Neon Genesis Evangelion Archive

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Slaughtering the Sacred Cow: Adam Rewatches Neon Genesis Evangelion, Part 3

Thank god, I’ve finally come to the end of Evangelion, not The End of Evangelion, mind you. I don’t think there’s a force in the universe that could compel me to watch the movies that allegedly make sense of the series. And on that note, I think I owe my younger self an apology.

ICYMI: Here’s the link to part 1, part 2, and part 2.5 of this review.

When I started this mad adventure, I assumed Adam in the summer of 2003 wasn’t quite swift enough to figure out what was going on in Evangelion. I remember my confusion mounting through the final few episodes. I stared at my computer monitor, wondering why my friends thought I would like this series. Was something wrong with me? Was something wrong with them? Now I’ve come to see the truth of it.

Evangelion is a pointless exercise in wanking.

There, I’ve said it. The bell cannot be unrung. After twenty-six episodes, I find this series to be one of the most narratively dysfunctional things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why people like it. I don’t know what there is to like save for something so pretentiously pointless that it serves as a convenient vehicle for supporting whatever bullshit interpretation people choose to foist upon it. I expect this is the sort of thing English majors fantasize about as they lay awake at night; the kind of story where any reading, no matter how pants-on-head stupid, can work.

NERV, the anti-theme

Science fiction often uses organizations as mechanisms for promoting a certain world view. The likes of the United Federation of Planets, X-Com, the UNSC, or the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, to name a few, all speak to a certain higher ideal, or at the very least a means to justify an end. A secondary feature is humanity coming together to achieve something separate nations would find necessary but impossible. So too does NERV, initially, seem like a grand venture in its mandate to protect the planet from the angels. In actuality, I’m not sure what NERV represents beyond a venue for Gendo Ikari to bang every woman while making teenage clones of his dead wife – presumably to bang – all the while marching down a delusional(?) path to godhood.

In other words, I spent the better part of nine hours of my life watching NGE, and I still don’t know why the ostensible good guys exist. By the end of the series we’re led to believe the angels only attack the Earth because humanity created EVA-00. If all of this is supposed to be an exercise in the hubris of mankind, I’d rather watch Godzilla.

Kick them while they are down

The only thing the series does well is heap abuse on its characters. The gamut of human misery covers a wide arc, from outwardly abusive characters to those whose entire modus operandi is self-flagellation. Was a side effect of the Second Impact to make everybody on Earth an irritable, irascible, asshole? Let’s have a quick recap.

Gendo Ikari: wants to become a god and have sex with his co-worker, his co-worker’s daughter, and the teenage clone of his dead ex-wife.

Misato Katsuragi: a self-loathing drunk with daddy issues who fell in love with a man like her father. Later, after having sex with the guy who reminds her of her father, and thus carving out a moment of personal happiness, the series slut shames her for wanting to feel a human connection.

Ritsuko Akagi: caricature of a scientist. Also hates/loves her mother for putting work before everything else. Naturally, Ritsuko puts work before everything else for…reasons. Additionally, gives it up for free to Gendo, who also banged her mom, for…reasons.

Kouzou Fuyutsuki: Deputy Commander of NERV and full-on Wayland Smithers to Gendo Ikari’s Mr. Burns. Fuyutsuki knows that Gendo is up to something monstrous but does absolutely nothing to stop him.

Ryoji Kaji: sex pest. Reminds me of Jian Ghomeshi. ‘Nuff said.

Again, I’m not sure what the series is playing at with this rogue’s gallery other than a commentary on how people are bastards. Sometimes people are self-destructive bastards, like Asuka; other times people have self-destruction foisted upon them. Which brings me to Shinji Ikari and the final “conflict” of the series: Shinji’s battle with his own personal demons.

Beating Up Teenagers for Fun and Profit

After defeating the final angel, who somehow got cleared to be an EVA pilot, Shinji is a pretty messed up kid. It’s either that or Gendo Ikari is trying to forcibly evolve humanity into a being of collective consciousness. Frankly, it’s hard to tell what the hell is happening in the last two episodes. Either way we see Shinji’s life reduced to a protracted flashback sequence.

