Asuka Langley Soryu (惣流・アスカ・ラングレー, Sōryū Asuka Rangurē, [soːɽju͍ː asu͍̥ka ɽaŋɡu͍ɽeː]) is a fictional character of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. Within the series, she is designated as the Second Child and the pilot of the Evangelion Unit 02. Her surname is romanized as Soryu in the English manga and Sohryu in the English version of the TV series, the English version of the movie, and on Gainax's website. Asuka is voiced by Yūko Miyamura in Japanese in all animated appearances and merchandise; Asuka is voiced by Tiffany Grant in English. In the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, Asuka's Japanese surname is changed to Shikinami (式波).
In a Newtype poll from March 2010, Asuka was voted as the third most popular female anime character from the 1990s.
Asuka Langley Soryu is an American whose ethnic background is three-quarters German and a quarter Japanese. Asuka's surname comes from the Japanese World War II aircraft carrier Soryu, her German surname from the American World War II aircraft carrier Langley, and her Rebuild surname from the Japanese World War II destroyer Shikinami. Her first name comes from Asuka Saki (砂姫 明日香, Saki Asuka), the main character of the Japanese comic SuperGirl Asuka (超少女明日香, Cho-Shojo Asuka), written by Shinji Wada.
Character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto explained that he "first designed an Asuka-type girl as the lead character", but felt it might be too similar to previous anime that he and Anno had worked on, such as Gunbuster and Nadia. He suggested to Anno that they change the lead character to a boy, which would be more in keeping with the robot genre.
As Sadamoto and Anno designed the series, Sadamoto came to believe that Asuka would occupy the position of an "'idol' in the Eva world". He also described his belief that the relationship between Asuka and Shinji would be similar to the relationship between Jean and Nadia in the earlier Nadia. Asuka's personality, as well of those for the other characters, was designed so as to be understood at a glance.
Yūko Miyamura, Asuka's Japanese voice actress, said "Asuka wasn't the most open-hearted character I've ever met...every time I tried to draw myself in closer synchronization, Asuka would never allow herself to sync with 'me'... One day, I figured out that there was a wall in Asuka's heart". Much later, she stated that work on the series was "very hard" and that at times she had "wanted to erase Evangelion." Asuka's English voice actress, Tiffany Grant, felt that playing Asuka was "refreshing", as "she says the most horrible things to people, things that you'd like to say to people and can't get away with."
Asuka is first introduced into the series in episode 8; with the arrival of Eva Unit 02 and Asuka and Shinji's battle with the Angel Gaghiel, Asuka is shown as maintaining a high synchronization ratio and exceptional skills as an Eva pilot, being very aggressive and confident in battle. After first being defeated in battle by Zeruel, Asuka's self-confidence (and, correspondingly, her synch ratio and effectiveness as a pilot) begins to dwindle. This comes to a head in episode 22, when Arael appears and Asuka, burdened by increasingly poor results in synchronization tests, is infuriated by being ordered to serve as backup to Rei. She defies orders and tries to attack the Angel alone, but is overwhelmed by a psychological attack by the Angel, forcing her to relive her painful memories and resulting in a mental breakdown. She becomes incapable of piloting Unit 02, and since piloting Eva is the meaning of her life, Asuka loses her will to live and spends much of the final episodes of the television series in a hospital bed in a catatonic state.
In The End of Evangelion, as the Japanese Strategic Self-Defense Force invade NERV, Asuka is placed inside Unit 02, which is submerged in a lake within the Geofront, for her protection. As she is bombarded by depth charges, Asuka declares that she does not want to die and, in a moment of clarity, realizes that her mother's soul is within the Eva and has been protecting her all along. Her self-identity regained, she emerges and defeats the JSSDF before being confronted by the Mass-Produced Evas. Though she successfully disables all nine opponents, Unit 02's power running out and the infinite power of the Mass-Produced Evas' S² Engines (which allow them to remain functional despite being severely damaged or mutilated) finally allow them to eviscerate and dismember Unit 02 using their Lance of Longinus replicas. Shinji then prepares to start the Third Impact; in an indeterminate scene, he confronts Asuka, who argues with him and rejects his pleas for her to help him – at which point he begins to strangle her, and the Third Impact/Instrumentality begins. After Shinji rejects Instrumentality, she appears beside Shinji in the film's final scene, her injuries sustained in battle against the Mass-Produced Evas covered in bandages. Shinji, in an emotionally fragile state, begins to strangle the seemingly comatose Asuka, but stops himself and breaks into tears when Asuka, instead of resisting, caresses his face.
