Morrison responded to 9/11 with two of the weakest issues in his New X-Men run. The major positive about these two issues is the way they broaden the world of the series, and once again find interesting roles for b-list X-characters. But, the stories themselves don’t work particularly well.
“Ambient Magnetic” reunites Morrison with Phil Jiminez for the first time since The Invisibles. Unfortunately, the inking or coloring makes his pencils look a bit off. Both on this story and later with Quitely in “Riot at Xavier’s,” something in the production process makes these artists look worse than they’ve ever looked before. I think it’s largely the coloring, with gives everything a weird air brushed feel. Some panels look ok, but generally, it’s not up to the crisper look of Jiminez’s work on The Invisibles. I don’t know enough about comic art to say for sure whether it’s the coloring or the inking, but there’s a world of difference between the way this issue looks and the way “Bloody Hell in America” looks. I can understand why Quitely would decide to cut out inkers entirely after seeing what this process did to his art.
Anyway, bad Phil Jiminez is still better than most artists, he’s a great storyteller, and draws the best looking people in comics. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t really work. It’s interesting primarily as a way of illustrating Pietro’s idea that “My father’s greatest trick is to be more dangerous dead than alive.” As Charles says, “I know. I’ve seen the t-shirts.” Magneto’s ideology is sound in theory, the idea that mutants should take a more aggressive tact and ensure that they have their own place in the world, to no longer live by human rules. However, Magneto the person always managed to mess things up by using excessive violence, and in the process destroying rather than creating.
He and Charles were checks on each other, with Magneto still around, Xavier could never become revolutionary, and Magneto could never fully embrace peace. I haven’t read that much of the 90s X-Men, but you could square the jilted, philosophically exhausted Magneto of the Claremont/Lee X-Men #1 with the Magneto of this issue. He tried Xavier’s way and it didn’t work out so well. He’s not evil, but he did take a more aggressive stand. When Xavier left, to go to space, he was able to lead the Xavier institute, and take a more equal view of things. However, Xavier’s return forced him back to his old role.
Notably, the Magneto that people embrace with their t-shirts doesn’t have that much in common with the character that Claremont developed over the course of his run. One could read that as Morrison embracing the old characterization of Magneto, or you could read it as a comment on the process of superhero comics as a whole. Magneto will always be forced back to his old characterization, the Malcolm X to Xavier’s MLK, because that’s what people know, that’s what’s in the movies. Marvel doesn’t want to publish a book where Magneto’s leading the X-Men and Xavier’s nowhere to be found anymore, just like the people who wear a “Magneto was Right” shirt may not want to acknowledge that he was rather ambivalent about violent mutant action in his latter days.
But, I also don’t think Morrison is that familiar with, or interested in, the reformed Magneto of latter Claremont. The whole “Planet X” arc is about the fact that Magneto never can reform, he’ll always be drawn back to this old role of mutant terrorist, attacking human institutions. It’s a fantastic story, but I can’t help but wonder what a more post-Manichaean Magneto would be like under Claremont.
I suppose Morrison splits the character in two, he takes the abused victim Magneto and turns him into Xorn. Rather than become a mutant terrorist, Xorn became a zen master, who embraces all living things. Xorn is the ultimate attempt by Magneto to reform, and like all such attempts, the dictates of superhero comics will eventually lead him to a villain role.
More on that down the line. As I mentioned before, the story itself is pretty perfunctory, and doesn’t make that much sense in light of the Magneto as Xorn revelation. Magneto’s words, “I will be a voice in the darkness, echoing forever” make sense in the context of the narrative at present, that he is becoming “memory, immortal,” but in light of the overall plan, it doesn’t have too much significance. I suppose the best way to view it is to see that Magneto is more important and powerful as Charles’ ideological opposite, the challenge to the status quo, that no matter how far Xavier goes, someone will always want him to further. We see that conflict made manifest in the Quentin Quire storyline, and by that point, it becomes clear that Magneto the man himself has become irrelevant.
The great tragedy of Magneto/Xorn is that this totally false persona he created becomes more popular than his real personality, and that ‘Magneto’ is even more powerful dead than alive. Without Magneto to fight, Xavier can move beyond the two sided argument that has dominated the series and was able to build a new world from scratch. Xavier does become edgier, he takes on characteristics of Magneto and is able to fuse them into a new form. With Magneto as the peace loving Xorn, he and Xavier essentially flip roles, now Xavier is the one pushing mutants forward, out of the shadows and into the light.
