Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Superhero Media: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Oh boy is there a lot to talk about with Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE), and some of it doesn't really relate to the progamme all that directly. I'm somewhat glad that I don't get all that many readers here, as it means I don't get too many trolls in the comments when I say something that goes against conventional fan wisdom. There was one time for one of my Dragonball Z articles where I was harsh on Vegeta, but I deleted it pretty quick. You see, I was there. I was the right age and the right amount of nerdy to be super into Anime when it hit big in the West for the first time. Sure, we'd had stuff like Samurai Pizza Cats and Sailor Moon, but the triple-punch of Dragonball Z, Pokemon and NGE changed nerd culture almost overnight. And yes, I thought NGE was deep, and complex and adult, because I was barely a teenager and a little bit of boob and blood was enough to win me over. Now that I'm more than twice as old as I was then, have a film degree sitting in the corner of my study and philosophy books on my shelves and NGE is a hell of a lot less impressive. 

Now, that's not to say that NGE isn't "good", it is, it really tries to elevate the Giant Mecha subgenre and gets there for the most part, but it isn't the transcendent masterpiece of postmodernist psychology that some would have you believe it is. Firstly, the Christian symbolism is essentially set-dressing and Hideaki Anno wasn't really making any major criticisms of the faith, Bible or Western culture in general, at least no more so than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were being critical of Norse myth in The Mighty Thor. That said, the idea of alien Kiaju being angels sent from God to punish humanity and kick-start the apocalypse whilst looking and acting how they look and act in NGE is one worth exploring and thinking about even if it isn't really intended to be there in the first place. Personally, I also doubt that the cloning plot is intended to provide any commentary, especially as there's really no comeuppance for Gendo once Misato and Shinji find out what Rei really is and where she comes from. 

A word that comes up often in discussing NGE is "unique", which fits, not only in terms of the overall presentation, but also in design. There are no mecha that really look like the Evangelion, even those trying to be derivative of them; there is something in the way they move that is shockingly human and utterly animal at the same time. The episode in which Unit 1 eats part of an Angel manages to be genuinely creepy, even if it only turns out to have happened because Shinji's mother's soul is in the Eva and Gendo planned all of this to happen. It gets explained better in the films, but the secret behind the Evangelions, other than their being human/angel hybrid clones, is that the functional units are inhabited by the souls of dead mothers. Does this mean there is a great metaphor of motherhood or maternal relations to be had? Not really. The greater themes of the piece are social isolation and developing empathy, the mother thing is like the Christianity thing, interesting, but not overly relevant. 

Shinji is thirteen at the start of the story, having not seen his father since the untimely death of his mother, a decade earlier. Shinji has lived mostly alone for his entire life and relates to other people by being as deferential as possible, never wanting to make waves or any real connections. As Nerv and humanity struggle against the external horror of the Angels, Shinji struggles to overcome himself and form a meaningful connection with the people around him; this is why I actually really enjoy the last two episodes, as they serve as visual representation of Shinji's internal battle against his own depression and anxiety. If you decide to start watching NGE as inspiration for Mecha vs Kaiju games, you'll likely be disappointed with what you get, however, if you're willing to give the quiet sections a chance and to look for the metaphorical meaning in scenes, there is a lot there to enjoy. I'd personally advise against getting too into the online community for the programme, as it can be a bit "out there". Also be warned that NGE features quite a bit of nudity of characters presented as being underage and also several instances of sexual assault. As I said, I like it, but I have some issues there.

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