Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 19 - "Introjection"


My video on Neon Genesis Evangelion and Twin Peaks, due on Monday, has still not been released. It will hopefully go up later today. Keep an eye on this post. Meanwhile, here is Wednesday's regularly scheduled entry.

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.

We begin with Shinji furious at his father for overpowering him in the Eva. It's a low moment for the young pilot, suggesting that even when he's in the cockpit of his giant puppet, he isn't truly pulling the strings. More surprise is in store...when another Angel attacks, and Shinji is gone (he's "quit" once again), the Eva refuses to active. Rei can't get it going, and neither can the dummy plug. But Cmdr. Ikari's response is extremely personal, and most likely accurate: "It's rejecting me." Only when Shinji returns does Eva-01 activate. The pilot's rage fuels an aggressive and effective plan to get the Angel outside and pound it into submission. The battery runs out, and the Eva itself takes over...rendering the "berserker" escape of episode 2 mild in comparison. Flesh emerges from the "binds" of the Eva suit, a new arm materializes where one was torn off, teeth jut out of the locked maw, and the Eva becomes not a robot but a savage animal, seizing its enemy, tearing it apart, and devouring its essence. It's an amazingly visceral moment for Neon Genesis Evangelion.

"It all begins here," Cmdr. Ikari tells us grimly at the episode's end, as the awakened Eva-01 roars into the night. Does it ever. If recent episodes of Evangelion have alternated between the psychological and the action-packed, "Introjection" fuses them as masterfully as the series has ever done. Geographically, the episode is fairly scattershot. Shinji is running all over the surface of Tokyo-3, from shelter to shelter, happening to run across Kaji watering his watermelons as the battle flares up in the background. Somehow he arrives inside the Geofront just in time to save his superiors (or "superiors" - never have they seemed more dependent on him) and promptly crashes through the wall inside his Eva, to attack the Angel as it stomps its way through NERV headquarters. If the show is barely trying to convince us with its physicality, that's because it has its sights set on a more fundamental phenomenon. Shinji's flight from, and return to, his duty is about inner commitment rather than external struggles.

Of course, we've been here before. Many episodes ago, early in the series when Shinji seemed overwhelmed and intimidated by his responsibilities, he "retired" from piloting. In many ways, the stakes seemed lower that time. No battle brought him back into the fold and his decisions to go and stay were framed by the quiet, meditative storyline in which he retreated into the countryside and contemplated his own insignificance as a person (if not as an Eva pilot). By comparison, episode 19 is positively apocalyptic: Shinji's commitment is confirmed by the massive head of Eva-02 burning in a field, both dwarfing his figure and amplifying his importance. And yet somehow, as I noted at the time, Shinji's resistance seemed more final, more poignant in that earlier episode. Although we knew it must be otherwise, on an instinctive level it seemed like he really might leave it all behind. This time we know it's far too late for that, however adamently he asserts his disgust with his father.

On the other hand, or perhaps because of his vulnerability earlier in the show, Shinji seemed more sympathetic the last time he went AWOL. This time we are constantly reminded of his irresponsibility, encouraged to scold rather than applaud his escape. His fellow pilots suffer horribly in his stead. Asuka's Eva is dismembered and while she remains alive, she has never seemed more traumatized by the experience of battle (though there will be worse to come). Rei's fate is much harsher and more ambiguous as her kamikaze mission to destroy the Angel along with herself does not result in the Angel's destruction...but may very well result in her own. As with the previous entry, "Introjection" offers a battle whose impact is gauged not by the pyrotechnics but the all-too-evident human cost. That said, it does not skimp on the action.

Particularly in the final battle, Evangelion is at its absolute best, tapping into our emotional investment in these characters (Shinji's horrified reactions to Asuka's and Rei's defeats are a one-two punch in the gut) while wowing us with visceral animation and effects. The Angel mercilessly whips the Evas with its fluid yet sharp sheet-metal arms and when Eva-01 turns the tide of battle we are simultaneously inclined to whoop with joy and shudder in horror. Evangelion frequently strives for economy in its dramatic sequences, allowing a leisurely, static establishing shot to suffice for dialogue or character observation. This episode is no exception - note the scene with Misato and Shinji at the train station, frozen by fate as the frame slowly tracks across their immovable figures. To a certain extent, this preference is budgetary (though it is also effective aesthetically), allowing for more movement and detail in the battle sequences. And we've never seen an Eva as fluid and kinetic as we do at the end of "Introjection." Just like the creature itself, the show seems to be ripping off its skin and exposing its true nature to inspire our awe, terror, and eager anticipation of what's to come.


Conversation with Bob Clark and Murderous Ink

me: So...this is one HELL of a battle sequence. What a great ending.

Bob: Oh yeah. Definitely a great climax point, and it really pays off on all the previous episodes holding back and having mostly symbolic battles.

me: The great thing about this is it's symbolic as hell AND it's a kickass visceral action sequence.

