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Why Did Shinji Choke Asuka In The End Of Evangelion?

Contains spoilers for "The End of Evangelion" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion"

Oh yeah, we're tackling that movie.

There are now around three arguably canonical endings to the acid trip that is "Neon Genesis Evangelion." The original "ending" consists of episodes 25 and 26 of the original series, where creator Hideaki Anno's mental health issues seemingly resulted in two episodes. These featured experimental, low-budget animation wherein Shinji undergoes psychoanalysis, resulting in the apparent end of the Human Instrumentality Project. It's difficult for anyone, perhaps even Anno himself, to fully understand what that ending was, and although it's an intriguing and arguably affecting art piece, it was not satisfying to most audiences.

With toxic fandom culture already on the rise at the time, multiple people sent death threats to Anno over the ending, which he admitted in a recent NHK documentary contributed to his declining mental health and suicidal ideation (via Kotaku), feelings that have crept into his subsequent work.

Thus came the 1997 film "The End of Evangelion," which attempted to redo the ending of the original with added time and budget, yet somehow became just as, if not more, confusing than its original ending. Anno then created four "Rebuild" films attempting to once more recreate "Neon Genesis Evangelion" in an entirely new (though still confusing) way, the final one having released in the United States through Amazon Prime in 2021.

Surprise! We won't be able to crack the code as to what the end of "The End of Evangelion" really means beyond the shadow of any doubt, because that's an impossible task. But we can offer one of many possible interpretations.

Shinji chokes Asuka to test his agency in the new world he's created

We've gone down the deep, deep rabbit hole that is "Neon Genesis Evangelion" theories, and the most concrete thing we've been able to find is a single, very suspect translation from a card game. We have not been able to definitively verify the origin of this quote, but even if it is completely made up, it's still an interesting interpretation:

"Shinji renounced the world where all hearts had melted into one and accepted each other unconditionally. His desire... to live with 'others' — other hearts that would sometimes reject him, even deny him. That is why the first thing he did after coming to his senses was to place his hands around Asuka's neck. To feel the existence of an 'other'. To confirm (make sure of) rejection and denial."

One reading of "Neon Genesis Evangelion" is that the Human Instrumentality Project represents the desire to drown out dissent and hatred and that the only way to do so is to have all human beings become one. However, Shinji rejects this project in "The End of Evangelion," and decides that despite all the suffering he has endured and caused, he wants to live in a world where other people, including himself, have the agency to accept or reject other people, even if that will inevitably lead to suffering. 

This reading of the movie could mean that Shinji went to strangle Asuka to test if he still had that agency, and as Asuka puts her hand up to his cheek, he stops and cries because he is offered acceptance he feels he does not deserve. Asuka is disgusted by Shinji, (and if you've seen the movie, you know that there's good reason for that!) but she is able to find within herself the empathy to literally reach out and try again. Or, you know, she doesn't want to be choked. Who knows?!