Fine-Tuned: Exegesis of Evangelion – Episode 1

This is a psychological analysis. So it does not aim for a holistic symbolic-interpretative or aesthetic-formal analysis, but it merely tries to  see whether Eva is really as ‘true’ as people say. Mainly I’m focusing on the dialogue and probably what could have been done for tighter psychology. Some people may say “why bother to give alternative possibilities to a work already so ingrained in the mass consciousness of Anime watchers?” and have the notion that I’m trying to be ‘better’ than Anno. Yes, I am in fact trying to aim to be a better artist than a lot of other people, but I have nothing but respect to Anno for creating the narrative in the first place. He had to come up with the whole thing in the blank creative space of his head, and so my ideas are more for myself, or to outline a methodology of critique, than to try to ‘supplant’ him. But I think that this is the real reason people write Fan-Fiction or think about alternative interpretations of established works, because when you use a template it helps refine parts of the creative process that you can’t train when you’re writing from scratch, that is, the ability to critique your own work. By critiquing other works  and try to ‘refine’ those, you learn to calibrate your own critiques. But you have to be fair and just as to exactly why you think the alternative will work, as I have tried to be in here. So, people who have the ‘don’t talk when you haven’t done anything yourself’ or ‘you underestimate the hard-work put into Anime companies’ kind of mentality… I really have nothing to say to you guys except that you should look at the Criticism as an Object, and engage with the Criticism, rather than projecting stuff onto the Critic.

Anyway by now its quite obvious that Evangelion is a deeply flawed work. It relies too much on its genre trappings, and could have intensified its impact in certain other places, especially in how it treats exposition, while still being able to milk all the Otaku merchandise it can get. I’m perfectly okay with the fact that the narrative sort of implodes and little of the concrete questions gets answered by the end of the series (since that isn’t the point anyway), but I can think of a lot of ways to deepen the sense of ‘mystery’ and to toughen up the themes, without merely adding more (bad) confusion to the work.

(Q-1) Announcer: “As of 01:12:30 PM today, a special state of emergency has been declared for the Kanto and Chubu regions surrounding the Tokai district. All residents must evacuate to their designated shelters immediately. Repeating: As of 01:12:30 PM today, the Kanto and Chubu regions surrounding the Tokai district have been declared to be under a state of emergency.”

(A-1) Announcing voices are purely for expository purposes. Most of the groundwork is done in the cinematography at this moment. And actually, it does a better job than silence because the voice is impersonal and the sounds of cicadas accentuate the mood, as compared to other archetypal ’empty cities’ in apocalyptic scenarios have been done everywhere to the point of archetype, including walking around in I Am Legend & 28 Days Later. Cicadas are a wholly anime-istic touch because they have been basically used everywhere, and they really do set the mood though.

(Q-2) Misato: “Why did I have to lose him now? Christ, why at a time like this?”

(A-2) Misato suffers from the expository “talks-to-self” syndrome of many anime characters before voice-over really started getting down. Although in real life I have met quite a few people who talk to themselves, and sometimes I talk to myself, except for people making v-logs I have never seen anyone talk to themselves in the full loud and assured way the Anime characters talk to themselves. Bakemonogatari and The Tatami Galaxy were probably the first Anime to really innovate on high density voice-over exposition (actually Kare Kano did that quite well Eons before, and also did the text on screen thing Eons before, and its by Anno too. So why didn’t he carry that over into Eva?)

The twist is that the shooting is elliptic, so Misato is not shown at all here. It’s this kind of subversion that puts Eva technically above other Anime.

(Q-3) Telephone Operator: “Due to the current emergency all lines are currently unavailable.”

(A-3) Technically well-done, because of the matching cut to Shinji’s face. So the exposition is very elegant. It links Misato’s car to Shinji. But the famous appearance of our blank-faced protagonist quite easily establishes him as our everyman character. Directly opposing examples can be seen in stuff like Toradora (which begins with the “there’s something that cannot be seen” fateful encounter opening mixed with Ryuuji having a half-comic moment in front of a mirror), Oregairu (which begins with the famous cynical exposition), Gosick (which begins with the Protagonist being called the Black Reaper and thus being so obviously established as anything but the most everymen of everymen).

Thats what’s so great about this appearance, because it literally has the impact of watching someone go through dial-up connection, but in an apocalypse. It’s one of the best ways to establish him as really like anyone else.

(Q-4) Shinji: “It’s no use. I shouldn’t have come here after all. Well I guess we won’t be meeting here. I’ll have to go to a shelter”

(A-4) Shinji also suffers from the expository “talks-to-self” syndrome. Besides that though, the most obvious psychological analysis is that he gives up easily, but then again a person wouldn’t stick around for long in an apocalyptic scenario.

Let’s say we remade this part without Misato or Shinji talking. I think its possible to still establish exposition because of the match-cut, so the talking just seems extraneous. And, instead, if Shinji puts down the phone in silence, gets his bag, and is about to leave when he sees the Rei cut, that would make the atmosphere and psychology tighter.

(Q-5) Misato Picture

(A-5) Sadly this establishes Shinji as Harem protagonist. It is most definitely an Anime moment and nothing else, with Misato as the slackish big-sister type character.

(Q-6) Rei appearance quick edit

(A-6) Mysterious and just one of the many quick edits that makes Evangelion so great. The doves may be slightly too much, but it essentially functions as a magical-trick distraction to Shinji. Plays into the Rei mysterious-girl archetype too.

(Q-7) Shinji shock at Angel appearance

(A-7) Psychologically iffy in that he doesn’t just straight run away. But passable.

(Q-8) “The unidentified object is coming towards us. We’ve got it on visual, I’m putting it on the main screen.

(A-8) Purely Sci-Fi Military Jargon-Speak. Pretty much there for the aesthetic. From now on I won’t be including any other of these unless its psychologically relevant.

