Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 12 - "She said, 'Don't make others suffer for your personal hatred.'"

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 12 - "She said, 'Don't make others suffer for your personal hatred.'"


This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

In one of the show's boldest beginnings, we witness the infamous Armageddon of 2000. A stark title card places us in the past: "fifteen years ago" (and of course watching the show now, this chronology is as true as it is surreal). We are in outer space, hovering over the moon as in the distance a silent explosion ripples along the earth's surface. From this cold, omniscient viewpoint we move closer to discover a scarred, exhausted figure moving through the blistering fallout. In his arms is a young girl and as he carries her toward a capsule that can shield her from this destruction he looks like Abraham carrying Isaac, only the role has been reversed: this man is sacrificing himself to save his daughter from the wrath of angels.

The long-winded title of this episode is very revealing. After foregrounding the mechanics of recent missions while subtly developing character on the sly, Neon Genesis Evangelion once again privileges psychological over technological concerns. The episode's recurring question, usually addressed to Shinji, is "What motivates you to fight the Angels?" Everyone has their reasons (as Jean Renoir once said), and for everyone those reasons are personal and emotional. Asuka wants to "exhibit my talent to the world, of course," before frankly affirming Shinji's suspicion that this translates to proving she exists. Shinji himself isn't sure why he continues to pilot the Eva, but eventually concludes that the praise of his father may be his key goal. And Misato (as we learn in that opening sequence, for she was the girl in her father's arm) seeks revenge, though she isn't sure if her real target is the Angels or the father who abandoned her before eventually saving her life. With this, we discover a new bond between Shinji and Misato.

Although the latest battle requires a massive evacuation of Tokyo-3, and a horrified Ritusko tells Misato the odds of the pilots survival are less than 1 in 10,000, the enemy is more than ever a pretext for character development. We never really believe it poses much of a threat to our ensemble's existence; not only have we grown used to the repeated challenges but the characters themselves dispel any tension with their banter. Despite the massive, near-atomic explosion when the Angel is destroyed, our pilots emerge without a scratch, concerned mostly with where Misato will take them out for their promised culinary reward. Having just saved the world (again) they let the newly-promoted but financially-struggling Major off the hook with a visit to a ramen cart. For Shinji the biggest deal is that his father offers a stern but sincere acknowledgement of his achievement.

Shinji, by the way, is finally front-and-center again after mostly playing backseat to Asuka for several episodes. He's not the only one to make a comeback in terms of story focus. Misato is also fairly central to the episode, beginning with that flashback to the Second Impact. When we see her awaken and emerge from the capsule she is drifting in a sea of toxic waste, staring in terror at the apocalyptic horizon, her father long since disintegrated. She still feels that loss and isolation as an adult. Throughout the episode we see her external composure and sense her internal hurt. As Asuka typically brags and badgers her way through the story, Kensuke and Toji re-emerge as characters, and Rei once again disappears into the background, Misato's and Shinji's bond becomes the emotional throughline. Though both are emotionally withdrawn, Misato masks her reticence through gregarious extroversion.

I noticed more expressive character animation in this episode. Despite stretches featuring very still figures - an almost a comic-book sense of composition is particularly evident in early sequences - facial expressions are often very detailed. Even as the three pilots form a cohesive unit, battling an Angel on equal terms for the first time, their inner lives come into focus. When Shinji talks about his father, only Misato pauses mid-noodle, to appreciate what he's saying. The characters in these middle episodes are embracing their roles, tightening their efficiency, and generally focusing on the mission at hand. But the seeds of their various breakdowns and breakthroughs are being planted, subtly, as we learn what makes them tick.


Conversation with Bob Clark (& additional thoughts from Murderous Ink)

me: Is this the first flashback we've seen on NGE?

Bob: Well, we had the flashback to Shinji crying when his father leaves him in the first episode, but that's only a single image really.

me: Yeah that's exactly what I was just thinking. This is kind of a harbinger of things to come.

Bob: And we've had flashbacks to different moments through the show. Like the flashback to Misato chewing him out in the "Rain, Escape and Afterwards" one.

me: But flashback to before the show began, seems more rare.

Bob: I think this is the first flashback we've seen to the Second Impact.
Two sci-fi connections I thought of in that early stuff-- an obvious Kubrick homage in the moon/earth shot, and the whole "discovering an alien in the antarctic" is basically "The Thing (From Another World").
It is rare to see such a deliberate flashback to the past here. We'll get more of them as time goes on, but for the most part we're meant to suss out clues and details for ourselves.

me: This is a very odd Angel. It seems almost more abstract, less textured than a lot of others. Like it doesn't inhabit the same physical space.

Bob: Well, they're getting more and more abstract, aren't they? I mean, the 3rd Angel certainly already was super abstract, almost like one of Pythagoras' shapes.
But these last two are very symbol oriented. The all-seeing-eye motif is something that doesn't look like it could be as "naturally" evolved as the other Angels are. It suggests a clear attempt by the Angels to connect with us, on some level.

me: Watching this time, I'm realizing how cleanly the show breaks into like 3 periods. Honestly, the mid-section is probably my least favorite of them. It seems the most episodic and the least concerned with overall story or character arcs, yet nonetheless it's interesting to see seeds being planted for later developments. On this one I noted how the emphasis seemed to be much more on the pilots' motivations and relationships than what they had to do to fight the Angel.

Bob: Yeah. I think we only spend about ten minutes overall on the actual Angel. Everything else is developing the characters-- everybody gets some little bit of definition. Mostly we're focusing on Misato and Shinji (and him getting the spotlight really is interesting after sharing it with the other kids for so long-- Asuka and even Rei feel more like "typical kids" than ever, people Shinji has to struggle to connect with).

me: Indeed, w/ Angel battles there's a bit of a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" syndrome at work. We've heard so often that the end is nigh; even the characters themselves don't seem very flustered by this point.

