Neon Genesis Evangelion · Television

Girl on: Hideaki Anno’s ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (eps 17-20)

It’s weird, before I write these I’ll watch all of the episodes I’m covering twice. Once spread out, over a few days or so, so that I can pay attention and get the experience of actually watching for the first time, and the second will be running through the four and taking notes right before I actually get to throwing my thoughts down. Usually my recollection is pretty good, this time between the two my brain invented a bunch of images that I guess never existed.

The ending of episode eighteen is traumatic. There’s been an episode and a half of buildup, a new EVA is being prepared for it’s first activation, it’s sister model only recently self-destructed during the exact same testing phase, and everybody but Shinji is aware that his friend Toji is gonna be put inside. Folks have complicated reactions to this. Then it turns out upon startup that the thing is possessed by an Angel and the pilots have no alternative but to head out and attempt to destroy one of the very things they’re inside.

Realising that there’s an innocent inside, Shinji elects not to fight it, unable to countenance the thought of killing in this way. So his father elects to take control, forcing him to watch from the inside as his body ravages the target before him. Returning, I was shocked at how little we’re presented of the violence. I could swear I remembered far more ripping, tidal waves of blood, instead we’re mostly looking at the effect of this action on the surroundings, and on Shinji’s tortured face.

The impulse to fear here is the self-destructive one. In design this opponent, EVA-003 is the most physically similar to Shinji’s craft. Asuka and Rei both attempt to attack it on the approach and are swiftly dispatched, they understand the position they’re in, are mostly at ease with it, both of them even know Toji’s the one sitting helplessly in the pilot seat across from them. They’d expect the same were they in his situation.

Shinji on the other hand has made it clear, over and over, that he doesn’t like this, he never asked for it. To take action would be tantamount to killing himself, except the person in there still has their purity, he’s forever going to be tainted by the experience of being a pilot. So, when the choice comes to kill or be killed, he’s willing to lay down his life until the choice is taken away from him.

It’s interesting how at the end of the episode, he’s inconsolable, despite it being out of his hands he keeps repeating, ‘I killed them.’ The body he’s in is his, he must take account for it’s actions. He’s just about the only one, his screams close out two episodes of folks dodging responsibility however they can.

Episode seventeen is all about authority, the responsibility that comes with it, the deference it deserves. Everyone’s talking obliquely about ‘the fourth children’, but contextually we gotta know already that it’s Toji. Everyone else is so caught up in their hierarchies, Pilots>Misato>Ritsuko>Gendo>Seele, Students>Class Rep>Teacher, it’s an episode that largely consists of information disseminating up and down the ranks and what it means to exist outside of them.

Like, the episode is neatly bisected by two absences from the classroom — it’s actually been a whole while since we got a school episode — Kensuke’s gone during the first half, he’s checking out some new military installation or something, even his truancy is something deferential to authority. Then halfway through Toji stops turning up to classes after being press-ganged into NERV, struggling to reconcile that with his chill outlook. He can be accountable, we see how he keeps a strict schedule on visiting his sister — still in hospital since episode two — he just prefers to be the one to hold him to it.

Opposite him is Kaji, the double agent spy who’s still on NERV’s case. We get to see him chill out for a while with Shinji, introduce him to the secret watermelon garden down under the geofront. Later he’ll admit that he’s openly suspected, says that growing things helps him find solace. He asks the boy to consider what brings him happiness rather than pain, Shinji can’t come up with anything.

Everyone in this show takes their responsibilities seriously I guess. It’s just that these two seem kinda the healthiest at managing them. Gendo spends the episode talking shit about, and lying to, his bosses about how progress is going, convinced that he’s gonna stunt his way out of it soon. Misato can’t tell Shinji that his classmate and friend has been selected as the new pilot. Ritsuko knows there’s something dodge about the whole thing but is too nervous of the consequences to share the information.

It’s only Rei who really gets any personal growth, Shinji tidies up her room when delivering some documents from school and, thanking him, she realises that it’s maybe the first time she’s ever felt gratitude like that. It’s something, and she lies on her bed  wondering what it could mean.

The first half of episode eighteen, up until what was covered above is pretty much a continuation of these themes. All the characters stuck in their own ways. We get to see a little of this blossoming relationship between Toji and Hikari, they’re probably just wanting to use that so that the sucker punch of the ending lands even harder. Given that Misato is away overseeing the tests on new EVA, Kaji takes a turn at babysitting, and in a late night chat explains to Shinji about the utter unknowability of the self, other people, and especially women.

Like it’s a weird point that is dragged out twice before the ad break, the first time is Misato remarking offhand that he still doesn’t understand girls’ feelings. Both times he reacts with like this visible discomfort, and the people around him plainly note it. He even comes out and remarks after Kaji’s remarks that he just doesn’t understand adults. Maybe it’s just me searching for a trans reading, but oh the conversations with my father that ended in ‘you’ll understand when you’re older.’ Still hasn’t happened.

