11/13/05

Neon Genesis Evangelion

(Warning: plot twists and revelations discussed in close detail)

Saw the first seven episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and...well, it's interesting enough. The first episode was shockingly sloppy--poor animation, poor editing, all the cliches of mecha anime present. Understand the cliches--it's a setup for their ultimate deconstruction, but were they suffering budget cuts then? This isn't the Gainax that did the wonderfully animated Fooly Cooly.

It recovers. The hero's angst concerning his father feels like standard mecha melodrama, but it's intriguingly revealed, little by little, through throwaway details, and the character of Rei (funny hers is the only name I remember) contributes to the fascination nicely. Nice idea of making the mechas' power supply limited (puts a time limit on the fights, which can get tiresome), of making the feedback more intense (usually the pilots seem to be screaming because they're terrified of being blown up), and of suggesting that the mecha's armor is really skin, hiding something monstrously alive underneath. Here the series borrows not just from science fiction, but from science-fiction horror.

I also like it that the battles aren't so ritualized--usually we see filler footage of the pilots suiting up, docking into their robots, etc., etc.; not so with Evangelion: it spends the minimum time on the fights, they're never when you expect it, and they never end up quite the same way. We also never know what the enemy is thinking of or feeling; the Angels just come, the people just deal with them the best they could--talk about the Unknowable Other.

Not so crazy about the humor, the peek-a-boo stuff with the girls and their underwear (although Rei is interestingly nonchalant about it, and slaps our hero when we least expect it), or the hero's tendency to shriek and cry at the least provocation. Plus the last episode I saw (the one that introduces whatshername, the redhead), is the first ordinary-looking battle I know of (well, there are hints that there's more to it than that--let's hope so).

All in all, I'd say it's easily the best mecha series I've ever seen (not that I'm an expert), and one of the better animes out there. Not ready to say it's up to Miyazaki's level, or that it's a great work of art, but we'll see.

Have this to say about disks 3 and 4--the redhead is much too annoying. She becomes a source of much of the 'fan service'--standard issue t & a shots with giggly comedy--when she should have been a breath of fresh air in the overserious atmosphere (she ends up just irritating everyone around her, and me). The battles are moderately inventive--as I've noted, never when you expect them to be, and never the same method of attack, or defense.

The 11th Angel, however, was impressive--nanomachines. This episode showed a good understanding of what AI machines could become (or at least uses the concept of AI in a consistently fascinating manner--uses an excellent metaphor for depicting AI, in effect), at the same time revealing a different side of a previously uninteresting character (the blonde computer scientist). Always knew smallest is deadliest.

More hints of lack of cooperation, that things are not what they seem. Nicely ominous, but I have to see the whole thing to say whether or not the payoff justifies the promises.

On Neon Genesis Evangelion discs 5 and 6: finally saw the infamous episode 18, which reportedly made the moneymen cut the series' budget drastically. Nothing out-and-out graphic, but it's pretty intense for television, and the sight of a mecha hunched down on all fours chewing on the enemy's corpse does have a potent horrorshow charge to it.

The drama between boy-hero and dad, however, still seems off--things are falling apart around them, and daddy still wants to know what his son wants?! Not convincing, feels forced. We also pretty much knew who the Fourth Child was early on, so hiding the identity seemed redundant. The issue that divides father and son--that father used son to kill an enemy with a human inside--also feels forced and contrived.

Episode 20 looking very experimental--they probably feel the budget crunch already. Interesting interiority--for now.

Final disk of the Eva TV series:

Well, it's impressive mostly for the number of ideas and the amount of storytelling they put forth on an obviously painfully smallbudget--making their straitened circumstances, in fact, something of an asset.

I like the last angel--turns the notion that alien invaders are bizarre creatures out to destroy us neatly on its head, and Shinji's reaction to all this is more believable than the angst he goes through with his previous conflict-of-interest drama (where he beat his classmate's mecha into the ground and, well, consumes him)--here he's responding to what literally is the first love of his life, and you understand the psychic costs he paid to win.

