Designation: The First Child
Pilot of: Evangelion Unit 00
Hybrid Clone of: Yui Ikari and Lilith the 2nd Angel
Voiced By: Megumi Hayashibara (Japanese) Amanda Winn Lee (English)
I’ll admit, I had a harder time choosing my favorite character in Evangelion than I thought I would. Much as I like Shinji and Asuka as a pairing, the two of them as individuals… Well, as I’ve made the comparison once before I’ll do so again, Shinji is too much like Charlie Brown in terms of wishy-washy spineless-ness with enough emotional baggage to make a psychiatrist’s head spin. Asuka is the Lucy to his Charlie with a fiery temper and carrying equal amounts of emotional and mental trauma as Shinji himself and is constantly the instigator of many attempts of wooing Shinji, which ultimately fly straight over the naïve boy’s head.
Rei Ayanami… is not much better than the other two Children but as far as how her story goes and progresses throughout the series and her ultimate fate in the finale film… It was ultimately much more exciting and, at times, frightening to watch.
Much as Evangelion created something of a renaissance in anime, specifically the mecha genre, Rei also spurred a new degree of character archetype in anime. As diverse and unique as several anime series can be, one can easily handpick several characters from entire different series and put them side by side as brothers, or sisters, due to their personalities, abilities, and/or general appearances.
Using the top mainstream characters as an example take Goku Son from Dragon Ball Z, Luffy D. Monkey from One Piece, and Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto and voila! You now have three people whom can not only eat several times their weight in food in a single meal but whose fights often results in the revising of several maps.
Rei is the originator of what most fans call the bakeneko archetype of female characters in anime. Named after the cat spirits whom are said to conjure ghostly flames, walk about on their hind legs, and capable of impersonating humans, this type of character is often ascribed to those whom, like Rei, appear for all intents and purposes to be nigh emotionless dolls yet possessing a distinctly unearthly quality to themselves in some manner. In Rei’s case, it is not just her distinct albinism but in how she moves with a feline grace and, as is often joked about with fans, she has a stare the likes of which could put any cat to shame.
Rei’s appearance is due strictly to the fact that she is a hybrid clone of Yui Ikari and the 2nd Angel, Lilith, making her into a being that is loosely described as a Nephilim, a hybrid of Angel and Lilim otherwise known as the human species. Bearing a Fruit of Life, more scientifically known as an S² Engine, Rei can and has demonstrated capabilities exceeding that of a standard human even showing that she can create an Absolute Terror Field, or AT Field for short, later on.
As to Rei’s personality, ah now here’s an entirely separate kettle of fish… See, the Rei Ayanami that is shown throughout the majority of the anime series is in fact the second clone, commonly known as Rei II. Doctor Naoko Akagi killed the first clone, known simply as Rei I, when she was a small child no older than five or six. This clone displayed a very distinctive personality compared to her successor when she outright told Naoko that Gendo considered her an old hag. Combined with the strong resemblance Rei bore to Yui and Gendo’s increasing interest in the child and growing distance, caused Naoko to snap and she murdered Rei I before committing suicide herself.
It is since been heavily implied that the soul within Evangelion Unit 00 is a portion of Rei’s own soul, or rather that of Lilith whom Rei had housed since her initial creation. Though it’s no question that Rei’s soul was originally Lilith’s the state of her soul and that of the one housed within Unit 00 has been a subject for debate amongst fans for years. Whether or not Rei’s soul is indeed broken, there can be no doubt that her personality had been drastically affected by her treatment at the hands of Gendo Ikari.
It was Asuka whom coined the nickname of Doll to Rei and it is scarily on target with how Rei perceives herself. Her living conditions are barer than should be and she rarely if ever reacts properly in certain situations. Case in point, when Shinji entered her apartment and saw her naked, Rei was more upset by the fact that he was holding the broken glasses that had belonged to Gendo that she had, the one and only thing that could be even remotely claimed as a memento of any kind.
Heck, she even outright slaps him later when Shinji states his dislike and distrust of his father but is later completely and utterly confused when she sees him weeping in joy at finding her alive following the battle against the 5th Angel Ramiel. Utterly befuddled by Shinji’s reaction, Rei confessed to him that she did not know the correct way to react in this situation. The lad suggested but one simple thing; that should she smile and much to his surprise, she did.
One of a more telling point of Rei’s growing emotional state though occurs when Shinji noticed the way that Rei was squeezing a washcloth free of water and commented to her that the motions reminded him of how his mother did it. He laughed, which in itself is a miraculous feat, and confessed that he thought that Rei would make a great mother herself someday and Rei, much to many a fans’ shock I’m sure, was outright blushing and her usual monotone was distinctly embarrassed as she said such to Shinji.
As the series progresses, Rei grows more and more out of the shell of being a doll and slowly starts to consciously make her own. These choices are small and quite easy to miss but they’re there. Some examples of this include her making a point that she does not eat meat, that she likes the lack of electricity in Tokyo-3, finding it aesthetically more beautiful.
She even goes so far self-destruct her Evangelion, with her still inside, to save the world and her friends. Even during Third Impact, the lingering feelings and thoughts of Rei II permeate the mind of Rei III enough that she rejects both Seele and Gendo’s plans of Instrumentality and instead gives the choice to Shinji as to what the fate of the world, and mankind, should be.
Mind you, Shinji was in the midst of a severe psychotic and emotional break at the moment so her timing could have been much better.