The Controversy
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 kaworu.com -> Second Impact -> The Controversy

 
It seems that Kaworu managed to stir up quite a bit of controversy both in Japan and in English-speaking countries in his short appearance. In fact, if you search around the internet, you'll find many messages and pages devoted to debating just one question: is he gay?

Why a controversy?

There are probably a thousand thought-provoking questions to ask about the series, but questions about Kaworu's sexuality keep popping up over and over again. For those experienced in anime viewing, this may seem odd because there are gay and "ambiguous" characters all over anime. Why should this one character's sexuality be such a big deal?

The answer here has everything to do with context. Neon Genesis Evangelion, on its surface, seems to be a typical shounen "giant robot" anime, and many viewers took it to be one. As such, they expected to see a lot of cool fighting, battles, and other assorted violence, busty women, and not much else. When it became apparent that Evangelion was something completely different (and, in our opinion, something much better), it made some people a little uncomfortable. Something that certainly added to this discomfort was when Kaworu was introduced and showed affection toward Shinji and told Shinji that he loved him, and Shinji accepted and treasured those feelings. What's more, Shinji showed the classic anime sign of romantic attraction/embarrassment whenever Kaworu talked to him: blushing.

Well, a significant portion of the audience was very uncomfortable about the male-male affection, and the fact that it wasn't just treated as a joke or as a very minor part of the show. Even more than that, there's still a fairly large stigma for some people with being labeled as gay, or identifying with a character who may not be heterosexual. So, there are a lot of people out there who like Kaworu, or Shinji, or identify with Shinji in some way, or just like the series, who argue strenuously that there is absolutely no way that Kaworu is gay and especially that there is no way that Shinji is gay.

On the other hand, there are those who feel that these clues all point to something more than a just-friends feeling between the two, or just like the idea of the two being together, or want to expose the homophobia of those who want to "defend" Kaworu and Shinji against "accusations" of being gay. So, they argue just as strongly that Kaworu *is* gay, and probably Shinji, too.

 

So, is he or isn't he?

Before even trying to address that question, let's address a few common arguments that are made by those who try to find an easy answer to this not-so-simple question:
 

"Kaworu's an angel, and angels have no gender. Therefore, neither he nor Shinji can be gay because they're not both male." This has also been presented as "Without a gender, Kaworu can't have a sexuality."

People presumably are basing their idea of "angels" on standard Christian interpretations of the term. In Christian mythos, angels are usually thought of as genderless messengers from Heaven. There are a couple of problems with equating Evangelion's version of angels with the standard Christian conception of them. First, although Evangelion certainly does use many Christian symbols and some of its terminology, the series plays fast and loose with these symbols and terms. To put it simply, Evangelion is about as interested in "staying true" to Christian mythos as Xena is in being faithful to Greek mythology.

Second, "angel" isn't even the term used in Japanese for the Angels. The term used in Japanese is "shito," which is more akin to disciple or follower. So, if you're going to draw biblical parallels, it's probably more appropriate to draw them between the Angels and Christ's disciples rather than the Angels and biblical angels. To confuse matters slightly, "Angel" is the term that Gainax wanted used in English translations, so take that as you will.

Getting to what actually happens in the series, Kaworu is definitely presented as being in a human male form. That's all we really know. We don't know whether Angels have a gender or not, but from the information about the amazing similarity between their DNA and human DNA, it's fairly likely that they share a lot of things with humans. Also, Kaworu appears to be a human/angel hybrid, and there's no information that he's ever been in another form, so it's likely that he is and always has been basically male. Anime has a long history of playing with gender, but there's no evidence that that's what's going on in Kaworu's case.
 

"Kaworu only said that he 'liked' Shinji, not loved him. So, it doesn't necessarily mean anything."