The final two episodes devolve into a psychiatric exploration of Shinji in particular, in an attempt to prove that nothing is more complex, or more dangerous, than the human mind. Veddy ambitious stuff...but probably thanks to the budget cuts, not quite flawlessly executed. Whole characters were dropped out (So who shot Kaji? What was the point of kidnapping whatsisname, the second-in-command?), questions remain unanswered (What is the Instrumentality really? So what if the angel at terminal dogma is Lilith and not Adam? Why does that make Kawuro suddenly understand us?), and Asuka, after all is revealed (suicidal mother and all), is still an annoying brat.

Not fair to mention Bergman, Bunuel, Lynch and Cronenberg on film, Ballard and Philip Dick on print as being better purveyors of man's inner landscape, but there you are; I would have thought with all that hype about the Kabbalah and the mystery of numbers, there would be some coherent, complex connection to it all, but they remain mainly clues, to a puzzle I suspect even the creators never bothered to finish constructing.

To be fair, Ritsuko and Misato (finally, I remember their names!) come out better drawn then I expected--but Shinji is still a sniveling failure, and that's a major disappointment, especially as the series has to end up inside his head, undergoing a combination of basic therapy and Philosophy 101. Can't help but feel Oshii's understated questions about the nature of human and machine consciousness are better put, more persuasively asked.

Evangelion: Death and Rebirth is interesting--a clip show that's a marked improvement over the series' ostensible ending. I don't agree that the Death portion is just a rehash ofthe entire show; I think Anno was able to retell the entire series using judicious sampling of previous material plus a few minutes of new material (a practice session of Pachbel's Canon in D).

The form of Death is unusual: it starts with an early image, goes to the end, then recounts the story in between, going into digressions along the way that help explain each character or event that takes place. What's unusual is that Anno doesn't so much as explain the whole series all over again--you definitely need to have seen the episodes to understand all this--but does it as a variation of the theme, shortened and heightened at the same time.

I think the clue to this is the extensive use of Bach, who's famous for doing this sort of thing-- basically playing the same melody over and over, only different each time.

It's compelling and at a certain point, even moving--Shinji's angst isn't tiresome, Asuka's brattiness isn't annoying, the general contours of the story comes out clearer, the themes and sense of despair stronger.

Rebirth has some interesting revelations to make, but is basically a preparation for the next movie, and thus is more conventional.

End of Evangelion is something of a relief and a disappointment. Relief in that it's all over, and we don't have to listen to Shinji whine anymore, or Asuka bitch; disappointment in that true to form Anno once more goes for the willfully obscure, but doesn't give us much of an incentive to follow him into the intricate thickets of his narrative.

It's intelligently made, and ambitious, but even at its most experimental it shows the limits of mecha anime--we're still talking about adolescent frustrations and fantasies, only more graphically, and about the only strange images Anno can come up with are some non-animated footage of power lines accompanied by extensive use of classical music. I thought putting "Fly Me To the Moon" in the TV end credits was more subversive--it didn't reek of high art, yet it was still a startling choice.

As for the plot: even granting that Anno is being veddy veddy experimental and oblique, it still doesn't make sense. If SEELE was planning to trigger the Third Impact all the time using the Evas, why bother fighting the Angels? If the Evas and not the Angels were meant to trigger Third Impact, what were the Angels for, then? If the Angels want to wipe out humanity, which SEELE wants to stop long enough to trigger the Third Impact, why doesn't SEELE just trigger the Third Impact and save themselves the trouble of fighting the Angels?

Or is SEELE prevented from doing so because they have to follow the Secret Dead Sea Scrolls, which predict all these events? In which case, are those scrolls Anno's parody of the classically arbitrary mecha series script, which often goes through the motions of waging robot battles without making much sense? I don't see the point in sitting through yet another senseless mecha script for the sake of watching a satire on the senselessness of mecha scripts.

