Rei Ayanami

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Rei Ayanami
Neon Genesis Evangelion character
Rei Ayanami.jpg
First appearance"Angel Attack"
Created byHideaki Anno
Voiced byJapanese
Megumi Hayashibara
Amanda Winn-Lee (ADV dub)
Brina Palencia (Rebuild of Evangelion)
Ryan Bartley (Netflix dub)
Notable relatives

Rei Ayanami (綾波 レイ, Ayanami Rei) is a fictional character from the Japanese media franchise Neon Genesis Evangelion created by Gainax. She is the First Child (First Children in the Japanese version) and pilot of the Evangelion Unit 00.

At the beginning of the series, Rei is an enigmatic figure whose unusual behavior astonishes her peers. As the series progresses, she becomes more involved with the people around her, particularly her classmate and fellow Eva pilot Shinji Ikari. She is revealed to be a key factor in the events that conclude the storyline. Her role in this conclusion is not made entirely clear in the TV series, but is one of the principal plot points of The End of Evangelion.


Early Rei design, as seen on the Der Mond artbook.

Like many of Evangelion's characters, Ayanami's surname comes from a Japanese World War II naval vessel, the Fubuki-class destroyer Ayanami.[1] Her first name comes from the character Rei Hino of the anime and manga series Sailor Moon. This was done in an effort to get one of the series directors, Kunihiko Ikuhara, to work on Evangelion; however, this effort failed.[2] Written in kanji Rei () can also mean "zero", "nullity", a pun with her Evangelion 00.[3] Hideaki Anno instructed Yoshiyuki Sadamoto on Rei's character design that "Whatever else, she needs to be painted in as a bitterly unhappy young girl with little sense of presence."[4] Sadamoto was inspired to draw Rei by the band Kinniku Shōjo Tai's theme song Doko e demo ikeru kitte and its line "hotai de masshiro na shojo" (lit. "the white girl with bandages").[5] Ukina, a character from Sadamoto's previous work Koto served as Rei's model.[6] Anno required a "cool character with short hair", with Rei originally designed to be a brunette with dark eyes; however, it was necessary to distinguish her at first sight from the other female protagonist Asuka Langley Soryu, so Sadamoto designed Rei's eye and hair colors inverted compared to Asuka's.[7] While Asuka was conceived to be "an idol-like figure" in Neon Genesis Evangelion and a "heterosexual desire" symbol, Sadamoto designed Rei as a "mother figure",[8] thinking her as "the Yin opposed to Asuka".[9] Anno also suggested to draw Rei's eye color as red, a feature that he believed would give her more personality as well as distinguish her design from other characters'.[6] Her hair colour also changed to blue after the main female character of Aoki Uru, The Wings of Honneamise movie sequel never made.[10]

Early Rei concept art from the Proposal production book.

Hideaki Anno conceived Rei Ayanami as a representation of his unconscious. [11] As with many other Evangelion characters he transposed some aspects of his life into her, including the choice to not eat meat and maintain a vegetarian diet.[12] He also took inspiration from Sigmund Freud's psychoanalitic concepts and Oedipus complex in particular, since "there was this replacement by a robot, so the original mother is the robot, but then there is a mother of the same age, Rei Ayanami, by [Shinji's] side, who's also by the side of the real father".[13] In the original settei Rei should have been a much more sensual character than her final version. Being conceived as a genetic clone of Yui, Sadamoto, unlike the frank and explicit style of Hideaki Anno, decided to give her a much more "enigmatic" and bland eros.[14]

During Evangelion production and first broadcast Anno encountered many difficulties for her character, not feeling "particularly interested" and akin to her. To better delineate her characterization and psychology he thought her as his own unconscious, "trying to put aside my presuppositions, trying to bring out the most primitive, the most core, the purest parts within me".[15] In the fifth episode, explicitly dedicated to her character, Rei pronounces only seven lines and fifty-two words, while in the sixth she has twenty-five lines.[16] For a long time he forgot to "explore Rei's personality", completely ignoring it or giving it a very marginal space. For example, in episode 8 she doesn't appear in any scene, while in episode 7 he "finally remembered her" giving Rei a brief appearance in one shot. After many episodes he wanted to focus on her and "explore her emotion", adding Rei's stream of consciousness-like monologue in episode 14. When Anno was working on the monologue he wanted to develop her in a "schizophrenic" direction, and wondered how to portray a kind of madness. He was loaned a magazine-like book entitled Bessatsu Takarajima (別冊宝島) on mental illness that contained a poem by someone who suffered from a mental disorder, and that triggered his imagination.[17] In the twenty-first episode the first clone of Rei, killed by Naoko Akagi in the final version of the script, would eventually survive after being strangled and having momentarily lost consciousness, awakening in an empty command room without Dr. Akagi.[18] During the production Ikuhara, annoyed by the idealized image and the fetishism that some fans built around the character, proposed to Anno "betray" fans and show her as a real girl who gets married and "gets pregnant in the last episode", but Anno rejected the proposal.[19] Anno himself declared to consider her character "already finished" in episode 6 smile scene: "In short, if she and Shinji completely “communicated” there, then isn’t she over with? At that moment, Rei, for me, was finished".[15]


