Thursday, November 5, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 3 of 3: discussion w/ Bob Clark on the film's characters


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.

Foreward: Ending the Evangelion conversations

Three years ago this week, on November 2, 2012, I published my first conversation with Bob Clark on the subject of Neon Genesis Evangelion, episode 1. He was the one who introduced me to the show a year earlier and when I decided to do an episode guide (my first since Twin Peaks in 2008) I realized that it would be good to have him on board. He was much more familiar with the series than I was, and perhaps even more importantly he had a grounding in both the conventions of the anime genre and the techniques of animation in general.

We conducted seven chats to accompany the first seven episodes and then took what I expected to be a short break over the holidays while I worked on a short film and devoted my blog to promoting it. Starting ongoing series without having the end already in sight is a big risk, and sure enough nearly a year and a half passed before Bob and I got back into the flow of things by discussing episode 8 (this time, we also brought the Japanese film blogger Murderous Ink in to offer additional comments - his last contribution was shared yesterday).

That was the spring of 2014, when I was just beginning to fall under the spell of Twin Peaks again (a bigger obsession than anything I've experienced in the past decade) and so after we reached episode 16, the Evangelion project paused once again. This time I had been wise enough to hold off on publishing our discussions, knowing that I didn't want to do so until we had covered everything through the finale and follow-up film at which point I could leisurely schedule the entries on a weekly basis without any further hiatuses.

The opportunity finally arrived this spring, a year after our last pause. This time I was able to give Evangelion the attention it deserved, exploring the fandom and the mythology in a way I never had before (even though I'd watched the series several times up to that point). Bob's and my conversations grew even longer and more intense as we reached the final stretch of the series climaxing with a chat on The End of Evangelion that spanned several hours over two different nights.

The first part of that discussion - dwelling on the themes, motifs, techniques, and mythology of the show - went up yesterday. Today's conclusion focuses on the characters - specifically very brief discussions of Ritsuko and Gendo, longer discussions of Misato, Kaworu, and Rei and a very long, in-depth discussion of Asuka, before concluding with our reflections on the enigmatic Yui. Shinji, of course, figures into most of these different character sections as well.

And with that, my conversations on Neon Genesis Evangelion with Bob Clark - which have formed the core of this episode guide since its inception - will come to an end. In the future, due to logistics and my desire to quickly build up a bigger backlog, I don't plan on doing episodic discussions for my TV viewing diaries...but I am hoping to have series-spanning conversations whenever I finish a show, both with Bob and with other contributors as I go. Next up is The Prisoner, and now that the end of this Evangelion series is in sight maybe I will finally start watching it so that I'm ready to start posting the entries in a month!

Meanwhile, the Evangelion series will continue for another four weeks, as I will offer solo reviews of each Rebuild film before wrapping up with a full directory for the entire series, gathering all the entries in one convenient location. But first, here is my most extensive conversation yet with Bob, a final look at the personalities and themes that made The End of Evangelion, and the show that inspired it, so great.

Final conversation with Bob Clark (part 2)

MISATO

me: Misato's role in the series, and maybe by extension the film, is interesting to me because it feels less clear than Asuka's or Rei's. Both of them have very specific functions to serve for Shinji, very definite relationships.
We mentioned Asuka is the yin to Shinji's yang. And Rei exists as a kind of reflection of him.
His relationship to Asuka helps (or at least offers the possibility, seldom realized on the show) for them to realize human contact from the two extremes of extroverted standoffishness and introverted neediness.
His relationship to Rei helps both him and her to let down their guards, to feel safe with emotions and take control of their lives and decisions.
But his relationship to Misato feels more unresolved, more multifaceted than either of those. And it's clearer to me what that means for her than for him.

Bob: Misato's function early on is to give the movie a running sense of momentum. She drives all of the early NERV base stuff, keeps the defense up and going. Which I suppose is why she can die once he's taken to the Eva, where he needs to be. The elevator scene is essentially a baton passing moment. He has to take an active role in his own life now, and not just accept her constant orders and leadership.

me: See that's interesting to me (what you said about Misato) but more in the full context of the series and film than just the film, where it has a kind of mechanistic plot element to it.
But the idea that her role in the series, boiled down to an action-movie microcosm in the film, is to move Shinji from point a to point b. Maybe like Virgil leading Dante through Inferno and Purgatorio. But she can't go with him into the Paradise.
I like that notion, it works for me.

Bob: Exactly, that's a good comparison.
With Asuka as Beatrice done as a final boss battle.

me: Haha yeah.

Bob: It's not a bad idea in a sense. Misato takes him deep into the layers of hell and purgatory. They do mention malbolgias. And then when Shinji tries to go save Asuka, he's rising into the sky.
Remembering Dante further, there's a point when Dante has to move beyond his personal attachment to Beatrice in the end in his quest for redemption. He has to give her up in order to really understand the universal truth of God, who in the end is rendered as a kind of graphic representation of the universe, almost a screen-saver, something abstract to stand as a symbol of "the love that moves the stars".

me: So you're saying Dante was in favor of Human Instrumentality, essentially?

Bob: More like he was in favor of the Jedi Code I guess.

me: Now, on Misato's end of it...I wonder if there really is a resolution.
That's interesting to me. In psychological terms, I get the role Shinji plays for her maybe a bit more than the role she plays for Shinji. But in dramatic terms, it's the reverse. What Shinji gets from Misato is clear in terms of his character growth. What she gets from him in terms of character growth, I'm not sure. It seems like maybe not much. And I kind of like that. For one, it feels real (even if it makes her stick out a bit amongst the characters who have clearer arcs). For another - it relates to what she says, I think in episode 25: that she wants to feel needed.
In a sense her role is less to do with her than with the others. And yet Anno fleshes her out so much, makes her at times the protagonist of NGE (she has more screentime than anyone other than Shinji, and might actually rival him in that department). So it's so interesting, and one reason she's emerged as a personal favorite character this time around. It's like the whole AI thing, in a way: she's a plot device given full realization as an individual character.
She almost SHOULDN'T have the inner life and needs and desires she does, from a strictly functional point of view. It's so great that she does anyway and it adds such an interesting element to Eva. (By functional I mean like if some screenwriting guru was offering advice, they'd say oh don't go into her consciousness, she's there to move the characters along, caring about her thoughts and feelings will only be a distraction. I love that Anno goes there anyway)

Bob: Yeah. She's more Qui-Gon in TPM, a mentor with a smidge of personal embellishment, than Obi-Wan in ANH, a pure mentor archetype and almost nothing else.

me: Except that she ends up with much more than a smidge.
She's like a character who should be like Qui-Gon but is developed like Anakin instead.
It's almost incongruous.
Anno said something interesting about Shinji and Misato being the heroes of the story.