Either way, the issue itself plays as a strange 9/11 tribute that doesn’t quite work. We jump forward from the somber ruins of fake 9/11 to a war on terror in “Afghanistan.” The opening sequence of this issue feels totally out of character with what we’ve seen before. Has the zen sage Wolverine we’ve seen so far in the run really just killed a heap of slavers? I suppose it’s possible, but I feel like the Wolverine we’ve seen to date would have found another way. Anyhow, it does give us a nice scene with Fantomex, who proves that he wasn’t just a one time character, and once again taunts us with the secrets of Weapon Plus. And, strange as it is to say, looking at this version of Fantomex, I miss Igor Kordey.
There’s a bunch of rather unexciting terrorist/Shiar stuff in this issue. Let me focus on what does work. Easily the high point of the issue for me is Jean’s Phoenix t-shirt. I love that she would the iconography of previous stories as a fashion statement, and it’s a perfect way to incorporate a superhero uniform into the more ‘reality based’ world of the series to date. Another great moment in fashion is the revelation that India’s team is wearing the early 90s costumes because the people love the Bollywood spectacle of spandex and spangles.
The other cool thing in this issue is the idea that Wolverine needs to sleep a lot when his healing factor is working. That’s a lot better than having him regrow his entire body from a drop of blood in five minutes like it’s no problem. Always place limits on your heroers, it will make for a better story.
So, this was a pretty un-noteworthy issue. But, coming up soon is the series’ next major arc, the fantastic “Riot at Xavier’s.”
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Morrison responded to 9/11 with two of the weakest issues in his New X-Men run. The major positive about these two issues is the way they broaden the world of the series, and once again find interesting roles for b-list X-characters. But, the stories themselves don’t work particularly well.
“Some Angels Falling” is another really strong issue that mixes some nice low key character development stuff with further development of the ongoing soap opera plot with Scott and Emma.
The opening line “So who the hell was Darkstar anyway” is an instant classic. Even the X-Men themselves have trouble keeping up with their myriad b-list members. But, Emma’s quip doesn’t obscure the quiet beauty of the actual funeral sequence, where Xavier is able to show everyone a glimpse of the person that Darkstar was, a decidedly post human conception of what a funeral should be.
The Beak/Angel storyline is a fun, sweet piece. I really like the dynamic between the two of them over the course of the series, the way his extreme self loathing makes her feel better about herself. One of the things I really like about Morrison’s X-Men run is the way he builds the entire culture of the Xavier Academy and is able to subtly parallel it with traditional high school groups. Beak and Angel are pretty much the ‘Freaks’ of the school, as Freaks and Geeks would define them. Beak may be “straight-edge hardcore” but their academic and social failure leave them both a step away from Daniel Desario and Kim Kelly.
Angel ostensibly kisses Beak as part of a bet, but as we see later on, she does have some genuine affection for him. I think it’s largely because she has suffered so much in her life, and it hurts her to see Beak suffer in that way. And, hanging out with him makes her feel better about her own standing in the world. Their successful trip up to the spaceship is a really fun sequence, and Beak’s turn from absolute nihilism to absolute joy is well done. For someone who so utterly hates himself to be shown any kind of affection is amazing, and to be kissed on top of that. He’s probably not exaggerating when he says it’s the best day of his life.
While the freak kids are struggling with their relationship, the glamorous teachers struggle with issues of their own. The Scott/Emma Frost storyline gets its most significant development yet. Emma is ostensibly helping Scott with psychic therapy, but the line between psychic affair and therapy gets increasingly blurred. Everyone seems to know what’s going on, except for Jean. Wolverine tries to caution Scott, but he doesn’t want to listen. Morrison keeps Wolverine as the zen sage with his line “Man’s gotta’ mow his own lawn,” skillfully juxtaposed with Emma’s catty remarks. Scott tells himself that what he’s doing isn’t wrong, that he’s doing it to save his relationship with Jean, but it’s really all about getting what he’ll never get from Jean.
