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 nearly every episode, Shinji has piloted the Eva to do battle with an Angel. At the end of the last battle, the Eva (miraculously achieving a 400% sync ratio with its pilot) devours the Angel and the S2 rocket which powers it. Shinji is literally taking the enemy into himself. Appropriately enough then, this episode sees a new battle in which Shinji fights the Eva - although every single word of that statement could be contested. Is he really fighting the Eva - or himself? Is he "fighting" a "battle" or is he in fact harmonizing with a greater being, or with another plane of consciousness? Shinji's physical form has disintegrated into the "soup of life" flowing within the Eva's flesh. He becomes quantum energy seeking and avoiding its own ego. How on earth can Neon Genesis Evangelion represent this metaphysical/psychological experience?!
Echoing the techniques of earlier episodes, Hideaki Anno mixes abstract images, out-of-context frames, and subliminal flashes of text and sound. We zip through lightning-fast montages compressing dozens of static images, and then pause to repeat movements (particularly the shots of nude Misatos, Asukas, and Reis leaning toward Shinji's point of view). There is a rhythm to the cascade of sensory data, but also abrupt reversals and frustrations of that rhythm. At times the experience is visceral, at others cerebral, sometimes visual, sometimes aural - frequently all of the above. As Shinji tosses and turns within the Eva's womb, he decides whether he wants to be re-birthed into the harsh realities but comforting pseudo-certainties of the of the physical world or disappear forever inside the sensuous but disorienting amniotic fluid of the godlike Eva - or rather the goddess-like Eva.
If the mystery of the Eva's identity and relationship to Shinji has been ambiguous until now, a clear dynamic is swimming into focus. The Eva communicates with Shinji through repeated images of the females in his life, at times blurring them together into an overwhelming maternal presence. The bare-breasted women leaning towards him don't seem to be offering coitus but rather breastfeeding, an impression confirmed by a lingering snapshot of an infant Shinji at his mother's breast. And Shinji finally escapes the Eva in a squishy, fleshy ejection: we don't see it (we hear it) but when Misato turns to look, the boy lies naked on the deck as the glowing cavity from which he emerged is sealed once again. Humorously, a radio program in Misato's car makes this association clear as a host blabs about his caller's Oedipus complex and explicitly name-drops the Freudian concept which gives this episode its subtitle.
Shinji's trip through the Eva is represented in two ways. Inside the Eva, we are thrust into his subjective experience of floating amidst different psychic spaces, falling through endless mental pictures displaying the iconography of his life in Tokyo-3 (and earlier memories as well). Outside the Eva, the NERV team - particularly Misato and Ritsuko - attempt to re-align Shinji's ego with his spirit by mechanically manipulating the Eva. Computer displays and flashing lights offer displaced echoes of the spiritual struggle inside. NERV, of course, is the father's world even if he is not present in the control room to rescue his son. The Eva belonged to this world for Shinji when he first arrived but he has frequently discovered that it is also a gateway to another world beyond NERV, perhaps even opposed to it: the mother's world, the place of introspection and interconnection vs. extroversion and isolation. His choice is becoming clearer.
Asuka is sidelined again, a fact she is painfully aware of. Rei appears only once in the outside world, to establish that she has survived the previous battle, but she is all over Shinji's dreamscape. Previous episodes have already established Rei as a motherly figure in Shinji's eyes, but Misato may be even more omnipresent in his vision. Most movingly, she is the one grieving in this cold metallic Cavalry, clutching the boy's limp, empty uniform as she weeps by the Eva's side. Into this pieta Shinji is reborn, and it's as if one mother has delivered him to another. But unlike the fleeting, enigmatic feminine images cascading through Shinji's perplexed consciousness, Misato has needs and confusions of her own. She ends the episode in Kaji's arms, telling him he reminds her of her father. Like Shinji, she is both running from and drawn toward the pain of her past - a past we will experience firsthand very soon.
Bob: The English title is "Weaving a Story" part two, but it's really more "Splitting the Breast" part two, stylistically.
me: "Weaving a Story" part one had some experimental animation as well, doesn't it?