Bob: Usually we expect our mentor characters to be completely there to service the main character, and have no inner life at all.
I'm reminded of when JK Rowling started telling people that Dumbledore was gay.
It's not just surprising because all of the Obi-Wan/Gandalf types are supposed to be straight. It's surprising because we kind of expect them to almost be sexless. Like they simply don't exist outside of their relationship to the main character.
And indeed, that's exactly how he functions in the stories. The fact that she could reveal Dumbledore's sexuality in an interview and never, not once have it actually come up in the books or movies, shows just how reinforced that archetype is.
It's one reason why I liked the Clone Wars. We got to see Anakin as a mentor to Ashoka. He's not quite as screwed up as Misato is with Shinji but... well in a sense he might be a lot more.

me: That raises another good point about defying mentor stereotypes. Not only is Misato a mentor figure who is fleshed-out as her own character, it's really questionable how successful she is as a mentor at all.

Bob: I'd say she's successful helping Shinji come to life as a person. Without her, he'd basically be stuck completely on his own and almost comatose, like Rei.
Now, maybe being brought into contact with Asuka could've woken him up, too. But Misato helps prepare him for her.
Like Morpheus, "All I can do is show you the door. You're the one who has to go through it".

me: Earlier I was going to say that maybe she is a tragic figure, because she doesn't quite seem to get fulfillment in her personal arc the way the other characters do. But then I thought now, that isn't tragic for her because her purpose is to help others. But now, wondering if she really does, she DOES seem tragic in a sense. I do think she does a lot of good for Shinji (as well as some bad) but ultimately it's like she can only take him so far. Literally in the film itself, but figuratively, in a larger sense, too.
But it also seems like she needs/wants to take him further. I don't know, there's a lot to think about with her.

KAWORU

me: You could almost say Kaworu is a parental figure for Shinji as much as he is a love interest: providing the unconditional love that is supposed to be provided by a mother, and the safety/comfort to be found in the womb.

Bob: He's not really a love interest at all. He's more a reflection of both the maternal thing, as you say, and a kind of self love, externalized.

me: Well I do think he is a love interest too. But to the extent anyone in Eva is a love interest.
Kaworu still sort of throws me for a loop in some ways. I need to watch episode 24 again to parse it out. Because while I appreciate the argument that the unconditional love he offers Shinji is dangerous, it also may be necessary in a sense. Something Shinji has to at least experience and come back from - the same way he has to experience Instrumentality before rejecting it.
The relief Shinji feels when Kaworu appears to him in the sky is so palpable. I can't say that's totally a bad thing. It just can become a crutch, an escape.

Bob: Well, he's literally an escape here. He's basically the comforting vehicle of death.
The look on Shinji's face is basically one of relief, as though "oh good, I'm being allowed to kill myself."

me: I don't think it's allowed to kill himself, I think it's "allowed" period. He can relax and feel happy for the only time. I think that's legit. It's just that it doesn't foster growth at all.

Bob: No, he's there to be the comforting face of Instrumentality, of giving up individuality to exist without ego. It's totally self destructive.

me: This is correct (about Kaworu) but I'm not sure pure ego is any better than pure id (or whatever the opposite quality would be).

Bob: Well, it's not about pure anything. The whole point of SEELE's script is to destroy Shinji's ego, basically annihilate himself.

me: What exactly is the back story with Kaworu? In some ways, he is very much the logical conclusion of the Angels - the one that finally breaks all the way through in touching (and destroying) a human.
On the other hand, he seems quite different from the other Angels. For one, wasn't he living as a human for all those years? Or am I wrong about that... It's not like he was formulated immediately before arriving in Tokyo-3, right?
Now as to Kaworu, he does live as a human for 15 years before this moment, right?
Is he under SEELE's tutelage?

Bob: I would assume so.

me: Actually this brings up a larger question of angels. We see that one that is born from an egg as they're trying to grab it. But otherwise the assumption would probably be they are all hiding until they emerge.
Yet the way it "feels" is like each one comes into existence after the other has failed. Like a perpetual replacement system.
Replacement and improvement.

Bob: Like Rei, in a sense.

me: But if that's the case, it would imply there was no Kaworu an episode or two earlier.
So it's sort of a conundrum. I've read things about him having this whole other life up to that point, trying to figure out exactly who/what he was. Also like Rei in that sense.
I do kind of like that theory, it makes him sort of a Christlike - or rather, given his role, Antichristlike - figure.
And it is the logical conclusion of the whole Angel procession. An alien creature that is close to humans, but still fundamentally different.

Bob: I like both ideas, and given the "Quantum Rei" idea, maybe both can be true at the same time. As far as his life before now-- he says all he does is think about Shinji. Somehow or another-- conditioning from SEELE for this moment, psychic knowledge-- Kaworu has known about Shinji long before this.

me: Right, he says his whole life has been for this moment. And he sounds like he's saying it almost with surprise.
There's an interesting duality to Kaworu. The Angel that must fulfill his mission. And also the individual that seemingly does not want to fulfill this mission.
He doesn't want to do it but somebody else has to stop him.

Bob: I'm not sure that there's quite that kind of ambivalence in Kaworu. It's more like a kind of... acceptance of everything. He accepts his role. He accepts the fate that awaits him for failing that role. He really doesn't seem to care if he succeeds or fails in the end. He gives all that up to Shinji to decide.
I always read his reaction at the end as more like he was prevented in some way. Remember-- he's surprised to find Lilith, and not Adam down there. He was expecting something else, and now he can't do what he thought he was sent for.

me: Well, he says to Shinji something like "I am happy to die in your hands." and "That was my destiny, but I would rather die." So it does seem like there is a part of him, a human part almost - or the part that would like to be human - that wants his Angel side to fail.

