Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV) Revisited: Better Than I Remember

While Neon Genesis Evangelion is easily one of my favorite shows in anime, I always was apologizing for it. I easily buy into the common idea of it being flawed, and having many problems. Part of my initial impression of the Rebuild of Evangelion series was how I liked some of the changes they made. I felt that the shows problems were being addressed in some way. But I didn’t quite trust this feeling.

Instead I rewatched the whole TV series over a period of five days. I took notes of my real-time impressions, and was quite surprised at how incredibly satisfying the whole experience was. I came in expecting to validate all my complaints, only to witness them evaporate. Why did I remember being so disappointed and frustrated? Why do I feel so impressed now? What happened to me? Did the show change?

evangelion 12 rei shinji asuka plugsuits synchonization

A Quixotic quest to find the deep flaws of Evangelion

Before I continue, I need to distinguish between statements like “the show is deeply flawed,” or “Evangelion has many problems.” These are statements I took for granted coming into my rewatching. What I think is that a statement claiming ‘deep flaws’ needs to be objectively clarified. There has to be objective flaws identifiable and measurable in the text. I think the best example of such a flaw is the plot hole.

Are there plot holes in Evangelion? You’d think there are tons, given the rhetoric ‘deep flaws’ and ‘many problems.’ In my experience, I find none. At the very least, none that break any significant plot progression.

In the Tv Tropes list of plot holes in anime, you may be surprised to find not only there are no mentions of Evangelion, that there are few examples of at all. How can this be? Commenters in forums and blog posts call out shows regularly for ‘craters’ and ‘gaping’ holes in the plot. But we find that there is an important distinction between actual plot holes, and stuff that just bugs us.

If I scrutinize very closely, I’m sure I’ll find many things that bug me, but often these things aren’t significant enough to the plot. They may be world-building touches that aren’t as smooth as I want them to be. In any case, they are problems that I have with the show, and not necessarily actual plot holes that become the most significant arbiter of quality.

evangelion 23 kaworu unit 02 vs unit 01

The heart of my [former] discontent

What impressed me initially about the show was first and foremost the robots and the related action sequences. While the battles themselves weren’t always spectacular, the confrontations with the angels were for the most part novel or remarkable.But on the other hand, not only do some of the battles seem spectacular, but they come across as iconic to the traditions of robot anime.

Then, the characters; the main cast who were all special in their damaged ways. Even Shinji, who frustrated me to no end was a character I would never forget. Thirdly, the mythology – the interesting (if dodgy) use of Judeo-Christian elements to create an involving science fiction world.

Given these impressions, it shows that when watching this show I am a robot anime fan first and foremost; a fan of characterization next; and a fan of world building third.

I became frustrated with NGE because I thought that the best way to end the series was with a climactic battle with angels, wherein the production pulls out all the stops and animates an intense, gory battle where all Eva units go berserk, et cetera.

Instead, the most I got was Tabris controlling Unit 02 who momentarily got in the way of Unit 01 as he made his way down to Terminal Dogma. The Evas grappled while Shinji raged and felt torn and betrayed. In the end it became a knife fight and it was good. Ultimately though, Tabris didn’t put up a fight. He remained in the form of Nagisa Kaworu, and the terrible thing was how he made Shinji crush him in Unit 01’s grip.

evangelion 24 kaworu tabris vs unit 01

Then ‘Instrumentality’ started and I experienced this mindfuck in the form of two episodes of dialogue that is difficult to ascertain if it is happening in the reality of the show. The finale itself mostly working as a picture drama. The ‘victory’ at the end seemed wholly abstract, and fully divorced from the expectations for a violent robot battle kind of resolution.

The hated hateful protagonist discovers a way to like himself. WHOOPDEEDOO. I could never accept this as okay for all these years. The victory is so minuscule relative to both what was at stake, and how my expectations for action weren’t fulfilled. I thought of it as a terrible derailment on what was an amazing feat of storytelling up to episode 24.

Surprised at being surprised about finding brilliance and execution

If I were impressed by those episodes leading up to the finale then, I’m blown off my feet now. From the the opening act, the narrative used an interesting technique wherein the conclusion of what was a cliffhanger ending of the first angel battle was postponed until the end of the second episode.

While it was obvious that there was no real suspense because we don’t really believe that the protagonist actually dies in the first battle, the conclusion of the battle was postponed to the end so the plot is moved forward and we’re still gnawed by anticipation for the battle. Excellent work, and its legacy lives in the shows that came after, like Eureka SeveN .

evangelion unit 00 unit 02 unit 01 long firearms

Mea culpa, Jet-Alone

I can’t go into every moment that demonstrates the superlative quality of the show, but here are a couple that really got to me. I had once truly believed that the episode involving Jet-Alone, when the United Nations tried to out-do NERV by making their own robot, was filler. When I revisited it I found several things of note:

  1. How the show raised the issue of misogyny
  2. How the show put forward that it is as about Misato as it is about Shinji

The attitude of the UN boys was to dismiss NERV, especially when it sent Dr. Ritsu Akagi (and Misato) to do a “man’s job” (attending their demonstration, saving the world, &c). Then they set out to demonstrate their ultimate weapon, the Jet-Alone – a comical representation of the Japanese salaryman: an individual tool that can be run by committee/bureaucracy.

evangelion misato katsuragi saluteIt fails, and the warnings Rit-chan gave them about putting a nuclear reactor within it came true. It was going to have a meltdown, and there was nothing they can do about it remotely. Who saves the day? Misato. How does she do it? Sheer guts.

She goes into the critical reactor of the Jet-Alone, and when the manual code fails to stop meltdown, she physically stops it by pushing the emergency cooling system into place (all 100 lbs. of her).

Then, it’s revealed that the whole mess was sabotage orchestrated by Gendo Ikari and NERV. Who undermined who? Who played brains? Who played brawn? At the end of the episode, what of misogyny? Delicious.

To think I dismissed this as filler!

Dancing when I wanted to win

While I think Asuka’s entrance in episode 08 (Asuka Strikes!) gave me iconic moments (Unit 02 skipping over Aircraft carriers and battleships wearing a cape!), the succeeding episode: Both of you, dance like you want to win! is superlative in that it makes for a brilliant representative of the possibility and the element components in anime storytelling. If I were still teaching in university and I had an opportunity to feature anime, I would easily take this episode and make it part of the lesson if not build one around it.

Episode 09 had these things going for it:

  • A wide range of humor and comedy (slapstick, sexual, irony, meta)
  • Framing of the ‘love stories’ to occur in the narrative (the ‘innocent’ and childish Asuka x Shinji, then the pained, regretful, and sexual Misato x Kaji)
  • Plot progression ongoing despite the slice of life method of delivering the entertainment
  • Bureaucratic dynamics, as manifested in Fuyutsuki’s embarrassment over both loss and victory over the angel.
  • Developmental Psychology (aggression and submission dynamics between Askuka and Shinji relative to skill development)
  • A dramatic set-piece battle between two pairs of giant robots using a ridiculous conceit (dancing and choreography of attacks to classical music)

All these things was presented via conventions native to anime (visual, comedic cues, characterization turns, referencing traditions) that can still be found in contemporary shows. Truly a rich, meaty episode!

evangelion rei shinji asuka thumbs down

The End of Evangelion

To recapitulate, the crux of my disappointment then was the finale. It represented what seemed to me a tiny triumph of a protagonist I find little sympathy with, told through a wretched excuse for animation.

As much as I want to declare NGE a Misato story as much as a Shinji story, Misato’s takes a back seat. She is a main protagonist indeed, but a secondary one above all the rest. Shinji, the depressed boy in search of an identity is faced with it, and the choices before him.

The choice that everyone is waiting for him to make (as ‘everyone’ is constructed within the space of ‘Instrumentality’) is to accept himself for everything he is, and everything he is not. This too, is love.

I only had my own moment of this kind of clarity as an adult, I was already 25. It may seem a very difficult path that Shinji had to take to get to this distinction of being, but his discovery went down far easier than many other adults’ – those I witnessed while volunteering in many personal transformation programs and training. It is consistent with him being a teenager. He finally ‘got it,’ and it does merit congratulations.

