Thoughts on Hideaki Anno’s ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (eps 5-8)

Still from Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 4

I guess I basically decided to cover these episodes in blocks of four because I got to the end of the fourth and decided it was such an amazing piece of filmmaking that I had to write about it, and also despite the total episodic nature of each episode’s narrative, the four of them seemed to form a cohesive whole as we first explored this world through Shinji’s eyes, and then used the elements of the world to turn a lens back on him, as we sense the pain that he’s in and watch as he finds a place that doesn’t compel him to stay, but becomes a place which wants him there.

These next four don’t really form such a neat cohesive little narrative arc. I guess we’re introduced to the other two EVA pilots, but then there’s this one episode about a rival agency trying to build its own big mechs: nuclear, without dedicated pilots, or the weird, squishy organic elements that lie under the armour of our hero’s. Basically it loses control and starts marching toward a city while melting down, and Shinji and Misato team up to stop it, before the reveal that the whole operation was funded by NERV who I guess are still real reliant on that government dollar.

Here I am and sure episode seven is an odd place to start, but also it’s the one that kinda leads on best from where we left off with Shinji realising he’s found comfort in his current position. The whole thing is framed around three scenes of him and Misato having breakfast (with the penguin reading a newspaper) that feel like they’re there to examine the duality of her character and how the couple relate.

Either she wakes up unkempt and chugs a can of beer, threatening to open the door in a towel having just showered. Or she needs to get up early for a work trip and is already immaculately composed. Shinji struggles to put together the conflicting versions of her, I guess similarly to how I talked last time about the image of him as both schoolboy and EVA, when she emerges from her bedroom already dressed he reacts to her as though some stranger entered their house.

At the end of the episode, the two of them working together to foil a plot that I guess was gonna resolve itself okay anyway, Shinji realising that Misato — usually relegated to shouting orders at him from a control room — can handle herself with grace and valour in the field and that his conception of her was wrong again, in a conversation with his friends they remind him that, as family, he’s the only one who really gets to see every aspect of her. Maybe she’s a whole lot at home, but it’s not like she can really express that side of herself at work.

A friend recently had a job interview for some business operations gig at like an actual office and confided in me afterwards that about halfway through they realised they really didn’t want to get it, ‘I’m too gay to work here.’ Was what they literally said and like wow, if that ain’t a mood. I suppose by the end of the episode Shinji ain’t making gags about her being an unmarried woman so he’s probably starting to get it.

Back to episodes five and six then, which basically function as like a two parter to introduce Rei, the first pilot (they call her ‘first children’, and Shinji ‘third children’ and Asuka, who shows up in eight, is second). We’ve seen her before, all beaten up in a hospital bed, and in one of the first shots of the show where a vision of her appears ghostly and unexplained to Shinji before he arrives at NERV, now we get to see how she got hurt.

One of the things this show never fucks around with is the pain that it takes to be a pilot. There’s this image in the second episode of Shinji staring at his arm which is not broken, even though while fighting he got to experience the pain of losing it. Episode five begins with an error as Rei tests the functionality of her EVA. The neural link doesn’t work right, and it goes outta control, thrashing and screaming and trying to destroy the facility around it — you sense that it actively doesn’t want her in it.

Eventually her pod ejects, dangerous in an enclosed space, and pings her about the room before dropping her to the floor. Dangerous. Gendo, for the first time in the series, expresses a measure of emotion and wrests her from the wreckage, seriously burning himself as he does so.

I’m not sure if that’s what caused the two of them to be so close. Shinji, though doing better at home and school is still feeling isolated at work, and his fellow pilot (the one who should best understand the stress of the job), and his literal father (the one who should try at least understand him) just offer the cold shoulder. He sees them at one point talking as he’s about to launch for a training drill and they seem to get on great — crucially we don’t hear their words — so why’s he left out?

I’m gonna hazard that the father’s just a dickhead. Rei, it seems, just presents the same sense of detachment from everything in her life. She’s a loner at school, but not in a cool way, just an anonymous one; she lives alone in a bare apartment in some real shitty part of town; even when Shinji walks in on her just outta the shower, then clumsily trips over in such a way as to be laying on top of her, she seems ambivalent to the situation.

I guess we’ll need time to tease out her interiority, right now all we get is her slapping him when he badmouths his father. I guess it’s to he show’s credit that we completely get  where both of them are coming from. After all, she’s just recovered and is about to jump in the pod again to see if it’ll work, she has faith in the dude. And why shouldn’t she? He saved her life, this new test goes well, and when a threat appears on the horizon — even though it’ll cost them time — he decides the EVA isn’t in fully operational capacity sends Shinji instead.