In the four-film re-imagining of the TV series, Asuka makes her first appearance in the second film, Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance. Several changes have been made to her character, such as her family name being changed from Sōryū (惣流) to Shikinami (式波), continuing the Japanese maritime vessel naming convention, and rather than her having a college degree, she holds the rank of captain in the European air force, as a fighter pilot. She also doesn't share Soryu's pediophobia and no longer has the same infatuation with Kaji, choosing to ignore an invitation to go on a trip with him until Misato forced her to go. In addition, she is the test pilot for Evangelion Unit 03, not Toji, before surviving the Evangelion's possession by an Angel. In the third film, she wears an eyepatch.
Asuka also appears in many manga series based on the anime, including Neon Genesis Evangelion by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. The events in this manga series mirror those of the anime with some divergences apparent. Asuka appears as a main character in the series and is depicted, for the most part, similar to her anime counterpart. Asuka appears in various other manga spin-offs including the Shinji Ikari Raising Project and Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse with varying changes to her personality and characterization.
Asuka also makes appearances in various video games alongside other Evangelion characters such as in Neon Genesis Evangelion for the Nintendo 64 as well as the popular cross-over video game franchise Super Robot Wars, where she often butts heads with the equally hot-headed and intelligent Kouji Kabuto, the pilot of Mazinger Z and Mazinkaiser. She is also implied to have developed crushes on famous heroes such as Char Aznable (in the guise of Quattro Bageena) and Amuro Ray. However, in Super Robot Wars Alpha, Asuka jealously seizes a bouquet of roses from Shinji meant for Lynn Minmay. In Super Robot Wars Alpha 3, she snaps Shinji out of his depressed state during the battle with the Mass-Produced Evas by declaring that she could not be with someone who would simply lie down and die.
In a Newtype poll from March 2010, Asuka was voted as the third most popular female anime character from the 1990s. The June 2010 issue of Newtype ranked Asuka Langley Shikinami No. 8 in its monthly top 10 character survey. One reviewer describes her fatal flaw as "excessive Pride", noting that her mother goes insane after taking a test pilot experience on herself just as Asuka suffers a mental breakdown or contamination when challenging the 16th Angel herself. Pete Harcoff of Anime Critic described Asuka as providing much of the comic relief, while also being an "annoying snot". IGN ranked her as the 13th greatest anime character of all time, saying that "On the surface, she's a simple character. ... But as the series progresses we see that her pride is a cover for deeper emotions and deep, deep psychological problems."
Asuka's fight sequence against the Mass-Production Evangelions in The End of Evangelion was particularly well received by critics who felt that it was her definitive moment, as otherwise she remains static for most of the film. Praise was also given to Tiffany Grant for her role as Asuka's English voice actress. Mike Crandol of Anime News Network stated that Grant was "her fiery old self as Asuka."
Theron Martin wrote that Asuka's portrayal in Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance is "distinct from the get-go," stating that she is even more anti-social than in the original anime series. Martin also wrote that despite seeming to be the "most socially adjusted Eva pilot in the TV series," the Asuka of Evangelion 2.0 "makes no pretenses about liking anyone" and that she "seems motivated as much by establishing herself in a future career path in NERV as she is by her personal pride." Eric Surrell also commented on Asuka's role in Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, stating that "the arrival and sudden dismissal of Asuka was shocking and depressing, especially considering how integral she was to the original Evangelion."