"Neon Genesis Evangelion"
Television animation work. Broadcast by 5 networks associated with TV Tokyo Corp. Wednesday 6:30 p.m. October
64, 1995* - March 27, 1996. Altogether 26 episodes. Draft, Scenario, Direction, by ANNO Hideaki Produced by GAINAX Ltd.
Basically this is the absurd story of a meaningless battle that takes place while riding on a puzzling machine against an equally puzzling enemy. The scene is the near future of 2015 in the 3rd City of Tokyo which is located at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The beings called "Angel" who were each crowned as Old Testament angels, relentlessly go on the offensive against the 3rd City of Tokyo. The purpose of the offensive and the true identity of the angels are totally unknown; sometimes the angels are giant creatures, sometimes they are big floating pyramids, and sometimes they are computer viruses, and at other times they are circular rings that emit light. "Evangelions" (nicknamed Eva) giant-shaped living weapons, often drive like maniacs, and because they transcend human technology like the Angels, are the only ones known who can oppose the Angels offensive. There are 3 bodies of Eva, and 14 year old children (Shinji, Rei, Asuka) were chosen as exclusive pilots for each Eva. The story develops centered around 4 people; in addition to the 3 kids there is a 29 year old woman named Misato who appears. Each of them has a trauma and not being adept at communicating with others humans, rather than humanity, etc. they consider internal existential questions such as "Why do we do battle with the Angels?, why do we ride Eva?" more imporant. Therefore the production mainly focuses on character psychology.
In the first half of the TV series, the work progresses like a good science fiction animation. Along the way several riddles are solved and it is becomes clear that the world of the animation has the strong, cult-like flavor referencing Jewish and Christian mysticism. Each of the main characters is positively depicted in their struggle to overcome their painful trauma. However, between the 16th episode and the last half of the series the world of the animation begins to implode. The gruesomeness intensifies with each episode as characters lose communication, get seriously hurt and die. The puzzles in the world of the animation multiply with increasing speed. Observers are pushed over into the abyss like in "Twin Peaks." It is impossible to summarize the plot of the last half. In the 24th episode the isolated Shinji has a simulated erotic experience with a certain boy. The episode ends just before Shinji - who knows that the boy is the 17th angel - is forced to kill him. With the story suspended here, the last two episodes attempt to represent the psychology of Shinji employing abstract images and metafiction. The sudden abandonment of the narrative conclusion and puzzles of the fictional world that had been constructed up until the 24th episode, brought about an intense shock in animation fans.
At present, it has been announced that the last two episodes will be reproduced in video and laser disk formats. And this March a theater version summaring all the episodes will be opening. Still more, this July "Rebirth II," a new work featuring a completely original story has been planned.
Although some people claim that it's part of the recent Japanimation boom, actually right now there's hardly any so-called Japanese commercial anime that is worth paying attention to. In fact, during the last 12 years (from 1984) there are only 3 anime artists - MIYAZAKI Hayao, OTOMO Katsuhiro, OSHII Mamoru - who should be recognized not only by enthusiastic anime fans, but by a general audience, and yet ironically, the quality of their works seems to have been maintained and supported by a distance from "anime-like" works. (Although here I'm being bold in my use of this vague expression)
What does that mean? For instance, MIYAZAKI's mainstream path and educational path were determined by his two works "Tonari no Totoro"(1988) , and "Majo no Takkyubin/Kiki's delivery service"(1989), and both of those paths were established by the suppression of an anime-like and otaku-like imagination; i.e Lolita-Complex like beautiful girls and super hi-tech whose thematics are richly expressed in such works as "Future Boy Conan"(1978), and"Laputa in the Sky"(1986). We can confirm from comments he made at that time that MIYAZAKI intentionally brought about this separation from that Lolita-complex, high-tech style. It's useful to condider the fact that "Akira"(1988) by OTOMO was produced independently from the situation of Japanese animation, and because his American-comics-style works were opposed to the particular quality of Japanese anime images, the publication of his comic books brought him international fame. To put it another way; although "Akira" is animation; it isn't anime. Among these three artists, even OSHII, who had been deeply involved in 80's anime, sporadically made experimental artworks and live-image films after he produced "Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer"(1984) with the intention of making a strong metafiction, and finally he made a complete break from anime-like stories and anime images when he made "Mobile Police Patolabor 2: the movie"(1993). From the second half of the 1980's, anime artists have been degenerating into a closed-off condition which on one hand produces low quality works of television anime, while on the other hand produces only high-quality images works for enthusiastic anime fans that makes use of the distribution system of OVA(original video animation) that has been rapidly set up. The above-mentioned 3 have just barely been able to make it as high-level creative artists for no other reason than they were able to refuse participation in the closed-off space where producers and consumers come together; i.e. fanzines, computer networks, anime magazines, speciality shops, etc. In other words, overwhelmingly in the last 10 years, when compared to the hugeness of its market, it's hard to believe how dead and barren Japanese anime as a whole has become.
