Friday, August 14, 2009

Expanded 11 Word Review: End of Evangelion


I wouldn’t call myself a full-blown anime fanatic by any stretch of the term. Like almost every nerd in the mid-90s, I went through an anime phase, and I have fond memories of a lot of the horribly butchered dubs that were in syndication in my Junior High days (Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, I’m looking at you... I’ll prove my nerd cred by namechecking the Samurai Pizza Cats.) I’m also a huge fan of Hayao Miyazaki, as I mentioned in my Porco Rosso review. But I would say my interest in most anime now is casual at best. If I find a series or a film I like, I don’t bias the medium one way or another. But I also wouldn’t get into something just because of its country of origin, and the style isn’t as offensive to me as some more old school animation fans.

I ended up watching Neon Genesis Evangelion this summer more or less by accident. I’m a huge fan of FLCL, another extremely out there anime, which was produced by the same studio (Gainax,) and I had heard that a lot of the show was sort of in reference to this one. So, finally, on a whim, I started watching. After watching the 26 episode series, I ended up watching the theatrically released film End of Evangelion that was released shortly after the show’s run. The show plays heavily and subverts the conventions of the “Giant Mecha” subgenre of brave pilots controlling giant robots and using them to fight other robots.

The show (and film) focus especially on Shinji Ikari, a neurotic teenage pilot of one of the EVA units, and his battles with the monstrous robotic Angels who threaten the earth, as well as his relationships with his fellow (female) Eva pilots, his (almost all female) superiors, and his strained relationship with his father and commanding officer Gendo Ikari. This film deals with the climax of an apocalyptic “Third Impact,” and the struggles of Shinji’s inner turmoil to make sense of his life.

This leads into one problem. The first issue I could see with this movie is it’s basically incomprehensible. Taken in context with the final two episodes of the series (which are folded into the second half of the film,) and with my own understanding of Judaic-Christian imagery and Lacanian psychoanalysis, it still took me two viewings to get a basic understanding. The plot almost defies summary, and I would be hard pressed to actually recommend this movie to someone not already familiar with the show. A lot of the issues of Third Impact it has to do with Self-Other binary issues and a sort of anxiety about reintegration with the self and a focus on suffering that seems almost masoochistic in nature (whether people would prefer to exist without pain and boundaries or not.)

As confusing as this might seem based on the last paragraph, I really enjoyed this movie. It’s erratic and nonsensical in a lot of ways, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s really profound in a lot of the issues it explores, psychoanalyzing Shinji (and a lot of the side characters) and exploring and deconstructing their motivations in a way that’s extremely Neo-Freudian.

I have to admit part of the reason I like this movie is how it basically falls into place into a manner that I can pick apart as a film scholar. It seems like a really rich text for analysis almost on purpose (as a matter of fact, as of the writing of this article, I’m preparing a paper for submission analyzing the film’s depiction of the feminine and motherhood as a method for individualization.)

The ending sequences also has some interesting uses of animation to explore some very heady issues about how people relate with themselves and with others.

Even if the story is confusing, the action is straightforward and really exciting. I really liked it, and I’d recommend if you’re open to the idea of having a Japanese anime mess with your head, and not be afraid of not getting all of it, you check this out. I give it an A- in my 11 Word Review.

It is (at least for now) available both dubbed and subtitled on Youtube, so check it out.

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