Amanda Winn-Lee (left) and Brina Palencia (right) voiced Rei Ayanami in original and Rebuild of Evangelion's dub, respectively.[20]

Rei is voiced by Megumi Hayashibara both in the original animated series and in 1997 movies Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth, Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion and new Rebuild of Evangelion movies. In 1995, Ogata herself stated to be somewhat "surprised" by her role and the laconic and introverted character of the character saying, "I have to challenge something new".[21] According to Hayashibara, before Neon Genesis Evangelion there were not many taciturn and cold characters to deal with, so, in absence of examples to imitate, she tried to characterize her "as best I could".[22] During the dub sessions, she was instructed and guided by Hideaki Anno himself, who advised her to read her lines in the most flat and inaffective tone possible: "When the director explained her character to me, he said, 'It's not that Rei doesn't have any feelings, it's just that she doesn't understand'".[23]

According to Hayashibara, since Rei "doesn't know emotion, there's no difference difference between what she says and feels." Apparently, her "great beauty" comes from "this surface, not without depth, but with the absence of its necessity", but she replied saying "Rei's beauty comes from the truth that she has feelings", and " when I found the warmth below the coldness in her words, I synchronized with Rei for the first time".[23] With Rei's role Hayashibara gained extreme popularity as a voice actress, becoming an icon of anime fandom.[24][25]


Neon Genesis Evangelion[edit]

Rei I, killed by Naoko Akagi.

Rei Ayanami was born on a date never specified in the original series[26][27] at Laboratory for Artificial Evolution's third branch.[28] Her body with albinism-like traits is created in absolute secrecy on Yui Ikari, a brilliant researcher who loses her life in a testing experiment of Evangelion Unit 01. In the deepest level of Nerv's headquarters many Rei clones are kept, so that when one Rei dies she can be replaced by another. When a clone is activated, although it remains characteristically distinct from all former incarnations, it is endowed with the soul of a being called Lilith, the second Angel.[29] In 2010, Gendō Ikari brought his first clone (Rei I) to the Gehirn base, which is the predecessor of NERV and responsible for the development and construction of the first Evangelion units, introducing her as the daughter that an acquaintance entrusted to him.[30] This first Rei is killed by Dr. Naoko Akagi, colleague and secret lover of Gendō.[31] During her visit to Gehirn Rei I gets lost in the laboratory control room and meets Naoko, calling her an "old hag", as if to provoke her. She then reveals that it was actually Gendō who called Naoko that. Naoko suddenly recognizes Yui's facial features in the little girl's face and in an outburst of violence, she strangles and kills her, after which she commits suicide.[32]

Following the death of the first Rei, a second clone is activated, which in 2014 moved to the first municipal middle school in Tokyo-3.[33] Officially, Rei II is chosen by an organization called the Marduk Institute as the First Child and pilot of EVA Unit-00, though this organization is later revealed to be a front, with Gendō and the SEELE council pulling all the strings.[34][35][36] Through the course of the series, Rei, who is originally completely submissive to the will of Gendō, becomes friends with fellow EVA pilot and classmate Shinji Ikari. She also begins to become more aware of her own identity and desires.[37][38] In the battle with the Angel Armisael, Rei II decides to sacrifice herself alongside EVA Unit-00 to save Shinji and destroy the enemy. After her sacrifice, Rei II is replaced by a third and final clone, suitably covered with bandages to conceal the truth. All the other bodies in Terminal Dogma are later destroyed by Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, Naoko's daughter.[39]

The End of Evangelion[edit]