Bob: Does he say "I would rather die"? Or does he say "either fate is fine with me"?

me: Ok, here's what Kaworu says: "Thank you, Shinji. I wanted you to stop Unit 02. Otherwise I might have gone on living with her." Shinji says "Kaworu, why?" Kaworu says, "Because it's my destiny to continue to live even if it may result in the destruction of humanity. But I can also die here. Life and death are of equal value to me. Dying of your own will. That is the one and only absolute freedom there is." Shinji says "What? Kaworu, I don't understand what you're saying! Kaworu..." Kaworu says "My last will and testament. Now, erase me from this world. If you don't, you will be the ones who are erased. Only one life form will be chosen to survive the time of destruction and be given a future. And you are not a being who should die. Your people need the future. Thank you. I'm glad I met you." So it definitely sounds like he has his mission as an Angel, but the "human" (or close-to-human) part of him - the part that knew how to reach out to Shinji, and likes the lilim's music and everything like that - is pulling for his Angel self to fail.

Bob: And yet, if Shinji doesn't stop him, he'll still do it. Ha.

me: Yeah, he's the perfect opposite to the struggle the human characters face. Where they do have choice/free will and are attempting to do the right thing/attain the desirable outcome but are uncertain about what it is.

Bob: That's a good point to underline. Biblically, the Angels don't have free will. Only we do.

me: He knows, but CAN'T attain it. Wisdom without freedom. Which is pretty damn odd, considering that the Angels are supposed to be the ones with the "Fruit of Life" whereas the humans have the "Fruit of Wisdom"! It seems almost like they put that backwards.

Bob: Anyway, I don't think he really breaks Shinji, after all. He certainly opens a communication with him, but it's mostly one sided. And after Kaworu's gone, all it does is reset Shinji back to where he was before Kaworu came in. Without him in the picture, Shinji would've broken down eventually anyway.

me: I disagree with you there. I think the Kaworu thing is pretty crucial for him.
Up to that point, he's feeling depleted/defeated, yes. But with a difference.
Until then he's never totally felt the love/approval/acceptance he seeks. He's slowly begun to glimpse its prospect, through Misato's mentorship, Toji/Kensuke's friendship, Rei's connection, Asuka's sexual tension, etc. But it's been at enough of a distance for him to wonder if its really possible. Then, with Kaworu, it seems that finally the dam bursts. Love is possible, happiness can be attained - and then, bam! Rug pulled out from under him.
Anno said something to the effect of, Shinji is someone who hates himself but doesn't even have the energy to die. But I think Kaworu changes that. It gives that negativity a new bitter, angry edge, which is just enough to push Shinji too far. And then, in EoE, that desperate frustration gets focused on Asuka.

Bob: I suppose, but in the end, it's really just a recapitulation of what he's felt before. Kaworu is described in familial terms, "he's like me and Ayanami". His betrayal is "like father's". He's not something new in his life. He's a replacement, a stop-gap. And Shinji's reaction to him throughout the episode is ambiguous at best, and while a lot of people like to read that as an opening to all kinds of readings for love interest, ambiguity cuts both ways. That's why I always see him, at best...
...as a cipher, a projected image of himself. A Tyler Durden. An imaginary friend who goes haywire.

me: But it's more extreme than being a replacement/stop-gap. If that's all he was, ep. 24 would just be redundant filler. I don't think you are giving the devil his due! ;)
I'll say this about the whole Asuka vs. Kaworu thing - they are very, very much opposites in terms of what they offer Shinji.
I was then going to type that their message is the same: he needs to love himself, but then again you could make a fair argument that this isn't actually Kaworu's message.

Bob: Kaworu offers unconditional support and affection, but it's completely static and sterile. And Asuka offers almost unconditional hostility, but at least it's dynamic. You can talk to her. Experience change with her. And when she does ultimately reach out, you can feel the difference.
The only difference you can feel with Kaworu is how he basically just... walks off here. He isn't even really a whole character anymore. He and Rei are practically the Wonder Twins.

me: The final exchange with Rei and Kaworu suggests to me that they are ideals. Ideals are necessary. But one can't rely on them.

Bob: Both Kaworu and Rei feel the most fictional of anyone in the show. Like they stand for "fictional characters". Rei at least can be read as a living ghost of Yui. Kaworu, however, is like a copy of a copy.

REI

me: Well, I disagree with you about Rei.
I think she becomes a real character over the course of the show, though in EoE that character is subsumed into a goddess.

Bob: No, I think she's a real character. I just think that she's very much a reflection of Yui. And here, her action in subsuming into Lilith is very much her choosing Shinji over Gendo.

me: I've kind of changed my mind about the Yui thing. She is her physically, but I don't think she really has too much in common with her if that makes sense. Almost like a daughter, shares the genetic material, but is a different person. If anything, I'd say she's more Lilith than Yui. In fact she's probably the most Christlike figure in Evangelion, even more than Kaworu: divinity and humanity in the same package.
That one essay really made me see her as more of a full character. It was something I already felt on some level, but couldn't quite articulate, and it wasn't totally clear to me.
But just as we're saying Misato took Shinji to a certain place, and then maybe he was able to go from there, I think Shinji gets Rei to a certain place, and the rest of her journey is essentially on her own but it continues, subtly (since she isn't a central character for a huge long stretch of episodes).

Bob: Yeah. Asuka helps get her there, too. "I'm not your doll anymore"
That's what I thought of in that scene where she rejects Gendo.
An echo of the elevator scene.

me: You think so? I don't see that as much.
There is that dinner scene where she makes an effort to include Rei (who doesn't eat meat). A minor moment, but maybe that has some impact on her, I don't know.
For me though the elevator scene is more about Rei's attempt (and failure) to impact Asuka than vice-versa.

Bob: Yeah, but something rubs off on her there, I think. Else why does she make the doll reference?

me: Well, she does say to Asuka she isn't a doll in that scene too. Do you feel she wouldn't have thought that if Asuka hadn't accused her of it in the first place? That's an interesting point.
We also should probably  touch on the whole Rei II/Rei III thing as well, since the Rei we see in EoE technically isn't the same as pre-ep. 23 Rei.
What do you think she retains from clone to clone?
What is the consistency of the soul?