Many adults go through life hating themselves and remain crippled this way – unable to accept, and therefore love others. Neon Genesis Evangelion made a very bold move by making this particular struggle the very heart of its story.

evangelion gendo yui

Is the finale entertaining? Possibly not, or at the very least not as entertaining as the comedic, dramatic, and/or action high points in the show. But what it is, is challenging. I wasn’t up for a challenge 7 years ago when I first watched it. But I was ready for it now, and I can say that the finale really belongs with the other highs in the show that I really got high about.

The show didn’t change. I did.

Further Reading

Each Episode Number is hyperlinked to the corresponding entry on EvaGeeks.Org wiki. The link contains the summary, some analysis, and other notes related to the particular episodes. The commentary is the real-time updates I posted on twitter when I rewatched the show over the first week of June 2010.
# Commentary # Commentary
OK, EVERYTHING’S READY. REWATCH OF EVANGELION TV BEGINS NAO!!! 14 We learn the names of the angels via this recap episode. What a dirty trick (I fell for it easy).
1 I forgot that Sachi-tan attacked Tokyo 3 from underwater. That Sachi-tan is a versatile angel. 15 The grave marker conversation between father and son is far more powerful here, where the dialogue said _something_
2 Human Instrumentality project is discussed srs bsns THIS EARLY. It’s Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major BWV 1007, Shinji plays it faaaar slower while practicinghttp://youtu.be/DwHpDOWhkGk
3 the whole class erupted when Shinji confirmed he piloted Eva, but no one noticed Rei was in bandages head2toe. Weeeeird. LOL comment on the yt vid: “If God had an iPod this would be in it.” AMEN
4 The 2nd impact is indirectly introduced/expounded on during the movie Shinji watches. We hear only voice overs, clever! A confession scene, but subverted; Misato confesses her sins to Kaji — that she used him as opposed to loved him. mmm
5 16 Asuka balances the intense drama with her hot and cold and embarrassed turns on Shinji. A Misato episode, I think.
6 Wow how the sniper battle in Rebuild 1.11 makes less sense now. Why did they change the crossed beams missing? weird. 17 mmm something important maybe: Shinji doesn’t have anything he enjoys (i.e. hobby). Kaji doesn’t press on this.
7 Misato’s entrance at Shinji’s school is still awesome (wat a faek) 18 The layering of factors really made the affair with Eva unit 03 the tragedy it was. Misato’s reticence to disclose hurts.
The misogyny in the Jet Alone designers in Eva 07 is played straight. Ricchan Akagi’s expression was priceless. 19 Dear Rebuild, You Can (Not) Exceed This
proof I am a dumbass: I once claimed that this episode (Eva TV 07) was filler… ugh Amazing really, the action scene in the TV did (not) lose to the shiny 2.22 version. More gore, less pew pew, less GAR, but more terror
I brutally undervalued this episode. Episode 07 is exemplary of how Evangelion did the tangential things well too.http://bit.ly/bVPUTK 20 Misato crying and embracing Shinji’s empty plugsuit is Anno’s version of Pieta.
8 Asuka Strikes! feels iconic beyond its franchise… so well done. It’s a shame 2.22 didn’t have the aircraft carriers. 21 So much accomplished by going backwards and forwards. Misato’s dread to play her answering machine is priceless.
9 Such density of elements: comedy (slapstick, irony, situational, meta, sexual), slice of life, psych dynamics <more> 22 I forgot about this scene where Asuka offers herself to Kaji. That was pretty intense, and not played up for fanservice.
<cont> developmental psych, teenage ‘love,’ plot progression, and yes — a robot set-piece battle with an absurd conceit. Adam’s ribs! 23 Really painful stuff layered like a cake on top of each other, skillfully prepared. So many bad things concurring.
<cont> oh yeah, adult love in misato x kaji with all sorts of sexy dysfunction, also analog elevator sexytime. 24 Did K really love S? He told S he loved him, the 1st time S heard anything like it. I shouldn’t be surprised but I was!
10 Plot hole alert: If Asuka graduated from college at age 13 in Germany, why is she taking 2nd year middle school in Japan? 25 Seeing the dead bodies of principal characters in this stream of consciousness narrative style still unnerves me.
This Eva plot hole is as ridiculous as Alice Carroll taking 6 Earth years to graduate at the top of her class for middle school in Aria LOL 26 Is it fair to call it ‘deeply flawed’ if the finale is for all intents and purposes, a picture drama?
11 Asuka’s a college graduate at 14, why is she resenting Rei for being “Miss Honor Student?” CONGRATULATIONS. A breakthrough in self worth. Rings very true to me now 10 years after I first saw it.
12 Misato’s decision-making and poise is directly copied in Sumeragi Li Noriega especially in the final arc of Gundam 00.
13 Magi is cutting edge computing doing democratic admin & the dummy plug system but makes 70s sound effects (blip zork LOL)
Nerv was formed in 2010, the Zentraedi annihilated most of Earth’s surface in 2010. Great year in anime history?
You Can (Not) Run Away from Evangelion – a discussion of the perceived changes in Rebuild 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance
Does Hideaki Anno Remember Love? – Rebuild 2.22 in relation to the possible changes in outlook of the creator
You Can (Not) Understand – a diatribe related to Rebuild 2.22 by an enraged fan
The most thorough and involved post on 2.22 you could want.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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90 Responses to Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV) Revisited: Better Than I Remember

  1. Myssa Rei says:

    Or rather, as we got older our own life experiences put the TV series in perspective.

    I’m certainly not the depressed and angry 17-year old that I was when I first got the CDs of the TV series as a birthday present, for example.

    • Indeed, though interestingly enough, the show is for the young. The protagonists are young, to be identifiable for the young.

      When I watched it, I was 26 and was on my way to getting my own life on track. I still thought very poorly of Shinji and kindly towards Misato — which I think is consistent with many first impressions for the show as a whole.

      Raw age alone may not be as strong as a determining factor.

      • Myssa Rei says:

        Point, age isn’t enough, but how about personal experiences then?

        When I was in high school and college, I was able to connect with the characters because of my own rather troubled state at the time. It had, hmm, just that right mix of pathos for me to empathize with the show’s cast of walking psychological wastelands.

        • I had a very troubled adolescence as well as a problematic early adulthood. It was very, very dark for me to be truthful. I was nowhere like the upbeat and cheerful person I am now. At 26 I was just turning myself around, and all the ways I could relate to Shinji, and to Asuka were very much present to me then.

          I think the intensity of the show prevents us from quietly reflecting on it. It’s not something that’s easy to do after the first viewing.

          • Myssa Rei says:

            Or the third or fourth viewing, actually. It was one of those running jokes in the old EFML that one should have *at least* gone through the TV series three times, then Death and Rebirth AND End of Evangelion, before finally reading the Red Cross Book to understand somewhat some of the core ideas of the series, and even then there are still nuances to be found in succeeding viewings. And let’s not get into the supplemental material (which gives us a deep dive of some of the concepts that were never central to the TV series, like the origins of the White and Black Moon), many of which only showed up YEARS LATER in a PS2 game that many in the Western EVA fandom had no way of accessing.

            Then there are the games. And the comics. By Haruhi, the last few chapters of Daitenroku…

          • Thank goodness for online encyclopedias. It is difficult to catch the nuances and particularly the world-building details, because of the spectacle the show mainly features from episode to episode.

        • drmchsr0 says:

          I can’t connect to Shinji. I’m too much of a fighter and too much of a guy who’d actually jump into the Eva Unit and nommed the enemy to DEATH than to run away.

          Shit, I’ve been through enough shit to acknowledge that fighting (as in fighting your fears, your hates and all that psychobabble junk) is a more viable way of getting over them.

          But then again I’d just as well let Asuka kill me if it’d ease her inferiority complex ;-;

          • Narkins says:

            Myssa do you mind if I ask what do you think of Daitenroku. I’m not quite sure what I think about it.

            The last few chapters have been rather interesting especially the revelations about Gendo and his “chat” with Rei.

  2. Narkins says:

    Amen to that.

    4 years can change a person, let alone 10. I first watched it while I was in 6 form and found the scenes of Shinji mopping uncomfortable to watch. I didn’t hate him but found his lack of self worth uncomfortable; reason was simply because it was a bit of a mirror. 4 years later I’m finishing university and the perception has changed, I don’t find those scene’s uncomfortable anymore, I’m not staring into the mirror anymore and I think I can appreciate it a bit more.