Bob: A little. Mostly it was to cover the lack of animation in the episode. The Rei section was the most experimental part of the episode, but even there we get a recycled version of the activation test. The early part is really just reusing assets in a creative way. I do think that episode has the "inside the angel" music first, though.
me: In this week's episode, we don't see quite as much of Rei as I remember, though she's certainly a big presence in his Eva experience. But the episode's motherly link seems to be more him & Misato. In a way it's like a war between two mothers - her and the Eva.
Bob: I dunno, Rei's a big part here. I remember the first time seeing this episode, the cut between the chaos of his mind to him and Rei on the escalator was very affecting. Those little moments we keep remembering, keep returning to in our lives. It kind of justifies allowing the animation to be recycled here. That and how striking the composition of the escalators are.
Rei is also the last in the "Do you want to become one...?" sequence. So she's big throughout here, especially when you get the further context.
me: Yes, but not quite as much as I remembered (maybe because of the further context). It was the Misato aspect that surprised me. Plus, she's a big character outside of the Eva psychic sequences whereas Rei & Asuka have quick cameos basically.
And she gets to be Mary in the pieta with his pilot suit.
Bob: Yeah. Though not to get sidetracked, the pilot suit constitutes a big continuity error. I was always struck by the fact that during Shinji's biggest missions, he wears his ordinary clothes. The first time in the Eva, the last episode we saw, then in EoE. His street clothes should be floating in the cockpit, not his plug suit.
But anyway. Asuka, yeah, only gets a little bit in the episode. What struck me, though, is that her personality is really dominant even in the psychic portion. Misato and Rei both have very generic voices-- there's no differentiation between how they speak, really. You can definitely understand them as the Eva using them as vessels to speak to Shinji. Asuka, however, is much more "herself", even if it is just his impression of her.
me: Why do you think that is?
Bob: Ha, it's mostly her quick dialogue. But even the way she says "Stupid Shinji" is more than the others get. She even has an extra little line, I think. "It's not an offer you get every day!"
Both Rei and Misato fit the motherly figure...
Anyway, Asuka is definitely not a maternal object.
me: So why is she in there?
Bob: Good question. I mean, she fits the sexual aspect of the scene, definitely.
Mostly it's because she's just in his head. And she's the most "herself" of the others, in his head. The Asuka in Shinji Ikari is more like the real Asuka than the ciphers that Misato and Rei are.
me: So why is one of the figures shown to him in his head, while the others are Eva projections?
What's the pattern?
I'm going to be very Socratic in this discussion haha. And not just for rhetorical reasons...
Bob: No, she's an Eva projection too, of course. Or she's a projection of his. Unless it's a sort of unconscious projection by herself, which I doubt for the most part. The door is open to it, thanks to the Toji scene, before.
me: I really don't know what's going on much of the time inside that Eva.
There's got to be a Venn diagram there of what's him and what's the Eva, after all they are merged.
Bob: It's really all about his ego collapsing, and him finding the will to come back out, to stay alive. What you really have is an individual instrumentality.
me: Like a test case for the apocalypse.
Bob: They don't know it yet, but this episode shows the way back from losing yourself. This whole show was about Shinji losing the will to live, after experiencing pain again, and by losing the will to live, he really loses his whole identity. Getting it back is what this is all about.
me: You know, that adds a really interesting element to the pieta at the end. Because his rebirth from the Eva is basically a resurrection. So it's as if Misato gets to play the role of Mary the mother and Mary Magdalene.
Which is appropriate in many ways!
Bob: Maybe that's why Asuka is in there. She's the real Magdelene throughout the entire series.
But Misato is a big player here, strangely in a way that's often disconnected from Shinji himself. As soon as Shinji is okay, she flies straight into Kaji's arms. There's no tearful reconciliation between them, like there was in the Splitting of the Breast episode. They're all separate.
me: Yeah some very interesting stuff there. And it's a reminder that just as Shinji has mommy issues, she has daddy issues.
Bob: Well, they ALL have daddy issues.
me: That's for sure.
Bob: One thing that's interesting here is you can see Anno begin to reveal the seams of the animation in this episode. You get some sketchy shots of Gendo, in particular, that look very much like pencil-test drawings.
me: I was wondering at one point if there were images from the manga in there.
Bob: No, those I think are from the production of the anime itself.