Bob: Right now, the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" thing gives you a pretty good idea of how seige mentality works, I guess. Each time there's a real wolf attacking, and every battle is something new you have to adapt to on the fly, but after a while it's impossible to summon up the right kind of energy for each new threat. Fatigue sets in, and that's when we'll see the kids start to crack.
All the religious metaphors here make me think of Israel, and their kind of seige mentality. Also, what Japan went through in the war-- having just seen an anime about a village being occupied by the Red Army after war's end makes me think of that more.

me: Despite the episodic nature of this mid-section I guess there is a development/arc inasmuch as we see the pilots slowly start to come together and become a true team. The fatigue may set in when there doesn't seem to be as much of a direction for them to go in - as long as each mission provides a new challenge/opportunity for growth they can stay distracted from their own self-doubt and anxiety.

Bob: It's interesting to see the way that for a few moments here and there, Shinji and Asuka are more or less bonding as equals. That bit where they're mutually flumoxed by Misato's offer of a steak dinner, and the tender teasing in the elevator (one of my favorite moments visually, the three of them silohuetted against the Evas).
As I've said before, too, the episodic feel here is a great way for Anno and his team to experiment with as many Angel designs and fights as they can, and to meld a lot of great character development with the minimalist action, building up the players before the master plot kicks in.

me: I found the facial expressions seemed a bit more fleshed-out in this episode. Asuka's especially.

Bob: Yeah, the look on her face in the elevator, eyelids half closed. Very Lucy Van Pelt.

me: That's the exact moment I was thinking of too. And a bit of a smirk in that same scene.
Cmdr. Ikari's been MIA a lot lately. Always with an excuse for his absence but the obvious purpose is to show Misato as a leader.

Bob: Yeah. The bit about him visiting the site of the Second Impact gives us a chance to see what's become of the world. It definitely seems limited in comparison to what we've seen in the movies since, but you can see in places how they were cutting corners in art and animation to maximize impact during battle, and in little character bits like Asuka's smirk.

me: "little character bits" - yeah, that really interested me in this episode. How it was a priority.
Parts were very still, like comic strips almost (thinking particularly of some early scenes with Misato drinking beer). But they wanted that expressiveness.

Bob: Yeah. Well, they've done that throughout the show. Rely on still shots where you can spare them, so you can save as much animation for when you really need it. Those moments between Shinji and Misato during the party help us see how disconnected both of them are from normal social behavior, isolating them from not just the action between the rest of the kids, but any action at all.

me: Yeah I liked the emphasis of that bonding. It's beginning to expose the common hurt in their backgrounds. Something Asuka and even Rei in her way will be revealed to share soon.

Bob: It's interesting to me that Asuka can't quite see the bond that Shinji and she share in terms of parental disconnect. But when we see what she went through, it's hard not to understand just how traumatic that was. Shinji is kind of cushioned by the tragic circumstances of how he lost his mother.

me: Is this the first episode in a while where we haven't received little clues about sinister motives/devious plans of NERV/SEELE?

Bob: Well, we kinda have confirmation that NERV/SEELE were the ones who accidentally (on purpose?) caused the Second Impact.

me: Where was that?

Bob: Well, we know that NERV had people at the South Pole when the SI happened, from Misato's flashback. And I think we have some ambiguous talk between Gendo and Fuyutski.

me: Anything in particular you noticed this time around?

Bob: : Well, the cross cutting between the different Evas as they run to the Angel interception has always been a big draw for me. First, the editing here is superb, cutting from one Eva to the next when they're in the same position-- jumping, landing, sprinting, each one basically picking up where the other left off. A nice subtle indication of synchronizing between the three of them.
The physicality of the animation here is great, too. I can't remember where I read this, but I think I've either read that Anno took inspiration from the way Michael Jordan moved to get the look of the Evas here, or somebody just compared it to him.

me: Yeah, even though we mentioned that plotwise the battle isn't particularly essential to this episode, it is very enjoyably executed. I also found myself wondering how much destruction the Evas wrought on the city. They cover that a little in the early episodes of course, but here it's like they're gracefully leaping over electrical wires and leaping across fields. They must've killed a lot of rabbits & such the way people casually kill insects. Or are there many animals left (aside from Pen-Pen)?

Bob: I'm not sure. The Rebuild movies make it clear that aquatic life, at least, is almost extinct.

me: Any other thoughts on the episode?

Bob: There's a self-conscious element to the mid-point English title in the episode. It almost seems to fill in a blank between the two scenes. "She Said 'Don't Make Others Suffer For Your Personal Hatred'", as if you were wondering what Ritsuko said to Misato in the rest of their scene.

Thoughts on Shinji's personality
from
Murderous Ink

I wonder if Shinji's submissive, compliant, almost masochistic mental attitude is comprehensible to U.S. audience. Japanese often criticize their own super-obedient nature as 'domesticated'. Since Japanese society expects you to behave as 'the world around you' does, Shinji's behavior and mentality is often considered 'clever' and 'quiet', compared to Asuka's. If we have a girl like Asuka in our classroom, she will be either ostracized or bullied (unless she takes over the majority's favor). A boy like Shinji is always paying extra attention to people around him to avoid unnecessary confrontation. I feel he is too meek and indecisive, so he is a kind of a boy who can be a target of bullying. (Bullying is a long-standing, serious problem in Japanese schools. We have at least several suicides/year resulting from nasty bullying in schools.) Even though Shinji himself is not bullied in NGE, I suspect the relationship with his father substitutes that.


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