    Well kinda ;)

    • Hehe. The discomfort and mirror dynamic is a big part of why Eva is very good I think. It challenges us, stronger than many other works because Shinji’s failures are so very much in our faces. We can’t look away when he runs away.

      Whe he rides his train, we’re riding with him. I think it’s a pretty good technique and kudos to the show for pulling it off as well as it did.

  3. animekritik says:

    And this is the reason why I can’t get really excited over the new project. Why try to improve Eva? I’m not saying it can’t be improved, things can always be improved. But Eva’s flaws were not nearly enough to hinder the conveying of its message, and since this message comes through loud and clear in the original series, then remakes of it will always be but a waste of time and money.

    • Myssa Rei says:

      There are a lot of things that could be improved, no question, but one’s enjoyment of the original TV series shouldn’t be an impediment to enjoying the Rebuild movies. I guess it helps to think that, instead of being a literal remake, the new movies a revisit, although with a director who’s got an altogether different perspective than what he had more than a decade and a half before.

    • I don’t get excited about Rebuild as and improvement of Eva, at least not anymore. I appreciate it on the level of seeing one of my favorite shows in bright animation and in high definition.

      So many of the shows I like suffer from animation issues, due to age, and budget limitations. To see them bright and beautiful is never going to be a pointless matter for me.

  4. Ryan A says:

    I wasn’t a fan of the Jet-Alone episode, this I recall, but I do remember being aware that Misato was just as much a part of the core as Shinji, though I can’t pin what it is about her other than she was right there (close) with Shinji almost the entire series. We learned a good deal about her through characterization, and I’m glad she was a major player.

    • Oh man, the Jet-Alone episode was a revelation to me. It represents how dense with content each episode was. These were 26 episodes that each attempted to do something with the time it was given.

      • Myssa Rei says:

        Not only time but, depending on who you ask (Gainax employees just LOVE to contradict themselves), the budget allocated to them as well. While many instances could be said to be blatant cost-cutting measures (the minutes-long staredown between Shinji and Kaworu to Ode to Joy comes to mind), they were executed in an inventive manner that did not detract at all to the viewing experience (something that couldn’t be said of, say, some of SHAFT’s minimalist experimentations).

  5. Canne says:

    This is a director’s show, a personal show. Clearly it was not made to please any of us viewers. I recalled I didn’t exactly enjoy it like I enjoy other shows but NGE almost immediately secured a permanent place in my mind afterward. I do need to re-watch it sometimes soon :)

    • That’s an interesting way of looking at it. It’s a masturbatory piece of self-gratification in the guise of both self-examination and mass-media entertainment.

      I can appreciate that kind of reading, and how ironically it becomes a huge hit wherever it went, many viewers finding so many things they like about it, though having a lot of variation for their reasons and what not.

      I think you’ll enjoy your rewatch.

      • coburn says:

        Well, never being one to pass up on accusing a creative team of gratifying themselves, couldn’t one claim that Gainax in fact masturbated on two discrete levels?

        i.e. the ending is, as Canne says, Anno fiddling about with his personal stuff regardless of what we all think about it. On the other hand the semi-necessary mid-series run of fun monster of the week episodes which you mention in the main post may be packed with content, but it’s often just the writers playing about with the basic set-up of the show because it was clever and they liked it.

        • Both can be true.

          However, do these acts of self-pleasure diminish your own experience as a viewer?

          That those episodes in the middle being clever and likable (for being so)… are these a problem (in a formal sense, even if we can only prove that we either like these or find these clever, unless some Word of God pronouncement is made)?

          My bias is to value these because I read NGE as an act of ‘remembering love’ for super robot anime conventions and traditions by building on them with cleverness.

    • drmchsr0 says:

      Hilariously enough, it truly was Anno’s show.

      When you can enjoy yourself while the entire production crew hated it to the core (unlike Gundam, where everyone was worked to the bone, but believed in Tomino), you can see how much of it was truly Anno’s show.

      • kuu says:

        Mm…I don’t think that’s true about the crew hating Eva to the core. There were issues, but saying everyone hated it is being hyperbolic.
        Actually, I remember reading that Tomino was not always an easy guy to work with (he, like Anno, suffered from bouts of depression) and the crew did not necessarily “believe” in him but I forget what particular Gundam show this refers to…

  6. drmchsr0 says:

    Was it a bad idea to watch both Eva and Gurren Lagann together?

    I dunno, after episode 12 (or 13), I just could not shake off the feeling that I had to drop Eva like a hot potato because I don’t hate myself enough to finish it, Death and End.

    And even then, I’m not too hot for anything Eva-related.

    • Narkins says:

      Haha so the requirements for watching eva are:

      Tv/Pc
      The Episodes
      Time
      Coffee
      Self Hate

      Maybe that last one was the crucial one, that and coffee of course ; )

  7. jpmeyer says:

    I realized a little while ago that the best way to rebut people complaining about the “flaws” or whatever with Eva is that they need to treat it more like say, a Tarrantino movie, ie the “reason” that something is the way that it is is not because of the symbology symbolism of whatever it is, but because They did that in Show X and it was awesome in Show X, so obviously it will be awesome here amirite?

    • Yeah lol, it’s fair.

      I won’t say referencing is an auto-win, there has to be something clever done with it. But otherwise, yeah. They did the transforming city thing with Macross, LET’S MAKE A BIGGER CITY TRANSFORM, and while we’re at it let’s call it TOKYO 3, an advanced number in a series that says there were predecessors — which imply they were DESTROYED, which FORESHADOWS THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS ONE…

      after all, everybody awesome destroys Tokyo amirite?

  8. Reading this really makes me want to give the ending of a show another chance. I remember really hated the ending quite a bit but Eva was either the first or second show I have ever marathoned through and it was hyped up so much so my expectation might have been a little too much for it and I just wasn’t prepared fo two episodes of still-frames, with lots of talking. It just felt cheap and pretentious back then. Maybe I will change my mind now just like you have…

    Or I could just start watching Gurren Lagann which i have still to see!

    • I do maintain that TTGL is best experienced with a complete appreciation for NGE. It’s actually fun to read it as an anti-Evangelion or as an apology for Evangelion. I don’t think it really is, but it’s fun to think of it this way too.

      The utter lack of ambiguity in the finale of TTGL is as much the best evidence for this, than the difference between the male protagonists. Both shows are quite different kinds of fantasies that do well remembering love for the traditions of robot anime.

      • Suiman says:

        At first I really thought that TTGL was an anti-Evangelion wherein the burning heart ideal was celebrated in intergalactic proportions. But after rewatching it, I was surprised how the burning heart was slowly deconstructed as the show progressed. Case in point being Kamina, I did not see him as the Man among men. I know a lot would disagree, but the narrative showed me how flawed his character was, ironically, the source being his “perfect” burning heart. There were instances where his ‘ideal” did not help him, it even made things worse with him failing to understand other people’s ideals and making decisions giving too much risk for his brigade in the battle field, all of which culminating in his death. I would go as far saying that Yoko and Simon bailed him out throughout the series. But his ideal was not wrong, it’s just that one could not live solely by it to its extremes. The same can be said with Rossiou’s pragmatism and the Anti-spiral’s misanthropy. The final Simon was a conglomeration of these different philosophies with Nia being the catalyst to his transformation.

        Much like how I appreciated Evangelion, TTGL provided a far from ideal world very similar to reality. One cannot always go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb. Much like my revelations as I grew older, there was an acceptance and compromise within Simon, choosing to abide by the rules, restraining one’s ideals and surrendering to the laws of nature and morality-very different from the Kamina ideal.

        • You show remarkable insight for these shows.

          That’s a very good reading of Kamina and his narrative. I may interest you with my own work on Rossiu’s story

          One of the more important questions I feel is how do we distinguish compromise from weakness? The Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr is lauded for it’s humility and power:

          God grant me the serenity
          to accept the things I cannot change;
          courage to change the things I can;
          and wisdom to know the difference.

          There’s a distinction between acceptance and compromise I think, and it’s easy to conflate the two. There is power in the former, and weakness in the latter — in that one is forced against one’s will as opposed to freely choosing the circumstance.

