Shinji -- Yesod, the robot-incarnate
Essay by Stephen Chung
To many, Ikari Shinji is a simple wimp (or a complete wuss). He had no goal in life, knew nothing, had no courage, was totally naive, and merely got by in most situations. A deeper analysis will show that, however, Shinji is not as simple.
He is the impersonation of Yesod, with its illusion of security. For Shinji, this security actually lies in his heart as well as in his external environment. At the end of the TV show, Kaworu would expose this aspect of Shinji by accurately observing that "you [Shinji] are afraid of interactions with people for fear of being hurt. Therefore, you retract into the security of your own heart."
With Shinji, he lived in a constant illusion that it would be safe for him to hold back and hide from everybody and everything, into the security of his heart. Into an area protected by the heart's AT Field, as Kaworu would later point out. Externally, he would long to be in the security of his teacher's home as a small boy, doing nothing of significance and being safe. When this security (of body, of mind or of emotions) was lost, such as after being zapped by the giant blue grain of salt, he would react with fear more strongly than in any other incident.
Shinji depended on his security, and held on to this security throughout his life.
As a result, he showed all the signs of the vice of Yesod -- idleness whenever he can by doing nothing, being sedated at all times, having no clues what-so-ever about events happening around him. He was of course the last to realize that Touji was the Forth Children, the last to realize that Kaworu was the Seventeenth Angel, and the last to realize Gendo's treachery. He showed no signs of self-initiation almost throughout the show.
Whenever Shinji was forced to do something, he did so without any liveliness, always superficially, like a robot -- the qlippah of Yesod. Even in the early episodes this robotism was observed by Ritsuko. He was also constantly apologizing, and Asuka interpreted it as "a conditioned reflex to avoid being told off." In Episode 15, he even admitted that he did not stop doing something because nobody told him to stop, and Asuka replied a natural "Figures."
After a rare showing of self-initiative in an early episode, Shinji was told off by Misato, and apparently rightly so, for disobeying a direct order during combat. Shinji responded by escaping and running away, retreating to the security of his own, safe world. This constant need to seek security and, once found, to become sedated in it would underlie most of Shinji's character.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the command of Yesod is to "Go!" As in to move into action. Throughout the show Shinji struggled with himself, telling himself the same words over and over again: "I cannot run away (escape), cannot run away (escape)..." The three most dramatic episodes all showed Shinji finally taking action -- when battling the Third Angel, when refusing to kill EVA-03 because someone was inside, when threatening to destroy NERV headquarters, and when taking initiative to go back into EVA-01 once more to save NERV from the "folding-paper" Angel. All these are signs of Shinji breaking free from the chains of Yesod in a journey of self-fulfillment.
Nevertheless, his needs for (or illusion of) security persisted. When absorbed into EVA-01, into life's LCL -- certainly a very comfortable and safe and secured place -- he wouldn't want to leave. Ritsuko's question, "Don't you want to come back, Shinji?" would serve as a reminder to all that, once Shinji found security, it would be excessively difficult to pry him away again.
The obligation of Yesod is, not surprisingly, to "trust." Such is also the command made to Shinji by Kaworu at the bathing place: "You are afraid to trust for fear of betrayal. You prefer to stay in the security of your own closed heart." For Shinji, learning to trust others will be the final liberation from the negative aspects of Yesod; unfortunately though, at the very end, his feelings for Kaworu was betrayed once again. This was to accompany him all the way to the movies, until the very end when he wished for a secured world with only him and Asuka. He never found his independence, the virtue of Yesod.