Sunday, March 09, 2008

Neon Genesis Evangelion: 1x13 - 1x19

The past few episodes of Evangelion have taken things up in a major way. Delving more into odd psychological immersions and really emotional angel battles, every episode’s got something really memorable about it. And, notably, it also makes it clear why some of the things that annoyed me early in the series were in there. I’m still not sure what’s up with the penguin, but everything else is locked up pretty tight.

Everything starts to take off with “Weaving a Story.” I was almost tempted to skip it when I saw that it would be a clip show episode, but the second half switches everything up and gives us the first of the show’s journeys into psychological surrealism. Rei’s monologue about the many versions of herself and the nature of the universe is fantastic. I love the flow of the words, and the concepts discussed.

It also gives us some interesting insight into Rei. She’s the most enigmatic of the series’ characters, the only one of the pilots who’s selflessly committed to what NERV is doing. But why is she so committed? Why is she willing to put herself through all kinds of trauma? The primary motivation seems to be her relationship with Commander Ikari. One of the series’ most striking images is Rei in that tube, Ikari looking on at her, and the two of them smiling at each other. They’re both soldiers, with no life outside the mission, and in Ikari, she sees a protector.

The question for me is, what is the exact nature of their relationship? I’m not sure if we’ll ever find out definitively whether it’s a sexual relationship or more of a father/daughter thing. Either way, it makes Shinji jealous. Rei herself seems to be uncertain of her feelings towards Shinji, unable to deal with any of her more ‘human’ feelings. It seems like she only feels emotionally alive when she’s with Commander Ikari, and the reason for that is precisely the fact that Ikari is so emotionally closed down, she doesn’t have to open herself up. Even the repressed Shinji at least makes the nice overture of cleaning her place.

The next great episode was the lengthily titled “Those Women Longed for the Touch of Others’ Lips and Thus Invited Their Kisses.” I was hoping this episode would finally clarify the uncertain love triangle of Kaji, Ritsuko and Misato, but things only got more bungled. The thing that vexes me is who Ritsuko is supposed to have feelings for. My reading for much of the series has been that she’s got feelings for Misato, maybe that’s coming out of nowhere, or perhaps it’s too deep a reading of that cat mug on her desk, but it’s what I’m seeing. There’s definitely something up with her and Kaji/Misato, but the show doesn’t make it clear who she’s actually jealous of.

Regardless, those scenes at the wedding were great. I know I cracked on the ‘slice of life’ moments from earlier episodes, but here, they worked great. There are a couple of reasons, one is the reduction of over the top not funny comedy moments, another is my increased attachment to the characters. I feel more grounded with them, so I can appreciate Asuka’s over the top antics as her personal mode of behavior, not simply an unbelievable way for everyone to behave.

I really like the adult dynamic of the bar scenes, and Misato’s subsequent drunken walk home. It’s great to get a break from the angel of the week format and get to focus on the characters. I also like the contrast of the more sophisticated Misato/Kaji relationship with the adolescent hormone surge of Asuka and Shinji. There’s clearly some feelings there, but neither one wants to acknowledge them. She kisses him ‘to waste time,’ but there’s more than that there.

Throughout, I really like her hopeless crush on Kaji. Having the characters be fourteen years old was jarring at first, it seemed like it’d be easier to just bump them up to eighteen, but in plotlines like that, you get a naivete that older people just don’t have. She can never be with Kaji, but she’ll still try, she hasn’t had her heart broken yet.

In the later episodes, the Evas become these exaggerated representations of the adolescent feelings. Everything is surging, they have so much power, and try as they might, the adults in their life can’t control it. I think the Eva as metaphor for the power you gain by growing up is best realized in Shinji’s storyline. This is a kid who won’t assert himself, who wont’ acknowledge any of the power that he has, but put him in the Eva and he is able to do so much more.

The nature of the Evas has been somewhat uncertain throughout the series, are they organic or mechanical, and what exactly is the relationship between pilot and Eva? As we find out here, the Evas are actually built from Angels, they are what they’re trying to destroy. During ‘Introjection,’ we see an angel fight from the outside, and realize that the Evas are just as dangerous as the Angels. It’s the giant Eva head that crushes people near Shinji’s shelter, and Shinji is blamed for injuring Toji’s sister earlier in the series.

Shinji has grown into quite an interesting character over the past few episodes. I particularly love the moments in ‘Splitting of the Breast,’ where he’s trapped inside the Angel and goes on a strange, psychological journey. The filmmaking there was absolutely amazing, the flickering white stripe waving across the screen during his voiceover. I really love what Anno is able to do with those interludes, where narrative takes a backseat and we explore a character’s mind.

Part of what makes it work is that it’s conceptually tied to what’s going on in the episode, and central to Shinji’s arc. The central idea is that he’s more concerned about making other people like the Shinji Ikaris who live in their head than making himself happy. Having such a standoffish father is going to do that to him, he is forever trying to live up to expectations he can’t possibly match. This all leads to the glorious moment where he bursts out of the Eva, blood spraying all around. Visually, the second half of that episode is absolutely astonishing, it’s still my favorite of the series so far.

Next up, we get the arc of Toji, the fourth child. This arc clarifies a lot of the issues I had earlier in the series. It makes clear that Shinji, Rei and Asuka aren’t going to just any school, the school is just as much a control mechanism as NERV itself, designed to herd potential ‘children’ together and control them. The arc also makes clear why Aida and Toji were in the series in the first place, I still think they could have been a bit less annoying, but the turn they’ve taken makes it worth it.

Particularly touching was the arc with Toji and the Class Rep, Hikari. She seemed like a pretty one note character, but gets more depth here, and the scene in ‘Introjection,’ where she brings Toji lunch is one of the most emotional in the episode.

Of course, this is a show about giant robots attacking stuff, and the battle in ‘Ambivalence’ is the show’s best to date. Both that episode and ‘Introjection’ turn the Eva battle into a conflict between father and son, with Shinji gradually rebelling against his father. I love the visceral nature of the battle in ‘Ambivalence,’ of the dummy plug Eva tearing through the other Eva, blood spraying everywhere, parts crushing. I think it’s a bit of a cop out to not have Toji dead after that, but perhaps he has a part still to play in this story.

It looks like we’re building to a showdown between Shinji and his father. Shinji has apparently merged with the Eva at the end of ‘Introjection,’ and with such power in him, is he going to stand around and take orders? The whole thing is a metaphor for growing up and rebelling against the adult world that raised you. You can’t control children, eventually they’ll become their own beings, and you have to let them go. But, Commander Ikari doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s eager to let Shinji go.

So, things are definitely rolling. I’m loving the series now, am wrapped up in the main plot, and wowed by the psychological interludes. Bring on those final episodes.

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