As the expression of a genre, anime has achieved qualitative subdivisions and quantitative expansion. As is the case in every genre, there is in Japanese anime as well the existence of what can only be called anime-like stories with anime-like images. (For instance there is a small inheritance from 1970's Japanese science fiction. Despite that, in the last ten years, after around 1984 - the year of the opening of "Nausicaa of the Valey of theWind" - I don't think that we can come up with anything good that's anime-like and high-level work. This is astonishing. Anime as a genre is dead.
OSHII is probably the one artist who has seriously taken up this problem. In this sense his newest work, "Ghost in the Shell," was a symptomatic work. In this work that was made through his investment in Oriental cyber-punkimages and frequent deployment of terms from contemporary intellectual thought, he excluded those elements that were anime-like images from the created images on screen, and laoded down with a strategy of attracting critics and audiences abroad (for instance he had U2 compose and Brian ENO produce the last song of the video version of Ghost in the Shell) it is a pretty superficial thing. Despite that, more than OSHII's earlier masterpieces such as 'Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer" and "Gosenzosama Banbanzai/Cheers for Ancestors"(1985), "Ghost in the Shell" will probably be critically acclaimed. OSHII understands all that very well, indeed. He ironically acknowledged the present state of affairs whereby nobody wants to watch simple anime like works, on the contrary, people want to watch works that are considered cultural and progressive (they are no longer anime) with some variation of the illustrations and with little interesting niblets scattered around for taste, which was the circumstances within which "Ghost in the Shell" was made. His activities are nothing than comedy which passes by tragedy. While I was watching that particular OSHII last November, I felt more and more acutely that this was the end of Japanese anime.
From within that state of affairs, ANNO Hideaki's "Neon Genesis Evangelion" suddenly appeared.
It came as a complete shock. It was impossible to predict the ways in which "Evangelion" would transcend standard television anime works, because although the illustrations were very anime-like, the medium was television, and the pre-release propaganda was limited to the specialized anime magazines which made it seem like a simple anime of the giant robot science fiction genre. Perhaps, these expectations were shared even byanime fans. Despite all that, after the broadcast finished it turned into a big "event" in two senses of the word. I will briefly discuss below the meaning of this eventfulness.
As I already described in the other section, "Evangelion" can be divided into two parts consisting of the first half and the second half. The first half is a well made science-fiction anime. At this point - I mean January 1996 - this work has already been called the greatest masterpiece since "Mobile Suit Gandam"(1979-80). For the most part this critical evaluation is correct. It is not only because of the large amount of illustrations and the much more detailed production than standard anime works (although for people who often watch anime, the amount of illustrations and production is at an astonishingly high level, I won't talk about this aspect in detail) The story and fictional world that it has set up pretty accurately lay out the multiple problems that our society vaguely possesses today in the present. Therefore this work has a power which transcends the small, narrow-minded "anime world."
