Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One Year Anniversary: Evangelion "Remove The Stone Of Shame And Attach The Stone Of Triumph!"

So it’s been a year of blogging off and on, hopefully more on then off. And if you’ve been reading (and according to that little counter on the bottom at least someone has) thank you, seriously thank you, for sticking with this. It means a lot.

So I’m in celebration I’m going to remove this fucking albatross from around my neck. Almost a year ago I started my Eva revisit. Which ended up dying along the way. Here’s the gist of it if you want to catch up. Well I’m going to finish it, I’m in the middle of one series, I’m going to do 31 Days Of Horror Again, and I’ve got another that I’m planning, so I’m going to go ahead and finish this thing off, so the rest of that isn’t laughable. So for the rest of the week there’s going to be nothing but Eva here.

A lot’s changed since I last wrote about the series, for one thing I actually update the blog consistently now, for another ADV the company that originally brought Eva to America has folded. So let’s take a moment to pour one on the curb for ADV. You used to charge 25 dollars (Clinton Era Dollars at that) for a two episode dubbed VHS. Yet through the powers of nostalgia you will somehow be missed.

This series is going down. And while I know I’ve said this before, I like Upgraydde will start out with a double dose of pimping. That’s right four episodes to slog through… er…. Heartily enjoy!

So we left off on two of the weakest episodes in the series. Both "A Human Work" and "Asuka Strikes" act as virtual showcases for all the worst aspects of the show. The unearned melodrama, indecipherable techno babble, indecipherable psycho babble, “wacky” supporting cast, poorly choreographed action scenes, and hard earned progress that’s forgotten about by the time the next episode has begun. It’s not exactly a coincidence that it’s taken me almost six months to return to writing about the series.

In short I needed a reminder, not just of why I liked the series, but why I thought it was worth revisiting at all. Things didn’t start off promisingly with the show opening with a montage of fan servicy photos of the big ball of shrill that is the new pilot Askua Langly Sorru. Luckily, things quickly turn around. I wrote that the last two episodes where like the worst case scenario if Eva was just your average “Teens N’ Giant Robots” show. "Dance Like The Both Of You Want To Win", and to a lesser extent "Magma Diver" both play like the best case version of that scenario. While it doesn’t have a lot of what would make Eva so special, it does have a firm grip on it’s characters and universe and plays off of them in intriguing ways.

Evangelion at the end of the day was always about the characters, that was really the genius of it using them to anchor the abstraction. And it never quite gets enough credit for how well it did it. Playing off the three separate but intricately connected generations to create the feeling of an epic story that’s been going on for decades, similar to Lost now that I think about it. We’re only coming in for the curtain call. Kaji, Ritsuko, and Misato all act like old friends, the moment you put them in the same room together that sense of history does half the work for you.

Same with the show’s main trio, Shinji, Rei, and Askua. Though it would still be awhile until the character’s really break through their stereotypical shells and really got to the meat inside, their Kirk, Spock, Scotty like interplay is firmly in place. An early scene, the first in which all three are present, in which Rei coolly brushes off an overly friendly Asuka while Shinji watches on shows a clear command of just who these three different damaged people are.

The episode’s plot is basically centered around Shinji and Askua trying to learn to live together both on the battlefield and at home. There’s not much in terms of plot, it’s definitely one of Eva’s lightest episodes, but as I said, the character work is excellent, the angel genuinely creative, some of the comedy is genuinely funny (a welcome change from the usually painful “comic relief”) and the climatic battle is one of the best animated and choreographed in the series history. Nothing wrong there.

