Thursday, November 20, 2008

Revisit Evangelion 5 & 6

(Note: I should mention that if you haven’t seen Eva and want to, you maybe shouldn’t read this for there will be spoilers. In this and all the reconsiderations)

The Fifth Episode Of Eva begins with a timely reminder of just how fucking terrifying the Evangelions are. Flashing back to the past as Unit 00 has it’s first activation, and promptly flips right the fuck out. It’s a worse case scenario on a staggering degree. An Eva doing exactly what you tell it to is a bad enough proposition, one deciding to turn against you is a catastrophuck.

This brings up two key points about the series, one is as much as we like to bitch and moan about it Eva’s ambiguity often works in it’s favor as much as it’s determent. From the second episode on we know the Evas have their own personalites and through the series it becomes apparent that there are human souls inside them, specifically the souls of Shinji’s, Asuka, and Ritsuko’s mother. Having a character come right out and say this, would make the whole thing seem pretty stupid, as would taking us through the step by step process of shoving a dead person’s spirit into a giant war machine, although judging by Unit 00’s reaction upon awakening it’s a pretty horrific experience. Eva never does either, it just gives us hints and dark inferences, and let’s us come to our own conclusions, rather then being spoon fed we spring to the idea itself making it a lot more powerful.

The second point comes from what will be the centeral question of the episode and in many ways the series. Just what the hell is up with Rei? Rei has for better or for worse become the poster child of the series (hint it’s mostly been for the worse) but a lot of that has to do with the fact that she is a truly fascinating character.

As it eventually becomes clear Rei has been reverse engineered from Shinji’s dead Mom, (Why, aside from Gendo’s wacky sense of humor, is a pretty good question, as it’s revealed that Yui was the first Eva pilot, did they just think nobody else could do it? Once again ambiguity working in the show’s favor). But just how much of Yui is in Rei (Because she’s also in Unit 01 right? I mean did she just have a spare soul lying around?) and how much Rei knows about it, her reaction to Shinji and Unit 00 reaction to her suggest that there is something there, not to mention her rather blaise reaction to having to spend large amounts of time in a giant glass tube, suggests she’s not totally ignorant of her origins.

The episodes starts with a visit to the lab that’s been built around the corpse of the (pretty ripe smelling I'd wager) angel from two episodes ago. The revelation that it’s DNA is composed the same way as humanity's is another thing that’s interesting as it is infuriating. Later in the series it’s suggested that the Angel’s are basically other species who have undergone instrumentality. That’s a cool explanation but once again makes little sense, why then are they so pissed at humanity for trying to do the same thing? Is it some sort of hazing ritual where the angels have to test the new guys metal before allowing them to join their interdimensional higher conscience frat? If so then how come there are still so many of them floating around, wouldn’t they have all been killed off in there attempt to stop the last species from assimilating into the form of an effete gay teenager?

The episode continues with Kensuke, and Toji panting over their fanservice’d out classmates, the creepiness of the scene is compounded by the fact that their leering, red faced reaction to Rei is almost identical to a lot of fanboys who have enshrined the character as a sex symbol despite the fact that she is, A) Fourteen, B) Fictional C) Has a tank full of soulless often mutilated clones. Any one of these things has an aura of creepiness to it on it’s own, put them together and you have a perfect storm of icky.

More “Comic Relief” ensues and then Shinji has his first encounter with Rei. Once again their relationship is interesting because we’re not quite sure where she stands. The “sexual tension” between the two is a lot more palatable since it doesn’t seem to exist. Sure Shinji ends up around her naked a lot, but he doesn’t seem so much attracted to her as drawn by something he recognizes. Rei on the other hand over the course of the episode, scolds, awakens, feeds, and protects, Shinji in other words she mother’s him. Is it Yui? Or just the echoes?