I will give only two concrete examples of this anime's charm; first, the angel is a very idealistic enemy that is ever changing in an extremely abstract fashion, as I already described above. The composition pulls out concrete Godzilla-like images from the main characters own feeling of crisis, and never fails to force their reactions to go round and around in circles. For example the hero Shinji often talks out loud to himself "You can't escape," but in fact he has the least understanding of what might cause him to be stressed-out. (For instance, he repeats over and over "Why do I ride Eva?") It's fair to say that Evangelion is a story which depicts "anxiety without a cause" which exhaustively ends with a convincing feeling of tension. It's clear that this kind of feeling is widespread when we look at the AUM incident and its repercussions. On this point, the work has a striking feeling of the present. However, the thing that we should pay closer attention to is the paradoxical whereby feelings of anxiety are always determined materialistically, but for the people who are caught in the center of this kind of anxiety, they can only experience it abstractly. (This is a psychoanalytic question) The anxiety which Anno should depict has to be presented as 90's-like (concrete) at the same time as it should be shown to be universal (abstract). After all the ability of the artist should be spent in trying to stage this paradox temporarily by whatever fictional means. (For example, like in KAFKA's bureaucratic machinery) The composition of the angels has reached a fairly high level by installing them with both abstraction and materiality. At the very least this work has transcended the efforts of MURAKAMI Ryu in his recent novel "Hyuga Virus" (What he was trying to get at in the deployment of the virus iturned out to be nothing but a device which expresses that paradox) In the case of "Evangelion", the Angel transforms into a virus.
The second example is the secondary heroine AYANAMI Rei. This girl who has hardly any feelings of ambivalence, and who is completely lacking in concern for others and in the fear of death; she is shown to be an extremely impressive character thanks to the restrained performance of the voice actress HAYASIBARA Megumi. The room that she lives alone is one unit of a delapidated housing complex. Her unit is completely undecorated with walls of bare concrete, underwear and garbage scattered everywhere, and the curtains are always closed to the outside world. On top of her desk there are first-aid bandages and large amounts of medicine, beakers, and thick foreign books with Post-Its in the pages. She returns to her room for the sole purpose of sleeping. One of my friends who is from Poland described his completely accurate impression of Rei as being related to the problems of post-war, in other words Rei is linked to the problems of Bosnia,etc. At the same time I thought that the room overlaps with a science laboratory, particularly a medical laboratory. Therefore, ANNO intersected images of refugees/ trauma with the "scientific" -- this is the only word that can accurately express the situation -- motif of stark anti-decorativeness. (After all, this would be linked to questions about AUM, more specifically to the problem of "Satyan," AUM's scientific laboratories) Rei's solitude is grounded in a completely tactile substantiality which gives us extremely realistic images of the discommunication that children of the present face. And these images of discommunication belong neither to Kogyal("child girl")-like autism nor to otaku-like autism which has been defined in opposition to Kogyal-like autism. (And these two types of autism are nothing more than the opposing gender extremities of post-modern decorativeness)
Episodes of the first half made an attempt at a salvation narrative (which follows from "Evangelion" coming from evangel). This focus highlights the process whereby the 4 main characters have been trying to open their circuit-lines of communication. Not only this positive emphasis on the attempt at communication, but like the two examples of the Angel and Rei which I gave above, the adeptness at narrative devices and the facility with images gives one the strong impression of a "1995-like" work. Truly the work is an event. As Professor HASUMI Shigehiko and novelist TAKAHASHI Gen'ichiro said before in their debate "works that have the feeling of a certain year" have ceased to exist from the second half of the 1980's. Since then there has been no generational development of narrative structure. In other words, our narrative imaginations were produced in the first half of the 1980's and still have not escaped from the format which Professor HASUMI sketched out in "Far from the Novel." I think that this dry spell has nothing to do with social transformations. It is solely the effect of the poverty and barrenness of the imagiantion of writers. I think that the appearance of "Evangelion" highlighted this. I haven't seen for a long time generational images and narrative devices equal to those which ANNO has given us of the Angels, Rei, etc.