Bob: Well, obviously her attachment to Shinji. And it seems perhaps her interactions with others like Asuka.

me: But as in, when Rei III wakes up in the hospital, what remains from Rei II?
What lessons that she has learned, growth she has experienced, carry over? It doesn't seem like she is starting again from (pardon the expression) zero.

Bob: Obviously it isn't entirely clear, even to her. But she reacts to the glasses in a somewhat new way, one that seems based on her experiences with Shinji and others.

me:  I almost wonder if the form her death takes as each Rei impacts her next incarnation. Like the first Rei is killed and the next Rei has no real fear of death. Then, that Rei kills herself to save another and the final Rei has a power/agency that the previous one did not. Like each death represents both a cumulation of previous experience and a quantum leap to the next level. Though with only 3 Reis to examine, one of which very little is known about, that's hard to determine.
I will say this, the biggest trajectory for Rei over the series, if we take her as some semblance of a consistent character between II & III, is from reverance of Gendo to abandonment of him. To the point where she finally crushes those glasses in EoE (after reverantly preserving them, growing more uncomfortable with them, and then ALMOST breaking them in earlier episodes).

Bob: The fact that it comes after the Magi/Ritsuko's mother reject Ritsuko feels meaningful.
Ritsuko's mother, as the brain of the Magi, sides with Gendo and refuses to destroy NERV HQ as she attempted to do. The fact that then Rei refuses to do what Gendo wants feels meaningful.

me: It makes me feel almost like a comparison is being made. Ritsuko, despite her dislike for her mother, remains dependent on her somehow. Whereas Rei has broken free from the parent figure. Which is such a big message of Evangelion.

Bob: It's also a question of who each person is siding with. Ritsuko's mother sides with Gendo. Rei sides with Shinji.

me: As far as Shinji being the active one, yeah the climax w/ Rei is in Yashimi. But I'd say HER climax, where the relationship with Shinji really pays off, doesn't come until ep. 23 when she sacrifices herself to save him.
And then it pays off even more in this movie. When she rejects Gendo by saying, ironically, "Ikari is calling me." The other Ikari.

Bob: Sort of. But that's sort of a denoument in a sense from what starts at Yashima.
It's the culmination of what begins when she really bonds with him. That's the biggest thing. And yeah, there's more pay off here.

me: Right, I'd just see that as the beginning rather than the climax. It's the climax of an early arc, but the beginning of a larger, more subtle transformation.

Bob: But really, the biggest hurdle she ever climbs is actually learning to smile, that somebody actually does care for her. Everything else that follows is a reaction from that.

brief thoughts on RITSUKO

me: You pointed out that Ritsuko's mother chooses Gendo over her daughter. This is true. It also seems, in a weird way - even though she's ready to kill him - that Ritsuko has chosen Gendo too. Her comment when leaving her cell is telling. "He assumes the woman will do whatever he wants - so arrogant" or something like that, and then she does go ahead and do what he wants.

Bob: Yeah, but she does it as an excuse to finally betray him.
"Yeah, I'll help you. But only so I can secretly sabotage you"

me: Do you think that's it though? I get the sense that it's almost like a "if I can't have you, no one can" type of thing. Which is just another side of the coin.
She cares so much about his betrayal because she cares so much about him.

Bob: Which brings us back to Asuka in the hell train. "If I can't have you all to myself, I don't want you."

me: Yeah I was trying to remember what that corresponded to.
Ritsuko should've just settled for Maya.

Bob: By the way, when Maya is hugging the Ritsuko vision before she dissolves, she keeps saying "Sempai", but not Ritsuko.
Odd that the subs don't pick up on that.

brief thoughts on GENDO

me: Gendo is burning with desire for Yui, sacrificing every moment of every day, every relationship he has, for the possibility of reuniting with her. And I don't think he really gets that in the end. I suppose maybe it's open for interpretation.
And to get back to the animation, the visuals, in reference to this...NGE in general, but EoE in particular, throws a lot of stuff at you that you'll miss if you're not looking closely.
Like that shot of Unit-01 biting into Gendo. The following shot, the emphasis is on the glasses and I didn't even notice at first that the bottom half of his body is just standing there, cut off at the torso.
In the background of the shot.
So I'm not sure what to make of that. A lot of people interpret that he doesn't make it into Instrumentality/the LCL.

Bob: Yeah. I think that's the clear thing. He isn't accepted into it. Even SEELE gets in, but not him.

me: He doesn't Tang, true. (I was going to say Misato and Ritsuko don't either, but I'm pretty sure we do see their empty uniforms later.)

Bob: No, they do.

me: Really, he's the most tragic character in Evangelion.

ASUKA

Bob: We might as well look at the relationship between her and Shinji, because that's basically what this movie focuses on entirely. We only get a little of him and Misato. A bit of him and Rei. One flashing bit of Kaworu fanservice right at the moment that makes him even more bleak and horrifying than ever. But all that pales to him and Asuka. And everything else is shut out entirely. Barely anything with his Mom. And absolutely nothing, really, with him and Gendo.
Really... this whole movie is about him and Asuka.

me: Well, Asuka is the one who most represents Shinji's relationship to the outside world. Misato too to an extent, but their relationship is different.
If the film is about Shinji's choice to live in a world in which everyone is an individual, but still has the opportunity to connect, it makes sense that he ends up with Asuka (in the literal sense). You've mentioned that before, early on when we were talking about Shinji's arc in the early episodes, as he deals with Misato, then Rei, then Asuka.
I think ultimately even w/ Asuka it's more about human connection than a strictly romantic/sexual connection.
Human connection broadly, which obviously includes (but is not limited to) romance/sexuality.

Bob: To an extent, but remember-- we have a lot of scenes even in the show that explicitly deal with the romantic/sexual attraction between Shinji and Asuka, even if it's only in a comedic manner.
And this movie pretty much induces a traumatic head wound, the degree to which they hit you over the head with it.

me: It's interesting that the film focuses so much on the Shinji-Asuka relationship because the previous few episodes of the show aren't really about that.

