Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anime Wednesday: January!

I’ve got a confession to make. Some of you may wonder where this entry has been. I’ve not done an Anime Wednesday post since August. Well, unfortunately life got in the way and I had been unable to even WATCH any new Anime, let alone write up a post about it. I had also sworn I would not do my long write-up on EVANGELION until I’d at least watched the 2nd REBUILD movie EVANGELION 2.22 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE. Thankfully I have done so now.

So here is the clean slate. I have decided (moving freshly into 2012) to make room for anime watching (whatever it be) at least a few nights a month, so that I will have the fodder to keep the Anime Wednesday posts coming at regular intervals. I usually do my Anime up by eating Japanese food, watching something I’ve heard good things about, and finishing it off by noisily devouring Pocky.

So here it is, promised back in August.

The EVANGELION-centric post.

SPOILER NOTE: We cannot discuss Eva if you haven’t seen it. No matter how hard I try I could never do this post minus-spoilers. So if you have any plans to watch the show and know nothing about the series or the movies, stop reading and go do so. Then come back after.

Back? Okay good.

I am going to begin with a brief run down of the history of the series (and my involvement), and about midway through we will discuss it as of the REBUILD films (of which two have been released internationally with English dubs)

Eva: A History

I began my journey with NEON GENESIS: EVANGELION (the original show’s full title) when I was about 21 in 1998 and had the series on VIDEOCASETTE…if you are unsure of the technology I speak of, you are too young. What struck me first was the cover. Shinji in his Plug Suit looked strange but interesting, and I had not watched decent giant mech anime since Robotech as a kid. So I grabbed the first tape and after watching became so enthralled by the show that I quickly began to snap up subsequent tapes. I had one friend who was into Anime and he and I would watch the series when he was around, but I mostly watched alone. You may think that watching a TV show alone is no big deal, but as things progressed in the series it was like having watched THE USUAL SUSPECTS and not having anyone to talk to about it. It was blowing my mind and I couldn’t share it with anyone.

Sadly, I never got to watch the end of the series on tape. Back then Anime was REALLY PRICEY and was considered an addiction that was fed by video tapes (4 episodes on each) that cost upwards of $40-50 EACH! I was without a job for a time and couldn’t afford to feed my addiction. So I was left wondering what had happened to Shinji, Asuka, Rei, Gendo, Ritsuko Misato and Kaji…

A few years later they began to release the series on DVD, and with my new player I was able to buy them to watch. I bought the DVD set which not only had the series (all 26 episodes), but also the two subsequent movies (DEATH & REBIRTH, END OF EVANGELION) that “fixed” the ending (I’ll get to this in a moment). I was finally able to sit down and watch the entire TV series.

And I was…perplexed. The TV show ending had been much maligned on the interwebz, but I’d never wanted to find out why for fear of spoiling the ending for myself. Now I got to see why it was so maligned.

Sidenote: Hideaki Anno, creator of the series, apparently had come out of a four-year suicidal depression prior to writing Eva. Eva was his response to the world that he initially rejected and he felt lost in. Here was a show that was about everything under the sun. It has Judeo-Christian aspects, Apocryphal aspects, Heavy Philosophical aspects, Kaballah aspects, Nature of Life aspects, Reality-Bending aspects, Oedipal Aspects, and Sexual Aspects. Under all that was a show about growing up and accepting life as it comes and is about as coming-of-age as it gets including all things teenagery. And sandwiched on the other side of that is a show about grown adults, acting like teens even amongst each other using giant robots to try to circumvent the will of the gods or Titans. I mean, even attempting to sit down and think about this series for too long will melt your brain away into a hot mist. That all of that exists within an Anime simply does my head in. When I found out that Anno had been suicidal prior to making it, then it all made more sense. If ever there was a stream-of-consciousness TV show, then Eva would be it. The other point I ought to note is that as production of the show went on Anno became very disillusioned by the Otaku lifestyle even going so far as to famously call it a form of Autism.

So the ending of the TV series (the last two episodes) was what fans might have deemed a copout. Shinji realizes that Human Instrumentality means the evolution and merging of humanity into one, all-understanding sentience that has to deal with none of the foibles of humanity as individuals. In fact, those last two episodes are nothing more than a bizarre stream-of-consciousness, philosophical diatribe about how accepting that is okay…but then rejecting it is a happier choice and that having Shinji come to that realization is (and was) the goal of the show. Nothing of the resolutions of ANY other characters besides Shinji is presented, and even his resolution is really all in his head.