Bob: Yeah, and it does a great job of moving us through locations we're not used to seeing as battle locations. Not just on the show, but in the genre. Seeing the Evas plow their way through the NERV HQ, which is very closely modeled after the bridges on shows like Space Battleship Yamato.... there's a symbolic level to it akin to, say, if you had a lightsaber duel on the Star Destroyer bridge in a Star Wars movie (which... actually a Clone Wars episode does, I think). It takes away the safety and certainty you think is in this place, lets you know that all sense of caution is out the fucking window.
It's a visual expression of the trangressive feeling here. Every ounce of damage to the bridge and the location is a fuck you to the old man. It's a massive, progressive temper tantrum. Rock star level destruction, with a purpose.

me: If the last episode was about Cmdr. Ikari asserting himself over Shinji, this one is about the opposite. We've never seen the father seem so dependent on the son, or even so vulnerable. His flight from the deck just when the Angel is about to invade, the shot in which he's shrouded in blood as his son saves NERV, but especially his anxious yell when Rei charges the Angel. That's something totally new - only precedent I can think of is him smiling as he talks to her, which is pretty damn mild by comparison. 
I noticed that the episode isn't really to interested in the geographical/physical reality. Shinji makes it to his destination without any real concern for obstacles or terrain, a rarity for the show. It's all about his inner psychological conflict, not external challenges.
He even happens to stumble across Kaji!
It almost flows with a dream logic.

Bob: Well, the whole show does, very purposefully. But here, it's fitting that you mentioned Jung's collective unconscious last time, because when we see Toji on the Hell Train with Shinji and Rei, that's exactly what we have here. He's inside a dreamscape that is personally Shinji's. Spiritual connections are now definitely on the table in a real way.

me: Toji doesn't play too much of a part in this episode. We see him recovering (which I didn't remember for some reason), that scene with the Class Rep and it's almost like the show is saying, well we're gonna continue to keep them as central characters...and then like, nah fuck it, let's move on.

Bob: Well, it pays off on their story from the past few episodes. It lets them off the hook in terms of fulfulling their arc. And remember-- just like on LOST, when your arc is finished, it means that on story terms, you're expendable. So there's a slight tinge of danger to that. It subliminally raises the stakes on Shinji's battle to protect them, and everyone, later on. If the story's done with them, they might really be done for.

me: Speaking of "done for" Rei has a pretty cataclysmic scene in this episode.
As does Asuka, but at least we know she survives.

Bob: We can also assume Rei does, based on what I said before of course, but also given that Eva units seem pretty invulnerable to explosions like that.
Her attack really comes off as desperate and self-sacrificing.

me: Shinji's retreat feels far less sympathetic this time than in ep. 3 or 4, which is interesting.

Bob: To an extent I feel like his retreat is more justified this time. At least until the Angel attack. Shinji is much more proactive, less ashamed. Maybe it's denial (that bit mentioning Asuka's absense is telling, especially later on), but Shinji's resolve is much stronger this time. It's his decision to leave, not an order, effectively, like it was last time with Misato turning him away.

me: Yes, that's true. He seems more justified, he seems more confident and almost admirable in his decisiveness...and yet somehow it plays to me as he's REALLY made the wrong choice. Partly because an actual battle unfolds this time, of course. But also because after what we've seen for 19 episodes, we know that this is basically something he HAS to do, on some fundamental level. For better or worse.

Bob: True, but he's made a decision that really solidifies his character on stronger terms. It may not be the ideal place for things to end, but if his story ended with him telling his dad that he never wants to see him again-- well, that's a complete arc. He's no longer the kid crying over being abandoned.

me: Earlier, there seemed like some contradiction between his mild-mannered, overwhelmed non-pilot life and his responsibility as an Eva pilot. There was a certain fragility to his world. Now that seems to be gone somehow. We're moving into a new phase. As Gendo says "Now it begins."

Bob: This whole episode is really about him realizing his connection and obligations to everybody else. It's no longer about getting praise or approval from his father. It's about protecting his friends.

me: It clears the deck in a way.

Bob: That's really where I think that the position Asuka plays in the episode is interesting. She and Shinji never interact in the episode, but they both fuel the other's motivations, and remain on their minds. Asuka chatting with Rei while they're waiting in the hospital to hear about him (and notice how softer her voice is here, despite her harsh words, than usual). Shinji talking about how she wouldn't come to say goodbye...Then especially seeing Asuka obsessed to take out an Angel without Shinji's help, only to be defeated even worse than before, and then Shinji's sojourn in the shelter broken when Unit 2's head crashes in, this huge totem of his guilt for not staying to help fight alongside her (even the little flashback of her admonishment about taking shelter training, "We're Eva pilots! We don't need that!" underlines it on multiple levels).
It's witnessing the horrible effects on everybody by his absence that ultimately motivates him to join the fight again. It's basically "It's a Wonderful Life" with robots.

me: We've seen the Eva go rogue or "berserker" a few times now, but this is still such an iconic moment.
And as in the Sea of Dirac it really feels like Shinji is un or sub-consciously at the controls of the Eva's freakout.

