Thursday, March 06, 2008

Neon Genesis Evangelion: 1x06 - 1x12

The second chunk of Evangelion episodes lighten things up a bit, and focus on building the characters over the vague feeling of menace that hung over the early days of the series. I’m getting more hooked on the show, though I still have issues with some of what they’re doing.

The major event is the addition of Asuka to the cast. She ups the energy level of the whole piece, and alleviates some of the issues I had with the fact that they’ve got kids piloting the Evas. She behaves like a fourteen year old probably would if they were able to pilot giant robots, it’d be pretty awesome. Both Shinji and Rei were like old soldiers, committed to what they’re doing, and not getting any joy out of it. Asuka ups the energy of the whole piece and makes the other characters stand out more.

Their dynamic coalesces in the power outage episode, where we finally start to understand what’s up with Rei. She’s the perfect soldier, always knows the right thing to do, but seems devoid of human feeling. She shows up Asuka constantly, leading the group despite her almost total refusal to actually take charge of things. Shinji is in the middle, a bit more at home in standard social situations, but lacking the self confidence Asuka has. He’s getting more comfortable with what he has to do over the past few episodes, and in the end of that episode, we see them working together as a great team.

That episode also raises the question of what’s up with Commander Ikari. He’s harsh to Shinji, but we see that he’s got total confidence in the kids, preparing the Evas so they can go into battle. I like the way Asuka refers to them as the “first child,” or “second child,” it makes it clear that these kids are chosen for some reason, not just randomly picked to be Eva pilots. But, it’s still unclear exactly what that reason is. And, I’d like to get more insight into how Ikari feels about what his son is doing. There’s barely been any scenes with him and Shinji, and he shows no signs of fear when Shinji is out on missions. I’m also interested in how his relationship with Rei develops, is it a father/daughter thing, or more of a sexual relationship?

Another really strong episode was the synchronized dance one, particularly that closing sequence where the Evas battle to a backdrop of classical music. That was an example of the show using the comedy/domestic side of things to its advantage, to deepen the characters and forge their bond. In this type of film, an action scene is what a dance scene is to a musical, and the episode made the parallel obvious.

The strongest scene in the episode was Shinji and Asuka in bed together. He sees her at first as a potential sexual partner, but is surprised to hear her reveal her vulnerability. It’s a really well done scene, our first glimpse beneath the confident personality Asuka wears on the surface.

So, the show is definitely improving, but there’s some stuff that still bothers me. Shinji’s two friends from school are always cringe inducing when they appear. I love a lot of what anime can do, but the exaggerated behavior of those two is not one of them. Hopefully the addition of Asuka to the cast means we won’t see much more of the two of them. A lot of the domestic stuff doesn’t work so well. I guess the goal is to attach us to the characters, but any time that goofy house theme music comes on, I cringe a bit. And I seriously hope there’s no more female character dressed in minimal clothing, male characters look at her breasts and freezes in place, female character freaks out and calls him a pervert moment. Still, the dance scene was a big success, so all these rules can be broken.

I think it still comes down to the treatment of the characters. Is it something normal for these kids to be piloting the Evas, or are they special and chosen? If they are chosen, the whole premise makes a lot more sense, ultimately, they are victims of this military industrial complex, sacrificing their childhoods to save the world. That’s some powerful stuff. Of course, my issue with this basic premise could be largely due to unfamiliarity with the genre tropes. I’ll just accept a bunch of kids being superheroes in a US comic, but I have issues with these kids doing much the same.

I do still have issues with the show, but I’m getting more attached to the characters and am eager to see how things develop. The threat of the week format can get a bit tiring, but there’s a sense of evolution as the show goes forward, and that makes it all worth it.


Josh Thomas said...

Hi Patrick I've been enjoying your site for a while (found you because of your Claremont X-Men series) and I'm really excited to see that you're taking on Evangelion. One word of caution though that may be a little too late: it seems to me there's a great deal of difference between the dubbed and subtitled versions. I hope you're watching the version with subtitles - the original voices of the cast really add a lot to the characters, and trying to listen to the English versions made my ears bleed. If you're already watching the English ones, I'd recommend switching to the subtitles, it'll improve the show a great deal. However, knowing your taste for foreign film, I'm going to guess that you're watching the subtitles anyway, but I just thought I'd explicity state it. Good job on this site in general, and I can't wait to hear your opinion of the rest of Evangelion. Are you going to watch the follow-up movies afterward as well?

Patrick said...

Don't worry, there's no way I'd watch a dubbed version of the show. I had the English track on by mistake once, and I just cringed when the voices came in. The Japanese ones are much better.

And, I'll definitely be checking out the followup movies. I heard they're doing new ones even still, which is cool. Oh, and any thoughts on which is better to watch the first, the original cuts or the director's cuts of episodes 21-24.

Anonymous said...

I think the domestic stuff is very take it or leave it. I always like it, it showed that people could still be light-hearted and have routines after the apocalypse. One thing I really like about the series is that while it is dystopia, there are balancing elements (from the hints of nature to the jokes about Misto's cooking)to it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the series, to me anyway, is the ambiguity of the relationships (and there are a lot of triangles in this series, love and otherwise). You cover a lot of them here (though there some revelations still to come). The big one I haven't really seen you touch on s Shinji/Misato which strikes me as pretty central. The best description of it I've come up with is that she is like his mother/sister/girlfriend all rolled into one. It's also probably the most honest/healthy relationship in the series if you ignore the undertones, and makes a nice contrast to the general dysfunction around them.

On the ages of the kids; it helps reinforce the generation aspect of the series. Eva very much deals with how Commander Ikari's generations handling of the second impact ripples. The middle generation (who are now the age of the elder generation at the time of the second impact)was roughly the same age as the Eva pilots are now only their childhoods were brutally interrupted while the youngest generation has never known any other world. You really get to see this world from from a variety of perspectives and you see how different generations react to the same events.

I definitely look forward to seeing your thoughts on the series ending(s).

Patrick said...

The ages of the kids make a lot more sense once you reach the end of the show, and realize that they are mentally adolescents, and suffer in the way that kids do. The whole growing up and maturing thing is wrapped up in the power of the Evas, and their emotional immaturity is foregrounded as well. I still have some issues with the presentation of female characters early on, and seeing some of the merchandise based on the show only makes it worse, but that's only in the early going, things get much better later on.