From the outset Shinji is led to believe 1) he’s an idiot 2) he’s only useful to NERV and his father so long as he pilots EVA-01 3) he needs to be better, stronger, and tougher to save the world. Shinji embraces all of this negativity to the point of killing the only person who was ever nice to him. Never mind this person was an angel. Burdened with guilt and shame, Shinji concludes he is worthless. This is when the rest of the cast shows up in Ikari the Younger’s head to tell him he only feels worthless because he’s convinced himself that he is worthless.

Victim Blaming for the Win

What drugs was Hideaki Anno on when he wrote this ending? The series spends its entire narrative making Shinji feel worthless. His father and surrogate mother use him for his piloting abilities independent of his well-being. When Shinji defies his father’s authority, particularly when Gendo assumes control of his EVA and almost kills another pilot, Shinji is all but thrown out of Tokyo-3. If Evangelion were made today, the internet would be up in arms about how it champions a narrative of victim blaming via pop psychology.

Remember when the internet got its dander up because Pacific Rim cribbed too much from Evangelion? Well here’s something to piss off the fanboys; I say Del Toro improved on the source material. How’s that? Think about the driving force behind a Jaeger? It’s not the ability of its pilot to meld with a machine. Rather, Jaegers work because two people can come together as one. The movie called it drift compatibility; some other people might call it empathy.

In comparison, Anno’s message is that we’re only as alone as we make ourselves and we should toughen up and stop feeling sorry for ourselves. But don’t self-medicate or seek out physical company like Misato; that’s weak and slutty. And don’t try to power through and deny your existential sadness like Asuka; because that’s self-deceptive as well. Since the Second Impact seems to have killed all mental health professionals on Earth, why not just tell Shinji – and the audience by extension – to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they feel worthless. After all, a person’s internalized self-worth isn’t really important compared to some great sense of capital-T Truth.

What is Your Exit Strategy?

In the end everything about NGE, to borrow a phrase, is all talk and no trousers. The series sets up a vast and sweeping conspiracy involving gods, aliens, and supra-national government organizations. Prior to the final two episodes, it seems like Misato is Scully on the verge of a great revelation – unbelievably with Kaji’s help. One might assume the final showdown will be between Misato and Gendo: the surrogate mother versus the deadbeat dad. Then, as if painted into a corner, the series does an about face. This delve into the frailties of the main characters reduces them to screaming, sobbing, messes. It’s poetic justice for Asuka, but for Shinji and Misato, who represent the only emotional attachment I had to the series, it’s a disappointing turn of events.

Thus, Neon Genesis Evangelion is not something so impenetrable that a young undergraduate version of myself couldn’t figure it out. The series is the product of a director writing through his feelings without any concern for telling a coherent story. Some call NGE revolutionary and a commentary on the mecha genre. I fail to grasp the value of said commentary when the likes of Gundam and Macross mobilize the mecha genre as a more effective explorations of the human condition. How those series were in need of deconstruction at the hands of a story so manic in its tone and purpose, I’ll never know.

Goodbye, NGE, I hope to never watch you again, at least not without somebody paying me for my time.


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Slaughtering the Sacred Cow: Adam Rewatches Neon Genesis Evangelion, Part 2.5

Last week I managed to annoy one of my readers. Words like “lackluster interpretation” were tossed my way with respect to part two of this series. Here I thought my intentions, and the level of my discourse, were clear with the subtitle, “Evangelion Characters Who Should Be Hit By a Bus.” Instead, I was directed to some tumblrs on why Kaji and Asuka are important characters to the story.

Rest assured, this is not the start of an internet slap fight. I respect that the authors of those posts put considerable effort into their analysis. They’ve probably thought more about these characters than I have. However, there is a world of difference between somebody stripping a series down to its component parts, and someone else reviewing it with the purpose of evaluating it’s merit as a piece of popular culture. I do the latter.

Allow me to use episode twenty-two of Evangelion to illustrate the point. Twenty-two is supposed to be an apologia for Asuka. With Unit-00 damaged and Unit-01 on lockdown, on account of becoming a super weapon capable of doing…things, Asuka and Unit-02 are left to defend the world from the fifteenth angel. Rather than trying to blow up the world, this angel takes an interest in brain hacking Unit-02′s pilot. The audience’s journey into Asuka’s memories illustrates why I think this series fails as a piece of popular narrative.