I love Jean Paul Leon’s art in this issue, particularly during the surreal skydiving sequence. The old costumes spilling out of his parachute is one of my favorite images from the entire run. Scott ponders “Why can’t everyone just be straight with me,” a quintessential Scott Summers line. This is a straight shooter who does stuff by the book, he’s stuck with the reputation that he’s a boy scout, and part of the attraction of Emma is the chance to shed that reputation and do his own Dark Phoenix thing. Why should Jean get to go evil when he can’t? The context for all this is a storyline in which Scott was briefly possessed by Apocalypse, and it’s that exposure to evil that’s the impetus for this whole thing. But, the crucial thing is the idea that even as an evil character, Scott didn’t get to do the kind of bad things that Jean did as Dark Phoenix.
Emma dresses up Dark Phoenix, and claims that she is always going to be drawn to the fire. Scott says “Why not?” and decides to play with some fire himself. It’s notable that he waits until Emma is playing Dark Phoenix to go with her. He is attracted to that bad girl part of Jean, but she’ll never show it to him. That’s what he said earlier that she wore corsets for others, sensible shoes for him. He’s bored, in a midlife crisis, and if he can’t have the fire that Jean possesses, he’ll go for the next best thing, Emma.
Scott may have ostensibly approached Emma to get help with his marriage, but what he was really attracted to was the bad girl in her, the piece of her that was like Jean as Dark Phoenix. He never loved her like he did on the mesa, at the height of her power. He can’t get that with Jean, so he’ll try to find it somewhere else. This is a guy who walked out on his wife to get back together with Jean, and now he’s realizing that maybe he was more attracted to the idea of Jean than the reality of her. People change, but if so much of his identity is wrapped up in his love for her, how can he leave her without losing himself?
So, two stories of love, both new, only one innocent. It’s a really important issue, laying the groundwork for a lot of character stuff later in the run, and nicely mixing the soap opera elements inherent to X-Men with the sci-fi stuff that Morrison has brought to the title. Top it off with Jean Paul Leon’s top notch art and you’ve got a wholly satisfying issue.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
After totally enjoying Showcase Presents Superman, I decided to check out another volume of the DC reprints series, this time the Teen Titans. I chose this one because I read the Titans Lost Annual a few months ago and loved it. It was a pure rush of 60s pop insanity. Could the entire series match this level of sublime craziness? Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, the series is entertaining on its own level, a bit formulaic, but still worth checking out.
I have a soft spot for 60s youth culture, the hippies vs. squares, mods and what have you. It’s a time that’s been mythologized a lot in our culture, as a pure moment of creative and social inspiration. But, even in these comics, written in ’68, hippies feel like a parody of themselves, and the ‘scene’ is largely being mocked by the writers of the comic. Wonder Girl is used as a standin for the kids caught up in the latest thing, while the other three members of the team generally remain decidedly on the square side of things. There’s a conservatism to the work, but also an embrace of the goofy fun of youth culture. I’m not sure how much of that is the adult writers condescending to the audience and how much is genuine affection, but either way, you get a good dose of 60s wackiness. It’s not quite Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but then again what is?
The primary issue with the book is that every story is basically the same. The Titans get a letter from a teenager asking for help, they go to a town, go through some narrative twists, and eventually resolve everything. The standout story in the volume is Robin’s trip to Limbo, because it switches the formula up and raises the stakes a bit. But, generally, you never really get the sense that anyone is in any danger, and despite a few references to old stories, there’s not much continuity from issue to issue.
The other problem is that the characters aren’t particularly well defined. As I mentioned, Wonder Girl stands out as the one who embraces the culture of the day, and seems to fall in love with every cool guy they meet on their journeys. Robin has to deal with issues leading the team, and has an intellect that makes up for his lack of superpowers. However, Kid Flash and AquaLad don’t stand out in any particular way. The most notable thing about AquaLad is how lame he is, with his white boy afro and need to involve water in every story. Kid Flash fulfills some story requirements, but has very little in the way of notable character traits. The formula lends itself perfectly to soap opera, but I guess there wasn’t much in the way of ongoing stories in the early days of DC. It sounds like the 80s Wolfman/Perez run does more of a soapy, serial style with the same characters. It’s a run I’d love to read, but the first few issues are only available in pricey Archives editions, and I’m not quite ready to drop $50 on a blind buy.
