Thoughts on Hideaki Anno’s ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion (eps 1-4)

Still from Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 4

Hi, I’ve never watched Neon Genesis: Evangelion. I sure loved Shin Godzilla, but to date it’s the only one of Hideaki Anno’s work’s I’ve seen. Now that it’s on Netflix I’m gonna put out some thoughts on the show, probably in like chunks of like four episodes at a time — but if there’s anything particularly needs saying, y’know, I’m flexible.

So this is a show with a main character who is suicidally depressed. It’s confirmed at episode four, but the whole thing’s been building to that point. It’s easy to sense early on that Shinji is not okay but the way the show slowly lays out quite how deep the issue is is great and fascinating. I ain’t sure that many would dedicate the majority of their fourth episode to watching someone walk around a city alone, but I’ve had days like that.

Working backward from there seems like the right choice, because it’s very much how the show likes to tell itself. It won’t flashback to the characters as children or whatever, but instead to events that happened seemingly between episodes, in episode two we spend a whole bunch of time watching Shinji recover before we see the fight that landed him in hospital, episode four shows us he’s run away before the argument that spurred the action.

Depersonalisation is like that, mania too. Finding yourself stuck in a situation, trying to figure out what inside you made you act the way you did. You’re not stuck with it, but feel helpless inside yourself, and the energy required to change your situation is unsummonable. Now people look at you differently and it’s a hundred different types of uncomfortable.

It’s unfair for him, he exists in this world to pilot EVA-001, the government built giant robot, designed to protect the post-apocalyptic survival city of Tokyo-3 from the attacks of the giant monstrous Angels that arrived along with the meteor that destroyed the ice caps and flooded much of the Earth. Nobody else can apparently do it, and doing it is steadily killing him.

I’m sure it’s going to strike me as something more, real metaphor shit, but for now it’s the pressure. He’s abruptly and uncomfortably been made the most important person in the entire world and nobody’s offering any resources to help him deal with that. The bigness is painfully literal, for a few minutes at a time he must be a titan, and that’s all those in power really require of him.

Of course, it’s different for the powerless, his classmates, who are incapable of seeing this icon made small. When he admits to being the pilot it’s only over a text chat, a medium that I’ve discussed a lot for its ability to transmute and subsume identity. When his classmates mob around, unnoticed by a distracted teacher, it’s not him they’re seeing, it’s the EVA.

Likewise when Toji attacks him in retaliation for his sister being hurt amongst the chaos of the battle, the bleeding boy on the ground ain’t real when the skyscraper tall robot is one and the same. It’s a mistake easily refuted by the absolutely crushing end of that episode: Toji and his friend Kensuke find themselves in the midst of an angel attack themselves and have to enter Shinji’s pilot pod in order to save them.

Ordered to retreat, protect the investment, Shinji who up until that point has been pretty vacant over the episode, as they trained him to dutifully kill, starts screaming uncontrollably and dives at the creature with a knife, feeling every bit of pain radiating through the machine’s punctured frame. The angel dies just as the robot’s last bit of power drains away and sobs rack the boy’s body.

At the start of the episode one of his handlers comments something like ‘He does what he told, it’s easier that way.’ I guess it’s the realisation that these folks don’t have his best interests at heart, he can’t retreat, his schoolfriends are watching. Their simulations are bullshit anyway, and the argument that leads on ain’t really about his refusal to obey commands — it’s about the fact that nobody actually knows him, and they’re unable to treat him how he’d like without having to be told, and being told ruins it.

It’s all muddled given that Misato is both his commander and technically his legal guardian, though she takes her responsibility pretty lightly as far as that goes and the series is pretty determined to keep making her an image of possible sexual desire. Which, yeah, we’ll see what comes of that. I’m not sure either yet if her alcoholism is supposed to be fun, her job seems pretty stressful.

Though that’s definitely because she seems to be the only one that really gives a shit about Shinji. Ritsuko lives a level up the chain I think seems more concerned with what his humanity means to operational considerations. Gendo, the father that abandoned Shinji for his work a long time ago, and who refuses to have any contact with him, and just seems like a bit of a cunt in general, sees him as a sticky cog in the works and — if not exactly pushing to replace him — brings it up every time something deviates from the plan.

Episode 4 is where he gets his wish, Shinji quits and the suited bodyguards of NERV escort him to a station, he gets a chance to make good with Toji and Kensuke, and admit his self-doubt to them, before being shown to the platform. Then he doesn’t leave. The boys listened to him, and Misato rushes down the station to try get him to stop, and suddenly this is it, they seem to understand.

‘I’m home.’ He says, acknowledging his hurt, but also that it’s probably better than being alone. There’s like a shot that holds for basically a full minute of the two staring at each other on the platform. It speaks of the power of being seen, and having your autonomy respected. I dunno what’s going to happen next, but things for a moment seem temporarily brighter.

It won’t last probably, from experience these confluences never do, and it’s only going to be a matter of time before he’s forced back into the EVA to go through all this pain once again, but you learn to enjoy them while they last. So much of this show is about folks who are trying just to survive, yeah, do that.

I’m not too sure when the next update will come, I’m trying to fit this in around other things and the business of trying to live. I’m actually not in much of a rush, and am kinda liking taking this a bit slower. If you’re not here all the time follow my twitter, it has all the news.

Image courtesy of Netflix

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