Leaving aside the notion that Asuka considers the angel’s mental probe a “rape of her mind” – because I wouldn’t touch that with the Lance of Longinus (Evangelion isn’t the only one capable of shoehorning in relogous claptrap) – the trip through Asuka’s personal demons is opaque, at best, and impenetrable at worst. Part of this problem is a linguistic one. Things happening in Asuka’s mind are happening in both German and Japanese. While my version of Evangelion translates the Japanese dialogue, it does not translate the flashes of Kanji and written German appearing during Asuka’s descent into madness. Likewise, there’s also some spoken German that doesn’t make its way into the subtitles.

I am almost certain I’m missing some important visual cues for my inability to read Kanji or German; otherwise, what’s the fucking point of including them? I’d also be willing to bet those cues connect with some of the religious symbolism happening within the episode, such as Rei pulling the aforementioned “spear of destiny” from the crucified half-corpse of the first angel. Dare I hazard a guess on what it all means? Not on your life.

It’s one thing for a series to be deep enough as to merit an autopsy’s worth of deconstruction. I, however, am a critic, not a coroner. At the end of the day, my job is to tell my audience, mostly made up of smart people by my estimation, if they should bother with something. When Evangelion’s deeper narrative (assuming there is one) requires learning German, Kanji, and at least a few undergraduate level courses in theology and semiotics, I submit it is so impenetrable as to write off much of its popular appeal.

Setting aside any potential value in the deep thoughts/implicit wanking, the balance of the episode presents to this critic as a half-hearted apology for why Asuka is so insufferable. Given it took twenty-two episodes for the series to get here, I reject said explanation as a weak rationalization in the face of her endlessly abusing Shinji.

Sorry, Evangelion, I suspect I don’t like you for the same reason most people in the world  don’t like/get Community. Writing which is encoded in such a way as to require extensive foreknowledge, be it of Judeo-Christian mythology or the darkest bowels of TV and film, is alienating to the outsider. Evangelion makes this worse because its surface-level story is about people being terrible to each other. If the series evoked anything in me other than boredom and pity, I might be more inclined to mine Evangelion for its deep layers of symbolism (probably not, I have a day job and no interest in a PhD in anime). So on the issue of the series nuance and depth, I’m content to dust of this old chestnut…


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Slaughtering the Sacred Cow: Adam Rewatches Neon Genesis Evangelion, Part 2

There are any number of ways to attack the second act (episodes 8 through to 16) of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Personally, I think I’ll go at it with a drink in one hand and a club in the other. Wait, please, don’t go. I promise, no more stupid jokes.

Tempting as it is to resume my thematic, Mr. Plinkett-inspired approach to the series, I want to change gears. Save for adding, “Gendo is a terrible father,” which dovetails pretty closely with, “NERV needs a therapist on staff,” to my list of the series’ thematic crimes, episodes 8-16 are largely more of the same. The biggest change comes with the introduction of two new characters: Ryoji Kaji, who is totally not a spy, and Asuka Langley Soryu, pilot of Evangelion Unit-02. Behold, my subtitle for this post.

Evangelion Characters Who Should Be Hit By A Bus

Ryoji Kaji

Kaji’s introduction to the story is as a secondary character elevated to the level of recurring pain in the ass. We meet him as an escort for EVA-02 and Asuka. Once they arrive in Japan, he decides to “stick around for a while.” I don’t mind new characters, except for when they are unrepentant sex pests. Is it too soon for a Jian Ghomeshi joke?

If the 1990s could imagine smart phones, and the associated rise in homemade porn, Kaji would be the guy who sends endless dick pics and jerk off videos to Misato and Ritsuko. His first line in almost every scene presumes either Misato or Ritsuko want to have sex with him. When Kaji and Misato get stuck in an elevator, he invites her to take off her top to keep from getting too warm. The leering smarm in his voice transcends barriers of language – a credit to his voice actor, which is the only kind thing I have to say about this character.

