What I talk about when I talk about Eva

I’ve been working myself up to write this post ever since I decided I was going to rewatch Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’ve been listening to a course on existentialism, pulling out my old psychology texts, and the whole time I’ve had a feeling of dread.

Then just before I sat down to write this, I saw this post from Fred mentioned on Crimson’s blog and I identified one of the reasons for my dread.

There is nothing I’m going to say about this show that someone hasn’t already said better than I could.

Let’s face it. NGE isn’t just an anime, it is THE anime. There are precious few shows made after the year of our lord 1996 that have not felt the touch of NGE somehow.

evangelion

This show redefined what you should do with big robot anime. Gone were the sweeping epics that featured interminable wars, and here came dozens of stories of introspective young men.

Gone were the strange stories where two people endlessly quoted philosophy at each other and here came stories about self-discovery in a world gone mad.

Even now, we are still seeing the ripples of Eva in stories like Kill la Kill, Akame ga Kill and One Punch Man. We also see its echoes in shows like Psycho Pass, ef: Tale of Memories and really any of the KyoAni shows.

NGE is the anime equivalent of Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now and Pulp Fiction all rolled into one.

Since it’s reach has been so far and so wide, everyone has weighed in on it, which is daunting. So why weigh in on it at all? I mean more than I have already.

NGE is a lens to see other anime

The answer is pretty simple. No matter what I talk about next, I’m going to talk about Evangelion in some way. When I initially thought about restarting this blog, I had an entire post planned about how Episode 3 of RahXephon is a mirror reflection of Episode 4 of Evangelion.

I thought about exploring Argento Soma, but I think to really get at that show we have to talk about how Ryu Soma is a more proactive form of Shinji.

But I think to understand how I see those shows, I have to talk about how I see Eva. The things it does well. The things it fails at.

While it doesn’t add to my dread, it is a show that the creator offers little help in interpreting. Hideaki Anno has famously said Eva is a show where you bring your own meaning.

Eva is a mirror to ourselves. How we see this show tells us about ourselves as fans, as media consumers and even as people.

But that’s not the only reason I dread talking about Eva.

I love and hate Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a masterpiece written by a person who, in a short time, would have a mental breakdown. If there is one thing Hideaki Anno will be remembered for, it will be this show.

Anno’s commitment to his central thesis is commendable. He is determined to tell a story about people who are divorced from others by the accident of being born human. He repeats this thesis again and again and again. It even shows up in the movie titles: You are (not) alone. That parenthesis is a promise that one day you won’t be isolated.

So I’ve always liked anti-heroes like Shinji, but it’s a difficult thing to do well. It requires a supporting cast that can step in to play the hero and move the story along. Shinji is ineffectual and impotent without Asuka and Misato and Kaji.

But Anno has a thesis, and like Ahab and his Great White Whale, he rides that thesis to the bottom of the ocean. Instead of having Shinji find a way to become more like the other characters, Anno decides (at episode 20) that everyone is Shinji. Asuka becomes catatonic. Misato is plagued by daddy issues and Kaji is killed.

It turns what was an interesting exploration of self and communication into an unholy morass. In the three times I’ve tried to rewatch Evangelion, I’ve never gotten past episode 20.

In the end, Eva is a brilliant disaster, but it’s still a disaster.

I love Eva for what it means to anime, and what sprang from it, but I hate Eva because it’s a story that ends poorly, and it ends poorly on purpose.

So it’s not without some small amount of trepidation that I start Neon Genesis Evangelion, and hope that I have something to say.

Thank you for reading.

A small note for how I review shows

So I’m planning at using a similar method for looking at Eva as I did for The Big O. Mainly, I’m going to watch a disc and then think if there is anything I want to say about the episodes there. I’m not sure if it’s the best way to do it, but I think it’s easier then trying to watch the whole show at once and then write about it.

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