Shinji continues wimpy; as I pointed out when I wrote on Death and Rebirth, he's best taken in small doses. Asuka at least partially redeems herself by freaking out in suicidal samurai frenzy, though I really wanted to learn more about her escape and slow spiral into depression and catatonia (it seemed more motivated by a drug overdose than by any psychological cause it's so sudden). And I'm not clear just where SEELE and Gendo Ikari differ in their strategies--so what does it matter if Adam merges with Lilith? Does that mean Gendo gets to meet Yui again, and the rest of humanity can just go to heck? Rather selfish and small-minded motives for someone so intensely driven for so many years to do what he did.

People have pointed out various interpretations--that Shinji is ego, Rei superego, Asuka id; that Shinji is the psyche, Rei Thanatos, Asuka Eros; that Shinji, Rei and Asuka are the Japanese gods Susanoo, Amaterasu, and Ama-no-Uzume; that Gendo, Shinji and Rei represent the Christian trinity; that Shinji and Asuka represent the Orient and the Occident; that Ritsuko and Misato represent intellect and emotion. Haven't found anyone who pointed out that Shinji is Oedipus who hates his father and wants to sleep with Rei/Yumi his friend/mother (Gendo putting his hand on Rei's breast prior to uniting poor Adam and Lilith gives you an incestuous tingle), but that may be because I haven't found the right website yet.

That hand-on-breast image just about summarizes the series' problems for me: Anno wants to break out of using mecha conventions and does, partly, but can't resist copping a feel along the way, his choices incidentally being often the naughtiest and most Freudian he could find.

Ultimately, what is Anno saying? That one must be free to choose between uniting with others or keeping distinct and separate? That one can do both as long as one has will and imagination? Truisms, and I suppose all films present truisms, the difference between a good and not so good one being that good ones present them with persuasive forcefulness (or persuasive gentleness, whatever). Anno seems to say it with a lot of baggage attached, is all; you wonder at all the effort expended to express something obvious. I'd say Anno is top of a particular genre he only partially transcends, but to put him in the same class as, say, Oshii, who is able to pose his questions in more radically different terms that at the same time keep you both stimulated and fascinated, using images that are surreal but not abstract, or Miyazaki, who uses child characters in an uncompromisingly realistic environment (even his fantasies are grounded in a superbly realized reality) dealing with adult themes and complex emotional and ethical issues--I don't know. He still needs some growing up to do first, I think. 

11.13.05

2 comments:

huckbeine said...

duuudee.....

you are thinking too much ..........

Evangelion is not about Judeo-Christian, Zoroastian or whatever religion ....

Evangelion is about Shinji (what I can see is Anno's persona in the cartoon) and his experiences with different kind of women that he or everyone encounters in his or our lives. from the mysterious Rei (the typical frigid cold woman) to Asuka (the stupid bitch type we hate and curse when some annoying girl, annoy us ... :) ) to Misato (the very open minded and liberal women we encounter in bars, clubs) to Maya (the typical Japanese schoolgirl who looks up to her senior)

the mecha and whatchamacallit are just plot device and filler in the cartoon...
the real point is with the protagonist's dealings with women :)

and sorry to tell you, you fail miserably for trying to judge Anno and Oshii and Miyazaki together, because they arent working in the same field of genre...
its like judging john woo's work with george lucas' work with Tom Hanks' work ...
not because theyre all anime directors, you can pit them against each others ...

And I know you are the one who need's to grow up because you are filling every review of your random rants.... not good for a critic and review who needs always to be objective ...

noelbotevera said...

Duuuuude...

You're not thinking enough.

They were never meant to be an article; if they were an article, they'd be in the newspaper that publishes me regularly (see links). They're random notes. Which doesn't mean they don't have any validity (think em over a liddle more).

And yes you can compare apples and oranges--they're all fruit, and you can note that the orange is juicier, and the apple crispier, long as what you're saying is coherent, and not copied off of someone's website without saying so.

So wait a few years till you start growing hair in your armpits, then read my post again. And maybe you'll understand it better.