I don’t care if Evangelion is the product of the 90s; I’m an evolved North American in the year 2015, and Kaji makes no god damned sense. Try as I might, I can’t fathom how Evangelion can style itself as clever and metaphoric while working through such utter tactless garbage. Am I to believe that as a deconstruction of the mecha genre, Evangelion can include people in Tokyo-3 filing insurance claims against NERV, but NERV itself opted out of an HR department?

Kaji doesn’t even have the decency to be circumspect with his propositions. He regularly walks into a room full of people and invites any woman within his line of sight to touch his penis. How are all the engineers, technicians, and computer programmers at NERV cool with this guy? He does nothing on the job save for trying to score. Kaji might be accurate to the time period and cultural norms of the production’s point in history – I honestly don’t think he is, though – but that doesn’t mean it’s entertaining to watch by modern standards.

Also, Kaji’s not a spy. Don’t let the foreshadowing fool you. Kaji is totally not a spy.

All this said, I would rather spend a night hanging out with Kaji and his bros than spend ten minutes with this next character.

Asuka Langley Soryu

Again, all glory to the character’s voice actor for her ability to evoke such unmitigated rage in me. Whenever Asuka goes into battle, I’m cheering for the angels. Never have I come across a character so shrill, abrasive, and utterly insufferable that I would celebrate her death with a glass of fifteen-year-old single malt.

The real problem with Asuka manifests in the gap between her intended purpose to the story and the execution, therein. In short, Asuka is the masculine ”ideal” that Shinji can never be. Shinji spends his days hating himself, being afraid of other people, and constantly bowing and scraping for things that are not his fault. If there’s a single phrase of Japanese you will learn from Shinji, it’s gomennasai – I’m sorry.

Asuka is an aloof, alpha who finds Shinji, and most other people, weak and pathetic. She’s toxic mix of teenage gung-ho confidence supported by textbook genius. At age fourteen, we’re supposed to believe Asuka has already completed university. This being the case, I’m not sure why she is enrolled at the local Tokyo-3 high school.

In this light, I understand how Asuka is supposed to be a foil for Shinji. In practice, I see her as little more than a bullying asshole. Whatever flashes of insecurity/humanity Asuka might offer, particularly when it comes to the series stripping her naked – because anime – are completely overshadowed by the endless verbal abuse she lays on Shinji’s doorstep. Worse still, she moves into Misato and Shinji’s apartment, turfing the lad from his bedroom in the process. Shinji had one safe space in the world, other than inside EVA-01, and it is denied to him by an unwelcome roommate who offers him nothing but scorn and shame.

All of the feels…

I understand and sympathize – despite my critical venom – with the director’s desire to share his depression and sense of perpetual isolation through Evangelion’s writing. My sympathy, however, only extends so far. It’s one thing to write about feeling worthless as a person. It’s another to create a series of contrivances designed to pointlessly torture the protagonist into a protracted state of self-reflection in the third act. Sixteen episodes into the series and my suspension of disbelief isn’t shattered by Judeo-Christian mecha so much as it’s stomped into a fine, pink, pulp by the gimmicks the series uses to create character conflict. It feels forced and dishonest.

I was a bullied kid who had to find his steel. I was a depressed kid who needed to get help. The unending psychological torture the series heaps on Shinji isn’t my story nor is it the story of anybody I know who walked a similar path. If anything, the drama of Evangelion cheapens the torment of depression and isolation, as these things are made terrible by their banality and routine.

Now I’m left to wonder how the “highly cerebral” and “psychological” third act will land given I have very little emotional buy-in to the characters. If things feel ham fisted now, how will they feel when the story goes off the rails? I’ve had a sample of this during Shinji’s battle with the 12th angel, and it was weird. Five minutes of an anti-action sequence are devoted to Shinji having an existential conversation between his id and super ego…or maybe it is the angel trying to hack his brain. I don’t fucking know.

To be continued…


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Slaughtering the Sacred Cow: Adam Rewatches Neon Genesis Evangelion, Part 1

First, and for the record, I would like to say this post and all those that follow in this series can be blamed on Leah Bobet. Her tweets about Evangelion inspired/inceptioned me into rewatching the series.

For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to break this diatribe up into parts. Part one focuses on the first seven episodes of the series. There’s no particular reason behind the number, beyond Evangelion’s wack-a-doodle story reaching a saturation point in my head.

