Thursday, September 17, 2009

Revist Evangelion: Episode 13 & 14

Hey look at that, this an Eva column going up on time I’m as shocked as you. Well let’s hop right in. The Lilliputian Hitcher does a whole hell of a lot right. And if it’s firmly in the solid genre show class as opposed to the Episode 12 one, well you can’t really hold that against it.

It basically repeats the trick from The Day Tokyo 3 stood still, with a crippled NERV fighting an Angel attack, but it’s a good trick so I’m not complaining. This time the culprate is an Angel that’s a collection of tiny independent cells that can infect and corrupt tech. Since NERV is home to some giant killing machines as well as the super computers that control Japan, this isn’t good. Once again the episode makes very good use of the fact the angels are truly Alien. Something like this is infinitely more frightening then a giant creature that wants to wrassle with a big robot.

Once again Nerv gets it’s ass handed to it very quickly. The pilots and Eva’s are neutralized during a technological test, and it’s a nice reminder that the Eva’s are once again terrifying. For the past couple of episodes they’ve become too docile, but the care and fear that the NERV staff treats them, even before they become infected and start all manner of anti social behavior reinforces the fact that these are frightening uncontrollable forces of nature.

Seperated from their tech and with the Eva’s neutralized it’s another chance to watch the staff of NERV think their way out of a situation, it’s also a nice opportunity to focus on the show’s supporting staff (the children barely make a cameo in this one). All that plus an intriguing look at some of the ickier details of NERV’s tech, and some intriguing hard scifi behind it, and it all adds up to not being a bad way to spend twenty something minutes.

And it’s a good thing to. Because a sea change is coming.

The next episode is, depending on your opinion, is either where things get interesting or in the words of The Big Lebowski “The God Damn Airplane Crashes Into The Mountain!” It’s the first of the stream of conscience episodes that Eva would become (in)famous for. And whether you love them or hate them (and trust me it’s one or the other) you have to admit that some of the most interesting stuff in the series occurs during them.

As I’ve noted before, upon revisiting the series I’ve found these “stream of conscience segments to be remarkably in step with the show. Which has had some sequences that have been startlingly abstract. But there’s no denying that the change of tone the series takes after this episode is massive. And to say it’s an acquired taste is something of an understatement.

Let’s just for a moment appreciate how carefully this was all set up. The first segment is shortened, playing only for about three minutes rather then the full episode marathons the series would try later. And it’s very carefully played after a clip show, in the form of SEELE (Still the council of five snide guys at this point) receiving a report from Gendo about what’s happened so far in the series. One of the surprising developments of revisiting the show is how much more I like Gendo. Sure he’s a self obsessed monster willing to end humanity for some small sliver of personal satisfaction, but he’s OUR self obsessed monster dedicated to ending humanity for some small sliver of personal satisfaction. It’s simply FUN to watch him work, especially when coolly handling the giant pool of anti charisma that is the council of five snide guys.

The clip show format makes sense if you think about it. It’s almost like Anno, never exactly one to pander, is carefully leading the audience to his expiriment. Like, “Hey remember all that stuff? You liked it didn’t you? Think I know what I’m doing? OK then take a leap with me here.” Of course whether he did or not is a question that every Eva fan ultimately must answer for themselves. But you have to give him credit for the art of breaking us in gently.

But let’s take a step back, the episode is, for the most part a clip show, and clip shows are for the most part pretty dull. There’s by definition nothing new here (though it works pretty well as a greatest hits track). As far as new information goes, there’s nothing here. Though it should be noted that it is interesting, how the clip show itself (a series of unrelated images) trains the viewer how to watch the following segment.

After Gendo delivers his final address, we cut directly into Rei’s vision, and if you don’t have some tolerance for the strange, the next three minutes (and really the rest of the series) is about to be a bumpy ride.

I personally have always liked these segements. They’re tough to write about, as they are by their very nature sensual experiences, more about the rhythms of the editing, the haunting imagery and beautiful of the music, rather then moving the plot forward. That is of course if it works for you. If it doesn't then it just comes off as someone doing Slam poetry over barely animated segments which, I think we can all agree is less then pleasant.

But what DOES the sequence tell us? Unlike a lot of these sequences which where often guilty of wheels spinning it does reveal quite a lot about the nature of the show, characters, themes and even a few cursory hints about what’s coming next. It’s a look inside Rei’s fractured mind, and even if it’s not quite clear what’s happening there (yet) it’s a fascinating glimpse. Rei's status as an object of fanboy lust (You'd be surprised how long it took for me to find a picture to use at the top of the post that didn't make me feel deeply sad) has cheapened her status as an interesting character, it's nice to have something to reorient that every once and again.

As the sequence ends and we discover that it’s all been a diagnosics test with Rei inside Unit One, The background shifts and changes as she unplugs. This unlike the visions we’ve just experienced, is supposed to be objectively real. But how is it any more “normal” then what we’ve just seen? It’s Anno announcing what he’s been insinuating at all along, from here on out the rules no longer apply.

We get another sequence to underline this, once again the way Anno lays the groundwork is pretty great. Giving the vision an object reason to happen, after a lengthy breather in the real world. (He also starts in with the show’s rampant Oephidalism that would run rampant over for the remainder. It was always present but Askua comes right out and underlines the metaphor).

After the vision Unit 00 does one of it’s patented freak outs, and it’s as well done as ever, once again showcasing the Evangelions as a truly frightening and awful (in the traditional sense of the word) force. Watching the Eva attempt to kill everyone in the room while simultaneously beating it’s brains in is genuinely disturbing.

The episode ends with a series highly abstract (but objectively real) sequences that are color dominated in a dreamlike Argento way that gives everything a fate sense of unease. The episode concludes with a shot that’s mysterious and beautiful as it is tantalizing. The fact that this particular image is haunting, rather then extremely silly gives credit to the shows artistry. It confirms once again, the rules have changed. Any resemblance Eva might have once had to an ordinary mech show has vanished. From now on we’re on unknown ground.

Episode 13: B
Episode 14: A


DrSenbei said...

I remember how these two episodes made me positively livid back in junior high. I just paid $30 to watch the shows B-listers pound on their keyboards followed by a re-cap episode?!

Your observations made me want to go back and see if they are still the objects of scorn from my youth, or the pieces of masterfully subtle directing you make them out to be.

Bryce Wilson said...

Yeah I can definitely see the frustration. Watching it as a piece of a forty dollar box set, rather then them being the entire thing, is alot more tolerable.

I was lucky enough to have EVA available for rent when I first saw it. There was a video store that actually had a pretty good anime selection, though they would neglect to pick up random volumes, which was incredibly frustrating.

Luckily they had the whole run of EVA so I didn't have to run through the streets weeping.