Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thoughts on Evangelion

Like I said I probably would, I ended up watching Neon Genesis Evangelion (series plus End) during the break between semesters.  It had been quite a while since the last time I had viewed the TV series, about four or five years, actually.  I was surprised at my latest viewing, and the following are some thoughts on my experience and the show.

Before I even delve into the show itself, I must admit that I almost hesitated to even write on Eva.  It has such a strong and incredibly prickly fanbase.  To these folks, Eva is like the Jesus of anime.  I can't say that I include myself with these folks, and so my take is likely quite different.  I actually have a RahXephon and Eva comparison blog entry coming up that will address that whole "RahXephon is a NGE ripoff" claim that some Eva fans like to make.

Eva confirmed for Kamen Rider ripoff.

Evangelion was always an intriguing show to me.  Strange creatures called Angels, mechs, tremendously flawed characters, loads of religious references, etc.  It does a good job of drawing the viewer in with its interesting story.  The opening episode did a great job of hooking me, even the second time around.  After I got past the initial intrigue of the religious symbols and names and got a ways in, I came to see that religion or God didn't really have much to do with the plot.  It was a little disappointing after all of the cross-shaped explosions, Angels coming to wreck humans' shit, and whatnot.  I had heard that the references and imagery were put there simply to make the show look cool and unique, and I believe it.

Your shit is about to get WRECKED.

With Eva, I have some trouble distinguishing between Hideaki Anno's directing style and efforts to cope with a crappy budget.  Scenes with recycled backdrops, such as ones taking place on the NERV escalator, seem to have an intentional distance from the viewer so that the animators wouldn't have to waste money by actually drawing moving mouths and expressions.  The characters' bodies usually don't even move during some of those scenes.  Scenes with just silhouettes and dialogue became too frequent for me. I know there were budget and time constraints, and it wasn't usually that big of a deal, but it starts to get almost humorous after a while.  Such an approach also seems to weaken certain scenes.  In End of Evangelion, during the final exchange between Shinji and Misato, the "camera view" is largely on the wall instead of the characters.  It was such an intense and emotional moment, and actually focusing more on the characters' facial expressions and body language could have added to the moment, I think.  I'm pretty sure we can't chalk that one up to budget issues. 

*sigh*...Another escalator scene.

After the first episode, the show started to drag a little bit for me.  I think it's because Shinji and his interaction with others becomes a little depressing and repetitive.  However, when Asuka gets introduced, she breathes some life into things.  I generally found the first half of the series to be a bit weaker than the second half.  Eva seems to implement somewhat of a "monster of the week" formula at times.  New Angel appears, gotta find a way to beat the thing, drama, fighting, hints concerning big secrets, rinse, repeat. This doesn't really bother me, but I generally expected more from the much-hyped Jesus of anime.

I found some episodes during the first half, such as "A Human Work" and "Magmadiver", to actually be a bit dull.  Another episode, "Lilliputian Hitcher", was somewhat humorous to me.  Most of the episode consisted of NERV personnel looking at monitors and freaking out.  The viewer doesn't see much other than characters screaming things like "SHUT IT DOWN!" in regard to the Angels' attack.  Then, the solution to destroying the Angel revolves around some techno-babble that we know works when the monitor shows the characters that it does.  Anno attempts a sense of urgency and panic, but I don't really think showing us some character reactions to action we don't see as viewers is particularly effective.  There was some decent character development for Ritsuko in that episode at least. These are just a few episodes that I recall offhand.

I swear, this still shot lasted for at least a minute, maybe longer.

Toward the end, Anno really starts delving into his characters' psyches.  It can actually get fairly deep at times, probably not as deep as some fans will have you believe, but also likely deeper than what folks who sneer and make "lolDEEP" comments will tell you.  The final two episodes start to get pretty abstract as Shinji struggles to justify his own existence and much of the character drama reaches a climax and somewhat of a conclusion.

Then comes the End of Evangelion.  Its existence is almost a controversy, as Anno was apparently at odds with Eva fans that were dissatisfied with his original ending.  Such fans demanded a "better" ending, and a few even sent Anno death threats.  I think Anno was pretty reluctant to make the movie, and I bet that he was using it to make some cash while spitefully trolling everybody.  All in all, the movie had good action and many intense scenes as this whole thing comes to a close.  During the second half, we get bombarded with a more abstract imagery and thoughts as Shinji comes to some sort of decision about his part in all of the crap that goes down.  The ending is open ended and a bit disturbing.  It wasn't necessarily a bad way to end, but I can't say I felt satisfied after watching it.  Eva begins with many questions and slowly trickles some details or hints to the viewer, and this process continuously opens up new questions, some of which are never really addressed in the end.

I GOT this.

Maybe I've been a little to harsh or picked Eva apart too much.  It's just that whenever anything gets an extraordinary amount of hype, it makes me want to put things into perspective.  Somebody reading this might get the idea that I didn't enjoy Evangelion.  To be honest, I loved it.  I simply desired to push past the ravings of the fanbase and tried to see Eva for what it really is, recognizing its merits as well as its flaws.

That being said, I enjoyed a lot of Shinji's existential pondering.  In addition, instrumentality and the surrounding concepts are interesting and give you something to think about.  There's so much angst about personal boundaries and being with other people, not to mention loads of sexual frustration.  Another one of my favorite things about Eva is that it can get fairly creepy.  There's something awesomely disturbing about seeing that NERV has a crucified Angel that leaks LCL stored away in the basement and that the Evas are actually lobotomized creatures bound by mechanical parts.  The "angel graveyard" and the tank of Rei clones also come to mind in regard to the cool creepy factor. 

I have one of these in my basement, too.

Also, many of the battle scenes are cool, and seeing the Evas in action can be exhilarating, especially when one goes berserk.  The scene where Unit 01 brutally beats the living hell out of Unit 03 and almost kills Toji is one of my favorites, and the emotional trauma Shinji goes through as a result helped to keep me glued for a while.  All in all, Evangelion is a solid series with a lot to offer.  If I were to give it some sort of rating, I would probably give it a 4 out of 5.  If you haven't seen it, you need to.