Bob: Well, it's even more interesting considering what you might assume the movie could've been about. It's never about Gendo and Shinji, father and son. That seems all done with already.

me: They establish a very classic Hollywoodesque hate-before-love dynamic in the middle episodes and then for a while they kind of drop their possible connection. Even on ep. 22, where Asuka is foregrounded, his feelings for her seem mostly friendly and concerned rather than romantic. And then in the film it's really highlighted.

Bob: It's like-- Rei had her climax at Yashima. The Gendo/Shinji relationship has its breaking point in the moment he comes back to pilot the Eva again when the Angel breaks into the GeoFront. Misato kinda has her climax with Kaji. Asuka's the only one left.

me: Well, I think Misato has her climax in the first half of the film, really.

Bob: They have a recapitulation. Everybody does. Rei, even.
But Asuka has two climaxes-- with her mother, and then with Shinji.

me: I think it's worth exploring why/how Shinji's relationship with Asuka takes center-stage here.

Bob: I think the big thing is, this is the line they both have to go beyond in order to live real lives, outside of their parental shadows. He has to learn how to relate to Asuka, just as she has to learn how to relate with him.

me: I think it has more to do with him in a way. The other characters have been set on a certain trajectory by Shinji but at this point it's more about their response to that than his. Rei - he doesn't even see her crucial moment. Misato - it obviously impacts him emotionally but he's more of a witness - or at least a recipient - than a participant in the end of her arc.
But Asuka, somehow, is the one he still needs something from.

Bob: Yeah. But we definitely see she needs something from him. If nothing else... she needs him at her side when the Mass Produced Evas come. Something she's gotten so used to, that when she mentions it here, it's less "where is he?" and more battle sass, like she expects him any minute.

me: I just didn't totally realize until now how this may be a subtle shift from the last third of the show, rather than a logical extension of it.
Except for ep. 22, Asuka is rather sidelined in the latter half of the series.

Bob: Yeah. There's a lot in that period we don't get of her.
Given that Anno's previous series had more episodes, maybe there was a hope to have more time to spend with her.

me: Here she's arguably the second-most important character. Except for maybe Rei, but for about half the movie Rei becomes less a character than a device.

Bob: Yeah, she's the co-star with Shinji for sure. The Big Damn Hero.

me: I'm wondering to what extent, if any, that was actually a change of plan.

Bob: We certainly get some elements of what happens in the TV version. Asuka balled up in her eva. What's interesting in the movie is we see her balled up upside down, which REALLY pushes the womb reading.

me: During the famous strangulation scene (the first one) do you think Shinji is only interacting with the "Asuka in his head" or are they interacting with each other via Instrumentality?

Bob: Well, I don't think that Instrumentality has actually started yet in that part. But there's so much here that's open to interpretation.

me: Oh yeah, you're right, it's the trigger for Instrumentality, that scene.
I read a convincing argument that this was Asuka's head space, much as the train is Shinji's (so he's intruding on her space).
Referring, among other things, to the spilled coffee as a callback to her realization that Kaji was dead.

Bob: The spilled coffee as a callback to that is a sign that this scene isn't actually happening-- it's like a replay of those events. Because there's no mention of Kaji here, and there's obviously no hint that Shinji ever fucking strangled her on the show.

me: Well it's obviously a vision, and not reality. But I'm saying - is it a shared vision?

Bob: It's happened before on the show, so why not?
We see the same thing sort of between him and Rei, so it's a vision thing. Sex as symbolic for Instrumentality. Or vice versa.

me: Well the difference between now and it happening on the show being that Asuka is ostensibly dead.

Bob: I'm not sure you can say she's dead. "Defeated", sure.

me: During the battle scene, if everything is happening to Asuka that is happening to the Eva (as implied by the eye bleeding and the arm exploding), I don't know how she'd survive. Unless her sync drops after the point her arm explodes.

Bob: Probably. She's definitely comatose by this point. I'd say she's probably just alive for Instrumentality to have basically saved her life.
I mean, if she dies here, and comes back later, then that would mean Misato could come back. Which I think is not gonna happen, after we see her cross nailed up by Shinji.

me: Does that matter though? It seems like Instrumentality still "saves the lives" of people who are dead, since the quantum Reis appear not only before Misato & Ritsuko but over all the corpses from the NERV battle.

Bob: We know that it brings them into the sea of LCL. But we don't necessarily know if they can come back.
I'm just saying-- it's meaningful that Misato doesn't.

me: Can't anyone come back from the LCL if they desire?

Bob: Anyone who was alive, certainly.

me: I think if their soul was collected by Rei's messengers then they would qualify. Only Gendo seems to be denied this opportunity.

Bob: Well maybe.
I'm just not certain that Asuka "dies". Maybe it's also the sight of her bandaged like that.

me: I'm re-watching the end of battle scene, and Asuka's GOT to be dead at this point!
Looking at that shot right now that triggers his reaction, and it's literally like the upper torso of the Eva torn to bits hanging out of one of the MPE's mouths up in the sky.

Bob: And yet, none of that is really present on her in the end. The eye bandage, the arm bandage, but nothing else. I think it's likely she was cut off at that point.

me: But even if she was cut off, she's inside the part they're chewing up.

Bob: Well, she's inside the plug. We don't see that being destroyed.
And we've seen the plug destroyed in the past.

me: But it isn't ejected.
I think they're just leaving it to our imagination.

Bob: Yeah, they are. But we don't see any debris of the plug itself.

me: Well, I'll say this - it is odd that her only injuries are the ones we saw for ourselves, from inside the cockpit.
So maybe the sync broke at that point.

Bob: It's additionally odd that she reforms with those injuries (and bandages?) in her reformation, instead of being reformed whole.

me: Someone on a fan site said that they had seen some storyboard from the series referring to Shinji and Asuka having sex - and that those images in the movie (after the sandbox) where they are naked together is a callback to this incident actually happening in the narrative. Which would certainly be a strange development.
And apparently American voice actress Tiffany Grant & dub producer Matt Greenfield claimed that Anno told them Asuka's final line (translated as "How disgusting" or "I feel sick") was referring to morning sickness.