Her somewhere beyond Spartan apartment and ultra laconic demeanor, contrast immediately and intriguingly with her attachment to Gendo’s glasses and her anger shown when Shinji gives him less then glowing praise. More then anything else Rei seems incomplete. Assuming that Gendo is the one who did the reverse engineering this raises some interesting ideas. To about half the characters on the show Yui represents the feminine ideal, but what did Gendo, a man so enraptured by her that he’d end humanity to see her again really know about her? It recalls Tarkovsky’s version of Solaris (Yes I’m painfully aware that that’s the third time in as many columns I’ve name checked a high falutin old foreign filmmaker. I am probably not going to stop.) He knows she loved him (apparently) but what else? Was she just a role to him? He’s unable to recreate her just the part of her that he knew, and as Rei’s interaction with the rest of the world, and her tormented inner dialogue shows, that’s not nearly enough.

Anyway before I dig myself any further into bullshit hole, an Angel shows up. Starting now the designs on the Angels become pretty extraordinary, (For the most part, there are a few duds in there). This isn’t to say that the first two weren’t cool, but they where pretty standard to Sci Fi and Anime convention. Despite the fact that we truly have no idea what life other then our own would be like, we do our utmost to portray it as humanoid, or scaly and with a lot of teeth. Eva is one of the exceptions creating beings that are truly alien, like this great big reflective diamond, how it works, or just what it is is unknown, but it’s implacable, smart, and creepy as hell and it has no trouble taking down Nerv’s first attack before it’s even begun nearly boiling our hero in LCL. Cue another great Eva cliffhanger.

The next Episode begins with a replay of Shinji’s defeat, this time with extra humiliation. Shinji’s body hasn’t stopped twitching when a big phallic drill drops from the Angel and begins the dirty business of penetrating the trembling circular Geo Front. Ok probably reading to much into that. College has ruined me.

The interesting thing is just how inefficient the Angel’s mode of attack is. It’s estimated to take 22 hours to penetrate the Geo Front’s open waiting void… OK I promise to stop. One of the cool things about the show is how the Angel’s gradually got a lot smarter as they approached different tactics to end humanity. It’s like the old Wile E. Coyote cartoons had a cast of Coyotes, and as they where busy scraping the latest of there brethren off the pavement, they came up with new and better ways to kill that cocky bird.

The slow pace also allows the battle to take on a slightly different pitch then the usual race against time. Rather then the usual two opponents bashing eachother to pieces, it’s really a game of chess (OK maybe an unusually good game of checkers). The players attack and counter attack, feint and maneuver, each really a series of distractions as each tries to ensnare the other in it’s masterplan. Or maybe GAINIX just didn’t feel like animating another huge battle so they just said “Oh fuck it have one use a drill then the other shoot it, I’m sure it’ll be fine. But god help you if the high school girls look anything less then glistening climbing out of the pool!”

Misato tries several plans they don’t work mainly because of The Angel’s high level of Badass Mother Fuckery, before coming up with one that does. Shinji wakes up, Rei demonstrates the worst bedside manner known to man.

Then after a minimum level of antipathy by Shinji (Once again what a pussy, what kind of fourteen year old kid wouldn’t leap at the chance to go face the thing that nearly killed him again, seconds after emerging from a coma. Am I RIGHT?!?) we’re at the mission briefing all composed in either extreme close up or silhouette it’s another good example of Eva using abstraction early on in the series. As is Shinji’s and Rei’s conversation of the ties that bind directly afterwards, introducing the idea of instrumentality, what would become the crux of the series (and also for the excellent Syndechone New York for anyone who has had the chance to see it).

The Climax of the episode is well choreographed and exciting, delivering a nice bit of tension through just how unable the characters are to react. Finally it all ends with a nice understated irony and a smile.

That smile would prove to cause a lot of shit. “Why is that Rei showed human emotion then and then went back to stoicism immediately after.” But this like Shinji’s cowardice strikes me as mature storytelling now. People don’t make progress in easy to follow, and story beat convenient plateaus. We backslide and fall back on old systems of behavior because they’re comfortable, and more or less go forward in loopy circles rather then a straight line.

Much like this column.

Sorry it took so long, I’d promise that I’d get to the next episodes sooner, but seeing as we’re coming on Thanksgiving and I work in a grocery store, well I just don’t know.

Episode 5: B+
Episode 6: B+

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