This one requires a bit of explanation. Most translations have Kaworu saying that he "loves" Shinji, not "likes" him. Strangely enough, AD Vision used two different translations in their English adaptation. In their subtitled version, Kaworu says "like," and in the English dubbed version, he says "love." The Japanese word that is used here is "suki," which can either mean, or just a liking or fondness. However, based on the context of the statement and the way that the word is usually used when referring to other people, most people have chosen to translate it as "love." (If you listen for it, "suki" is used very frequently in other anime in declarations of love.)

Just before Kaworu tells Shinji that he loves him, he tells him that he is deserving of "koui." This has been mistakenly heard by many people (including yours truly) as "koi," which is romantic love. However, in Japanese scripts and transcriptions, the word clearly is "koui" (). "Koui" means "good will" or "favor," so basically, in this line, Kaworu is just telling Shinji that he deserves to be treated well.
 

"Kaworu and Shinji have a 'pure love,' and injecting sexuality into their relationship is just wrong!"

I don't know what it is that makes people think that love with sexual attraction is somehow "dirty," but it seems to be a fairly common belief. I think that it has more to do with homophobia than anything else, as no one says the same sort of thing about male-female relationships. Also, the whole idea of a "pure" love is pretty silly. Love and sex are tied up with each other so tightly that an effort to separate them is impossible.
 

"In Japan, close male-male friendships are more common than in Western countries, and they were only intended to have a friendship."

Well, Kaworu's actions make this option fairly unlikely, and Shinji's embarrassed, romantic-attraction-like reaction makes it pretty obvious that there's something more going on than friendship. Also, the creators fully realized that they were creating a character that would be seen as gay when they created Kaworu. In the Evangelion sound drama on the Evangelion addition cd, Asuka refers to Kaworu as "homo." Charming, eh? I guess it's just supposed to be Asuka "calling 'em like she sees 'em." Although the sound drama is certainly not a part of the main Evangelion story, it is a window into how the creators perceived the characters.
 

"But Shinji is attracted to women!"

Surprisingly enough, it is possible to be attracted to both men and women.
 

"Kaworu is just really naive and he doesn't know what his actions mean."

Love is love. You don't need an incredible amount of life experience to fall in love. Also, Kaworu's philosophical conversations seem to indicate someone who is anything but naive.

 

So, is he or isn't he?

Ah, yes, there is that question to answer, isn't there? To put it simply, who knows? Here are the facts: Kaworu loved Shinji, and told him so. Shinji treasured those feelings of love, and seemed to return at least some of those feelings. Does that make Kaworu gay? Does that make Shinji gay? Does it really matter? Decide for yourself. If you're out to "prove" things one way or another, you're not going to be able to.

 

Essays and discussions on the controversy

As was mentioned above, plenty of other people have written essays and engaged in discussions on this subject. Linking here is in no way an endorsement of any of the viewpoints presented in these essays and discussions. If you have an uncontrollable urge to debate with someone about this, feel free to go to one of the discussion boards below and write your heart out.

Essays
Is Kaworu Homosexual?
  Personal opinion that he is gay, and loves to hear from people who want to discuss it.
Is Kaworu Homosexual? Part 2
  Talks about the mail that the webmaster has received on the subject, and the Angel/shito issue
Tabris, Angel of Free Will
  Argues that the relationship wasn't sexual because Kaworu was too innocent
Why Shinji and Kaworu are in love
  The title speaks for itself
Is Kaworu Gay?
  A short essay that argues that Kaworu isn't gay because he's an angel, or at least divine
ColorQ Anime Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion
  A short review of the series that argues that Evangelion is homophobic because of the way Kaworu is treated.
No Genitalia Whatsoever
  Ruminations on love, sex, and Kaworu & Shinji
Nagisa Kaworu
  Argues that they just had a "friend" love. Thinks the idea of them together is "so sick."
Further Interpretations
  Sees Kaworu as mostly being symbolic
Kaworu Nagisa
  Argues that they only like each other, and anything further is in the viewers' imaginations

Discussion Forums
Kaoru Nagisa Debate
  Message board where you can debate all you want!
Debate - Shinji and Kaworu's Relationship
  Add your own comments and thoughts about their relationship

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