They definitely show the veneer of the show itself dropping, the directness with which Anno is talking to the audience. If it was from the manga, it would be a nice bit of cross-media self reflectiveness, but being that it's from the anime itself, and clearly one of the shots from earlier in the show, we can see the show as a way to reach out and communicate in the same way that Shinji is essentially having these dialogues with the Angels/Eva throughout.
me: Yet they are still making sure the craziness is grounded by some sort of technological explanation/solution, albeit one rather crazy itself. It's interesting to see how the episode cuts between Shinji's psychedelic trip and all the computerized representations of what's going on as the crew tries to get him out.
Bob: The Bridge Bunny stuff really works overtime to give us a psychological grounding for this, using Ego boundaries and stuff to explain what's going on with him in the cockpit.
me: But in a very distanced way, whereas inside the Eva we get it first hand. Juxtaposition between the father's way and the mother's way it seems. Anno really seems to like those parental polarities as a metaphor.
The end of this episode was pretty controversial at the time, right?
Bob: I think it's what got the show moved to another time, or even got the budget cut dramatically. But notice here, it's all in what you hear. He really holds on that one shot a long time, and gets mileage out of it. There's a lot of long still shots in this episode.
One of the ones that really cuts deep is the bloodied, bandaged Eva's face (sans one eye, like Rei and Asuka eventually).
me: Regarding Anno's constant subversion of fanservice there isn't just the ending but also how he shows Misato, Rei, and Asuka barechested, seemingly inviting Shinji to have sex - yet it isn't really about sex (or not just anyway). It's a) merging w/ the Eva and b) a more maternal gesture, esp as we see the shot in which hes breastfeeding.
Speaking of what comes from where (since most of it is based off Shinji's memories) what of the exchange between the parents: "If it's a boy we'll name him Shinji, if it's a girl, Rei." How does he "hear" this?
Bob: That's one of the reasons why Asuka being there sticks out. Misato and Rei can be seen as varying degrees of maternal figures. Asuka, of course, is a pure sex/love interest. It's a way of showing how conflated those two sides of human psychology can be, especially in Freudian readings. It's also a way of being more honest and up front about the fanservice. It isn't just to communicate. And even if it is to communicate, there's more than just the trauma that would be running around in his head.
me: Good point.
Can you explain the whole "S2 engine" thing? I don't really get what's that's all about. The angels all have S2 engines inside them?
Bob:They do. That's how they keep going, and going, etc. They don't have the same 5 minute limation as the Evas.
me: Well what is the engine exactly? I mean I assumed the angels are basically organic material.
Bob: Well, so are the Evas, remember.
me: Right but they have machinery on the exterior it seems. Whereas the Angels...have it on the interior?
So what IS the S2 engine?
Bob: Well, remember, the last episode explained that the machinery on the exterior is really just a kind of leash to control the Evas. It's not armor, it's "binding". The only real machines are the ones there to connect the pilot to the Eva and control it to their will, not the will of the person who bonded to it before.
And the S2 engine, I guess, is just whatever drives the Angels on an independent basis without exterior power. It's their heart, essentially. What makes them self sufficient life forms, as was said in the first episode.
me: So it is something organic then, even though it's called an "engine"? Or does the distinction matter, I wonder.
Bob: I don't think it does, really. But yeah, it can be hard to tell what's actually something organic/mecha, and what's just defined by what SEELE/NEERV calls things.
me: Well the montage inside the Eva was more overwhelming than I remembered. Like a data-assault basically. Interesting but not as absorbing as some of the other visionary stuff to me. I think I find the Splitting of the Breast sequence more effective on a visceral level.
At least this time.
Bob: The Splitting of the Breast sequence is the first instance of it. This can afford to go a little further, because we've been primed for this sort of thing. It still goes a lot further on a textual level. Before all we had were visual impressions, and the occasional pure graphic of the lines to represent identity. This time we get a lot more textual overload, which of course becomes a little much with subtitles.
me: Speaking of subtitles, the whole radio program becomes even more obvious when you're reading it rather than picking up on it as background noise! It's almost like a parody of on-the-nose haha.
Did you catch it?
me: Ok here goes...