          Your own words include “surrender” which is another ‘weak’ word that seems directly opposed to the ideal of breaking through the heavens. This I believe is one of the more tougher things young adults go through — as I know I went through this narrative throughout my 20s.

          As for Kamina, the ‘wise Kamina’ construct may be instructive to this conversation. He is serene as opposed to hot-blooded, and yet still contrasts sharply to the compromised thief who forces Simon to bow down to authority (while resenting them all the same).

          Is this ‘wise Kamina’ comparable to the Misato that Shinji meets during Instrumentality?

          I think Kamina’s version of the BRIGHTSLAP (Bright Noa Gundam reference) was subverted by Misato in End of Evangelion, when she kissed Shinji by the elevator.

  9. Martin says:

    I almost forgot that I’d written about the show on my old blog ages ago…’ages ago’ meaning I’m a bit embarrassed about my clumsy writing but the sentiments expressed still stand. Anyway. It is a strange yet pleasant feeling when revisiting the series (or, for that matter, any of the classics) and finding your perceptions have changed. Part of it is watching similar shows in the intervening time – particularly those that inspired or were inspired by it – and part of it is the fact that the ‘me’ who watched it back in ’03 is different from the ‘me’ who watched it a few months ago.

    The series is far from perfect but for every thing it doesn’t do well it does something else so well that the negatives are cancelled out. It’s easy to pick out bits that didn’t work for me but the overall experience, nostalgia aside, is still a positive one.

    The EoE movie? I thought the final two eps of the TV show were ‘not enough’ but EoE overcompensated and as a result the violence and whatnot were overdone. It’s still spectacular though – the integration of the live-action was masterful, I didn’t hate Asuka any more (if anything, that nine-against-one battle earned my eternal respect for her) and Misato is still my favourite character from the show.

    So much I can say about this but that’s enough for one comment…

    • End of Evangelion… I rewatched Death and Rebirth then EoE while I was bedridden by the common cold. I don’t think it overcompensated with violence — it was what I’ve wanted in the first place. If anything it overcompensated with spelling out the Third Impact cum instrumentality — not that it made things any clearer.

      But I don’t really disagree with you. After all, when I said eps 25-26 were challenging I acknowledged that they were probably not entertaining. The lack of entertainment value could well be what’s missing.

  10. vendredi says:

    I think part of it is that watching more anime/media puts Evangelion in perspective. Not to turn this into a lament about the decline of animation in the last few decades – there have been plenty of good shows still coming, but Evangelion has this timeless look that holds up really well.

    The show is almost 15 years old but still looks absolutely great; the art style and animation have aged well. The animation is just plain gorgeous, even if you’re coming at it fresh without nostalgia-tinted glasses, and has that 90s emphasis on verisimilitude which gives it a lot more lasting punch. More recent Gainax work like Gurren Lagann or FLCL is wonderfully animated as well, but they’re clearly stylized to such an extent that the animation just seems to wash over you; every motion in NGE is gripping precisely because it is so under-stylized by comparison.

    • Yes, verisimilitude!

      The animation of the battles in 1995 don’t ‘lose’ to many of the shows in contemporary anime… and my god, the battle in EoE circa 1997 don’t lose to anything, ever.

      That said,

      …watching Rebuild 2.22 was so spectacular to me because of all those frames of animation making the Evas move so fluidly. I could watch them run and leap over power lines all day. As for the action and combat, there was definitely more of a Diebuster/TTGL feel to them, but since the drawings of the Evas never break ‘character,’ it steel feels very ‘real robot,’ and my goodness the feeling is so very satisfying.

  11. Jack says:

    This is a fascinating post in what it reveals about the show and what it reveals about the viewers. But, that’s clearly one of the reasons you put together this post.

    I was recently introduced to Evangelion, and more broadly, ‘Anime’, about three years ago. I enjoyed the show quite a bit at the time, but for various reasons I’ve ended up re-watching it two more times then.

    On subsequent viewings, once I had a handle on the shows outline, smaller touches became more apparent. Like the Jet Alone episode – a masterfully layered episode that contains so many subtle touches.

    “From the the opening act, the narrative used an interesting technique wherein the conclusion of what was a cliffhanger ending of the first angel battle was postponed until the end of the second episode.” – This is definitely one of my favourite ‘presentations’ of a battle. For a few reason.

    In TV, a fairly common structure is to start in the middle of some action and then cut to “Seven Hours Earlier”, and then finally catch up with the opening of the show over the course of the episode. In other words, we are supposed to be anticipating the action. This is a fairly standard time-alteration and often serves little purpose except to give the impression that something different is going. Yet there is often no “narrative explanation” of why such a cut is being done. The show just does it, because it feels like it.

    In Evangelion we slowly build up to the action because it was a traumatic event that Shinji was trying to forget. We don’t smoothly cut back to the start of the action either, there are some fairly sharp cuts back and forth allowing for us to witness Shinji’s reaction to his own troublesome memories. It feels like a bad memory slowly rising to the surface despite his best efforts.

    I apologise for being so boring in that I agree with most of your points.

    • Jack says:

      I feel one of the reasons that I’ve been more negative towards the movies then many others is because I came at them fresh from watching the original.

      The movies may stand fine on their own, but I can’t stop myself from making comparisons to the original series, some of which are unfavourable. After reading your post I feel that my complaints may be reasonable, rather then the result of some unexplainable bias.

    • Thank you for sharing all of this, and for the kind words.

      The phenomenon you describe is called “in medias res” though traditionally this technique is used for entire narratives, and not on an episodic basis. If you look at episodes one and two, it doesn’t quite follow this technique even if you take the two episodes as a single unit.

      In Evangelion we slowly build up to the action because it was a traumatic event that Shinji was trying to forget. We don’t smoothly cut back to the start of the action either, there are some fairly sharp cuts back and forth allowing for us to witness Shinji’s reaction to his own troublesome memories. It feels like a bad memory slowly rising to the surface despite his best efforts.

      Yes, this is good. I realize that this effectively sets up Shinji as a continuing thread of trauma passively looking for escape, which will contrast later with Rei who is empty, then Asuka who is the same as Shinji but is aggressively looking for escape.

      As for the Rebuild project, even if I don’t think they are superior or even equal to the TV series, I don’t think they’re futile or a bad idea. Even if only to see the Eva units battle it out in high definition and lots of frames of animation, it’s already a very good thing for me.

  12. Marigold Ran says:

    As people age, their memory of positive emotions improve and they forget negative emotions easier.

    Moral-wise, Shinji’s dad is awful. He tries to destroy the world and kill everyone in it. Even Hitler wasn’t that bad. What did Shinji ever do to warrant being put into the same category?

  13. Marigold Ran says:

    Why did a lot of people dislike Shinji? Shouldn’t they reserve their hatred for the dad? Isn’t he the evil guy that’s trying to kill everyone? Why isn’t he hated more? It doesn’t make sense.

    • It doesn’t follow that the more evil character will be hated by viewers.

      Shinji is a protagonist, a role that people expect will want to relate to, therefore mostly positive attributes then a few imperfections to keep the character ‘human.’

      Shinji is the opposite of this. He is mostly a collection of weakness, insecurity, and damage; with the occasional overcoming of such. He is relatable for the things people don’t like to think of themselves as, most especially in the context of entertainment.

  14. Marigold Ran says:

    Just read your reply and the post.

    My counter-argument is that actions matter. Sure, Gendo had his reasons for doing what he did, but so did Hitler. Just because we “understand” a person doesn’t make him any less evil for what he did.

    • I never justified Gendo. To justify his acts would remove the guilt away from the pleasure.

      I find his character romantic, well-conceived, and thoroughly portrayed in his cruelty. Even when it seems like he reveals very little whenever he’s on screen, his mystery and presence made for a very compelling villain.

      • Marigold Ran says:

        But it’s not logical. Certainly, Shinji behaves immaturely, but that’s not sufficient cause to hate him. Many kids his age behave like him, or worse.

        Gendo, however, purposefully chose to destroy the world. He formulated a plan, and kept to it for two decades. Perhaps he’s very compelling, but he’s also a despicable person. My point is that the audience’s emotions are mis-placed. The hatred and dislike of Shinji should be reserved for Gendo.