"Magma Diver" is more or less the same but less so. It’s another episode of little consequence, and even the seemingly interesting opportunity to learn something new about the angels ends up as kind of a red herring. Askua and Shinji are prevented from going on a class trip, their personalities clash, wackiness ensues, and a latent Angel is found slumbering in a volcano. The predictable happens. While it’s not much to write home about the episode does manage to make it through without actively embarrassing itself, and the episode takes the lackadaisical pace as an opportunity to flesh out the supporting cast. The council of Five Snide Guys, Eva’s least intriguing unsolved mystery put in an appearance. And the threat’s to learn more about the Angels and Second Impact never materialize, though Eva’s legendarily bad comic relief does. In it’s closing moments the episode hints at the vulnerabilities and cracks that would end up making it’s characters so fascinating. But for the moment hints are all we’ll get.

Things get off to an intriguing start with "The Day That Tokyo 3 Stood Still". Taking us out of NERV headquarters with the supporting cast, to showcase the world building that is another one of Eva’s underrated traits. The world of Eva is one that is actively ending, and the people who populate it are the ones who have to deal with it everyday. Seeing society deal with this on both a micro and macro level is intriguing. Even though it’s only a small portion of the episode, it’s a welcome reminder of what makes it work.

The episode itself is pretty standard, if clever stuff. NERV experiences a Blackout that corresponds with an Angel attack and must battle despite its paralysis. The good character work of the past couple episodes continue, as the children and others are put in situations where they have no choice but to interact with each other. Like Dance Like You Want To Win, it does an excellent job showcasing the Shinji, Askua, Rei dynamic, forcing the characters to rely on themselves. As often as these characters have their destinies planned out for them, it’s interesting to see what they do on their own volition. The episode also takes the time to dig into the supporting cast, and makes the most out of the opportunity to showcase it’s characters out of their element. It’s nice to see Ikari as a cool and cunning leader as opposed to a sociopath.

The lack of technology is put to good use, giving the characters chances to showcase their ingenuity and intelligence. It also a rather chilling precursor to the grim finale, in how easy it is for NERV to be taken out of play. At then end of the day, despite the power they wield, they are not a military organization, and can be neutralized swiftly, and terribly.

The episode, also begins to dig into the series themes of mankind’s nature and relationship with God, albeit somewhat didactically. The show’s theology has always been more window dressing then anything else, but it’s nice to see someone at least acknowledge that if these ARE angels then humanity is rebelling against God. Which has something of a history of not turning out well. It’s clumsy but also symbolic of where the series is going, the last couple of episodes have been filler, by the time the next one starts forward momentum has been firmly established again.

Episode 12 starts out with a bang, to say the least. A barren wasteland is the first thing we see. It’s a frozen tundra, where there’s some sort of base. It’s in ruins, two bleeding figures stumble through its remains, one of which is revealed to be a young Misato. She wakes up calls out “Father”, as she’s loaded into an escape pod and then… Well what happens is never quite clear, but the result is. The world as we know it ends. It’s visually striking stuff, genuinely awe inspiring and iconic, the kind of imagery Eva does best. Striking sparks in the imagination, giving you a fascinating taste, without ever quite satisfying.

Episode 12 is Eva at it’s strongest. It feels as deep as the last five episodes have felt inconsequential, For the first time since Rei I we’re really getting into the heart of who these people are, what this world is and what’s at stake. The relationship between Misato and Shinji, the heart of the series which is often accused of not having one, is at full front here. The intimacy feels earned, and we realize just how much these two depend on eachother.

We cut shortly to Gendo as he tours what remains of Antarctica after the incident we saw at the beginning of the episode. Like the opening scene, it’s genuinely unsettling, iconic frightening imagery.

Even when the plot mechanics kick in with an Angel attacking from the atmosphere by crashing random bits of itself down into the earth it’s all done superbly. The last few Angels have all been too humanoid too understandable. The great thing about the Angels from here on (mostly) is just how truly Alien they are. Actual unfathomable beings. It even throws in a true rarity, an Eva joke (a reoccurring gag about a fabled steak dinner) that’s actually funny.

It's Eva at it's best, and as a reminder why I thought the show was worth revisiting, it was more then ample.

Episode 9: B+
Episode 10: C
Episode 11: B
Episode 12: A

Seeya tomorrow, promise.

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