we would interpret such courage as tremendous "inner strength," and that reflects Shinji's admiration of Rei: "You are so strong."

If one probes deeper into Rei's reasons for not fearing death, however, one does not find inner strength anywhere. She knew and made it very clear that she was strong because she "had nothing else" -- a statement that, of course, eluded Shinji's understanding. If she dies, "there will always be a replacement." (Ritsuko's mother said that when she strangled Rei I, and Rei said that herself when battling the "folding-paper" Angel). Therefore, it has no great significance whether she lives or not -- her death does not matter. It must have been a horrible life constantly living with the knowledge that if you die there will be replicants immediately available to replace you, and such darkness is the real reason behind Rei's skin-deep show of strength and courage when facing death. 

One concept must then be made clear -- it is one thing to face death willingly because you are strong, and an entirely different thing altogether to face death because whether you life does not matter. Director Anno seems to emphasize this difference because it was later confirmed by Kensuke (one of Shinji's classmates) in Episode 14 that:

" that time [in Episode 6 against the giant blue grain of salt], EVA-00 protected EVA-01 with her life against the enemy's particle beam. ... it is due to a single reason -- Ayanami [Rei]. I have the impression that Ayanami [Rei] regards herself as having a very tenuous existence. But it cannot be described as pessimism -- she already has that in abundance."

The "it" that is not quite pessimism is that dark aura of death, almost a death-wish. Rei's life is filled with events that keep reinforcing this "does not matter" attitude. She never communicated with classmates because it didn't matter. Her body itself didn't matter (one cannot resist imagining what would have happened had Asuka been involved in the "will you move?" incident instead *chuckle*). Her life didn't matter. Death didn't matter. Being slapped in the face? Didn't matter. One actually sympathies with Rei who lived her life with such low self-worth.

Strangely, the only thing that ever mattered to Rei was Gendo's glasses, which actually served as a place-holder symbolizing her emotions for Gendo himself. In fact, only in front of Gendo did she ever show signs of a reduction in this "doesn't matter" attitude. The reasons behind her emotional bonds with Gendo can only be conjectured upon, but apparently it has to do with her having a piece of Yui's soul.

It then seems clear that Rei is an impersonation of Binah. One has only to realize that the illusion of Binah is death to understand that it must be true. Rei is constantly under this illusion of death, thinking that she has no self-worth and her life does not matter because it can always be replaced. Such thinking is exactly the qlippah of Binah -- "fatalism."

Consequently, Rei lived a life of sorrow, the vision of Binah -- when asked by Shinji why she pilots EVA, she answered "because of bonds." Those were the emotional bonds that caused such sorrow in her and around her from the very beginning of the show. She was constantly surrounded by an aura of darkness and gloominess due to this very vision of sorrow. Just before her final death, the Angel would say to her, "This is your mind, full of sorrow." It was an accurate description of her then-current situation.

The virtue of Binah is silence and Rei certainly has lots of it. Its vice, avarice, also accurately describes her personality because seldom did one see Rei doing something arbitrary, something out-of-the-blue or defying orders. Asuka constantly called her a "doll" and Rei even admitted that, if ordered to die, she would.

When she actually did defy orders, it was like a floodgate that opened. During the battle with the "figure-8" Angle, she finally realized that "I am I, not you." She realized her feelings for Shinji (and possibly due to her feelings for Gendo?). She defied orders and took matters into her own hands, sacrificing her life to save Shinji's. The moment before she died, she was in tears, signifying a complete liberation of her emotions.

This death of hers actually completed one milestone of her journal of self-discovery, of breaking through the restrictions and illusions of Binah to reach a higher goal. It was the first time that she voluntarily chose death because of her own reason, not because her life didn't matter. It was probably the first time that she had an idea of her "self" -- as evident from her discussion with the Angel Rei. It was the first time she disobeyed an order (thus breaking the vice of avarice) and did what she wanted to do. It was the first time she discovered herself as an individual and her own self-worth.

Her third incarnation, Rei III, would further this journey by acting independently -- something Rei never did in her entire life other than during the last moments. Rei III would play an important role in Kaworu's final scene, would break free from her imprisonment from feelings for Gendo, and would refuse to act as Gendo's doll in the movies.

Her journey of self-fulfillment had finally reached its end.