        Why have a guilty pleasure in the first place? Why not just believe: “Gendo is an evil person because of his actions and therefore he should be stopped (killed)?” Wouldn’t this belief be more consistent and less emotion-intensive?

        • Emotion is not logical, necessarily.

          Gendo appeals to me, and others for reasons that aren’t logical — if taken to the extreme. Gendo is evil, is bad for the general public, is inconsistent with values held by the viewer.

          It is not logical, because it is based on emotion. Basis for hate, and love, are not logical. If they were, they wouldn’t be hate nor love — they would be rational and/or economic, functional decisions. The reasons supersede the human agency. Why feel guilty if it’s only
          right to follow Gendo? Why feel proud of upholding Shinji as a paragon if it’s only right to do so?

          If you based all your decisions on logic, then you wouldn’t enjoy not only Evangelion, but most entertainment media.

          • Marigold Ran says:

            But emotions have their reasons, too. We get upset if people yell at us. If they’re content, we feel the same too. When we’re tired, we’re more likely to get angry. And so and so forth. The mechanism works the other way as well. For example, people make bad decisions when they’re angry. Emotion is tied to logic or reason.

            If we operate from this principle, then it opens the possibility of emotional choice. We can choose to be angry, content, or guilty based on our reasoning. Gendo is evil, and Shinji is not. Therefore, we should reserve our hatred for Gendo, and not Shinji. The idea of a guilty pleasure is silly. Why should we choose to feel sympathy towards Gendo? Isn’t it more consistent to say he’s a despicable person and feel correspondingly?

          • Emotion is not logical, necessarily.

            You’re operating in dichotomies — I didn’t say emotions are always contrary to logic if you look at my statement. Just because some emotions have reasonable causes, it doesn’t mean they cannot be caused by nonsensical ones.

            Possibility (since this is what you used), isn’t certainty and certainly isn’t an absolutist prescription. Your enjoyment of the show and is characters is a moral one: people SHOULD hate Gendo because he is bad, &c

            Even so, people can appreciate him, and because of this dissonance with their values, guilt ensues.

            But to tell people what they should and shouldn’t find enjoyable in entertainment… is this what you want to do?

          • Marigold Ran says:

            The show is enjoyable. Like you, I liked it too. It’s good to enjoy this show. I agree with you wholeheartedly. There’s a certain nihilistic pleasure in watching the world get turned into goo. But regardless, I still feel no sympathy for Gendo. This is the point that puzzles me.

            You’re right. My take on the show is a moral one. But my grasp of morals is different from the average person’s. As I see it, morals are based on first principles and one of these principles is survival. Gendo’s actions are morally wrong because he’s trying to kill everyone. Why should we appreciate something that is dissonant with our survival? I’m sure that people can appreciate him, but why? This belief system is not consistent with our desire for existence.

          • Exactly, I shouldn’t really appreciate Gendo — relative to my own ethics, but I do anyway — therefore guilt.

            Now regarding survival, Gendo’s ethics is still survival-driven. His mind cannot survive without being with Yui. It is unacceptable. He privileges this state of existence over all others.

            Is this logical? No. It may be diseased already, as Psychologists such as M. Scott Peck characterize persistent and willful self-deceit (or evil) as a disease. But nonetheless it is survival-driven. The terms and conditions for survival only differ from most.

  15. Suiman says:

    “He finally ‘got it,’ and it does merit congratulations.” Ho ho ho…what happened the cruel irony?^^

    If I’ve read you’re post correctly, I’m glad that you now see Shinji in a more “affirmative” light. Indeed, in the Jet Alone ep, we have seen a strong Misato which greatly contrasts with a “weak” Shinji. As such, why does Misato care for him so much? Why does she give him care and sympathy both in his success and failures despite how some viewers see Shinji as a pathetic excuse for a protagonist? The common field of experience between them makes this possible, something that other viewers who see Shinji as nothing more than a whiny, sniveling wimp does not possess. This was my reading of the scene in Eva 1.11 where Misato slapped herself rather than Shinji. I will not be surprised that indifferent viewers would gladly give him more than a slap to make a man out of him. Empathy helps a lot in understanding, tolerating and/or accepting Shinji, a character that “strayed” away from the idealized heroes that we usually expect. Although as you mentioned before, seeing oneself in Shinji could just as well deter one’s appreciation of the show, perhaps since it denies them of an escape from their real world.

    I’m glad you’ve loved ep 19 as much as I do, though ep 16 was very intense as well. Shinji’s horror from being trapped , being questioned about his identity and being reminded of the inherent pain of being with other people culminating with the spectacular “splitting of the beast”, it was emotionally and physically intense despite being done with so little animation.

    Spot on how ones expectations of a glorious fight scene ala TTGL but instead was given a slide show full of exposition would definitely lead to disappointment. Then again, Eva did not really have a “Big Bad” as the source of conflict in the show. The antagonists of the show were the characters themselves, Shinji in particular. I cannot really antagonize the angels since the main battle and his true enemy was Shinji’s heart. The moment he decides to pilot Eva…again, angels better get ready for a curb-stomping. It was a bold and meaningful move indeed focusing on the psychological/emotional struggle instead of the physical.

    I loved the final two eps and EoE as I see them complementing one another. It was inspiring that the show ended with an “empowered” Shinji choosing to not run away, though I would not call this redemption per se. Nothing was technically made “right” in the world, as EoE has showed me, especially during the scene where Shinji witnesses Misato making love with Kanji, the world and the people around him were as broken and weak as he was. As I mentioned to digital boy, Eva made it a point that feelings such as selfishness, jealousy, deceit and such were accepted as part of the world, expected from human nature, in contrast with other shows that purge such “negativity” from their idealized world. There was no redemption leading to a happy ever after. Much like Simon though fundamentally different, there was an acceptance and compromise in Shinji’s part to continue living a “necessary” painful existence with others… Just as soon as the people bring themselves back from being turned to Tang.

    • There is so much goodness in what you shared here, but this I think is the best:

      Eva made it a point that feelings such as selfishness, jealousy, deceit and such were accepted as part of the world, expected from human nature, in contrast with other shows that purge such “negativity” from their idealized world. There was no redemption leading to a happy ever after.

      The world of no ego or unified ego: Tang, IIRC can be found in the concepts of Atman in Hinduism, and there is some of this in Buddhism as well (I may be completely wrong). But my point is, this isn’t necessarily idealized in Evangelion.

      Tomino Yoshiyuki isn’t devoid of ambiguity about this concept, given the finale of Space Runaway Ideon, as well as the ideal of the Newtype as beings “who are fully able to understand each other” due to the removal of the barriers of the mind/language in the Gundam franchise. My impression is that this is an ideal in Gundam, though the antagonists may do evil things in its name — the same way SEELE or Gendo may be read as having done.

      The difference that Eva brings is that Instrumentality did happen, and what we’re presented with is a reality wherein in the face of ‘the answer’ we don’t necessarily run out of questions. In this case, “SO WHAT?”

      It reminds me of this delicious one-act play by Thomas Davis “Surprise, It’s Judgment Day!” Here we are confronted with how Heaven may be undesirable.

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  18. Glad to see someone else appreciate this show. For a show that’s so popular, EVA gets a tremendous amount of hate. It’s a level of hatred shared by only a few shows. All of those shows came after EVA and are lucky to even be mentioned with it.

    I was one of those people that completely fell for what I believed EVA fed me. An epic giant robot show with religious undertones. When I got to THAT ending I had the same response as everyone else. Absolute righteous rage. And I don’t mean internet RAEG, that wasn’t around when I first watched this. And I don’t mean the slang meaning for rage, there was nothing cool about it. I meant that I honestly believed that there was some law of the universe that said it was right to exact physical punishment on those discs.

    I’m glad I never hurt those poor innocent discs, because a second run through the material did me wonders. I caught a lot of the stuff you mentioned in this post, especially in the Jet-Alone episode (how in the hell did see push that coolant into the reactor anyway? Of all the unrealistic–). I accepted Anno playing with my emotions (much like what he’d repeat in Kare Kano). And even though I’m one of the few people on Earth who didn’t absolutely loathe Shinji, I accepted that ending and accepted him a bit more for it. I went with my gut rather than my expectations watching it. And what my gut told was that it was a satisfying ending. What he was always battling, and what the Angels always targeted was his acceptance of himself. To see him reach that moment felt like genuinely happy.