Whatever, things go to shit and it literally left me fucked up for a good few days.

The nest two episodes are fallouts. Nineteen sees Shinji once again try to leave. It’s weird that folks keep belittling him for it considering the literal actual shit that they’re putting him though. I guess everyone is stressed. The thing that is constantly crushing is how he’s everyone’s last hope. Misato says as much, and the only way for him to return to save the day is by putting himself in that firing line over and over and over and over.

You can try define your own life as much as you like, but people’s expectations of you are hard to disappoint. I’ve worked a job that I would cry while walking to everyday, and for the longest time I just couldn’t quit. It would prove right the people who’d say I wouldn’t make anything of myself, it would let down the folks I worked with, I took so much shit at that fucking place and I still get nightmares about it.

It was just a job, it wasn’t necessary in the way that Shinji is, and I was far too fucking terrified to do anything except go in and take frequent bathroom breaks to do deep breathing. As he’s waiting at a station, an Angel attacks. It’s takes out Asuka. It takes out Rei. EVA-001 is refusing any other pilot, and the city will undoubtedly be destroyed if he doesn’t act.

Only at the last minute, when the Angel has broken right into NERV’s command centre is he back in control and beating it into a pulp. Even then he fails, he runs out of power before the thing can be properly killed. So it’s two cruel twists of fate on top of each other, first that his presence don’t even make a difference; and second, that sensing danger, and his willing, the creature inside the EVA wakes up once again — tearing off the restraints that cover its flesh and going to town on the attacker.

Once again he is out of control, like he’s always been, a useful tool for those who choose to manipulate him. The EVA is a weapon, and once inside it he has as little oversight as the finger that pulls the trigger. Only now his reluctance has become manifold, it possesses the machine itself, we are seeing what happens when the finger refuses to move, and well, the arm takes control and delivers a beating however it can. All it needs is something to provide the grip.

Episode twenty starts with the presumption that the sentient EVA-001 collapsed, or ran out of power or was maybe overcome by its injuries. NERV have managed to put it back in its dock and bandaged all the exposed flesh. It’s a grim fucking sight. Inside it, Shinji has disappeared, the scientists are trying to figure out a way to bring him back.

Outside everyone ruminates on their failure. It’s something that happens a lot in enterprises that are too interested in moving forward at a constant clip, this general dissatisfaction about ‘the way things are’ without actually any intent for meaningful change.

These people are trying to save the world after all, and they did yet again, and each time it comes at a greater cost and their ability to keep it up is slipping, the only conclusion is just to push harder. Asuka falls further into self-hatred after another perceived mistake on her part. Misato lashes out at her friend despite being the one who was pushing Shinji into the pod the whole time. Seele talk impotently about how they’re going to recover things in the most fantastical terms and Gendo writes it all off as an accident.

Nobody’s learning anything here.

Inside, the deconstructed Shinji reflects on his relationships, similar to how we saw in episode sixteen. He dwells on the people he knows, his enemies — the angels, his father. The father who tore his mother away, the father who emotionally abandoned him, the father who now seems to care more for Rei than he does his own son. He realises that perhaps EVA-001 was more central to all of these events than he thought.

Later on, we move onto his need for love and his perceived unworthiness of it. His growing inability to divorce his identity from the labour he performs. The whole world for him is tied up in being a pilot, nobody cared for him until he was, now that he has felt that reflected compassion how can he reject the mirror that’s focusing it on him? Will he be worthy of love if he makes himself less than the potential everyone sees in him?

He sees images of Misato, Asuka, and Rin naked, inviting him to ‘become one’ with them. It’s uncomfortable, a teenager unable to process the feelings he has for the women in his life. Intimidated by his sexuality, how they factor into it. He wants to be loved, and this is what love is — why does it feel so wrong?

In the final moments, as the science team try to bring him back out, he recalls Misato asking what he wants to be, and is visited again by the vision of his mother, a woman who seems, in his memory anyway, to model the type of love and acceptance that he’s seeking. Someone who could make him feel when at rest as others manage only when he’s risked his entire life. The feeling’s strong enough, the entry plug is ejected and he isn’t there, he’s instead birthed from the EVA’s chest, naked, ready to feel again.

The episode closes on a scene between Misato and Kaji, they’re getting down and he gives her something that seems to be another key to NERV’s secrets. He seems defeated, we’ll see how it goes.

With six episodes left I’m gonna parcel these out two at a time, the reason this took so long was that tackling four was kinda overwhelming and I’m also absolutely sure I’ve missed shit out here. Also, 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.

Still from episode 19 of Neon Genesis Evangelion
Image courtesy Netflix

 

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