In The End of Evangelion, the third Rei acts as the main catalyst behind Third Impact, which is initiated after she merges with Lilith. During the impact, a shining figure of Rei is shown for a few frames looking down at Misato and Ritsuko moments before they die. These spectral images also appear over the corpses of the slain Nerv personnel. Thanks to her close relationship with Shinji, the last Rei decides to rebel against Gendō's will. She merges with Lilith, letting Shinji freely decide the course of Instrumentality, during which all of mankind unites into one collective consciousness. A giant white and unclothed Rei emerges into open space, holding Shinj's Eva-01. When Shinji finally rejects Instrumentality, this figure disintegrates.[40][41]

Rebuild of Evangelion[edit]

Rei returns as a primary character in Rebuild of Evangelion and first appears in Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. Her character remains virtually identical to the anime, acting as pilot of Evangelion Unit-00 and helping Shinji defeat Ramiel.[42] In Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance her character develops and her relationship with Shinji is shown much more openly than in the original series. In a departure from her original traits, she attempts to host a dinner party for her fellow pilots. During the climax she is devoured along with Unit-00 by Zeruel. When Unit-01 goes berserk, Shinji is shown forcing his way into the angel and pulling her out and the two embrace each other. At the end of the film, they are both trapped within Unit-01 as the act triggers Third Impact.[43] In Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo, Rei herself does not appear but has an absent presence as the plot and story is driven by the mystery of Rei's disappearance and apparent re-appearance. A different clone is introduced instead, who acts and thinks very differently to the other Rei, consistently maintaining a cold and silent demeanor.

In other media[edit]

In addition to various video games based on the original animated series Rei appeared in some media not related to the Evangelion franchise, such as Monster Strike,[44] Super Robot Wars,[45] Tales of Zestiria,[46] Puzzle & Dragons,[47] Keri hime sweets, Summons Board,[48][49] Puyopuyo!! Quest,[50] and in an official Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion cross-over episode.[51]

Characterization and themes[edit]

"Rei-chan is very popular. I think that she's very quiet and doesn't wish to talk very much, and doesn't complain. In Japan, I suppose that girls like that are very much desired. [...] She was created solely for the purpose of being an Eva's pilot and I'm not quite sure if she's happy"

Rei Ayanami is a taciturn and shy schizoid girl,[53] who limits her personal relations as much as possible and mechanically executes any order given to her, even if particularly cruel.[54] She is extremely introverted,[55] socially detached, laconic and apparently melancholic.[56] In a scene from the sixth episode of the series, Shinji asks her the reason that pushes her to want to pilot Evangelion 00, a question to which Rei replies saying that she finds her only "bond" with other people in this, thus demonstrating that she is committed in the struggle against angels not by choice or idealism.[57] Throughout the series she has dropped hints of her indifference to living, and has engaged in drastic acts that could have cost her life. Unlike other characters, she does not care if she dies and embraces death, "as if dying is the only way to prove that she has lived".[56] Beyond her apparently cold attitude Rei experiences numerous internal conflicts, feelings of alienation, existential anguish and a deep sense of loneliness.[58] This gives the character a certain aura of enigmaticness and mystery. According to Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Rei is "translucent", like a shadow or "the air": "The kind of girl you can't touch. The girl you long for, but there is nothing about her that you can grab a hold onto".[6] He also described Asuka and Rei as "both such strong characters, in their own separate ways".[59]

In the twelfth episode, she states that she does not deem it necessary to write a will and reveals that she is a vegetarian.[60] In the last two episodes, she confesses to "want to die", and "go back to nothing".[61][62] According to director Hideaki Anno, Rei, being aware of the fact that "there'll be another to replace her" if she dies, does not appreciate her own life, hurts herself and feels she does not need friends: "Her presence, her existence—ostensible existence—is ephemeral. She's a very sad girl. She only has the barest minimum of what she needs to have". Anno also understands the Japanese national attraction to characters like Rei as the product of a stunted imaginative landscape born of Japan's defeat in the Second World War, because "since that time, the education we received is not one that creates adults".[63] Rei also seems completely unaware of the most basic rules of life and hygiene, as she has not had anyone to teach them to her, resulting in her being completely disinterested in them. This attitude is reflected in her personal apartment, completely neglected, bare and dirty. In one episode Ritsuko Akagi states she, like commander Ikari, "is not very adept at living".[64]