    I know it’s a lot to ask of a person to watch nearly 13 hours of material twice, but you do this show a disservice by not paying close attention and re-watching. This isn’t a traditional action or mecha show that you can just enjoy for the spectacle. You won’t get the full effect.

    • Thanks for providing a way into the material on such an emotional level.

      It’s very easy to get caught up being cerebral about Evangelion, but it is a very powerful work in that it really goes for your feelings and you get to feel a bunch of intense things at times, especially when Shinji breaks down, or when Asuka rips into him… beyond the big reveals.

    • Jack says:

      “(how in the hell did see push that coolant into the reactor anyway? Of all the unrealistic–).”

      She didn’t actually do it. The whole situation was staged, I’m pretty sure Gendo had organized it such that, when the reactor was about to blow, the error fixed itself and the rods withdrew. Misato’s effort was actually wasted.

      After it happens Shinji tells her that it was a “miracle” but she said it was “prepared by someone”, in other words she didn’t contribute to stabilizing the situation.

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  20. Jack says:

    All this intelligent and informed discussion raises a serious question – is there now room for a reasoned debate about the show as a whole?

    For a while it seemed like existed a fair amount of positive buzz for the show (final two episodes aside) and it was often recommended without much reservation.

    Yet a more recent trend has been to write the whole work off as “deeply flawed”, a stance which doesn’t seem to be based around any argument, yet which has nevertheless become received opinion.

    It still feels unlikely, considering how much of a mess most discussions becomes when the show is mentioned.

    • Well, I can only vouch for the discussions I initiate (and for some of my friends and acquaintances). I suppose the discussions on the fansites like EvaGeeks, given the partisan nature of the participants will be suitable for you (in the sense that there will be less trolls).

      I don’t frequent anime forums and image boards, so I suppose I am insulated from the harsher exchanges there. If you feel like discussing Eva in your preferred forum, expect some of the same dismissiveness, but feel free to refer to this post, though I most likely won’t engage the people you talk to unless they leave a comment here.

      • Jack says:

        As the internet is so inherently fragmented it is nearly impossible to gauge what “the average person” thinks about any show or work. Yet what I have read has often been fairly negative.

        I just haven’t seen that many other writers seriously tackle the show on it it’s own merits, perhaps because it’s one of those things that people feel has already been discussed to death.

  21. gwern says:

    > Are there plot holes in Evangelion? You’d think there are tons, given the rhetoric ‘deep flaws’ and ‘many problems.’ In my experience, I find none. At the very least, none that break any significant plot progression.

    Way to completely give yourself an out there. Yes, you can handwave away any plot holes by arguing ‘but it’s all about the psychology!’

    On the objective plot level, Eva is holier than swiss cheese.

    The core-Children-soul system makes absolutely no sense and is violated at a whim (whose soul is in unit 0? or unit 03? or the Mass Production Evas?); the Angels are according to the Confidential Information quite literally acting at random; key moments are simply omitted (what *did* Gendo say to Ritsuko and why did Ritsuko betray him? We’ve been arguing that one for decades.) such as basically everything happening in real life in episodes 25 and 26; the whole backstory about Adam and Lilith and Seeds of Life and the First Ancestral Race is glossed over (assuming it even existed at the time of the TV series); the motives behind Yui’s plot to use Eva 01 are underexplained to say the least (if you want a monument to humanity, shoot off some space probes!); evidence from Gainax insiders and deleted scenes suggest that some connection to _Wings of Honneamise_ was intended, but nothing came of that; the 2 endings are so different that most take them as endorsing the exact opposite things (tell me, if you were watching a TV series and a movie of _Schindler’s List_ and one ends with Schindler realizing the greatness of the Nazis and the sickening evil of the Jews, and the other ends with him heroically rescuing a few hundred Jews and leaving with them, wouldn’t you wonder at least a *little* about how coherent the plot is?), Kaworu is a complete cipher who goes from being flatout gay in the drafts to being a nonentity (from, of course, his original monster-of-the-day description in the Proposal as a human-cat pair) – oh my god, I can’t go on.

    At least I don’t have to criticize the religious parts because you describe them as ‘dodgy’ (an understatement of Eva-sized magnitudes. Incidentally, how big *is* an Eva…?).

    Maybe the reason Eva doesn’t litter the TV Tropes page is because the errors and problems are that unique to Eva – it’d be like going through Hegel and trying to figure out what exact fallacies his nonsense is based on: you couldn’t do it because it’s nonsense writ large with so many problems and unique pathologies that your usual roster of ‘non sequitur’ and ‘ad hominem’ labels just aren’t up to the job.

    > I became frustrated with NGE because I thought that the best way to end the series was with a climactic battle with angels, wherein the production pulls out all the stops and animates an intense, gory battle where all Eva units go berserk, et cetera.

    Incidentally, this is pretty much how the original Evangelion Proposal ending went: http://wiki.evageeks.org/Resources:Neon_Genesis_Evangelion_Proposal_%28Translation%29#Page_28_.28Episodes_23_to_26.29

    To say nothing of weirder proposed endings, like the mecha designer’s ‘werewolf’ ending: http://wiki.evageeks.org/Sore_o_Nasumono#English_Translation_2

    • I assume you don’t like Hegel because you dismiss him as nonsense as a matter of fact. I’m no Hegelian at all, but I find this kind of hyperbolic reasoning as uncomfortable as how it seems you find mine.

      Also, I get the impression that you’re determined to prove me wrong about this post. I don’t mind being wrong at all, but allow me to say that you needn’t feel so excited to do so. I’m just another fan.

      Your theory why the tv tropes page on plot holes is interesting, if more complicated than the idea that the would be holes are less damaging to a viewer’s appreciation or enjoyment (unless perhaps, the viewer is as discerning as you).

      This doesn’t invalidate all the ‘evidence’ you present. I’d just file them as stuff that bugs me too, only that I won’t let it bug me too much.

      I’m a big fan of Tolkien, and if I were to take all the notes his son published (the early drafts) and look at how the Silmarillion (my favorite) plays out, I imagine I can make the same arguments you did. I just don’t see it as a fruitful method: to appreciate a finished work by virtue of looking at the jigsaw puzzle presented by the drafts (After reading a few of the Lost Tales/Unfinished Tales I stayed away from them).

      Thanks for sharing the links, they are indeed quite interesting.

      • gwern says:

        > I assume you don’t like Hegel because you dismiss him as nonsense as a matter of fact. I’m no Hegelian at all

        I’m guessing you haven’t spent much time reading him.

        > Also, I get the impression that you’re determined to prove me wrong about this post.

        Because I think writing off all the plot holes as just annoying things is entirely wrong. I’m not resting my case on continuity issues like Shinji’s plugsuit in an entry plug or Eva sizes varying from scene to scene; these are fundamental holes in the Eva world and plot. These issues leave characters undefined, acting in mysterious and inexplicable ways. We don’t understand Ritsuko because of these issues. We don’t have a full picture of Gendo. Yui and Kaworu are ciphers. Errors in the original mean that fans are convinced Misato killed Kaji until Gainaxers specifically deny this, insert extra scenes to reduce the impression, and Sadamoto lengthens Kaji’s death to make clear it wasn’t Misato. Asuka gets a whole bunch of new scenes in the Director’s Cut/_Death_ to make her closer to what she was supposed to be. The 2 endings appear contradictory in the most important and fundamental way possible. And so on.

        If these are not plot holes, then I have to ask – what is? Would a hypothetical scene in which Shinji walked onto the bridge and blew away the bridge bunnies finally trip your annoyance criteria and become a plot hole?

        If nothing in the series does, and you can’t think of any changes which would, then I submit that you simply don’t want to see any plot holes and you are being intellectually dishonest in making a distinction between plot holes and ‘annoyances’.

        I like Eva criticism, and I like most of yours, but intellectually honesty is not optional.

        > Your theory why the tv tropes page on plot holes is interesting, if more complicated than the idea that the would be holes are less damaging to a viewer’s appreciation or enjoyment (unless perhaps, the viewer is as discerning as you).

        Yes, well, the fact that I think there are plot holes to be found implies that I think there’s a coherent plot to begin with, which a great many anime fans would disagree with! So if there is a coherent plot to be found and I see it and they don’t, then I must therefore be more discerning than that mass of disliking-fans.

