Thoughts on: Hideaki Anno’s ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (eps 13-16)

Still from episode 15 of Neon Genesis Evangelion

These next four episodes are split two ways again, 13 and 15 seem to be interested in drilling down into objective reality, 14 and 16 go in the exact opposite direction, interrogating these character’s subjectivity. It feels odd to describe them out of order like this, but it’s really the only way that writing like this is going to flow.

In the thirteenth episode an Angel taking the form of an organic computer attacks NERV directly, attempting to hack the trio of supercomputers that run the operation into forcing a self-destruct of the entire facility. The fifteenth sees the three housemates Misato, Askua, and Shinji spend a day off; respectively attending a wedding, going on a date, and visiting the grave of his mother. Meanwhile Ryoji digs deeper into the secrets that keep NERV operational.

The supercomputer hijinks occur during a test for the pilots; in fact, tests is basically all they do for these four episodes. The story is that time and money were starting to run tight for this very ambitious show, and it was trying to figure out ways to keep production running. You sorta feel that in the narrative, the show internally asking itself these questions, here they’re trying to see if it’s possible for them to pilot remotely via dummy plugs, a choice which leaves then fortuitously out of the picture when the Angel strikes. Another episode will focus on the possibility they could pilot operate an Eva that ain’t their own, and we might not even be sure what synchronisation tests are but boy are they doing a lot.

We only get one scene of these kids in school throughout this whole run of episodes. They seem frustrated by the inaction, and tired of the immense workload they’ve gotta run through in preparation. Kinda an art imitating life sorta thing. With the pilots outta action and the base under attack, it’s down to Misato and Ritsuko to defeat this new angel. The eventual plan involves reprogramming the computer so that the attempted intrusion backfires and wipes out the attacker.

It’s nice to see these two work together. Since Misato’s promotion they’ve been more like opposing departmental heads, and the strain is coming across in their interactions. Being stuck, crawling through the mainframe of a computer that is also symbolically (and kinda literally) your dead mother, when the whole thing might explode any moment rather makes one forget those things.

Like, it’s pretty clear now that a lot of the tech these folks deal with everyday is in some nebulous way alive. Whether it’s actually organic, like the Evas, or just got some weird character to it, there’s little in this organisation that reacts in a way typically expected. Between this and the power cut episode I wrote about previously we’re invited to see NERV itself as a body, the image of it under the geo-front is classic sleeping beauty, and it’s staff are the cells that bounce about trying to keep it running.

This Angel probably ain’t a deliberate metaphor for an autoimmune disease, but it’s definitely there. An invader coming in rampant, forcing the body to destroy itself, shutting down our own ability to self regulate. Our heroes fend it off by crawling into the heart, which is also the brain, and turning the tables on the disease. Management is very clear, report that a false alarm was made, nobody must know we’ve been compromised like this. This show’s repeatedly hammered it home, bodies are frail, and that includes the ones that are bigger than all of us.

Also, our ability to transcend. The Eva pilots might go through a lot to do what they have to, Ritsuko’s mother seems to have sacrificed herself to get her brain transplanted into the three cores of this computer in order for it to run. In order for the three to build consensus she gave each an aspect of herself, her identity as a scientist, as a mother, and as a woman. Her daughter is now entrusted with tending to this thing that she has become, and struggles with understanding it.

Shinji and Misato might be getting closer to actual breakthroughs though (this is episode 15 now). He visits his mother’s grave on the anniversary of her death with his father. They manage to share a few polite words, he’s annoyed at his father for discarding her things, but the man states that he holds onto what’s important in his memory. They recall how he ran away after their last visit, but he doesn’t seem to show any signs of doing so again. As he watches his father leave he says he’s glad they had the chance to talk.

I mean, the guy’s still a dick, he’s distant, he’s got no interest in what his son’s actually feeling, he just kinda throws out there that the body isn’t even buried beneath the tombstone which is a sorta fucked up thing to just lay on someone right before you leave. But for his part, Shinji is actually handles dealing with this dude pretty well, remember back to when just even seeing his father would be too much to handle? He’s progressing.

Misato goes to this wedding and gets sloppy drunk and ends up making out with an ex. They’ve toned Ryoji down from being the absolute arse he was to start, now he just seems smug in a way that like, you get it, and being around him she starts to spill about how she’s afraid that too much of her life has been shaped by her hatred (and the untimely death) of her father. Maybe she’s starting to get it too, a drunken breakdown is a good first step on the road to healing. Episode sixteen suggests that the two of them are back together again, we’ll see how it plays out I suppose.

At least the man actually acts like a reasonable adult around Askua, who totally has a crush on him that he’s trying to shut down. She just wants to be loved too, but just not as a child because she hates feeling inferior, and hell if she’ll ever admit that to anybody, or acquiesce to being with someone she deems beneath her. Her date goes badly, we don’t see it, and she tries kissing Shinji because he’s the closest she’s got to a peer, but when Ryoji appears to drop off a drunk Misato, she feels deadly ashamed that she even tried. Things are hard for her right now.

Their relationship beginning to mend, Ryoji opens up to Misato about his side gig snooping around NERV’s activities. Revealing to her that the body of Adam, the first Angel, is actually contained way way way beneath the headquarters. It might have something to do with the production of LCL? And elsewhere, Gendo and his sidekick are still plotting vague things and being all creepy around Rei.