To enjoy the stories, you’ve just got to get in the mindset of the time, appreciate the goofy dialogue and overenthusiastic narration. I like to look at the pop culture of the past because it gives us a window into the minds of the time. I don’t see this as a realistic representation of 60s youth culture, but it’s a spin on what was happening at the time, and in this alternate version, you can see a picture of what was real. It’s not as interesting as the Silver Age madness of Showcase Presents Superman, but it was still a good value for the money.
Next in the ongoing journey through the Silver Age is Showcase Presents The Legion of Superheroes. After that, I’ll probably check out another Volume of Superman, or perhaps jump over to Marvel and read some classic Spiderman.
I saw a lot of the Democratic convention, and some of the Republican convention so far, during my down time at work. The difference so far is pretty striking. The Democrats have finally, finally, got their act together and moved beyond the ineffective pushovers who so utterly failed during both the 2004 campaign and the last eight years of governing. In terms of policy, I don’t think Obama is particularly revolutionary, but what he’s able to do better than any politician in my lifetime is to speak in a way that makes you feel like he can make the world a different, better place. The right may try to take him down, but he’s got a bright power that will hopefully not be dimmed.
Obama’s speech was pretty riveting, a great critique of John McCain, and a positive vision of our country’s future. The essence of what he’s saying is we can be better than this. That’s a message that’s going to trouble people who are insecure, who don’t want to deal with the fact that they’re in a changing world, they won’t live the way their parents did. I see that as a good thing, not everyone does. What excites me about Obama’s leadership is not so much his specific policy, which was some room for improvement, it’s the way he can change the game, and redefine what the status quo is in politics.
Ironically, the Republicans are also ranting about the ‘establishment,’ ‘Washington’ and ‘politics as usual.’ Watching the convention is what it must be like watching This is Spinal Tap and not knowing if it’s for real or not. What they’re saying is so ridiculous, so patently false and ironic that it would be very easy to read the entire thing as an elaborate, oh so subtle gag. It starts with the party that has had total control over Washington for the past eight years saying that they’re going to go in and clean things up, not that Washington insider who’s beloved by the ‘liberal media,’ Barack Obama. I think the buildup to the Iraq War ended the myth of the liberal media, but apparently it lives on.
Fred Thompson also said “She is from a small town, with small town values, but that's not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family.” That they’re still going for the values thing after the pregnancy business is pretty bold, and totally disconnected from reality. But, the whole pregnancy thing is a sideshow, small town values might be fine for people in a small town, they’re not so good when it comes to running the entire world. I could care less if Sarah Palin’s daughter is pregnant, what I care about is that she thinks it’s acceptable to have guns in peoples’ homes, and that she actually goes hunting herself. If shooting things is a small town value, perhaps it’s best to stay with the ‘beltway elite.’
An even better comedic performance was Joe Lieberman’s speech, though he perhaps pushed things a bit too far with his repeated references to Democrats’ inability to “reach across the aisle.” It absolutely baffles me that nobody is out right shooting down the Republican discussion of Democrats not being able to work with Republicans, and thinking more about party than country. Republicans have been able to do whatever they wanted with essentially no opposition for much of the past eight years. They gave away vast sums of money to the very few elite richest Americans through a restructuring of the tax code and an illegal invasion of Iraq. The Democrats just sat there and took it while Republicans tortured people in secret government sanctioned prisons. It’s horrifically ironic to watch Republicans cite John McCain’s five years in a Vietnamese prison as a qualification to be president, if so, we should look forward to a generation of Arab Americans running for the Republican party nomination in a few years. They all have the requisite ‘experience’ that McCain is so proud of.
Anyway, Republicans criticizing Democrats for not working with them is like the schoolyard bully complaining that the kid he’s beating up isn’t working an extra job to give him more lunch money. The Republican party right now is at the absolute extreme right wing, Democrats are roughly in the center, they are inherently compromising on virtually everything they are doing. Barack Obama’s voting record is one of the more liberal in the Senate, but looked at objectively, it’s far less partisan than the totally united block of Republican senators who will shoot down any Democratic initiative. Honestly, can’t somebody besides John Stewart and Bill Maher call these people out on the ridiculous things they’re saying?