I should also be very honest about the fact that I hold no special love for Evangelion. Despite Wikipedia calling it “one of the most successful and critically acclaimed anime television series of the 1990s,” and “a critique and deconstruction of the mecha genre,” it’s always managed to confuse me more than it has impressed me. My reaction to the series when I was twenty-two was mostly along the lines of, “what the fuck did I just watch?” Eleven years and seven episodes later, little has changed.

On that note, let’s get into it in the finest fashion of Mr. Plinket.

Number 1: Space Jesus

Evangelion is a show about robots, religion, and Space Jesus aka Shinji Ikari. There’s hardly a scene that goes by where somebody isn’t saying something, doing something, or blowing something up in a way that references religion. Shinji’s first fight with an “angel” features multiple explosions where the blast patterns are in the shape of a cross. As for Shinji, who resents the pain he feels at the hands of an aloof, all seeing, father, well I don’t have to draw you a picture on that one. But if I did, it would look like this.

Though there’s no shortage of pillaging from Christianity, the series doesn’t limit itself to the Abrahamic faiths. Shinji, Rei, and Asuka (a trinity) were all augured to be Eva pilots from something called the “Marduk Report.” For everybody without a degree in classical studies, you made a good life choice.

Wocka Wocka.

For everybody else, Marduk was the patron god of the city of Babylon and head of the Babylonian pantheon. Don’t say you never learnt something on my website.

The problem is the aesthetic is seemingly absent message. As such, it wears thin very quickly. A person can abide only so many nuclear cross explosions before the “deconstruction” of religion feels more like shoe-horning so much ephemera into an ark.

*taps mic* I said ark. It’s a religion thing. Get it?

Maybe as an uppity undergrad I was content to bask in the symbolism and feel clever for picking up on its presence. Now, it’s tedious and makes me feel like I should have done a useful minor, like business.

We get it, Hideaki Anno, you either love religion or hate religion – I honestly can’t tell.

Number 2: The Plot Is Flimsy

The addition of one qualified therapist or mental health professional on the NERV staff would break the entire series. If Shinji didn’t have to single-handedly deal with critical incident stress while working in an office with his asshole father, insufficient professional development, indifferent coworkers – looking at you Ritsuko – and then go home to living with a high-functioning alcoholic, he might not end up a giant hot mess of self-loathing. Nor should we forget he’s doing all of the above while going to high school. High school: literally, the worst place on Earth for gawky introverted teenagers.

On that point, Evangelion might best be seen as an historical artefact. It shows the audience how far we’ve come from a time that would imagine an agency like NERV spending billions of dollars building over-engineered kill bots without considering the fallout of sending a manic depressive teenager into battle. Now such an omission would likely be seen as the creators being a little too on the nose with writing their feelings into the story. Either that, or some snarky bastard like yours truly would come along and write off the entire story for not having considered its giant plot holes.

Number 3: This Song

Want to convince me the world is in constant peril from a cosmic threat beyond my comprehension? Don’t play this song four times in an episode where Shinji and a Penguin practice eating synchronized breakfast for the 2016 Tokyo-3 Olympics.

 

Number 4: Misato’s Creepy Hot for Teacher Thing

This one goes hand-in-hand with why NERV should have a staff therapist. If there were even a single responsible adult running Earth’s last line of defence against a Third Impact, they would have realized letting Shinji live with his boss is a terrible idea.

As a sideshow to Shinji saving the world, there might be some room to channel The Odd Couple into his home life. Except as odd couples go, Misato’s part in things is almost perpetually creepy. She’s alternatively Shinji’s disastrous but well-meaning surrogate mother or his step-sister, who gives the poor confused lad some odd feelings. What the hell message is this relationship supposed to be sending to the audience? Teenage boys alternate between depressed and awkwardly horny? Brilliant, Holmes, how do you do it?

It’s also clear Misato is only outwardly put together when she’s working. All things being equal, she’s one of the most capable characters on the show. At least until she gets home and we see her life through the lens of a messy apartment, morning beers, and weird relationships with teenage boys. Am I missing something? Does anybody else see the series reducing the woman who should be running NERV into a punchline/object of fapping for teenage boys?

Okay, that’s enough for now.

To be continued…