Bob: Hm. I wonder about that. Because apparently it was something of an adlib. Remember? The actress couldn't say "I'd never be killed by the likes of you" or whatever the right way, so he described the "guy breaking in and masturbating on you" story, and she said "Kimochi Warui".

me: Yeah, exactly. I find that interpretation hard to believe. For numerous reasons.

Bob: Shinji's encounter with Asuka is what destroys his ego, for a time.

me: Yes, that's where Instrumentality begins.
But it almost seems more to do with his desire to obliterate other people than himself.
Know what I mean?

Bob: Because of his inability to match up with them exactly as he pleases. And it's meaningful that he comes in begging for acceptance here when Asuka is at her lowest. It's a sign of him at his most selfish, his most desperate.

me: Yes, exactly.
I think it's important for it to actually be Asuka (not Shinji's projection of her) in the kitchen scene because it makes the rejection/confrontation burn more, have a harder edge.
It becomes less about his paranoia that people won't accept him than about the actuality that people won't accept him. She tells him to love himself in order to love others, and instead he hates her as a reflection of hating himself. He gets it backwards.

Bob: It is her in actuality, I think. It's just not what actually happened before. It's a deliberate echo of a lot of things.

me: I know, that's exactly what I mean. It's really him and it's really her but it's not "really" the kitchen, and it's certainly not something that happened before this moment in time.

Bob: It's an echo of the Angel strangling Shinji bit from before. It's obviously an echo of what will happen later. And it's a perverse echo of his masturbation.

me: And of Ritsuko's mom strangling Rei I too.
Another case in which a character was told something they did not want to hear. And in both cases obliterating the other turns into a way of obliterating themselves. (For Ritsuko's mom because she kills herself after killing Rei I, for Shinji because he kicks off Instrumentality and nearly destroys himself by strangling Asuka.)
Here's a question: Shinji's reaction to Asuka is more an assertion of ego than a denial of it. So why does his ego essentially disappear at this point?

Bob: I suppose because, perhaps, he's giving into something completely primal and divorced from his individuality. He loses himself in his reaction to being rejected by her in that moment. He's a completely raw nerve there, begging not just to be loved, but to "not be killed".
Something awakens in him the same way that the Angels are driven to "awakening". He goes into Berserker mode.

me: Right, but I dunno...it seems more like an assertion of ego than a denial of it. Maybe it's like the last surge before the power goes out?

Bob: He stops being himself in that moment, is how I feel about it. He needs other people to support his identity. He defines himself based on their approval, or even just their attention devoted to him. Even hearing her call him an idiot would've been enough to boost his ego earlier in the film, convince him that he was worthy of living. Without that, he lashes out.
First, by masturbating over her. Then, by strangling her.

me:  The interesting thing about Asuka is that she has the opposite problem of Shinji, really.
She is intensely resistant to others, and he is intensely needy of them. Even though she is more outgoing, and he is more withdrawn. Hedgehogs all the way down.

Bob: Yeah. And for some reason they're magnetically drawn to each other, like polar opposites. No matter how abrasive they are to each other, they kind of need each other in order to grow.
Also remember, Asuka's rejection of him in the hell kitchen is based primarily on her believing that he doesn't really want her-- he just wants SOMEbody. Anyone will do. He's so desperate for any contact, she doesn't see how much their personalities are codependent.

me: I think she's right in a certain sense. At that moment, his desperation for anybody gets in the way of any attraction he has to her individually.
I don't know, I'd have to watch the scene again. As flawed as she is, it feels like in that scene she may be correct. Painful as it is for him to hear that. Or maybe she's correct, but wrong in her approach? Like the honesty of Asuka mixed with the tenderness of Kaworu is what he needs.

Bob: It's interesting how much in this movie especially you see them both trying to move towards each other, but accidentally pushing each other apart. There's a real O Henry logic to it. Asuka wants Shinji to come to her. Shinji wants her to come to him. But neither is willing to make the first move. And they keep blaming each other for not taking initiative.

me: Maybe Shinji finally gets what he needs in the end, Kaworu's comfort combined with Asuka's honesty, when she emerges from the LCL.
Which I guess begs the question, is he able to give her what she needs at the end of the movie? What has he learned? We've been following his psychological journey throughout but I'm wondering if his growth is less clear in the film than in the final episodes?
Anyway, what's your take on why he strangles her?
I mean at the end, on the beach.

Bob: I think he's still stuck in that primal instinct mode, there. I mean, after everything that's happened, sanity is not really an option for him.
It's also there, I think, as a recapitulation of everything in the movie. It's there to show exactly what it takes to overcome that primal instinct we all have, that instinct for hostility directed at the thing which we desire the most. Shinji strangles Asuka because she's the one he's most attracted to, and because she greets him with indifference or hostility so often. Which isn't to say that it's justifiable what he does-- what he does, in a sense, is symbolic of the hostility we react with every day.
It's basically the most direct visual translation of the Hedgehog's Dilemma. The closer we get to people, the more prone we are to hurting them. Only here, it's presented not as an inevitable consequence, but as something we make a choice to do. Shinji doesn't accidentally hurt her. He fucking chokes her. Even as an instinct, it's an action he's taking.
In a sense, I think he's presenting both of these actions less as character driven things (it works for fans reading him jerking off as a bird flipped to sexualizing otaku, so it'll work here) but as a kind of tableaux of human behavior. On one hand, you have hostility, represented by Shinji choking Asuka. On the other hand, you have compassion, represented by Asuka tenderly touching his cheek. You can see them as character motivations, and that's probably how you have to see it eventually.
But it's also rhetorical, in a way.
Shinji is presented choking first, because it represents our primal side, the instinct human nature has to lash out thanks to the void left in all of us, as individual beings. Asuka's caress represents the positive social behavior that quiets this destructive impulse, and fills the void with companionship and love.

me: I agree with that, I just wonder what it also says about the characters.
Or about Shinji, anyway.