        Also, I’d point out that Gainax is old and experienced, and full of otaku; we should not expect any *obvious*, common, already-named-by-TVTropes plot holes, no more than we would expect to find an arithmetic error in Newton or Gauss or Terence Tao.

        > I’m a big fan of Tolkien

        I give Tolkien a pass on this sort of thing because none of his stuff was ever really finished and really intended for outsiders. (The Lost Tales/Unfinished Tales can be frustrating reading if you haven’t kept close track of every bit of evolution; but there’s some nice material in there. As a kid, I was pretty fond of his poem ‘The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon’.)

        • This getting a little ridiculous. Calling Yui & Kaworu ciphers is ridiculous when it was clearly pointed out throughout the show that she was the driving force behind Gendo’s action. Kaworu definitely had an impact on Shinji, how could he not when he crushed something that appeared human for the first time. Something that had been more genuine and honest with him than any human he’d encountred in his whole pitiful life. Drafts have little bearing to most people once they’ve seen a final product. That’s why we proofread & professionals have editors. Because from your mind to paper to other people’s reality, things can really get f*cked up.

          I think you’re missing one of the basic and critical things about EVA. It’s left very much up to interpretation. Even until the end, it was successful because those unsolved mysteries didn’t need to be solved. What was between Gendo and Ritsuko was conveyed well enough, I didn’t need to hear it. Most viewers should have known how intimate they were & how much malice she held by the events of the TV series & movie.

          These terrible plot holes you mention are really just things left up to interpretation. Just because an idea isn’t fully explained or fleshed out doesn’t mean there can’t be a successful progression from beginning to end. Besides, I don’t worry too much about plausability or consistency too much when kids are piloting giant walking humans by hacking their spinal column and brain.

          • gwern says:

            > Calling Yui & Kaworu ciphers is ridiculous when it was clearly pointed out throughout the show that she was the driving force behind Gendo’s action

            No, that means *Gendo* is not a cipher. How is Yui explained by pointing out that Gendo’s rebellion against SEELE is prompted by a desire to unite with her in an Instrumentality (somehow) different from SEELE’s?

            She is not. What were her goals? Was the outcome of EoE to her satisfaction? (What *was* the outcome of EoE, is presupposed…) Why did she seek such an outcome? (Let’s assume that she did. She says so little she might be unhappy with it, but whatever.) Did Gendo know? How does Shinji tie into it all?

            It’s all a mess. Yui is left as this mysterious entity that helps Shinji and attacks people and things at apparently random times. She is ‘empty’ (the etymology of ‘cipher’) of comprehensibility.

            All of these are mysteries about Yui. One of the reasons I look forward to Rebuild 3 and 4 is that Yui’s goals and motivations seem to be wrapped up with the First Ancestral Race backstory, and the FAR are strongly signaled to be directly involved by 2.0.

            > Kaworu definitely had an impact on Shinji, how could he not when he crushed something that appeared human for the first time. Something that had been more genuine and honest with him than any human he’d encountred in his whole pitiful life. Drafts have little bearing to most people once they’ve seen a final product. That’s why we proofread & professionals have editors. Because from your mind to paper to other people’s reality, things can really get f*cked up.

            And as with Yui – yes, he had an impact. I’m not comparing Yui or Kaworu to something which could be completely removed from Eva with no bad impact, like Pen-Pen. (As fun as he is, Eva could’ve gotten his humor elsewise.) I’m saying that his actions and personality are mysterious and incomprehensible.

            Why did SEELE send him in the first place? Why make him in the first place? Was a Kaworu+Adam Impact acceptable to them? Why did Kaworu give up when he saw Lilith as opposed to, say, turning around and tearing NERV apart until he found Gendo? (For that matter, why does it matter in the least that he found Lilith? He already was told by SEELE that Lilith was there! Before he went in, he was told by them!) Why did Kaworu die for Shinji’s sake? Shinji is no more valuable than Kaworu. Was he supposed to target Shinji the entire time? Was he in love or not with Shinji, and if so, Platonically or erotically? (See the point about drafts.) What does it mean that images of Kaworu show up later in EoE?

            And so on. As Kaworu stands, he’s this bishonen who flashes on screen for 10 minutes, has ambiguous social intercourse with Shinji, then wanders around NERV until he commits suicide-by-Eva after uttering confusing and flat-out contradictory vague statements. Nor do the ancillary materials help; things like the Addition audiodrama lampshade (see TvTropes) things like his yaoi-ness, and lampshading is just an embarrassed reaction to plot failure.

            What’s going on in his head? Nothing? He’s a cipher.

            > These terrible plot holes you mention are really just things left up to interpretation. Just because an idea isn’t fully explained or fleshed out doesn’t mean there can’t be a successful progression from beginning to end. Besides, I don’t worry too much about plausability or consistency too much when kids are piloting giant walking humans by hacking their spinal column and brain.

            There is a difference between progression from beginning to end caused by meaningful plot, cause-and-effect, and a progression caused by the brute succession of 25 frames per second.

        • I think we differ in what to consider “deep flaws.” If your threshold is rather shallow (as to indicate a high standard of discernment), these things you mention — if they are indeed plot holes (and not sub-plot or sub-sub-sub-plot or world-building incompleteness or whatever — if they are indeed holes in the first place), would indeed be Marianas Trenches of narrative errors.

          I am able to progress through the plot with a high level of enjoyment without dismay.

          Does this indicate a reduced intellectual capacity? It might, but I am not convinced that it does.

          Am I telling you to change your position? No I don’t want to compel you to do anything, but you’re certainly invited to if it means you’ll enjoy yourself better. Peace.

          • gwern says:

            That response seems like a copout; ‘No, I can’t explain some characters at all, nor explain some climaxes like Ritsuko’s death; but I enjoy it anyway!’ I can’t force you to grapple with and recognize the problems.

            > It might, but I am not convinced that it does.

            And as I said earlier, what would convince you that there are real problems? You seem to judge on entertainment value, so I suppose my example of Shinji massacring NERV personnel, which would be entertaining, was not a good example. If you cannot think of anything, then that is a problem.

            “If you will not hear my explanations until you are suspicious of your own truths, you will not accept my explanations until you are convinced of your error. Explanation is an antagonistic encounter that succeeds by defeating an opponent. It possesses the same dynamic of resentment found in other finite play. I will press my explanations on you because I need to show that I do not live in the error I think others think I do.” –James P. Carse, _Finite and Infinite Games_

  22. Since my comment is probably too long to be fit in here, I’m linking a reaction post from my blog:
    http://soulassassin547.livejournal.com/456472.html

    Thanks for bringing up Eva for discussion. Damned thing never fails to surprise even after nearly 15 years. Don’t stop that old-time religion!


    admin edit: I think readers would prefer to see the flow of the discussion right here so I took the liberty of putting the text of the linked post here:

    It’s been a very long time since December 6, 1999, when ABS-CBN was then insane enough to pick up Eva in order to beat GMA-7 on the so-called “golden hour” timeslot.

    A proper Eva retrospect is like sampling fine wine after many years of being in the cellar; it takes time, maturity, acquired knowledge, restraint and patience, before one can appreciate its taste greatly.

    It’s no surprise that whenever Eva is mentioned, it spawns considerable discussion (and even Fuyutsuki’s seiyuu admits that, while riding a subway, 14-year-old boys debate among themselves over Eva’s merits). Eva makes people say “Huh?”, time and time again.

    So, here we go–

    IMHO, Anno conceived Eva, through his characters (flawed, self-antagonizing, and consumed by some of their own inner demons), more as a way of making his viewers question themselves, to think deeply, to philosophize and debate, to look into their own mirrors (Heck, even Megumi Ogata sometimes agonizes herself, talking about being metaphorically “stripped down”), and ask if their actions are acceptable to others, and loves himself/herself, which is probably more than everything else in those 26 episodes.

    Through Eva, Anno asks the audience, “what is the true meaning of your life? What does it takes to live? What is your reality?”

    (interrupted by screwed-up washing machine)

    All right, back to the last two TV episodes (SPOILER ALERT): it’s like the ending of George Orwell’s 1984, where your protagonist(s), resigned to surrender after all the crap he’d taken, finally accepts his fate happily like a ton of Prozac shoved into his mouth as the rest applaud.