"Sure, I understand, but I guess that's what's called the oral stage. It's something a psychologist came up with a long time ago. In other words, it's where you want to be with your mother forever. It refers to people who want to always be dependent on someone. There's someone like that among my acquaintences too, and you're a lot like him. So, well, as far as I can see from your letter, from your girlfriend's standpoint, being your lover, your mother, and what else, your kid sister? I think being all of these things for you is pretty rough. And you know, aren't you sort of taking advantage of her place as a lover, using it as your personal outlet for your libido? Okay, well, that might have been a little extreme. But a woman is very sensitive to whether someone loves her or not. So I think she's probably twigged onto that by now, that you're looking for a mother you can sleep with in her. And if she still hasn't brought up splitting up with you, she might be one of those nice girls that are pretty rare these days, you know?"
Bob: I wonder if that's an actual radio program, or written for it. I do think that radio dramas have a bit of popularity in Japan (and England, oddly).
Rei is the latest to see the unfamiliar ceiling. I can't remember if Asuka ever gets a version of that scene. But so far it's been Shinji, Toji, and Rei.
me: And of course Shinji gets to see it again here. The irony being twofold: on the one hand, by now it's a pretty familiar ceiling (granted, I doubt they are all ending up in the same hospital room but you know what I mean); on the other hand, it's REALLY unfamiliar this time given "where" Shinji actually is.
And if you want to add another level of irony, it's familiar because he is returning to the base self/womb inside the Eva. So it's familiar/unfamiliar/familiar...
Bob: What really hammers home is the fact that, aside from the SEELE and Bridge scenes, almost everything is people alone. Rei alone, Asuka alone, Shinji alone.
In fact-- all the kids are alone through this episode. Painfully so.
The adults have communities of various kinds. Misato and Ritsuko etc on the bridge. SEELE and Gendo, Fuyutski and Kaji. Kaji and Misato. We have all these different kinds of adult communal bonds. But there are no connections between the kids, and none between the kids and the adults.
All the adults are part of the open, outside world. The kids, however, are all still trapped in the womb. Alone. The womb as a kind of ultimate isolation.
me: Great point about the connections. And look how distrustful all those adult "communities" are.
Bob: Also note, all of the big "still shots" we get here are between the adults, and their connections.
me: Much like in Fourth CHILD.
Bob: The closest we get to kids connecting here, and I mean purely on a visual level, is when we see the flashback to Shinji and Rei on the escalator, and in the elevator. Even when he's hallucinating the various girls offering themselves to him, he only sees them. Not him together with them.
me: Wow, yeah, true.
Bob: Do we even see Misato and Shinji in the same shot, when he's expelled from the Eva core?
She has the pieta moment over his plug suit, not him.
me: Yes, but she is holding his empty suit, her back to us, and he is lying on the ground face-down i think, unconscious.
Bob: No, but that's what I mean. Do we see her in the same shot as him, even on the edges? Or is it her looking, then cutting to him expelled?
me: There's one shot I think where we see what I described.
So yes, and it's the last shot of Shinji in the episode.
Bob: A bit like asking, do we ever see Al Pacino and De Niro on the same screen at the same time in Heat. Only very, very, VERY barely.
Anyway. Next is your favorite episode right?
me: Yes, was just going to say that. This one is very good, interesting, gives you a lot to think about but I was surprised that it didn't really suck me in the way I thought it would and/or remembered. But the next one is probably my favorite of the series.
Bob: Ha, what drew me in here I think were the echoes of Splitting the Breast. That one really marries style to subject really beautifully. The two are more disparate this time, but they can be explored a little more deeply this time, standing on their own.
A conversation with Murderous Ink and Bob Clark about Japanese and American fandom
It's also interesting to hear you discuss NGE as this phenomenon, as something that now caters to 30s/40s adults trying to relive their childhood or adolescence because this obviously dovetails with pop culture in the U.S. right now. Everything from Avengers to Star Wars to the many TV reboots echoes this phenomenon where the harshest critics and arbiters of whether these movies "do it right" are middle-aged fanboys who complain "George Lucas raped my childhood" and such when they don't like the results. However, it seems that a younger crowd is also being introduced to these stories even as a nostalgic sweet spot is being scratched for an older generation. Take Twin Peaks, which for auteurist and other reasons is very different from these other properties (indeed, SW fans celebrated Lucas getting canned whereas TP fans - admittedly a much, much smaller and more focused group - protested that they wouldn't watch the new series if David Lynch didn't direct it). It seems that a lot of fans are people in their early 20s who have discovered the show via streaming services (particularly Netflix) and have been largely responsible for its resurgence in popularity. Sorry, getting off-topic, but this whole idea of older works being rebooted and/or re-packaged for new generations, and the question of how that impacts them differently than the original audience, is interesting to me.