Bob: I know. I'm just trying to get at the root of what it's all about in the root themes of the show.
Shinji's choke is the AT Field, and Asuka's caress is the soul that reaches beyond it.
And in that sense, I think we have the character drive for both of them, and the goals they reach by the end of their arcs.

me: Yeah, that's a good way of putting it. I guess I just wonder - is the caress enough? If he's been through all of that and his first instinct is to choke? I know he says, coming out of the LCL, that things aren't magically going to be better, he'll still have to struggle, etc. But it almost seems like he didn't learn anything there. I dunno. This isn't how I felt going into the discussion, haha. It's just something I'm mulling over now as we talk.

Bob: He's that way because it's what got him out of the LCL, in a sense. The decision to accept himself as an individual, separate from other human beings, is the instinct to put up walls with other people. That choke is his wall.

me: Right, and then we're back to the question of is Instrumentality actually a good thing?

Bob: I really don't think so. I mean, if you examine it more fully as a sci-fi concept, I suppose it's there to ensure the survival of the human race on a potentially doomed planet by distilling them into a purely mental form. It's similar to the idea of Singularity.
But as an emotional reality in the series, it represents giving up on living in the world in such graphic and symbolic terms. It's basically suicide as the end of the world.

me: This is true. But I think Shinji's return to individuality is only meaningful inasmuch as he uses it to grow beyond extreme anti-Instrumentality. But I guess that's the message. As long as he's there, living life, the possibility to grow remains even if it isn't yet attained.
It's about hope, not a straight-up happy ending. But the possibility of happiness.

Bob: Well that's what makes it such a great ending. It's a truly open ending, rather than a false closed conclusion. It begs "what happened next?". Where do these characters go with their lives? It's an epic magnification of the Graduate.

me: Yup, but more hopeful. The Graduate is freedom, followed by "then what?" and the implicit answer "nothing." EoE whispers, "maybe something."
What do you make of the idea that Asuka has a deathwish in the final scene? I've seen that theory tossed around.
I haven't seen it explained but I'm assuming it means she pats his cheek because he's going to kill her and is then disappointed when he doesn't.
Which doesn't really make sense to me, because then why did she come out of the LCL?

Bob: A deathwish? Uh... No. I don't think that makes sense.
I think her patting his cheek only makes sense as an olive branch, to stop him.
It's not "go ahead, kill me". It's maybe "even if you're choking me, I love/don't hate you". But not "kill me."
It's her demonstrating the maternal side of affection he yearns for, what we saw between him and Yui.
Something that reminds me of it is the kiss that Christine gives the Phantom in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, at the end. Even though he's threatening the life of Raul, even though he's been murdering and threatening everyone, her kiss is delivered as an act of grace, compassion and pity. She's thinking of the horror and loneliness he's lived with in the past, and simply wants to show him some tenderness, which moves him to free them.

me: Why would Asuka of all people be compelled to do this/feel this way, I wonder?
We talked about Shinji's side of it, how even coming out of the LCL he's still burdened with that attitude he had before.
But with Asuka, it's the opposite question/problem.
What was the catalyst for this transformation?

Bob: She came to life in her cockpit when she realized her mother was with her the whole time, that she wasn't abandoned into self destruction the way she'd lived with all that time. It gives her the drive to fight for her own life to such a degree we've never seen before in the series, show things with the Eva that shouldn't be possible.

me: How does that lead to compassion for Shinji though?

Bob: What's motivating it is the maternal, the parental acceptance. And what she offers Shinji is a gesture of the same thing, the maternal.

me: So you're saying by syncing with the Eva, she's discovered not just her own mother but the mother within her?

Bob: More or less. If she'd gotten that type of affection from her mother as a child, she probably wouldn't have been quite the hostile case we'd seen in the past.

me: I could see that, although during the fight itself it hasn't seemed to sink in yet ("stupid Shinji useless again" or something like that when he doesn't show up for battle). I'm inclined to think maybe it's what she experiences in the Eva (when the Mass Produced Evas attack and dismember her). She's experienced complete psychological breakdown already but now she has either flat-out died or experienced about as close to physical death as you can get.

Bob: "Useless Shinji"-- remember how many times he's actually saved her in the past. It's more like her combat persona is returning, the braggart in her. She expects that he's going to show up and save her, and he does pretty much everything he can do to do that.

me: It's funny, I don't know if it's the familiarity w/ classic Hollywood rom-com tropes or just you brainwashing me (lol) but it just seemed pretty logical that Shinji & Asuka were destined for each other on previous viewings, at least on the 2nd and 3rd. I can't quite remember how I felt on the 1st. Reading a lot of the very strongly anti-Asushin stuff recently, it led me to question that idea. But there's no denying the movie pushes it really hard.
But it pushes it in a different way than the hints in the middle-section of the series. It's less hero-gets-the-girl/softens-her-heart than, these two HAVE to learn how to live together.
I've read a lot of convincing arguments about how dysfunctional/unhealthy they are, about how they really SHOULDN'T be in a relationship. But I think that's kind of the point. It isn't "these two are meant for each other", it's "if humanity is to continue, both in the personal/figurative sense and in the narrative/literal sense, this extreme gap must be bridged. Not in the sense of a total rapprochement perhaps but at least a co-existence."

Bob: Yeah. It's basically something like, each of them has a different set of psychological, emotional and social tools that the other needs.

me: It's sort of the realistic, sober version of what Instrumentality takes to the extreme. Finding that hedgehog's balance.

Bob: It's also asking the audience to understand that a true relationship, romantic or otherwise, can't simply be based on peaceful co-existence or similarities. You have to be able to learn to live with people who are different than you. Who get on your nerves a little. You have to accept that even if you love somebody in a true, deep, romantic sense, it's totally unrealistic to expect them to be absolutely perfect all the time. Unconditional love doesn't work that way, in reality.
In real life, the one you love is going to call you an idiot sometimes. And you're going to do the same to them.

me: Yes, and I'd take it even further. In a way I think the whole "shipping" concept misses the point. Because it's not about them ever being lovey-dovey, breaking down their mutual AT-fields to spoon in fanart bliss. It's about them being fundamentally incompatible and yet, that's life, here they are together forced to share the same space and that's the reality of what Anno is asking of his audience.
It's so not a Hollywood ending and that's what's so beautiful about it.
They are NOT gonna live happily ever after.
But they're gonna live...and that's something.