    The viewer (especially me, yes), however, gets this WTF look on his face, wondering why with the strange ending, and what’s it really about.

    *sighs* Now, my thoughts on Eva after all those years:

    Anno packaged Eva with a beginning that looked like any other anime at the time, but after several viewings there’s those small details and layers that, with thorough analysis and self-reflection, become apparent.

    Pairings, such as for Shinji and Asuka for example, are not emphasized directly unless one begins to notice what’s going on behind the scenes, and subtle messages that can only be gleaned visually, or in the background. You see parallels and echoes, as your mind goes back and forth, fiddling the controls on the Eva timeline, trying to piece together the immense amount of information coming from the show.

    Only after multiple viewings (and delving into other medium, i.e. the manga, the games, and information packets) does the whole impact and true intent of the anime becomes clear, and in the end it’s up to the viewer to judge for what it is: whether it’s a maddening mixture of philosophy, psychology and sociology in a single package; an incoherent, frustrating and repelling jumble of existentialism from a convoluted mind smoking a damn BIG reefer joint, with a lot unsaid and unfulfilled; an ‘art film’ disguised as an anime series (and the Japanese are big on art films with complicated subjects — try the NC-17 early morning slot on WOWOW); or simply a story wishing you were so damn luckier than Shinji. Thus, Anno wants the viewer to either take it or leave it.

    In a nutshell, Eva is still on my personal list of favorite anime of all time. So, why do I, even now, enjoy the guilty experience of watching it and reliving every episode even in the heart?

    It’s the characters and the pure drama amidst a complex plot with an overwhelming amount of Eva-technospeak; the viewer wants the characters to get a grip, to have a spine (in Shinji’s case), and become an expected ideal character, but that *wouldn’t* be Eva; without its WTF factor and character flaws, if Eva were to follow a typical boilerplate (or cliched) storyline of any other mech anime, it wouldn’t be noticed at all but instead sink into obscurity (just like the succession of 1970′s mech anime shows that came and gone (save for a handful) on TV).

    Today, having changed so much, I do not need to fuss too much about those flaws, such as what you elaborated on many, and especially Episode 24. Instead, I make it a point to write a fanfic that takes those flaws into a story, while keeping on the boundaries of what is acceptable characterization and plot development in the Eva universe.

    @Marigold Ran: Gendo, more than any other character (save for his nemesis Keel) is consumed by his overwhelming desire to bring his wife back from the beyond, at whatever the cost (and good God, it’s the costliest rescue mission ever attempted in history!) as long as someone below him takes the sacrifice, and that’s his character flaw. Think of Goethe’s Faust.

    Thanks for bringing up Eva for discussion. Damned thing never fails to surprise even after nearly 15 years. Don’t stop that old-time religion!

    • It’s a very interesting thing, how fans write fiction so as to “fix” perceived flaws. I theorize that much of the desire is rooted in a need to explicate. Venturing further, I find it a phenomenon of a young audience wanting to understand what occurs to them as a mature work.

      I don’t think Evangelion is a mature work. I think it’s a very juvenile work that has mature content (death, sex, violence, and both passive and active evil but delivered as ‘service’ or for shock value). I do not mean this as a disparagement at all. I could only wish I had discovered Evangelion in full when I was much younger instead of 26.

      • soulassassin547 says:

        The apparent role of fanfiction is, apart from providing the despised “mary sue” from the probable 90%, the other 10% are genuine attempts at exploring “what-if” scenarios, shaking the characters, plot, story, setting and all in a shaker.

        For all I know, the only man I think who might have exceeded (and predated) Anno — and Eva in extension — is Nick Joaquin’s work (dating from the 60′s I think) about a teenager’s inner angst and fears of people becoming naked.

        • Which Nick Joaquin work was that? I’ve Read “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” and a few short stories, is all.

          • soulassassin547 says:

            Sorry if I’ve gone off-topic. After some searching, the title of the NJ story was “Candido’s Apocalypse” (and printed in a high-school textbook), which somehow predated Episode 02.

          • soulassassin547 says:

            Uh, correction: Episode 3 = Candido’s Apocalypse.

    • gwern says:

      > All right, back to the last two TV episodes (SPOILER ALERT): it’s like the ending of George Orwell’s 1984, where your protagonist(s), resigned to surrender after all the crap he’d taken, finally accepts his fate happily like a ton of Prozac shoved into his mouth as the rest applaud.

      I disagree; interpreting the TV ending as an acceptance of Instrumentality (and the opposite of EoE) requires serious acrobatics in interpreting the last episode’s plain literal text. See my mini-essays/comments at http://www.reddit.com/r/anime/comments/99f2m/im_introducing_neon_genesis_evangelion_to_my/c0bwnxe

      • Tomador says:

        It seems he got that 1984 reference because he read it from this page:
        http://www.evaotaku.com/html/evafaq.html

        To quote:

        In the TV ending Shinji chose to stay with Complementation – it isn’t even clear that Shinji had a choice at all. He is treated as little more than an example of the process of Complementation – which consisted if breaking down Shinji’s link to reality. In the end, Shinji looks at the world of Complementation and smiling happily says “I understand! I can exist here !” He is then congratulated for his decision, by friends living and dead (Kaji), a healthy Touji with his leg still on, and even PenPen. A surreal ending scene to say the least. This ending is similar in context and theme to the ending of George Orwell’s book, 1984.

        …and I watched the ending of the film Brazil, which looked like Ep. 26.

        • gwern says:

          Yes, I’m familiar with Bochan’s argument. But of course, he knows it’s not a common view:

          > This is a largely unpopular opinion of mine – so let me stress again this is in my view . However, I think the evidence is very much there to support the theory that there are two very different endings to the Evangelion story. But I do acknowledge that there is also persuasive evidence to the contrary. For the flip side of this theory, check out MDWig’s very well-put counter argument.

          MDWig’s link is http://www.angelfire.com/anime4/mdwigs/endings.html

          I find his analysis of the actual episode dialogues to be much more convincing than a vague link to _1984_. I certainly do agree that _Brazil_ has a _1984_-like ending, at least, the version that I saw.

          (Anno references many many books in Eva, but usually SF classics like Heinlein’s _Door into Summer_, “The Only Neat Thing To Do”, Ellison’s “The Beast that shouted love at the heart of the world”, or Japanese works like _The Fascism of Love and Fantasy_ – and never Orwell.)

          • Tomador says:

            (Blinks) …Which is rather strange, despite Ep 25-26 making most viewers recall 1984 and Brazil.

            Anyway, IMHO, the one thing about Eva is that it leaves the viewer to make (even wild) interpretations and guesses.

            OBTW, turns out you’re a long-time EFML resident. Kudos for your arguments. ^_~

          • gwern says:

            > Which is rather strange, despite Ep 25-26 making most viewers recall 1984 and Brazil.

            Well, now you’re making a strong statistical assertion – that a majority of viewers thought the ending was the same reversal as either 1984 or Brazil.

            Leaving aside how few people have watched Brazil, 1984 is not cited nearly as often as one would expect given a majority. I mean, only 15 hits on the EFML: http://www.google.com/search?q=1984+OR+Brazil+site%3Aonegeek.org and most of those don’t even have to do with the film/book but the founding of Gainax in the actual year! But that’s better than the Eva wiki, with just 3 results none of which are relevant: http://wiki.evageeks.org/Special:Search?search=1984&fulltext=Search

            > OBTW, turns out you’re a long-time EFML resident. Kudos for your arguments. ^_~

            Whenever I remember this, I begin wondering how valid my interpretation of Eva as otaku psychotherapy is – obviously it hasn’t taught me to ‘live and communicate normally’…

  23. Jack says:

    All the above posts serve to illustrate why ‘Evangelion’ remains one of the most fascinating anime, at least discussion wise, of all time.

    I’m not even sure where this intense passion for discussion comes from. but it sure makes for an interesting read.

    • LOL for my own interest, it did so much with, and so much for, the robot anime genre. It infused it with so many elements presented in such a powerful manner. While the genre isn’t a stranger to tragic endings, troubled protagonists, and the like, Eva presented these things in a whole that may not feel seamless, but it sure felt right (and by right I mean awesome).

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