Lastly, on NGE, Bob might be able to attest to this better but I get the impression online at least that American fans are probably younger (though maybe hardcore fans are the ones who came across it 10+ years ago) since there was not really a core audience back in the 90s - I think Bob said that only a couple episodes aired on Cartoon Network or something, ever. It's also a really small, niche phenomenon given availability - the briefly affordable DVD collection is now out of print and costs hundreds of dollars to attain online - but that small following is very passionate. In the past few weeks I've been discovering a lot of coverage of the series in English (although admittedly sometimes by authors for whom English is not a first language, though I'm pretty sure they are not Japanese) especially on Tumblr. What I've noticed, and what Bob alluded to in his last email regarding Kawoshin, is that there is a definite skewing of this fanbase toward non-traditional gender/sexual identities; in other words, while I am wary of applying these somewhat unhelpful terms to art/entertainment, NGE seems to have struck a "progressive" chord in the West whereas it sounds like maybe it represents and/or is associated with a more "conservative" trend in Japan? Of course, some of the more thoughtful, analytically-minded U.S./European fans I've encountered seem to believe there is a more "casual" fandom out there that just accepts the show superficially (often cited is a misunderstanding of characters like Shinji/Asuka), to which they have set themselves up in opposition.
Sorry for the delay, but I actually asked around some people who are more well-versed with recent Anime developments and especially the trend in Eva.
It seems the release of the movie three years ago did not generate as much interest among younger generation. One of the art college lecturer complained in Twitter: "These younger students don't know the existence of Evangelion." 'These students' he is referring to are not ordinary art school students, they are supposed to be in the visual media major. And I hear the similar stories all over the place. One of the reasons, a friend of mine told me, is because NGE has been rarely rerun not only on major TV network but even in satellite or cable networks. I don't think I saw it on TV for a decade. That is a big setback for any anime. Also, it is a classic like Gibli. Few young fans would be tempted to try the TV anime two decades ago, even if the older generation tell them it is a 'must'. Some even might feel compelled not to watch it, precisely because of it. It's old. (And it is old, if you look at the designs and styles).
Another reason he told me was there are too many new animes to watch. I agree. There are 59 new animes running since this April. 59. And there is another new 46 or so from June. And these young anime fans are trying to catch up as many as possible. So there is no time and no need to look back and dig out the old classics for them.
Then you might say, why? Are they any good? Are they any better than NGE? Well, it is a fad, it is a sign of times and it is whether it fits the mood of the times. I have to say, (as far as I can see) NGE doesn't fit the mood of today's Japan, especially young generation. It may be seen as the relic of the better times, more prosperous times, when you actually can think about yourself. From teenagers to college graduates, many of them are struggling to get a job, not a particular job, but any kind of jobs. Some may find Shinji annoying, who is brooding over something they think as luxuries.
On the other hand, the audience of anime itself got bigger, expanded across generations. So, respectable anime like NGE always have a considerable population of following, many of which are skewed toward older age.
It is interesting to know that U.S. hardcore fans are much more active in generating fanzines and related materials about NGE.
I have questions. Did they air NGE over the air, or on cable in U.S.? How about movies? And The Q movie, did they release it theatrically in U.S. finally? What was the problem? Was it a copyright issue or simply a business matter?
Evangelion aired on Adult Swim, the late-night Cartoon Network programming thing, while I was in college. I think the first few episodes also aired during one week when The Big O's second season debuted, and they wanted to show a lot of giant-robot themed stuff (including Voltron, Gundam Wing, I don't know what else). Evangelion is an anime that poses problems for American broadcasting in normal hours, because of the occasional nudity, extreme violence and everything. It's not even the type that you can easily edit around (though I think they had to when they showed the first Rei episode). To give you an example of what often happened when Cartoon Network showed anime during daytime hours-- Tenchi Muyo would be broadcast, but when they showed the episode where they go to the onsen baths, they digitally added bikinis onto all of the girls, which kind of undercuts Tenchi's reactions to them (though it was interesting to find out that in the original versions, they don't actually show complete nudity anyway). Even things like language found themselves censored-- in the case of the Big O, for example, the Megadeus' opening message was changed from "Cast in the name of God" to "Cast in the name of Good".