Bob: Especially because it's preceded by Shinji driving the Eva to berserker levels, all on his own. They really have to up the ante on the monstrosity, because for the first clear time, he's absolutely responsible for his actions in the Eva when it goes super-powered.
And here-- Shinji definitely prompts the berserker moment. The actual one. He keeps going "Move! Move!"
The physicality of the berserker moment here is realy incredible. I imagine they had to rotoscope a little to get the all-fours walking here right. It's such a wonderful perversion of the mech-conventions.

me: Yeah, so many striking visuals in the battle sequence. This is one episode where it feels like you can really see them saving on non-action animation to save up for the action.
The animalistic behavior of the Eva is incredible. Such an about-face - even when we've seen it act savagely before it's never been this fluid and primal.

Bob: Especially when we see characters go-- not quite off model, but animated in ways we aren't used to seeing them. Shinji especially, there's such a shock at seeing him in furious battle faces throughout.
Asuka, too-- her whole performance here really feels like an early draft of the EoE battle. I feel that perhaps you don't really have any big battle stuff in the TV finale is because they hit so many of the same beats right here. They bring them back for EoE, of course.
Maybe when it came time to have the finale of the show, there was a motivation to say "let's go experimental, and not just retread the previous battle". That of course changes when they do EoE itself (and maybe they knew they were gonna do that in full glory, and hence saved it till then).
I feel like what we see here is a hint of what you could've had if say... Lucas had decided to let ROTJ go THX crazy and do away with the second Death Star. Say, "Eh, I already did that in the first one. Let's have Luke go on an acid trip instead".

me: Yeah one of the things we've been discussing in our chats is the show's need to up the ante, how after a while the ever-apocalyptic "Angels are coming to destroy the world!" doesn't really ring the same bells. Lately the series has been doing a great job with this by focusing on character stakes, giving them more vulnerability and injury than they've had before, showing the steadfast commanders' horrified reactions to key us into the idea that THIS time it's worse.

Bob: Right. I mean, ultimately on a show like this what we really care about, if we're honest, is the characters' fates. Not whether or not the world will end-- we know our lives won't be affected by a cartoon battle-- but whether Shinji and Asuka and Rei and the rest will still be around after the world ends.

me: And what they may suffer in the process of saving it.

Bob: That pale coloring in the light back at the hospital is something I really find interesting that they keep returning to. They've had it since the second episode when Shinji wakes up, but every time we see more people added to it, it becomes this strange, kind of hazy realm of the unconscious. And unless we see more people added to it in the next few episodes, I think what links them all together is they're all the kids on the show. Shinji, Rei, Asuka, Toji, Hikari. They're the ones we see in this brightness.

me: We definitely seem to have moved beyond the painfully isolated world he inhabited in the early episodes. There's a different dynamic at play now.

Bob: Yeah. Again that's really the theme here-- before he was just fighting for himself. But once he saw how badly his actions could hurt others (Toji) he stepped out. And it's seeing what harm his inaction can cause others (Asuka) that forces him back in. Hence all of these people are the ones who are now in his "Unfamiliar Ceiling" world, even though he doesn't interact with any of them.
And that strengthens the connections, of course. The fact that we basically have to do the work ourselves. He's cut off from them directly, but in a sense he's never been closer. His actions have consequences that far outlast his own life at this point.

me: Seems like this is the first episode in a while with no school scenes.

Bob: Yeah. It's connected, of course, thanks to Hikari and Toji, and Shinji's conversation with Misato. I really like the compositions of them as he's leaving, by the way. Forcing them into the corners of the frame, pushing them out and putting them in this larger, daunting world around them. Very reminiscent of what I remember from Yoshishige Yoshida, but it feels more deliberate. With Anno (and Masayuki, the storyboarder and director of this episode), it feels far more profound.
I think this is the first episode where we hear the Thanatos music, when Shinji sees Asuka's Eva bloodied, and Rei runs the bomb to the Angel. Whenever a new musical theme emerges, that's a key moment.
It's the music that goes from that moment, up to Shinji yelling to his father. So it really strings the motivation of his decision to go back and fight. It has such a nice sad sweetness to it. And I think later on we'll hear the rest of it, the strangely poppy, upbeat part of it.

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

Murderous Ink
on
violence in Evangelion

Since you mentioned, I would like to add some thoughts on the scene of "eating the Angel" in this episode and rather violent blood sputtering in ep.18. It had been a No-No to show scenes of graphic violence in Anime in general up to this point. Well, maybe some gruesome scenes here and there, especially the Samurai animes, but they were supposed to be for adults. NGE was never advertised as the one for adults. And it was before the time of Net, so I don't know how it really played out among kids. In any case, these scenes in NGE started the trend among the late-night anime. Today, we have a couple of extremely popular animes with cannibalism as their theme. "Attack of Titan" is one of them, and it directly evokes the scene of the Angel devouring in NGE.

Murderous Ink writes about classic film, pop culture, and society on Vermillion and One Nights.

Next week: "Weaving a Story 2: oral stage" • Previous week: "Ambivalence"

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