Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Evangelion: Rewatch: Episodes 7-9

Well, it's 4 AM and I can't sleep, even after a glass of bourbon on the rocks. So, time to watch Evangelion.

Episode 7, in which Shinji fights a giant robot. My biggest WTF for this whole episode is what NERV's status is, exactly. It's been established that they're some sort of UN-sanctioned 'supra-legal' (according to the subtitles) organization tasked with saving the world from an apocalyptic extraterrestrial threat, with all sorts of shadow-government backing supporting their whole operation. And yet, in this episode we see NERV employees complaining about their limited budget and worrying about competing for their contract with a private giant robot company. They even sink so low as to engage in corporate espionage to keep their contract with the UN, who I guess are financing the whole project). Come on, I thought you guys had special supra-legal status, not to mention the backing of the Templars SEELE, why are you now forced to sell the Evangelions like you're competing for a contract for the next jet fighter? So now NERV is just like Lockheed-Martin? I thought the whole reason for the Evangelion project was because of the discovery of the first Angel in Antarctica. This display really deflates NERV's baddass status, and if there’s one thing I can agree with the fanboys with, Gendo and by extension all of NERV is supposed to be a badass enigma, not some corporate huckster. And seriously, you're going to complain about budget shortages, but you can afford a huge uni-wing jet airplane to bring Evangelion Unit 1 out to the JET-ALONE test site on a minute's notice? Between the cost of construction, fuel and crew salaries, that impractical flying machine probably costs $10,000+ an hour to operate.

Part of the reason for rewatching this series is to examine the narrative structure, and this episode is pretty insignificant in my opinion. It serves to cement the idea that Shinji isn't attracted to Misato, his friends are, and Misato isn't just a bimbo and that she can take the initiative when it's needed. Considering the events of episode 8, most of this character development could probably be demonstrated in the first scene with Misato, Shinji and his friends in the chopper. I feel that the whole petty bidding for contracts plot undermines the show's arc more than the character building and foreshadowing adds to it. I remember considering this episode a throwaway even when I first saw the show, but now I've noticed just how silly the whole premise is. And to top it off, the episode closes with one of those annoying Fly Me To The Moon covers by one of the voice actresses. Blah!

Episode 8, however, is a classic. First of all, from a narrative perspective, Kaji's dialogue helps set up Shinji as a miraculous pilot, which we haven't really heard about up until now. Up until this point, no one's actually acknowledged just how impressive his feats in the first few episodes were. The episode does a lot to establish Asuka's character right off the bat, establishing her insecurity and need to compare herself to others by inviting Shinji to accompany her in Evangelion Unit 02. It's arguably the most interesting battle so far, as it's the first one that doesn't take place on land. Oh, and it's got Asuka's theme music, which is one of the most identifiable tracks of the soundtrack. The setting allows to establish a good sense of scale, as we get to see an Evangelion amidst a deck full of jet fighters; the first time we've gotten to see it compared to something besides giant buildings with which we have no real basis of comparison. And NERV goes back to how I imagined it, a super-awesome secret organization with near infinite resources and authority, as they order two US battleships to sacrifice themselves as if it were nothing with nary a word about how it'll affect their bottom line.

Of course, I can't let this episode pass without some nitpicky comment, so my question from this episode is, how exactly are the Evangelions controlled? It's been established over and over that the Evangelions are controlled by the pilot's thoughts, and NERV is constantly talking about synchro-rates, etc. So what do the manual controls do? They don't seem to be like the control interfaces in Escaflowne or the Avatar mechs, which try to explain mapping the pilot's limb movement to the robot's movement. They're just joysticks that seem to have 2-axis movement (they can be pushed or pulled forward or backward, and they can rotate) and some buttons. What good is that in controlling the complex actions that the Evangelions do, such as punching, grabbing things, slashing with their knife, shouldering rifles, etc? Are they just there to give the pilots something to hold on to, sort of like a placebo? Then why, in some scenes, do the pilots push on the controls forcefully, as if pressing harder will make the Evangelion exert greater force? It makes no sense!

...Episode 9. Man, those Evangelions have strong shoulders. The giant jets carry them by their shoulder fins! I have to admit, the cut after their first encounter to the after-action report showing both Evangelions buried in the ground head-first is pretty funny. While show's had its share of humor up until this point, the fights have always been taken rather seriously. It's refreshing to see the show inject some humor into the actual Eva piloting bits. This whole episode is just hilariously impractical and silly, while advancing the plot and furthering character development. I never liked Asuka much my first time through, but I'm really enjoying her as a character this time around. She's got the most depth out of the three; she's arguably the only one of the three pilots that isn't practically a farce of her own trope. Rei has some implied depth, but for the most part, she plays the whole emotionless girl thing pretty straight-faced, and while I found it easy to sympathize with Shinji as a teenager, he really is pretty pathetic. Asuka, however, does the tsundere thing well, actually managing to inject some meaning into the hot-and-cold thing besides a superficial "I can't express my love!" She's not really a likable character, but she's complex and interesting. Everything she says or does reflects upon her character. I'm also digging it for the music. Another memorable theme makes its appearance! And that hilariously impractical synchronized Angel battle!

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