Now, In terms of the narrative this is about as big of a copout as is possible in a series. This is a huge, middle finger to fans that have watched this show for that long and become so obsessed with it. Anno received many a death threat apparently after the finale aired. As a fan myself, my reaction wasn’t that strong, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was pissed. Then I looked up the history of the writing and Anno’s personal struggles and issues. And it suddenly all made sense. Looked at from the POV of a man who has suffered severe depression, and was attempting to sort out his place in a world he seemingly was at odds with, then this show is in fact the PERFECT allegory for that ailment. Once I found out about that I was FASCINATED by it. Here was a man who actually WROTE his own dark and brooding therapy and then had it broadcast to the world! Sorry, but to me that is fucking BRAVE. Not only that, he had to deal with the fallout after people felt slighted by not getting a proper ending.

The Films (and the Fix)

So then came the films. DEATH & REBIRTH was fairly straightforward. A boiled-down retelling of the first 24 episodes with redone (read: film quality) animation and the like, but it didn’t stray much at all from the story told. No, it wasn’t until the second film came out in 1997 (two years after the show had finished) END OF EVANGELION dropped that audiences and fans of the show got to see what they had waited all that time for. A retelling of the 25th and 26th episode, but instead of a philosophical and somewhat nonsensical copout where Shinji sort of accepts Human Instrumentality so he doesn’t have to feel alone and then sort of doesn’t by accepting humanity as it is… to a round of applause by his friends (no seriously, that’s how it ends!) and what we see is all in his head with no other plot resolutions…In END OF EVA we see what really happened at the end in Nerv HQ and see what happens to everyone involved when Gendo attempts to produce the 3rd Impact and FORCE humanity into evolving (and all because he lost his wife, the selfish bastard). So basically with END OF EVA, Anno finally gave everyone an ending to the “narrative” that had been missing or too “assumed” with the original ending. There is the notion that the episodes were done this way on purpose because Gainax didn’t have the budget to end the show properly with all the bells and whistles, but I have never believed that for a second.

END OF EVA is probably one of the most visceral, surreal, heart-rending and emotionally draining experiences I have ever had with ANY fiction of any kind. Imagine a film in which you watch a young man’s mind break. He goes from frightened, abandoned youth to cringing, unsure teen spending weeks and weeks staving off certain insanity from the events happening around him only to have something happen that just snaps him clean. That is what END OF EVA is. This is the breaking and subsequent healing of a teenager.

It’s funny to realize that two years removed from the ending of the TV series, Anno had progressed far enough from his depression that he actually slightly changes the decision Shinji makes. Instead of the acceptance of being alone and breaking of the shell around him (to congratulations from the other characters) rather ambiguously, Shinji instead finds his courage in END OF EVA in a much better way. After 3rd Impact/Human Instrumentality is enacted, Rei/Lilith, a godlike, gigantic all-soul encompassing being, gives Shinji final choice. He rejects instrumentality and this kills Rei/Lilith (who is essentially a representation of his mother, this notion cooks my brain like a fried egg) reducing her/it (AKA the majority of humanity) into an ocean of LCL (essentially life blood fluid or primordial red ooze; humanity in goo-form) Shinji rejects Instrumentality and accepts that being individual is part of life. He makes his decision and accepts that pain and death and loneliness are all a part of life and that attempting to escape them is utterly pointless and selfish. The film ends with an inexplicably alive Asuka (her evisceration inside her Eva Unit earlier was what drove him over the edge and snapped him clean) laying on the beach by the LCL and Shinji goes over to her and his impulse is to strangle her (which is what he had been doing when Instrumentality started) but after a second (and a caress) he realizes what he is doing and stops. This section is perfectly poignant to show Shinji that  “pain” is once again part of life and to live it, he must accept that. So in the end the love of one person brings him back fully from Instrumentality and the brink and gives him a reason. A reason to live. The presumption on that rather ambiguous closing scene is that since he wills it, Shinji has decided that humanity can return and life can progress. That is how I have always seen it and that anyone who “died” VIA Instrumentality will be able to come back…if they wish to. It may seem (on first glance) to be utterly, unrelentingly bleak…but it’s really not and in fact has a very positive resolution.

END OF EVA basically took a series I love and was enthralled by and gave it the BEST ending it could ever have. I was pleased as punch with it.


Many people, online and off, talked for years about a sequel. There were rumors of a sequel series where Shinji and Asuka had grown up, 3rd impact was a memory the likes of the 2nd was for their parents. No one knew what the heck it would have been about, but they wanted it. There was even a poster called REPRISE OF EVANGELION that showed the 3 pilots as adults and fandom nearly exploded. It never came to be naturally, but people didn’t stop dreaming. Personally I don’t even know what I would WANT from a sequel. The originals being so very amazing and having basically put their protagonists through the end of the world…what else could they do to them?