Anyway, the fact that Evangelion acquired such a massive fanbase in its first generation based solely on VHS and the manga is really impressive. I knew of it from references online long before I actually watched it (if it had been on TV at the same time as Tenchi Muyo or DBZ I would've seen it long before that... sigh...). I don't know how much exposure the End of Evangelion film had in theaters, but it couldn't have been very much. Also worth noting, EoE has been out of print on DVD far longer than the series. To bring things back to Joel's Twin Peaks analogy, I'm reminded of the situation I was in when I first got into that series-- for the longest time, the first season only was on DVD, but not the pilot. I had to get a Taiwan release of it on DVD, and thankfully in the broadcast version, and the rest of the show on VHS.
At any rate-- the first two Rebuild movies have been shown on Adult Swim, along with a number of other anime features. But the series hasn't been on the air in a long, long time. And the Rebuild films, like Joel said, really only had very limited screenings. You would be lucky if they showed up in a proper art-house theater. For Eva 2.0, I had to see it in a theater in Manhattan that apparently only shows Bollywood movies besides the occasional anime. Eva 3.0 was lucky to have screenings in a couple of art-house-y places, but I don't think it played any more than half a dozen times in the state, all told. As far as I know about the hold up, I think it's because Anno didn't like the first American dub, and wanted it redone. Though frankly, I'm one of the fans who would much rather just watch it with subtitles, anyway. I wish to god the Japanese blu ray had English subtitles, considering we share a region.
It's interesting to hear the generational difference in how people accept the show. If anything, I think some American fans have gotten more into it because of the economic hardships, which are just as much a reality here. I think one reason why it's still got such a hold here is because there's already a bit of a curve in terms of how much work you have to do to see most anime-- now you can see things in a timelier fashion thanks to some streaming services, but even that requires more effort than just seeing what's on broadcast. And before that, the only way you could see a lot of current anime was to torrent them, so if you're already putting that much work into finding new stuff to watch, I guess you might as well watch the old stuff you have to work to find, too. Also, the fact that Sadamoto has been such a prolific designer gives the series something of a more timeless feel than a lot of other anime that can look really dated really quick (Tenchi is a good example).
On the subject of all those new shows coming out... yeah, there does seem to be a glut, just from the amount of stuff I see on Crunchyroll and Hulu. I don't know how you feel, MI, but there seems to be something of a niche-audience bottleneck going on, with a lot of shows that are catering to increasingly specified things, a lot of which are almost impossible to grasp for foreign audiences unless they're already steeped in anime and Japanese culture. For example, I'm amazed to see that we've gone beyond merely having high school as a genre (fairly universal) to high school sports (ibid) to high school clubs, and moreover clubs that sometimes I don't think there are any common points with elsewhere. I mean, are maid-outfit hosting-clubs really a thing in schools, or is that just a playful exaggeration on something Americans might not understand? I'm half surprised I haven't seen any high school debate club series (though if there are, I might not want to know that, because come to think of it, I'd like to do that myself). Anyway, it really increases the niche-ification of anime over here. The only way to understand a lot of the newer stuff is if you already treat it like a fetish, almost.
I'm also curious on what you think of the way creative voices seem to be changing, at least from my perspective. NGE was very much a writer/director driven show on Anno's part, though a lot of anime tend to be based on mangas and therefore are somewhat under the original creator's purview (like the clashes Takahashi had with Oshii on Urusei Yatsura). Now, it seems writers have more and more sway. Gen Urobuchi is pretty well known among anime fans in America, for instance-- largely for Madoka, but he's got his hands on a lot of projects. I've been enjoying the second season of Psycho Pass, for instance, but it does feel different without him.
Visit Bob Clark's website NeoWestchester, featuring his webcomic as well as a new animated video related to Star Wars.
Murderous Ink writes about classic film, pop culture, and society on Vermillion and One Nights.