Right now I need to be finishing up an important writing project but instead I keep playing with beautiful, anthropomorphized battleships. Gacha games – virtual capsule toy vending machines where gameplay serves the objective of collecting cool things – never hooked me. I scrolled with disinterest to mild annoyance past twitter screencaps of spring bunny girl Fire Emblem Heroes characters or whatever historical figure Fate/Grand Order has turned into a sexy girl this time. I’m partial to goth bitch Murasaki Shikibu. Then one day I stopped at looked at a screenshot a friend had posted of a shipgirl from Azur Lane, a naval themed gacha game that’s been getting popular lately. The art was attractive and my anxiety and roaming attention led me to actually download the game.
You see the girl above has a gun – that’s how you know she’s a ship. It’s usually more obvious, but I chose to spend most of my gems on this bathing suit. Gems are an in-game currency that’s hard to amass, but you can use real money to get more. In Azur Lane, working towards rewards and lucking out with rare ships feels fair enough that I’m not tempted to do that. Using money is also devoid of the small rush of satisfaction I get from completing a battle stage or clearing daily challenges. Beyond the main draw of collecting ships and getting them cute outfits, I can also upgrade their weapons, get better furniture for their dorm room (I’ve settled on a pastel “Afternoon Tea” scheme), or play mini games.
Asuka Langley Sohryu, the spitfire prodigy who enters the story of Neon Genesis Evangelion like a wrecking ball, has never been the character I publicly align myself with. I have folders of images of Shinji Ikari (and sometimes Rei Ayanami) for all my #same and #aboutme needs. My depression and sense of wrong-footedness in the world IS most like Shinji’s, shrinking from others even as I drip with the need for acceptance, borderline self-absorbed in the conviction of my own worthlessness. I’ve always feared taking up space. Asuka makes herself so much larger than her fragile teenage body. She yells, she crows, she storms, and she’s often standing on the highest ground in a given scene to position herself over her peers and adults alike. I take pains to seem emotionally smaller than Asuka in my life, but the difficulty and effort come in part because I am like her. I too am angry at every failure. My self-concept is tyrannical and rigid, sometimes deforming into a profound lack of compassion for others. I also feel bound to Asuka in her angst over growing up; in her uniquely adolescent, girlish despair at the limits of her own body.
Asuka spends most of her time insisting she has nothing left to learn, that she is already an adult. As the most ruthless and well-trained Eva pilot, she balks at the idea that she should be asked to save the world but not be allowed to act as a professionally and emotionally independent person. I mean, fair point. But like the other pilots, she is a vulnerable child. Unlike Shinji’s passivity, Asuka deals with her trauma and fear of abandonment with false bravado. She would rather be seen as angry and hateful than weak, and has almost no filter for lashing out at others. There’s one moment in episode 22, “At Least, Be Human”/”Don’t Be,” where her anger is intimate and heartbreaking. There’s nobody to witness it and I’m not sure she would have shared this particular pain with others anyway.