Then along comes a new idea. REBUILD OF EVANGELION. Eva was always known as a cheap anime. Gainax was not flush with funds and so they skimped on production costs by having pages and pages of character discussion happen on a single stationary shot for long periods of just talking. One of the more famous ones was to have the characters riding the escalator down into Central Dogma for 15 minutes. The backdrop was stationary and the only movement was the escalator, thus cutting production costs for animation. Another aspect was the complexity of the series was not able to truly be explored in a proper manner since they didn’t have the time or money. I always used to say that Eva should have been at least TWO full seasons long as it is simply so crammed with revelations. Eva, for me, was rewarding because of the time you had to put in understanding it all. It was work.

REBUILD was a plan by two new studios in conjunction with Gainax and Hideaki Anno to retell the Eva story in 4 theatrical films. Anno took writing duties and the first 3 films are meant as a retelling of the series and the 4th will be a completely new ending. One of the main goals was to do the show justice and create state of the art animation and give the story 4 movies in which to tell the complex story.

Having seen the first two films (in English, in the theatre. I don’t need to tell you what a treat that was!) EVANGELION 1.0: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE and EVANGELION 2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE I can honestly say I was not expecting this. REBUILD has redone the animation TOTALLY and it looks flat out GORGEOUS and actually shames the previous Eva material with the quality. The second immediate thing you’ll notice is that the writing is tighter, new characters have been added (like new Eva Unit 05 pilot Mari Illustrious Makinami) and new (or different) plot points have been added and all of that serves to make the story click more with the viewer. Where I had to really work before to understand, everything is suddenly much clearer. While I don’t MIND having worked for it before, this feature of the new films will definitely add to the viewing enjoyment of a new audience who are just being introduced to the series.

What this achieves is a film series that not only trumps the original in animation, but wholly improves on it story-wise and makes for a (if this is possible) even more enthralling and addictive narrative. I’d rather not go into things they have changed in the story, but you will notice most of them in the second film as a few things happened I was wholly not expecting.

Also, new fave character: Mari. She’s just so beguiling!

One small thing I wanted to note. Eva was always known as a self-aware show and even made fun of itself at the end of each episode professing that the next episode would have more Fan Service.

Anime Otaku Note:

Fan Service – Urban Dictionary Definition:

In general, fan service refers to scenes designed to excite or titillate the viewer. This can include scantily-clad outfits, cleavage shots, panty shots, nude scenes (shower scenes especially), etc. Some broader definitions also include things like cool mecha, big explosions, battle scenes, etc. Basically, if it has little plot-redeeming value, but makes the viewer sit up and take notice, it's probably fan service in one form or another.

That’s a show that KNOWS it’s female character are portrayed in a certain way to titillate viewers and embraces it without descending into blatant nudity for nudity’s sake.

The films do this as well, but now it’s almost better. Asuka gets a new Plug Suit (to pilot Unit 03…”what?!” You say. “Where’s Toji?!”) and it’s (if possible) even more skin tight and “pushy” than her regular one and she actually remarks “Could this plug suit GET more revealing? Who designs these things?!”. That was a funny beat and reminded me that the folks behind the production (especially Anno) are aware of the ridiculousness of Fan Service, but instead of shunning it they make it part of the humour. I have to admire that.

The 3rd film in the series is set to drop on Japan in the fall, titled EVANGELION 3.0: YOU CAN (NOT) REDO for the English dub, it is bound to melt my brain again.

Not So Crackpot Theory:
There are faint hints and whispers that REBUILD is not a remake as we’ve all thought it to be. That it is actually a sequel and no one realizes it yet. That the reason there is new directions and new characters is not because the first one didn’t happen…but rather that after Instrumentality is rejected, the world rebooted and this is the do-over. An alternate version of the same events when those involved are given the second chance by Shinji in the END OF EVA. I would be REALLY impressed if this was the case. I’d love to get to the end of the 4th movie to see Shinji’s choice in END OF EVA make sense and that his faith in humanity was well placed. So far, enough of the story is different that I start to wonder if this rumor might indeed be true and what we are watching with REBUILD is in fact the sequel and not a remake at all. Of course if that happens my head will explode in a shower of LCL and this series will jump further up the ladder of excellence.

This series is Anime 101 and even to some of us, Anime Royalty. These TV shows and films defined what I expected out of adult animation. They pull no punches, and they don’t shy away from anything in the effort of the story. A narrative that allows nothing in its way can only achieve good things.

Eva is a brave, groundbreaking, thought provoking Drama-Action series. It was initially written by a man who had for four years lost his tether to himself and suffered horrendous depression, and was animated by a company with little money and yet has since then been embraced by millions.

This is Anime.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...