The Joe Lieberman speech was a travesty. The John McCain Republicans speak of is not the man who’s there today, the man who said himself that he voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. People talk about experience being an issue. This is my final statement on that. George Bush presented a case for war in Iraq that may or may not have been a deliberate lie. Either way, it turned out to be false. One candidate in the race saw that the case was not justified and voted against the war. One was swayed by false evidence and sent us to the one trillion dollar sinkhole we’re stuck in now. If that same evidence comes along again, I want the man who had the experience to make the right choice the first time. That one trillion dollars could have remade the entire world, and that’s nothing to mention the myriad lives extinguished by Bush’s illegal invasion. Obama may not be a perfect candidate, but he will at least try to lead us to a better world, and he’s the first politician in a while who has a legitimate chance of making it there.
Monday, September 01, 2008
To complete my rewatch of Evangelion, I took another look at Rebuild. Watching it again, knowing what it is and what it isn’t, it was a more satisfying experience, and I think I have a better understanding of why the project was made in the first place.
In his statement about the project, Anno said that he wanted to make the story more accessible for people, to tell a story that everyone could enjoy. I initially reacted to that negatively, fearing that it would mean the loss of the crazy abstractions that I loved so much in the series. But, I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to take away, rather I think his intention is to shape the narrative into something more linear, and to clear up a lot of the things that aren’t really explained in the original. The original exists in a genre universe, where we just take for granted that Shinji can go to school one day and pilot Eva the next. That caused problems for me on the first viewing, I was asking these questions and wasn’t sure if the series would ever answer them. This film spends more time setting things up for the viewer, making it clear that Shinji is piloting this thing because he is the only one who will be able to do so. I know that’s because the Eva was his mother, but the new viewer would at least know that there’s some reason for it.
Similarly, a lot of little character things are made clearer. Characters question Gendo’s behavior more, wondering why he shows so little affection for his son. No one in the original series really wonders why he’s so absurdly distant. And, watching it now, the scene from End of Eva where he says he kept Shinji distant not to hurt him sticks in my head. He’s so cruel because he thinks it’s what Shinji needs, but that’s so utterly wrong. In my initial review of the film, I said it would have been interesting to look at the whole thing from the adults’ perspective, and I’d stand by that. I’d love to see more exploration of what’s driving Gendo, and to get more insight into his relationship with Ritsuko.
We do see the two of them together more here, and the groundwork for their relationship is laid in a way it wasn’t in the series proper. The revelation that she was sleeping with Gendo came out of nowhere for me on the initial viewing, clearly it’s being placed in earlier here. This also allows them to reframe the motivation on certain events early in the series. Here, we see Gendo and Fuyutski discuss a plan to bring Shinji and Rei closer together. This was likely to ensure that Shinji remains on as a pilot, committed to the project. So, Ritsuko’s decision to have Shinji deliver Rei’s ID card to her is motivated by that. But, it also is motivated by Ritsuko’s desire to bring Shinji and Rei closer together, so that she will have Gendo all to herself. That could also explain Ritusko’s uneasiness with Misato potentially having a sexual relationship with Shinji, though that uneasiness could also be common sense.
Having seen the series twice, and having a better understanding of the whole Lilith/Adam mythology, there’s a few changes that really jump out here. One is the decision to accelerate the revelation of Lilth, and the purpose of the Evas. In the original series, we never really knew what the angels were until near the end of the series. I don’t think we knew why the Angels were attacking until Episode 20 or so. Here, it’s made clear that the goal of the angels is to penetrate Nerv and instigate the Third Impact. Making the motivations clearer earlier is a perfect example of making the story more accessible without sacrificing the mystique. The original series had ambiguity that served a purpose and ambiguity that was simply not telling us what we needed to know. Here, most of that latter stuff, the ambiguity that had no purpose is gone, and it’s a lot easier to follow the narrative.
If anything, removing ambiguity surrounding the instrumentality project and SEELE’s agenda will allow them to focus more on the psychological makeup of the character, and use the overall narrative as a mirror of the characters’ own emotions. This film doesn’t feature as much subjective stuff as the latter days of the show, but it does delve into Shinji’s psyche earlier than the series did. Notably, the entire focus of the film is to tell a single story, so the psychological interludes are less wide reaching, they’re more focused on Shinji’s uncertainty about piloting Eva. We see him on the train and there’s also some weird transitions when he’s in the Eva. Perhaps the most interesting new addition is quoting Gendo and Yui’s conversation about “If he’s a boy we’ll call him Shinji. If it’s a girl, Rei” right after the first battle with the angel. It makes it clear that there’s something up with Shinji and Rei right from the start, and raises questions about her relationship with Gendo.