An official Death and Rebirth booklet describes her as "an expressionless noh mask" and "a girl who does not dream".[65] According to her voice actress Amanda Winn-Lee, despite the cold and detached appearance, there is still "a small spark of humanity" in Rei, "clouded by this huge sense of negative self-worth and the realization that she is expendable".[66] She also stated: "She knows she's expendable, but the thing is, she's still human".[67] According to Evangelion character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Rei is perfectly capable of feeling emotions and feelings, but has great expressive and communicative difficulties.[68] From the first episodes of the series, Shinji tries to get in touch with her, however, Rei is unable to adequately parse the meaning of his words and actions. Although the two pilots occasionally converse with each other, they cannot communicate on an emotional level and do not understand their own feelings.[69] However, facing a crying Shinji who is glad that she is alive after a big fight in sixth episode, she smiles, marking one of her most significant moments of character developments.[56][70] After this, both their words and actions move to a place of mutual understanding.[65]

Cultural impact[edit]


From 1995, Rei became subject for many homages from Neon Genesis Evangelion fandom, including fan fictions,[71] fan art and dōjinshi, proving extremely popular.[72][73] Immediately after Evangelion's first airing conclusion, Rei was elected "best female character of the moment" in 1996 and 1997 Anime Grand Prix survey by Animage mangazine.[74][75] In 1998, while Revival of Evangelion was released, she ranked fifth in, remaining the most popular Evangelion female character.[76] In 2002 TV Asahi station Asahi ranked her 36th among the "100 most loved characters in anime history".[77] TV Asahi later published results of a survey about anime greatest scenes, with "Rei Ayanami smiles at Shinji" scene at 14th and "Rei's suicide" 53rd.[78] "Rei's smile" also appeared in another ranking, reaching 45th place.[79] In 2003 "Rei and Shinji first meeting" ranked also 16th place.[80], while "Rei's suicide" ranked ninth among "most touching anime scenes".[81] Rei Ayanami won the first place in numerous Newtype magazine popularity charts. In August and September 2009 it emerged in fourth and second place.[82][83] In October she took third place, becoming the most popular Evangelion female character.[84] In a Newtype poll from March 2010 Rei was voted as the most popular female anime character from the 1990s.[85] In 2007 Ranking Japan asked its users which animated character they would like as a friend in real life, with Rei ranked ninth.[86] In 2013, NHK Shibuya Anime Land radio show ranked her among the ten most popular anime heroines of all times.[87] In July 2019 Japanese newspaper Merumo ranked Rei Ayanami third among most popular Evangelion characters among female Japanese fans.[88]

Wrapped Aonami Line train with Rei in Nagoya

Soon after Evangelion first run Rei became so popular that it generated a explosion of merchandising, selling more than any other character of the series.[89] Her image was exploited to a considerably wide range of products, including toys,[90] t-shirts,[91] action figures,[92][93] musical instruments,[94] life-size statues,[95][96] accessories[56] and reproductions of her clothing.[97][98] In 2001 a simulation game entitled Neon Genesis Evangelion: Ayanami Raising Project was released by Broccoli, in which the player takes on the task of looking after Rei. On March 30 of the same year King Records launched an album to celebrate his birth date entitled Evangelion: The Birthday of Rei Ayanami.[99] In 2012 a team built a 18-meter tall figure of the character outside of the NTV Tower in the Shiodome area of Tokyo as part of the "Shiohaku Expo 2012" summer amusement event.[100]

Action figures in particular enjoyed immediate and unconditional success.[101][102] In 2005, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first airing of Evangelion, mangaka Mine Yoshizaki designed several action figures of the Angels in anthropomorphic appearance; among the various models he devised a figure of the Angel Lilith inspired by Rei's character design.[103] According to Japanese writer Kazuhisa Fujie, despite models and toys of the series met a commercial failure at first, Rei's action figures immediately became so popular that they exceeded Evangelion units sales, thus creating the first and perhaps only case of a robotic anime "where reproductions of the human characters outsold those of the robots".[104] Also books and magazines portraing her on the cover gained great success, including an issue of Rolling Stone Japanese edition, among others.[105] Sales of her articles led Japanese medias to call her "the girl who manipulates magazines sales at will", "the fates route to the sold-out sign" and "the premium girl".[31]

Critical response[edit]

Japanese critic Hiroki Azuma described Rei Ayanami as "an extremely impressive character", thanking the performance of Megumi Hayashibara and her psychological realism, since "Rei's solitude is grounded in a completely tactile substantiality which gives us extremely realistic images of the discommunication that children of the present face".[106] site, while appreciating some interesting revelations about her past and still considering her "by far the most interesting character", also criticized her for being "not explored as much as she should have been".[107] wrote "[Rei] has absolutely no personality to speak of, and she remains an enigma for most of the series. Part of the intrigue in the series is discovering the secrets she holds".[108] Raphael See criticized the characterization of the whole Evangelion cast for being "cliche", saying he did not understand the reasons for her great popularity.[109] For Oricon News Rei's character has become Evangelion emblem.[110]

