Given the nature of this blog, it’s practically gospel that I have to start with Evangelion.
Of course, the first thing that jumps out is the fact that Hideaki Anno, the creator of the series, is vegetarian. And Ayanami Rei, one of Evangelion’s flagship characters, is also vegetarian.
However, it doesn’t end there. Evangelion has been groundbreaking in its exploration of the otaku culture, particularly in its criticism that otakus have taken to anime as a form of escapism. Anno, more than anyone else, makes the fervent argument that otakus shouldn’t seek anime as a way to fill a void in their lives. That’s not quite my message, but the similarities are certainly there.
Which is why, in celebration of the inauguration of this blog, I’d like to kick it off by discussing Rei’s vegetarianism.
This aspect of her is a must-know trivia for any diehard Evangelion fan, but beyond that it’s not widely discussed. This is probably because Rei’s vegetarianism plays off as just another one of her eccentricities. We hear about it once in episode 12, once in Evangelion 2.0, and it’s never brought up again.
Still, it’s interesting that Anno would choose Rei to be his vegetarian ambassador. Early in the series, Rei doesn’t seem to hold much of an opinion about anything, and will do whatever she’s ordered to do. It certainly helps that Gendo only ever gives her pills to eat, but vegetarianism is generally dangerously indicative of independent thought.
So why Rei? Well, we know that Rei doesn’t have a very high opinion of her self-importance. She knows that she is easily replaced. She doesn’t bother to assert herself, not just in terms of her own comfort and interests, but even when it comes to her privacy and dignity.
However, she is by no means a typical case of someone with low self-esteem. Unlike most of the characters, who are constantly overcompensating and running away, Rei is remarkably at peace with herself. She understands what is important to her, and will not hesitate to protect the people in her life – mostly Gendo in the beginning and Shinji towards the end. She is not afraid to criticise Asuka, despite the latter’s tendency towards violent reactions. Her acceptance of her own shortcomings is almost zen-like, and requires a special kind of strength.
In light of this, Rei’s vegetarianism actually makes a lot of sense. Rei does not want to impose her interests, specifically the desire to consume meat, over the interests of animals who don’t want to die. In a way, the consumption of meat symbolises our dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. It is empowering. The ability to kill another living creature can be seen as a validation of our self-importance; we know that we matter when we can be an arbiter of life and death.
Of course, most people don’t really think about what they eat, but Rei is in an exceptional position to understand the fragility of her life and the lives of others. She respects those who value their own existences, including animals, even if she doesn’t value her own. She is determined to make her short existence as painless to others as possible, and does not feel a need to make her life mean more than that.
This is sharply contrasted to Asuka, who, as a representation of the id, revels in denigrating others, self-gratification, destruction and sharks-fin ramen with roast pork.