Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 13 - "Lilliputian Hitcher"

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 13 - "Lilliputian Hitcher"


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.

While the previous episode was more interested in the thoughts and feelings of the characters than the mechanics of their battle plan, in "Lilliputian Hitcher" the two approaches are intimately linked. The metaphor is explicated when Ritsuko describes how NERV's operating system (Magi) was designed to reflect her own mother's various roles - as mother, scientist, and woman. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, even the machines have feelings and it takes the most (seemingly) cold character to make us aware of this. As with humans, this sensitive structure makes the machines both powerful and vulnerable. This link between human and inhuman is echoed when Misato observes that the angels are "searching for a system that can cope with any situation." Think an alien, Terminator-like mechanical ruthlessness, right? But as Vice Cmdr. Fuyutsuki immediately adds, "That's truly the system of life itself."

Even when emphasizing the futuristic technology of its world, this series loves to highlight the human, mundane aspects. Early on, we see NERV's technicians going through the tedious exercises that surely constitute most of their day-to-day work - contra Hitchcock, Hideaki Anno often prefers to show us life with the boring bits left in. Mad Men famously features a fly trapped in Don Draper's light fixture, striving to remind viewers that some details transcend period; likewise the lived-in sci-fi of Evangelion constantly grounds its apocalypse in human reality. This is most evident in this episode with the post-it notes cluttering the advanced hardware. But as the show also reminds us, the catastrophic can erupt into the mundane at any moment.

Another day, another routine procedure at NERV, another casual operation hijacked by an Angel. This time the procedure is an immersion experiment, requiring the three pilots to float naked in dummy Evas. The operation combines the bloodless demands of science with the hot-blooded requests of fanservice, in mocking fashion of course. Asuka spends the entire scene ranting about the invasion of her privacy and half the screentime is hogged by the cold lens of a surveillance camera as Ritsuko drily explains the need for nudity. It's one of the more humorous ways this episode fuses the human and technological, a characteristic indulged openly once the Angel attacks.

Episode 13's Angel - or perhaps Angels - comes in the form of a computer virus. This is one of the most abstract, least action-oriented Evangelion episodes yet (without skimping on the suspense), not only denying us a physical Angel but staging the battle via invisible AI conduits in huge tubes buried beneath Tokyo-3. Remarkably, after their humorous early scenes, Shinji, Rei, and Asuka disappear from the story completely. As with the previous episode the "middle generation" (younger than Cmdr. Ikari, older than his son) comes to the forefront. But this time Misato, the usual torchbearer for this age group, plays sidekick. This threat is not a military one, so she must provide backup for the only character who knows how to deal with it.

It falls on the brainy, aloof Ritsuko to rescue Magi, the computer system programmed by her mother, as it is hacked by the Angel. In the process, she reveals a bit of her own humanity, remembering how strained her relationship to her mother was, yet using her family knowledge to stall the Angel at the last possible second. It's a light episode in many ways - playing more like an intellectual puzzle than a life-or-death struggle - but as with all the plotlines in this middle section of the series (the most conventional in terms of episodic storytelling) it foreshadows darker developments ahead, including a deeper exploration of Ritsuko's Mommy issues.



Conversation with Bob Clark
(Murderous Ink will return to the conversation for episode 15)

me: If memory serves, this episode pretty much ends the middle run, in which we face repeated, isolated Angel threats while allowing the characters to interact and slowly reveal themselves. The next episode is basically a recap, and then I think we're on to the increasingly dark and experimental final stretch of NGE. Which is honestly what interests me most. That said, this episode works on its own terms: more of a puzzle than a battle, as I put it in my episode summary. And like other episodes in this middle section it sets up some character developments & storylines which will pay off later. In this case, Ritsuko's since she's virtually the only character in play here (Misato appears as a sidekick basically, but the rest of the regulars are completely shunted aside).

Bob: It's also the biggest example to date of Anno's fanservice bluff. Maybe one of the biggest opening teases in all of anime.

me: Yeah I was kind of chuckling at that.
The coaxing was about as meta as it gets.

Bob: I don't know how the episode was advertised in Japan, but an interesting sidenote for American viewers is how the home release editions were advertised as this episode being "Naked Before the Angels". I don't think it mentioned the actual story at all. It's all about seeing the pilots naked, which of course occupies all of thirty seconds of screentime.
That also underlines the cleverness with which they bring in some of the headiest stuff to date onto the show-- distract everybody with the naked girls, but then pull the rug out from under your feet with a hard sci-fi story that's somewhere between William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick. It's the equivalent of shouting out "SEX" and then reciting T.S. Elliot after you have everyone's attention.

me: This is one of the most abstract episodes. It's basically a chess game vs. a contact sport.

