Theory and Analysis:Train Motif Symbolism

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"Making something... Nurturing something is really great. You can see and learn so many things from the process."
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Asuka's train-track mindscape.
Asuka spots Shinji and Rei at the train station.
Asuka "flaunting it" in Shinji's personal hell.
Shinji saying the three women in his life are being ambiguous (in terms of what, now??)
Shinji in Episode 16

Throughout the series, the presence of a train is seen in many characters; both in their heads and surroundings in certain scenes. The character it appears the most for is Shinji, especially when he attempts to escape from his duties piloting the EVA-01 (once in Episode 04 and then again in Episode 19 and mental escapes like his dialogues with Leliel in Episode 16 in the dusk-lit train, it is worth exploring the train as a symbol in it of itself.

According to Pamela Ball's book "10,000 Dreams Interpreted", "a train will often highlight our attitude to social behavior and relationships with other people. It will also clarify our attitude to ourselves." Even though dream interpretations can be notoriously contradictory, this particular interpretation fits within the context of Evangelion's themes of relationships between people and attitudes characters have with themselves.

Trains as a means of transportation, are a blending of public and private space. In a car, the passengers are closer together and isolating themselves from each other is almost impossible. In a train, the passengers have their own space that they then share with the other passengers but it is a forced grouping: every one who boards the train has their own destination, their own agenda. They have no reason really to talk or interact with one another. They are merely there to get somewhere else.

This particular motif seems not just to be limited to Shinji (16, 20, 26'), but other characters, like Asuka in 22'. Toji in ep. 19 is included as well.

Episode 4

Following the events of Episode 3 in which Shinji disobeys a direct order from Misato to retreat from Shamshel. A flashback reveals a chewing out Shinji received from Misato about his cavalier disregard for his actions charging in to defeat Shamshel at great expense of the damage it caused to EVA-01. This is meant to establish why for the bulk of the episode, Shinji, is traveling in a fog, either on the train or walking around Neo Tokyo-3 completely withdrawn from others. As he is riding the train, many people, all ignoring each other, board off, leaving Shinji to be the only one left.

Episode 16

The train returns in Shinji's mind; having been taking in by Leliel. While in the train car, he is being talked by a younger version of himself; being questioned if he's going to make a change in his life instead of focusing on only the good parts that he's lived through so far. It's jarring for Shinji; not just because he doesn't want to hear any of it, but also because since he's returned to a train, he expects to be left alone.

Episode 19

See more: Rei's Ghostly Appearances and Quantum Mechanics

This train motif occurs after Toji is taken from Evangelion Unit-03 and is in the hospital. This is the only time somebody has this experience outside the Eva. Unlike other experience's, Toji is not the center of the conversation but instead Rei and Shinji are. This has led to many theories to explain what Toji is actually going through. As well as implications for the presence of Rei.

Shinji's Conversation

One theory is that Shinji, who is beside Toji in the hospital, is going through the experience while Toji is watching as a bystander. It is known from other experiences that the characters can end up on the train because of angels. Toji's Eva was also invaded by an angel, Bardiel, so he has the possibility to go through the Hell Train.

Toji's Hallucination

In the Hell Train Toji's slurred speech could be an indication that Toji was merely hallucinating.

Episode 20

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"We've seen it. The proof of its construction was very useful."
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Episode 22

For the second time in the series, the train isn't used for Shinji, but instead used for Asuka. In one scene as her mind is being peeled open by Arael, she is seen walking backwards in a misty train station.

This breaks the norm for the use of the symbol. Instead of being used as a sign of isolation as it's used for Shinji, it used for Asuka to exemplify how she wants attention to hold back those feelings about how damaged she is; walking backwards outside an area full of trains, with no one to watch her heading the wrong direction.

Also, there is also a possible connection between Asuka's "personal hell" in reality and what she went through during mindrape (e.g.: Speculation perhaps "hell" of Shinji not being hers, or the fact she's alone; which she denies, but can not truly escape) In the real world scene, Asuka sees Shinji standing and talking with Rei at a train station, and looks angry or jealous. Also, her anger seems to focus solely on Shinji ("how dare you beat me you scum; I'm the best not you"). In the mindrape scene, she is alone at a train station, sees Kaji and begs him for help, but shadows of herself stop her; following that, a montage of why Shinji, in her eyes, has not responded to or embraced her feelings. During this sequence when Asuka thinks about Shinji, we hear that Train Crossing sound-effect, often heard during Shinji's Personal Hell Introspection.

Episode 26'

During pre-Instrumentality, the train is used once more for Shinji. In it, he is confronted by the three women in his life: Asuka, Rei and Misato. Despite their sayings that they care about him, he dismissed at lies, before begging them to care for him. His wishes are met with a cold rejection.