So she’s not gotten much to do, so now we move on to the episodes about subjectivity. Episode 14 had my jaw on the floor through much of it because it’s basically a masterpiece. It begins with clips from the season up until this point of every Angel battle. Presented as like a report on NERV’s success to the shadowy council who appears every few episodes, complete with intertitles describing events in the most clinical terms, and recorded interviews with some of the characters.

It’s a masterstroke because sure, it’s probably super cheap for them to compile, but it presents a entirely new perspective on events that as an audience we’ve been unable to quite capture. It’s NERV minus the drama, minus everything that goes into making each of their operations a success or a failure. The only shots we get of the pilots is a single one of each suiting up before their work.

It’s so cold, presented entirely without music, the images are all ones that choose to place the viewer outside the events taking place, and the edit serves to break the continuity of action. They make it impossible for us to relate to these images on a human level and so we are given a glimpse for the first time at how truly grand and horrific these events are. While at the same time, they sell themselves as successes, and we see how fake it all is because where is Shinji crying in a hospital bed?

It’s like so good, the council then talk some more about their secret plans and bitch at NERV for being behind schedule, while they’re supposed to be sinister, you’re constantly aware why Gendo is impossible at talking about them without rolling his eyes.

The second half focuses on Rei, and her subjectivity. Starting as she synchronises for the first time with Shinji’s Eva. She tries to focus on images to stabilise herself, but her mind is set loose from its tracks as she starts to maybe hallucinate images, maybe the images are coming from her as her thoughts spin out of control. She doesn’t know who she is, kinda gets that the Evas are alive but doesn’t really know what’s going on there, she doesn’t recognise humanity and doesn’t recognise herself as a part of it.

She makes this oblique reference to possibly being infertile. I guess Ritsuko did the same in episode 13, she seemed at ease with it though, just putting it like she’ll never be able to understand what was so essential about her mother’s motherliness. With Rei it seems like she’s still a child and figuring out how she relates to the world, and her body being like this really disrupts how she relates to the world.

Did they say in an early episode that she had amnesia as well, or like a mysterious background, because she’s stuck on things that are just outside her memory. It’s probably something to do with Gendo, but also, he’s the dude who actually seems to trust her. Which is troubling; she can’t really trust her memory, or her body, she finds definition in connection, and the closest thing she’s got is the Eva.

The centrepiece of this sequence is an image of her repeated, stretching off into infinity as she repeatedly asks, ‘Who am I?’  Rian Johnson must have seen this at some point, right? You’d think. Anyway, it’s great.

Finally we see Shinji attempt to synchronise with Rei’s Eva, his mind is flooded with a bunch of images of her, who then threateningly look at the camera and the Eva goes berserk in that exact way it did before when it first tried to merge with Rei. Something’s definitely up there, and everyone leaves thinking that they’re the one the biorobot is mad at. Something’s definitely up.

Whatever, love it, amazing episode of television.

Episoed 16 looks weird, apparently because they lost the original masters so the best copy they could get for the HD release was basically video, the colours look a little burned, lines ill defined compared to things we’ve seen so far, and once again for the first time in over an hour of televised material we get to see the three pilots face off against an Angel in their Evas.

Then Shinji almost immediately gets sucked into it’s body, which takes the form of what appears to be a flat black shadow on the floor and we’re stuck with him in this featureless void as his life support starts to fail and he begins to die. Sure, outside there’s a rescue attempt going on, and we get to see how our character’s react when it’s made clear that the rescue is primarily of Unit-01 and not it’s pilot.

Asuka’s kinda unwilling to admit that it was her goading that led Shinji into trouble in the first place, and only because he got a higher score on a synchronisation test. Misato cedes control of the operation to Ritsuko as she’s unwilling to order anything that might jeopardise the boy’s life. Rei’s been the one acting sensibly this whole time, she gets it better than the rest of them.

In the void, we get an extended monologue from Shinji, mirroring Rei’s those couple episodes ago. Figuring he’s about to die he starts berating himself for worrying so much about what others think of him, starts resenting the image that he puts across for people to feel like they have the right to act like that towards him. He blames his father’s emotional neglect, but also himself for the reaction he had to being treated that way.

He admits that he’s deeply unhappy, that he finds the world to painful to continue living in, because he so deeply has this need to live for other people rather than himself, and lacks the ability to confront anyone when he is exposed to situations that are going to end in pain.

He sees himself on a train as a child, his father leaving him, newspaper headlines that suggest maybe his father killed his mother, and resolves to die.

Then, a vision of his mother visits and embraces him. He imagines himself naked in her arms, the whole entry plug/womb metaphor reading another level of literalism, but he can’t remember her face. Some time that she comforted him as a child. Then, as he’s on the brink of death the Eva goes beserk and claws its way out of the Angel that consumed it.

It’s very grim and bloody and is like, also big rebirth imagery. Everyone finds the spectacle absolutely horrifying, and Shinji is rushed to hospital. He wakes up with his fellow pilots waiting at the bedside. Maybe this fixed something, maybe everything’s just more broken. You don’t really get that close to death without things changing, but it’s really impossible to tell beforehand whether that change is going to be good.

Anyway, I’m super down, this has been my favourite chunk of four episodes since those first ones, and Imma watch more now.

I expect these are only gonna get longer.

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. Neon Genesis: Evangelion is currently available to stream via Netflix.

Image courtesy of Netflix

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