We know the answers to those questions that were provided by the original Eva. But, things are a little different here, and this viewing made me wonder what exactly is the nature of the ‘rebuild.’ In the final moments of the film, Kaworu appears and says that Shinji is the third again, evidencing a range of knowledge that goes beyond what he should have in the story at this point. Shinji being the third again implies that all of this has happened before, say, in the original run of the series. So, does that mean that Rebuild is not a remake, rather than it exists on some kind of parallel continuity to the original series, that it is an in continuity extension of that narrative.
Notably, the film does open with the red seas that are featured so prominently at both the opening and closing of the End of Eva. It creates a kind of looping effect, where you can move seamlessly from Shinji on the beach choking Asuka to this film. What Kaworu’s comment indicates is that he’s aware of the other timelines. Kaworu here reminds me of John a Dreams from The Invisibles, someone who exists outside of the timeline, and moves into time at specific moments in the narrative when he is needed to achieve specific goals. If Kaworu is moving into the ‘game’ earlier, that would lead to a massive restructuring of the narrative as a whole, he would change the world.
In End of Eva, we see Kaworu as one of the Lilith, the incarnation of Human Instrumentality, a being who exists beyond time and serves the purpose of uniting all of humanity into complementation. So, his knowledge of things beyond this timeline would be logical. He has seen Shinji move through different worlds, move through the live action world, he knows that such travel is possible. One could easily argue that this entire film, hell the series as a whole, exists during the process of instrumentality, it’s Shinji reliving a different series of realities until he gets it right.
It reminds me a bit of the ending of The Dark Tower (SPOILERS AHEAD). There, Roland reaches the Dark Tower, the end of his story and is flung back to the beginning, it seems like the story is on an endless loop. However, this time he’s got the Horn of Eld, and this one change in the universe will produce more, and help bring him closer to his goal. The Rebuild could be a similar experience, Shinji went through Instrumentality and wound up in a world that was all wrong. So, he’s gone back in and decided to start things over again. On the surface, it all looks similar, and events don’t deviate wildly. However, there are subtle changes, and the intrusion of Kaworu into the next film will alter everything. (END DARK TOWER SPOILERS)
Right now, that would be my interpretation of the film. This is one of those other worlds Shinji saw during End of Eva, and as the films go forward, they will shift more and more. Certainly the preview for Eva 2.0 seems to be radically altered from the series itself. There’s many different Evas, a new female character and Kaworu apparently comes down from the moon in his own Eva. It would seem that that’s where this project spins off into something different from the original, and, much as I enjoyed this film, that will be more exciting to see. Perhaps this film was so similar to the original simply to make it clear where the continuity diverges, and to demonstrate how malleable reality itself really is.
But, back to the film itself, and one of the central differences between the film and the series, the portrayal of Unit 01. In the series, we see Unit 01 reach out and save Shinji, the first evidence that it had some will of its own, the spirit of his mother. Here, we don’t see that, the Eva does have clearly humanoid qualities, but it’s not as emphasized. Instead, there’s a greater emphasis on Shinji’s relationship with Rei. I’m left wondering if she is still a clone of his mother, because Gendo seems to be actively pushing the two of them together. Perhaps that’s just the way he is, he assumes that what Shinji would want would be the same kind of woman he’d want, so he gives Shinji this clone of his mother to be with.
Alternatively, in End of Eva, we saw that Gendo’s entire quest during the series was to get back to Yui, a woman he adores and places above all things. Much like Shinji, he hates himself, so wouldn’t it make sense that he’d want to avoid Shinji and instead let Shinji spend time with his ‘mother,’ in this case with Rei and Unit 01. It’s twisted, but it feels like the kind of logic he would use.
