The above scene takes place roughly half-way through the story, during Yosuke Kirie’s arc. The manga itself is a bit of a misery-fest; you’ve got kids dropping all over the place faster than Homestuck on a busy update, and traumatic things happening to those kids in the meantime. But this arc stuck with me particularly.
Partly it’s because of Yosuke himself: here’s a child who is sad thinking of anyone who dies, in fiction or otherwise(which is sort of heartbreaking enough in itself) being forced to pilot a machine to kill people, in a ritual that will itself kill billions of people. And at the same time he’s dealing with these teenage feelings of confusion and nihilism: what makes one life more valuable than another; why should anyone be able to decide who should live and who should die?
It does that thing - high-level existential discussions set in an apocalyptic scenario where Large Things Fight Frequently - and I have a soft spot for it. To make the obvious comparison the other famous not-really-a-mecha manga: Yosuke’s reasons are much more compelling than Shinji’s, ‘cause they tie into a central human tragedy: there is no innocence. Our lives have already been built on death.