A column in the 1st September 2007 issue of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper stated, on the occasion of Evangelion 1.0, that there were over 1 million dedicated Rei fans in Japan and that "This bandaged Goddess is an icon of Japanese anime."[111] IGN ranked Rei 10th in "Top 25 Anime Characters of All Time" with writer Chris Mackenzie noting Rei to be one of the most influential character in anime series, but he still commented that she was different from similar characters since "She's a mystery we never really solve, when you think about it."[112] She had the same place in Mania Entertainment's 10 Iconic Anime Heroines written by Thomas Zoth who commented on the large number of merchandising based on her and that she started "the moe boom in anime."[89] While reviewing the films Rebuild of Evangelion, writers from Anime News Network commented on Rei; while in the first title, Carlo Santos criticized that Rei's personality is the same as the one from the TV series, Justin Sevakis praised Rei's response to Shinji's kindness.[113][114]


Reproduction of Rei's school uniform

Rei Ayanami had a significant influence on Japanese animation and many subsequent fictional characters, with numerous heroines created after the great Evangelion success.[89][56] Many critics regarded Rei and her success as the beginning of the so-called moe phenomenon, with the creation of characters according to definite stereotyped features easily recognizable and consumable by the Japanese otaku audience.[89] In the late 1990s characters bearing a close resemblance to Rei have been produced and consumed on a massive scale in comics, anime and novelization, both in the commercial market and the fanzine market. According to Japanese scholar Hiroki Azuma this expance is not linked to a direct Evangelion influence, since "the emergence of Ayanami Rei did not influence many authors so much as change the rules of the moe-elements sustaining otaku culture".[115] As a result, even authors who were not deliberately thinking of Evangelion unconsciously began to produce characters closely resembling Rei, using newly registered moe-elements, such as a quiet personality, blue hair, white skin, mysterious power and apparent absence of emotions.[56][115] Azuma regards Ruriko Tsukishima from Shizuku as being directly influenced by Rei, while Ruri Hoshino of Martian Successor Nadesico was created as a quotation of both.[116][117]

Justin Wu (The Artifice) regards Rei as the prototypical mukuchi (無口, "mouthless", "silent"), a term used by anime fans to describe reticent and apparently emotionless characters, usually with a monotone voice and speak to-the-point, who avoid unnecessary conversations. This moe element, which gained wide popularity only after Rei's success, can be found in numerous subsequent female characters, including Eva from Black Cat, Ai Enma from Hell Girl and Yuki Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya. Other characters with strong visual or psychological resemblance to Rei includes Miharu from Gasaraki,[118] Vanilla H from Galaxy Angel,[119] Neya of Infinite Ryvius,[120] Aruto Kirihara from Kagihime Monogatari Eikyū Alice Rondo,[121] Riza Hawkeye from Fullmetal Alchemist, Dorothy R. Wayneright from The Big O,[122] Anthy Himemiya from Revolutionary Girl Utena,[123][124] Yuzuriha Inori from Guilty Crown, Miyu of My-HiME and Ai from Zaion: I Wish You Were Here.[125] Serial Experiments Lain's Lain Iwakura is also often associated with the character; however Lain main screenwriter Chiaki J. Konaka denied a direct influence from Evangelion and, while appreciating their characteristics, he said he did not see many similarities between the two characters.[126]

Rei Ayanami also has had an influence on Japanese music. Japanese band Rey derived its name from her.[127] Singer and guitarist Motoo Fujiwara wrote the lyrics of the song Arue taking inspiration from Rei, with the English title R.A. ispired by the initials letter of her name.[128] Several famous artists have spread fan art about her, including Okama, Huke, Hiroya Oku[129] and Arina Tanemura.[130] During Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2012 English model Jourdan Dunn wore a dress extremely similar to the character's plugsuit; however Gainax only learned about the outfit from the Internet and was perplexed by the situation.[131] Her plugsuit also inspired a piece of clothing for the spring 2016 line by the well-known fashion house Louis Vuitton.[132] Many celebrities have paid tribute to Rei cosplaying her, including Shoko Nakagawa,[133] Natsuki Katō,[134] Miu Nakamura,[135] Yuuri Morishita,[136] Umika Kawashima,[137] Rio Uchida,[138] Kokoro Shinozaki[139] and Shōma Uno.[140]


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