There is also the question of genre. ANNO is very different from the above-mentioned 3 artists, in that he has no hesitation towards "anime-like" things. Perhaps there is also the fact of a difference of generation. Born in the 1960's ANNO doesn't have either the guarded hesitation towards an anime-like/otaku-like imagination or the yearning for a literary sensibility that MIYAZAKI born in 1941 and OSHII born in 1951 have had. When we look at ANNO's background, we can recognize how he progressed from the "heavy" scene of otaku culture during the 1980's. He has concerned himself with the problem of the barrenness of anime for a long time. He has now taken advantage of this concern for the barrenness of anime in "Evangelion." In contrast to OSHII's "Ghost in the Shell" which - contrary to expectations - was out of fashion because he employed a cyber-punk literary imagination in his work, in "Evangelion" appealing generational images have been taken from an anime-like imagination. Motifs such as charming beautiful girls and hi-tech machines which has strengthened the barrenness of anime, and in the end became important elements in his work. It became crucial to articulate 90's-like problems through stereotypes and abstract motifs. To begin with "Evangelion" is an extremely otaku-like work which was by lots of details referenced from former anime and science fiction films, from the desing concept of cockpit to the brand of beer (Here in this aspect I don't have time to treat it, although it's important) In other words, it can be said that ANNO broke through the literary imagination of the 1980's by strongly mixing and re-editting the motifs of the anime-like imagination, which had been completely barren for some ten years.
In the opening scene of "Evangelion" he already inserts a cut of a character which had initially been introduced in the 24th episode. The countless devices of this type means that Anno started the broadcast after conceiving the total structure pretty clearly. Actually, the speed of the narrative development of numerous foreshadowing in the first few episodes indicates that his work was made by reverse calculation of a precise, total construction. The flavor of the episodes of the first half is consistently the same. (Some comical episodes after the 8th episode are considered within this consistency). This story revived the genre of animation and at the same time, clarified the limits of the literary imagination. As I mentioned above, even at only this level it deserves to be called an event. Therfore even if this story had continued and concluded with a happy ending, I would have introduced "Evangelion" here. It would have been worth it.
Despite that I feel now that this work should be judged using entirely different criteria. First, that judgement would be distinguished from the contents of the story. Being shocked by the existence of this work was because of it was at an entirely different level. The beginning composition of "Evangelion" and the episodes of the first half demonstrated sufficiently ANNO's adeptness (I do think this word is suitable for him) as a fictional author. I will repeat that many contemporary novelists can't compare with ANNO's adeptness, but probably it is more important that ANNO exploded his work in process. Anno revived anime. However at the same time he brought anime to a final closure. It is amazing that ANNO condensed the whole process over a period of only 6 months. And then within this condensed process of exploding, ANNO succeeded in pushing the limit of the standards he had set up in the first half of the story to a much higher level, though it takes a different direction. This is a true event.
Now for the last half. As I mentioned in a different section, ANNO abruptly abandoned the savior narrative and conceit of the happy ending. In other words, it means the abandonment of anime-like narrative (actually, here "evangelion" quickly brings about the displeasure of anime fans who usually won't stand for a story where the main characters are unhappy). Therefore his choice of abandoning brings about a deviation from anime-like things in the mise-en-scene and in the composition. That development from the time around the 16th episode, can be grasped as the deviation which is is more and more radicalized. Therefore it necessarily follows that in the last two episodes we see the extended line of that radicalized movement; i.e. the metafictionalization and the total abandonment of the narrative (actually I feel that there might be an encrypted and hidden 3rd kind of event in the completely empty feeling of the final two episodes, but I won't touch upon this now because I don't have room).
According to Anno himself, this change of attitude came about while creating and producing the work. "Evangelion" was received enthusiastically among anime fans. He said that in noticing that autistic, enthusiast reception, he thought he should changed the entire conceptual structure of the work, and in the end that's what he did. After all of the episodes were broadcast, in what looks like a self-tormenting, auto-destructive critique of anime fans that ANNO would repeat many times in radio interviews, specialty anime magazines, etc., he would clearly reiterate the personal intellectual history of MIYAZAKI and OSHII. All three of them isolated themselve from "anime-like things" owing to their hate of the autism after they achieved overwhelming success among anime fans. But ANNO is completely different from them on two critical points. The first difference occurs in "Evangelion" with its simulataneous deep absorption in the anime-like and it's distance from it. In Anno's case the change was terribly compressed. In MIYAZAKI's case, the change occurred between the time of the success of "Lupin the Third, The Castle of Caliogstro" (1979) and "Totoro," and in OSHII's case he took about ten years between the time of the television version of "Urusei Yatsura" and "Mobile Police, Patlabor 2."