Bob: Yeah. They're gonna live. Together. Probably fight and feud and get on each other's nerves. That's the reality of what's underneath all this. They're each going to have different ways to solve problems, and if they can learn from one another, so much the better. They can't be clones of each other. The combative is heightened in order to see that they're fundamentally different. Not incompatible, just different.
To give a more western example-- let's say fan dreams came true and Mulder and Scully do wind up together. There's no way on Earth they get along 24.7.

me: What I like about it though is that they are the only ones.
Sure, other people may come out of the soup eventually.
But it needs to end with just them.
Because it's less a choice they've made as it is a necessity. It's not that they want to get along, it's that they have to. That's the human condition right there.
Or not so much "get along" as "exist together."

Bob: Yeah. But it's also a great expression of what attraction can be like. Usually we see it in purely positive terms-- the whole world dissolves away, and there's just you and the person you love. Tony sees Maria, and everything else is filtered out by Vaseline or whatever.
This shows an extreme version of that-- yes, it's just you and the person you love. Literally. Everyone else is fucking dead. Or Tang, at least.
It shows the extremity of how that can feel-- how desperate and isolating, how lonely it can feel to find a match with somebody and feel either that the world is against you or barren except for the other person.
I remember Stephen, I think, saying something similar about the moment when Padme declares her love for Anakin finally in Attack of the Clones. Right before they're led out to be executed.

me: Mhm. Well we might see it a little differently, or maybe not. Love as a result of necessity vs. necessity as a result of love.
I'm still kind of turning it all over in my mind.

Bob: It's both in a sense. Like I said, they both have tools the other needs.

YUI

me: Yui's role in all of this is really interesting and ambiguous to me.
A lot of people see her as a very conniving, manipulative figure despite her pleasant demeanor in ep. 21.
What is your take on her in this movie?

Bob: Oh, Yui's distance both here and in the presentation of the narrative is a big thing. We spend so much time on the fallout of the actual events and the relationship between Shinji and Asuka that all the other relationships suffer. But in the case of Yui, I think the distance helps, because it really illustrates the distance she put between herself and Shinji when she essentially abandoned him to devote herself to Instrumentality.
In the end, when he's floating away from her in the sea of LCL, he's also floating away from his dependence on her, and of the approval he kept seeking in Gendo (who's basically completely gone from him in this movie).
Instead, he moves forward, and in classic Oedipal fashion, finds a projection/reflection of the maternal affection he needs in Asuka.
Maybe he's strangling her at the end because he's still lashing out against the father blindly, not even noticing who's rejecting him anymore. When she caresses him, it's reminding her who she is, and he can put down his offenses.

me: But as to Yui herself...what do you think her motives are/were?
They get pretty emphatic about her in the end, cutting back to that scene in ep. 21 (I think the only time they explicitly reproduce a scene from the show, right?) as unit-01 drifts off into space to represent humanity, I guess.

Bob: I think to an extent all of Instrumentality was basically her idea. She's sort of the mastermind of it all.

me: Hm - like she convinced SEELE even, in the beginning?

Bob: Yeah. It was her proposal. I suppose maybe they were looking into other, equally apocalyptic ideas, but she was the one who did all the legwork and conceiving of this.
She's given such short shrift in the show, and yet this movie reveals how crucial she is to the whole thing. And the way he floats away from her at the end? Makes me wonder if there wasn't more planned for her.
It feels like we are missing something crucial there. Like there's missing material between her and Shinji. We never really have the two of them coming to terms, or confronting each others.

me: I'm still not sure what she is exactly. Her every appearance in the show and film is imbued with this positive, soothing vibe. Yet people have very negative interpretations of her.
Why does she want to be in the Eva (DOES she want to be in the Eva?) and what does this have to do with Shinji?

Bob: She's the one who plans Instrumentality, even while also planning to have a child.

me: How does her serving as a beacon of humanity help him?
I wonder...does she plan Instrumentality, or does she just know it is going to happen and that she wants to be in the Eva when it does?
She certainly doesn't seem upset about it getting cancelled in the end.

Bob: It seems like from the movie, we can infer she's the one who plans it.

me: How so?

Bob: The scene of her talking with Fuyutski. The creation of the Evas as the creation of Gods. The plan to use Unit 1 as an ark for humanity.

me: But I'm thinking maybe she just means that HER soul will be within it.
Because, like I said, she doesn't ever seem particularly invested in Instrumentality.

Bob: I think the ultimate intention was everyone's souls were going to be in it. But when Shinji turns it down, that's what it turns into.

me: But everyone's souls aren't in it, they're in Lilith & the black moon. I don't know, the more I think about it the more I wonder if Yui's plan isn't almost anti-Instrumentality. In the sense that she isolates her soul in the Evangelion which basically protects it from merging with everyone else's, preserving humanity outside of Instrumentality. But again, either way, I'm not totally sure how it relates to Shinji.
It seems like she does actually care about him and consider him as part of her plans. But I'm not sure how.

Bob: Well, everyone's souls were certainly supposed to be housed in SOMEthing. Living eternally beyond earth.

me: The black moon, I think.
And Lilith's body.

Bob: That image of them floating apart-- it's reminiscent of the floating imagery in Oshii's movies. In Ghost in the Shell, Makoto floating to her own reflection scuba diving. And in Beautiful Dreamer, the second Uresei Yatsura movie, where the lead is lost in one endless dream world after another.
What's interesting there is that at the end of that UY film, the main character is in very much a situation similar to Instrumentality. He realizes he's the one dreaming, after having been surrounded by his comic Scooby Doo style crew of friends realizing they're in a dream world, but not sure who's actually controlling it. When he realizes he's the dreamer, he takes control of it and turns it into his own selfish lucid sex fantasy.
But ultimately he realizes how lonely that is, and how much he wants to just be with Lum, the main female character. Or something like that. It's been a while since I saw it.
The overhead/glass ceiling shot-- really feels like a nice subtle callback to the beginning of the show, the moment Shinji is saying he's okay with living alone (and the place where the pilots all accept they know they can die in battle) becomes the place where he says he'd rather live with people.

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



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