So, the Shinji/Rei relationship gets emphasized more, played out as an Oedipal conflict with Rei in the middle. The only flashback scene in the entire film is Unit 00 going beserker, and Gendo going down to rescue Rei. There, we see the extent of his feeling for her, which is made physical in the cracked glasses. It’s only with Gendo that we see Rei happy, and Shinji spends the entire film trying to simultaneously please his father and Rei.
It all comes to a head in the final battle sequence, which is masterfully executed. I still have some issues with the film’s pacing, the way the more leisurely patterns of life from the series are compressed into a tight film narrative, but that final half hour or so is just brilliant, both from a story point of view and from an aesthetic one. The powerless city, illuminated only by a giant moon, and the colored flashing lights of the vehicles around. It’s pretty astounding.
Anyway, the battle sequence itself is the first moment where Shinji sees someone sacrifice themselves for him. It’s where Rei steps in and nearly kills herself so that he can live. In the devastating final moments, Shinji tears open the capsule, and asks her for nothing but a smile. The raw emotion of that scene undercuts all the possible triumph of saving the city. And, in that moment, he ‘wins’ Rei from his father, he proves his own manhood and makes the connection he’s been seeking the entire film. Connecting with Rei is given priority over his relationship with the Eva, a development that will alter the way the future films play.
The first time I saw this film I felt like there was a lot missing. Watching it again, after seeing the series, I realized that the original series expanded in my mind after watching it. There’s not too much from the first five episodes that isn’t here. That said, in shaping it into a film, the more everday flavor of the series is gone. You don’t really know how much time Shinji spends at Misato’s, or get a full picture of his school life. That stuff was more fully explored in the later episodes, once Asuka showed up, but it was there early too.
When the show was first made, I doubt they knew a lot of the ways the story would go. As such, the earlier integration of the Adam/Lilith mythology, and Shinji’s psychological stuff makes this fit better with what comes later. Regardless of whether it’s actually in the same narrative universe, this film is clearly a post End of Eva production, and much of my reading is informed by what I saw there. I’m not sure how a new viewer would respond, I’d imagine they’d like this more than the first six episodes of the series, but I think watching the series makes the story more epic in some ways. It lets you fill in the gaps between episodes with imagined stories, here, it’s all sealed up as a neat little package. It’s more satisfying on a lot of levels, but it doesn’t replace the series.
The big question for me now is what exactly will the nature of future stories be. The second film may cover anywhere from Episode 12 to Episode 19. The rest of the series’ first half is a generally lighter period, focusing largely on the rivalry between Shinji and Asuka and building up the relationships between the characters. It’s a generally happy period, that sees everyone’s synch ratings rise, and Shinji gain more self confidence. That tone would fit with what we see in the trailer, an emphasis on many Evas and all kinds of action.
But, the big question mark for me is the last couple of films. The end of the series is so devastating and artistically ambitious. Will Anno return to those same techniques, or will he stay closer to traditional narrative storytelling? I think it would be near impossible to top End of Eva in terms of emotional artistic filmmaking, but if anyone can do it, he can. I’d be interested to see an ending that does deal with what’s come before, and spins through a series of realities, through the series, through End of Eva, and explores the reason that this story, this mythos endures. I want to see Shinji tripping through instrumentality and finding himself led by Kaworu to look at himself choking Asuka at the beach. If any image encapsulates what I’d like to see with the end of the film, it’s that, an integration of the previous mythology within its own new work.
I guess my big question is the philosophy of the work. When Anno says he wants to make the new films clearer, does that preclude the sort of exploration that End of Eva did, or is it more about precluding the convoluted mythology surrounding the narrative proper? I’d certainly like to see a clearer view of Seele vs. Gendo, the role of the angels and what have you. I hope that’s what he means to clear up, and to keep the psychological stuff on top of that. For me, it’s the psychological material that makes Eva what it is. This film does a fantastic job of getting inside Shinji’s head, but I hope that the later films go as far stylistically as the end of the series and End of Eva did.
Of course, if Kaworu enters the timeline and alters it, this could be an entirely different storyline. The beauty of the many worlds concept introduced in End of Eva is that it would allow them to deviate into something different and still keep it thematically similar. A person is simultaneously their intrinsic core and the product of the world around them, the product of the version of them that exists in other peoples’ heads. So, it can all change and still all be true. This is a new film, but it’s also the same film, the same story seen from a different moment in time.