Who immediately gets totally fucked up by a laser from the arriving Angel and sent to a hospital bed. Yeah, he’s got his reasons too. So like this episode starts with Rei’s pain, it ends on another time Shinji’s in his EVA screaming uncontrollably (always chilling btw). So, you know, something to bond over there.

Episode six is all operational. I think it’s the closest I’ve seen to Shin Godzilla Anno. The Angel takes its place above Tokyo-3 and starts drilling down to NERV HQ. It’ll get there by midnight. Ticking clock, Misato devising plans, cutting from place to place as we see it arranged for all the power the country to be redirected to an experimental gun, that’ll need to be hurriedly assembled on a mountaintop so an EVA can pull the trigger for a one-shot chance at a long-range snipe to end this thing for good.

When I say thing; I just wanna talk about the Angels we’ve seen so far. Like, the first was vaguely humanoid, and the second was twisting and boneless, almost octopus-y with it’s tentacles, and this one is just like a flying cube. It’s alive and yet impossibly so. The first one had a skull and now we’re here? And we’ve been told that they’re something like 99% human DNA? These things keep being strange and inventive and decidedly unnatural.

Watching Shin Godzilla for the first time in the cinemas I guess it was a direct copy of what was screening in Japan, complete with the titles baked in. The film developed a shorthand, every time it cut to a new meeting we’d get the official title of the committee, basically every time a new person spoke it’d flash up their name and position. I’ve been unable to find a version of the film subtitled in the same way, western releases undid all of that because I suppose having illegible Japanese titles fill the screen every few minutes or so would be distracting. But for me watching it that first time they became an indelible part of the experience. They’re here in full force and honestly they made me so happy.

Though, the seventh episode has an executive on a golf course answering his phone in the middle of a nuclear disaster in order to equivocate and nothing’s more on point than that.

Sorry, too long going on about aesthetics: Rei helps motivate Shinji out of his hospital bed, shields him while he executes the shot, and he, like his father, pulls her out of a damaged EVA. She’s admitted that the piloting of her EVA feels like her only connection to a world that she’s isolated from. He tells her that, and the implicit sacrifice that comes with it don’t have to be the case. We get the sense that actions may speak louder than words with these two.

The third pilot, arriving from Germany, is the subject of the eighth episode and Asuka is pretty much just about the opposite of Rin in every way. She’s brash, bold, and doesn’t care much what others think of her. She’s travelling with her handler Ryōji, who is apparently Misato’s old boyfriend which is awkward for everyone, and it’s not like he tries to keep professional. Also, he bugs out as soon as an Angel starts sinking the fleet they’re travelling with so strong fuckboy energy with this one.

Look, I know trans folk are all about this series, and Shinji in particular, and maybe I’m just resistant but I haven’t really seen it. Oh, until now, when Asuka decides she’s gotta take on the attacking Angel with an ill equipped EVA and drags Shinji into the cockpit wearing her spare pilot outfit (w/ breast cups b/c they’re real skintight). Then they get dragged underwater and have to operate it together to defeat the beast, and at the close of the episode Ritsuko reveals that they set a new synchronisation record.

It’s the sort of thing I’m like to dismiss, the sorta thing that cis folks play for a joke. ‘Look, the only clothes he can wear are girl clothes!’ But these things admittedly come across very differently when you realise that for years they were your only outlet for exploring yourself. You get teased for it, or you play it off by acting cool about the whole thing, but you know deep down, and maybe can’t quite let yourself think about, how for those moments you were alone it felt finally right.

I dunno, Askua seems cool, she comes on strong, and as a woman of action launches the episode into the thick of it before Misato’s even finished butting heads with the naval captain who’s content to let his ships gets trashed if it means he’s in charge. Mostly we get her in the EVA, that classic thing of being desperate to prove yourself to someone you’re so (but not absolutely) sure you’re superior than.

Aside from that these few episodes we learned that ‘Second Impact’ was not actually a meteorite but an explosion that happened when scientists investigating the first Angel ever discovered. And the fuckboy from episode eight delivers and embryo looking thing, apparently ‘the first ever human, Adam’ to NERV.

I guess I said this didn’t break into neat chunks. We’ve just had a bunch of introductions, but I dunno, excited to see how they develop.

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.

Still from Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 4
Image courtesy of Netflix

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