In this blog we will discuss Shinji Ikari and the portrayal of depression in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Shinji ikari: A representation of depression
Shinji Ikari is a fictional protagonist in the anime Neon Genesis who is clearly displaying symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The main character, 14-year-old Shinji, is a lonely person who appears to display symptoms of depression and anxiety.
As a teenager, Shinji appears to embody most of what people with depression tend to struggle with-
- Low self worth
- Feelings that one is a burden
- Lack of motivation
- Avoidance behaviours
- Fears and anxieties
The creator of the anime Hideaki Anno has been very open about his own suffering as he had struggled with depression four years before creating the most loved anime.
He has admitted quite openly that the character of Shinji Ikari is a fictional representation of his own mental illness and how this character’s portrayal of various symptoms has been very accurate in the portrayal of one’s behaviours when impacted by depression.
Symptoms related to worthlessness, self doubt, lack of motivation, and irrational fears are very openly portrayed in the character Shinji Ikari and it is so well done that it shows one of the most isolating parts of mental illnesses.
The isolation that one feels as a result of having a disorder that most people don’t understand is that other people can’t understand why you do what you do because when one is depressed the brain does not follow real world logic.
So the fact that the 1995 psychological anime Neon Genesis Evangelion portrays Shinji’s as whiny and ineffectual who shies away from responsibilities such as piloting a robot is very reflective of how symptoms of depression manifest to others.
Most of his self doubt, worthlessness, sense of doom, and anxiety seem to be a result of his lack of self worth that leads him to fear social rejection and feel like he is unworthy of love.
Now, one has to understand that Shinju Ikari is not someone who simply accepts his fate as someone who struggles with depression, like any others who have depression he is in a constant battle to do and to act.
He’s aware of these issues and he tries to cope by repeating to himself that he ‘mustn’t run away’ but due to the lack of support to do so he fails at following his own mantra which leads him to beat himself up further.
He also has a history of struggling with failures, exhibiting low tolerance while dealing with challenges due to his fears of failure and instead of facing it straight on, he runs away due to the misconception that his failures will ultimately cause him to lose support and a sense of himself.
This particular frame of mind appears to be a very common pattern of thought and behaviour amongst many people who struggle with depression.
While the ending of the anime has been criticised by many followers of this classic due to its abrupt and rushed ending, it does end on a positive note.
Shinji loses one of his closest friends who has always thought of him highly and this is traumatic for him- leading him to lose a sense of himself.
While he struggles with the loss and his complete lack of love for himself, his friends that he makes along the way are encouraging and supportive in his pain.
They are also quick to remind him how even if he struggles with self love, he has always been a loving support to one’s friends; thus urging him to change his critical perspective of himself to something more kinder which is what a lot of people with depression have a hard time doing.
Support in the form of friends and mentors is what uplifts Shinji when he is having a hard time and support from loved ones, as the writer of this anime also notes, is one of the major positive factors that can play a powerful role in healing and recovery.
What is depression?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a leading publication used for diagnosis of mental disorders by mental health professionals, Major depressive disorder or depression is a serious mood disorder.
Depression is marked by the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
- Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia.
- A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
Depression symptoms also include extremely low mood and fatigue and is often accompanied by thoughts of worthlessness and hopelessness which can lead to suicidal ideation and even attempts.
Depression related symptoms such as inability to focus, lack of energy, and hopelessness can impact a person’s ability to work and meet the demands of their daily lives.
People with depression often struggle with low self esteem and self worth which can cause them to negatively assess themselves. They may fear rejection and abandonment from other people which may cause them to isolate themselves in a bid to protect themselves.
This social withdrawal can make it difficult for them to maintain social commitments and relationships as they might choose to push people away especially when they do not have the skills to communicate and manage their emotions and thoughts.
While these are some of the ways depression impacts a person, the disorder itself can cause the quality of life of people who have it to drastically decrease and in extreme cases, if the disorder is left untreated, it can lead to suicide attempts and death.
How to cope and manage if you have depression?
Here are a few things you can do to cope with depression:
Seek professional help
If you have not been diagnosed, do not stick to self diagnosis based on your symptoms. Seek out professional consultations starting with your GP who can refer you to specialists in the field.
There may be different medications- some which might work for you while others that might not help you.
Taking time to find a doctor who can help you with estimating the right dosage of medication and the right medical treatment can make the quality of your journey to recovery drastically different.
If it’s a job that is causing you immense stress, maybe it is time to consider taking a leave of absence. Or it could be your own family environment that is causing your symptoms to flare up- consider moving out if your financial situation persists.
The intent here is to reduce or remove the things in your life that add stress. If it is a certain relationship, taking the time to set boundaries or communicate that you are taking time out can be one way.
By reducing stressors, the thought of waking up and facing your day may seem a little less daunting, you might even look forward to it.
Learn and apply coping skills
If you are depressed, you can learn coping skills and techniques and apply them at least once a day when experiencing depression.
This can be learning how to tackle your anxieties and negative moods by regulating your breathing and engaging in deep breathing techniques.
You can also try grounding techniques to help you cope with spiralling down a negative rumination. Make goals for each day and let your goals be small, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound,
Make plans for your day that suit your pace- if today is especially difficult, make a step by step plan from your bed to the bathroom in the mornings. Reward yourself when you succeed and be kind when you slip up. Remind yourself that you are learning.
Engaging in exercise, even if it is only a 15 minute stretch can be a wonderful step towards loving yourself and caring for yourself.
You can opt for joining the gym however, if this is too much you can consider yoga or pilates that you can start gradually; you can also go for walks or runs alone or with your loved ones.
Getting out of your house and doing something that allows you to get your blood pumping in itself can be a great way of self care.
Eat a healthy diet
Diet is an important aspect of overall health and is an important component of maintaining a positive state of mental health.
There has been plenty of research studies that have been linked to what we eat and higher risks of depression. Research finds that well balanced meals with adequate intake of vegetables, fruits, grain, and healthy fats are related to lower risks of depression.
Take time to improve your sleep hygiene. Research has found that sleep disorders are also a core symptom of depression. Irregular sleep and not enough sleep can make your healing process difficult and can even heighten the risk of relapse.
Some of the things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene are
- Avoid substances that impact your sleep, this includes caffeine.
- Exercise daily
- Avoid heavy dinners
- Change your sleeping environment to be more soothing and sleep inducing.
- Make changes in your pre-sleep routine such as taking relaxing baths before sleep, avoiding gadgets two hours before sleeping time.
Connect with loved ones
Reaching out to people who love you and letting them know that you are having a hard time now, can bring you closer to people who truly love and care for you.
These are positive relationships we want and need around you as you begin your journey to recovery. Positive relationships help you discover joys and meaning to your life.
Make plans to meet them for lunch, or go for a walk with them. Make sure you make clear what you can and cannot do and agree on something that both you and them can enjoy.
You can also take the step to connect with other people who are coping with depression through group therapy or support groups.
Oftentimes, listening to other people’s successes can instil hope, it also gives you the opportunity to learn new perspectives of living and life along with new techniques to cope.
In this blog we have discussed Shinji Ikari and the portrayal of depression in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Newman’s Nook: Inadequacy, Depression, and Shinji. Beneath The Tangles. Retrieved on 28th April 2022. https://beneaththetangles.com/2019/08/16/newmans-nook-inadequacy-depression-and-shinji/
Mary Lee Sauder. Why Shinji Can’t Just ‘Get in the Robot’: Depression in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Manga Tokyo. Retrieved on 28th April 2022. https://manga.tokyo/otaku-articles/why-shinji-cant-just-get-in-the-robot-depression-in-neon-genesis-evangelion/