Bob: Yeah. Not to mention a massive psychological deconstruction of Freudian parent-child relationships.
And I really want to underline that part. I mean, you could've had this episode be about the mental chess game between the angel and the bridge bunnies, basically a hackers' duel, and not included any of the freaky bio-engineering you have throughout the episode. But bringing that in really ups the ante and makes this more about the human relationships and how thoroughly meta everything is-- it's Ritsuko vs. the 3 ways her mother saw herself, how she saw her mother, etc.
It introduces the "you inside you, you inside someone else" concept really well. 

me: I found it interesting that the hijacked Magi first strikes Rei. Maybe it's more Magi than Angel - or maybe the Angel is tapping into the Magi's hostility.

Bob: Well, she's been vulnerable to contamination from the Angels before. Just sitting in an Eva was overpowering at first.

me: True, but I wonder if there isn't more to it.
Incidentally, when writing up my recap I accidentally called Magi "Mother" for obvious enough reasons given Ritsuko's relation to them, but I'm also realizing it ties into Alien and the ambiguous (ultimately hostile) relationship between the human crew and the computer system supposedly there to guide them but actually intending to sacrifice them.

Bob: And 2001, especially for how we see Ritsuko climb inside the mainframe to hack it. Actually, it's cool to see Anno not just resting wholly on Kubrick imagery and coming up with something much funkier, much more along the lines of body horror. Sort of somewhere between the Akira manga and Cronenberg.

me: This is definitely the episode in which computers seem the most alive (I was going to say "machines" rather than computers but we've already seen the Evas go off-grid).

Bob: And the episode also has some neat reminders of the biological physicality of the Evas. Grissly, too.

me: Ah just saw your comment on bringing in the Ritsuko-Mom relationship (sometimes in these chats I miss things). Agreed, it gives a nice human element to amplify what is basically an abstract, intellectual episode. And it sets up something down the road which, beyond the standalone-storytelling, is probably the episode's main purpose.
Until now we haven't really gotten much exposure to Ritsuko.
Or much expansion on the basic exposure, I should say.

Bob: Basically all we've gotten to know about her is-- She's hot, she's got a prickly friendship with Misato, she's hot, she's in on at least some of Gendo's plans, and she's hot.

me: I actually kind of want to rewatch the part where she's crawling into the tube with all the post-its laying about. That was the main thing I remembered about this episode, and I was kind of surprised it occupied so little running time in the episode.
The vast majority is taken up by techies staring in disbelief at computer screens as the Angel greedily consumes their entire operating system.

Bob: Again-- Gainax cutting corners wherever they can. A lot of this episode seems like it's built around pre existing set ups they have of the bridge bunnies looking up and shouting stuff.
It helps make all of the funky brain-tech programming stand out more, even moreso because they emphasize that instead of an Eva fight. As such, it really helps flesh out the larger world of the show, rather than resting on the laurels of the action.

me: How so?

Bob: Well, we don't just take the Magi for granted as three supercomputers named after the Three Wise Men. We see them turned into the focus of an episode's action, and we get to climb inside and see their guts, quite literally. We get to see all the supporting characters get to save the day while the main characters are stranded naked in a lake.

me: True. Interesting, this is the "larger world" in the sense of NERV vs. Tokyo-3/post-Second Impact civilization. Which may ultimately be just as important in context of the show.

Bob: It helps ground the world our heroes live in.
Another thing about the techie focus and the cost-cutting-- it wouldn't work nearly as well as it does without the fast paced editing and the near abstraction of so many of the displays.
Is it dumb to think that Casper being the last unhackable computer, the one that represents the side of Ritsuko's mother that she had so much trouble with, might possibly be a sliding reference to "the friendly ghost"?

me: According to Wiki Casper is a Magi too.
So probably no friendly ghost relation after all.

Bob: I just mean they chose Casper to be the last one to break for a reason. Casper instead of Melchior or Balthazar.

me: Could be...but we'll never know.
Did you notice anything else interesting on those notes taped to the interior of the Magi [besides a note you mentioned that cursed out "Ikari"]?

Bob: Not really, as I don't read Japanese, and that part I mentioned was translated.
But the fact that they're post-it notes is a cool real-world ism. It's the type of depicition of abstract thought you'd expect in a Charlie Kaufman movie. What is a mind? It's a computer filled with gooey brains inside pipes with hastily written post-it notes on the inside.

me: What is that in the compartment she opens up in the end and plugs her laptop into? It looks like an actual brain.

Bob: I'm assuming it's a cloned copy of her mother's brain. Or it's a computer processor so advanced it's built on bio-engineered circuits (they talked about this sort of thing on Star Trek Voyager, I think, around the same time).
At any rate, it definitely has an impact. Plus it's a neat little callback to Shirow.

me: What's Shirow?

Bob: Oh, the mangaka who did Ghost in the Shell. Has similar scenes where we see cyberbrains being accessed by big long needles.

me: Any other observations before we wrap up?

Bob: I think this is the only episode that takes place entirely in the Geo Front. No moments outside in Tokyo 3 or flashbacks at all.

me: Gendo has some strange, foreboding statement to the effect of "sacrifice the Geo Front if necessary".

Bob: And the pilots. And Evas 0 and 2. All he wants to preserve is Eva 1.

Visit Bob Clark's website NeoWestchester, featuring his webcomic as well as a new animated video related to Star Wars.

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