In the second difference, as perhaps an inevitable result of that temporal compression, in ANNO the successful critique of anime was brought about by the logic of acceleration and multiplication, while in the case of MIYAZAKI and OSHII the critique of anime succeeded because of the logic of removal. The last half of "Evangelion" takes the form of a critique of previous anime works through developing all the narrative possibilities and anime-like expressions and pushing them to their limits; in other words producing a totality of the anime-like. Simply put, in the second half of "Evangelion" ANNO produces a super-complicated and super-high speed anime and thereby achieved a qualitative change. Several compositions were made for the purposes of constructing a 90's savior narrative were rapidly inverted and were instead employed to tear to shreds the interactive communication among the characters. This means that for ANNO, he deliberately cut off communication with anime fans who supposedly can only appreciate works by identifying themselves with and investing their emotions into the characters.
There are no compromises in ANNO's second half. By employing difficult lines and the omission of mise-en-scene , quick scene shifts, and busy cuts with few frames (in animation this is extremely luxurious because it requires a new illustration for speeds less than one frame-per-second) he manages to condense the narrative which would usually have required several episodes into one. For example, Rei dies in the time of just two minutes. We are overwhelmed by its speed. On the other hand simultaneously Anno will one after another invert riddles in the second part of the story that had been solved in the first half. Therefore, if we only watch an episode only one time, the plot will be almost impossible to follow. (In other words this means that ANNO completely disregarded the age of the viewers who would have been expected to be watching at that broadcast time following the rules of the televisual medium. ) Nevertheless, in the last half of "Evangelion" in a dimension completely separate from that of the narrative logic, he was fairly successful at communicating the feeling of anxiety and the misery of the characters who are one after another wounded to the point of death. How did he accomplish that?
The last half of "Evangelion" gradually loses the co-ordination with the complicated foreshadowing that was installed in the first half and loses the science-fictional, simulational reasonableness of the compostion of the fictional world. (Which is natural given by the change of direction) However, it doesn't mean that the structure became careless. Instead a density and strange necessity arises. For example in episode #22 there is the unfolding of an incomprehensible story as Eva brings down the angel on a satellite orbit only by the throw of a special spear. A rational explanation is not even provided inside the story. But certainly the unfolding of the story possesses a certain inevitability with the flow of the scenes. That "inevitablity" which exists especially independent from the narrative strategy is the true worth of the last half of "Evangelion." That inevitability allows for the dissemination of despair and tension. It's difficult to ask where it comes from. Since I only want to pay close attention to this, we can connect the appearance of this inevitablity with the process of collapse and rebirth of the genre of anime. In this period of ANNO's he is dealing with some univeral problems.
To put it boldly, from episode 17 until episode 24 (but especially in episode 18, 19, 22, and 23) at the moment when that condensed unfolding reaches its highest point, he several times makes me thing of GODARD. That is not an explanation related to the quality of cinema itself. That doesn't mean that ANNO tried to cite or parody GODARD. Anybody can borrow stereotypical "Godard-like" images. (Of course ANNO himself does it. For instance using lots of subtitles) The problem is more abstract than that. When I asked novelist ABE Kazushige he explained that the problem is a kind of "density" which ANNO's mise-en-scene and editing possessed during that period. The feeling of anxiety that is brought about neccesarily owing to that level of condensation, certainly turns him toward the direction of GODARD. The rules of the narrative genre of anime are rapidly spun and twisted to the point of their collapse and whether this is done consciously or not ANNO temporarily achieved a miraculous success. What I would like to call "Godard-like" is that he barely balances all of these things. Therefore that tension provides the sensation of the narrative of the last half of "Evangelion." The repetitive twist as the collapse of the narrative giving birth to another sensation of the narrative; isn't that totally Godard-like?