(Q-9) Futsuyuki: “It’s been fifteen years hasn’t it.”

Gendo: “Yes, well now we’re sure. It’s the Angels”

(A-9) Also purely exposition (and the beginning of people saying things that aren’t gonna be explained), but it’s better than other exposition because of the cool transition to the title card after Gendo says “Angels”. But also you’d think that people would be a lot more panicky after a supposed mass extra-terrestial threat that hasn’t been seen for 15 years re-appears. In this small regard, Attack on Titan is way better at showing shock and fear due to a re-appearance from a massive threat. But then again, military officers and NERV are stuck in their ivory tower secret base, so it may make sense.

Also establishes Gendo as the calm bastard he is.

One particular way to separate Eva from its blatant Sci-Fi Chuunibyouish-Jargon cliches would be to cut out the Angel swimming at the start. Remove the NERV scenes. Have the title-card cut in after Shinji spots the Angel (which clears the exposition that that’s what those things are called), elliptically show the inside of NERV with silence and no explanation, spend most of the episode tracking Shinji and only show Gendo fully when Shinji meets him. Not only will this make things more mysterious, as you’re discovering things as Shinji is too, but it would be possible for a rewrite to focus on the psychology between Misato and Shinji. If you still want to show the military futility, cut in the bombs and explosions and generals snapping their pencils quickly (and without any military jargon-speak) while Misato and Shinji are interacting. If you want to reveal the name of the N-Mine, cut to a shot of its side with the name, and then show the whole atomic explosion scene. That would probably be more than enough to establish that kind of exposition.

But from a marketing perspective, maybe adding such stuff inside the work helps to ‘comfort’ the audience that this falls in the vein of a certain type of military SF. I don’t have enough statistics to show how much the ratings increase when a SF work includes such jargon vs when it doesn’t, but in Eva its dry and not done in the frenetic way that, for example, the crazy pseudo-science is dealt in Doctor Who, with a lot of hamming and abuse of the Doctor-Actors quirks while he delivers nigh-incomprehensible concepts at mach speed. So I still think it would be tons better to get rid of it.

(Q-10) Misato: “I’m sorry! Were you waiting long?”

(A-10) While the cool entrance of the car after the explosion only serves to accentuate Misato’s cool-big-sister-ness (even with the sunglasses). It would probably be less genre-tastic and more tense if Misato had to park outside a certain area and shout to Shinji to run to the car, or if she was shouting at him while he was getting on (which would probably be the more realistic option).

(Q-11) Futsuyuki: “Is it protected by an AT Field?”

Gendo: “Yes. Conventional weapons are no match for the Angels.”

(A-11) While Gendo and Futsuyuki are getting on the exposition train with the military’s massively failed attempts, things are being said with absolutely no context whatsoever. The AT-field remains a symbolically opaque idea until we get more knowledge of its true name (which is hidden in the opening song) and that humans have it, which is when it starts being an obvious metaphor for loneliness and alienation and stuff like that but weaponized, or a concrete form of the ‘hedge-hog syndrome’. This is the problem with exposition released too early without any knowledge backing. It only serves to confuse the viewer, and in a bad way too. The method I outlined above about explaining nothing until Shinji got to NERV, is a good kind of confusion, in that it sets the audience in his subjective state of confusion while providing the least amount of information necessary to understand. Until the main psychological themes start to get underway, all they would have to do is to show the field surrounding the Angel to convey that information to the audience. Because the name and occurrence of “AT-field” and other of the military stuff is void of meaning in this episode (besides showing woah Angel powerful), it really just adds unnecessary flab to the story.

(Q-12) Misato: “Hey, wait a second. They’re going to use an N2-mine? Get down!”

(A-12) While one questions the logic of Misato stopping the car to spend some time staring at the Angel, this is the part where exposition could have been useful. Sadly Shinji, in this moment, is nothing but a ragdoll pressed against Misato’s body. One method would have been to have him ask “hey what’s an N2 mine?” like any 14-year old wondering what the heck is going on in this humongous extra-terrestial encounter. That would have at least added to the realism of him being a teen that literally knows nothing about the scenario he’s in. But the only information relayed here is that there is an N2-mine, and it is probably a massive and normally not-used weapon, which is really extraneous since you can see how huge the blast is. Once again, cutting dialogue and showing Misato just getting down would have conveyed enough information.

(Q-13) Shinji and Misato staring at the blast from the turned over car.

(A-13) Their positions and expressions makes it sort of comedic, but only that.

(Q-14) Misato: “Are you all right?”

Shinji: “Yeah, but my mouth is full of dirt.”

Misato: “That’s okay. Now then, let’s go! Push! There.”

Misato: ” Thanks for the hand, I really appreciate it.”

(A-14) Slighty comic and slighty human, I guess, in that the secret agency representative has to ask Shinji to help her push over a car. Still continues to establish Misato in the ‘no-fucks given’ vein of a character. Still, the fact that the car still works (and later is shown to only be fixed with duct tape) may be slightly problematic.

A case can be made for having both of them have to walk there due to the car being screwed over. It could make use of scenery + psychology a whole lot more, but then again they want to get to NERV as fast as possible because the Angel is about. Another possibility is to have Misato page in a helicopter or other mode of transport or something and have them wait there idly, which can be used to show a scene of awkwardness/alienation better than anything else. Having the protagonist be forced to do nothing but twiddle his thumbs in an alien attack on the first episode waiting for a pick-up would be quite an amazing thing to see.

(Q-15) Shinji: “Thank you too, Miss Katsuragi”

Misato: “Just Misato is fine. I’m glad we’ve met at last, Shinji Ikari.”

Shinji: “Yea”

(A-15) Really only serves to drive their names in and nothing else. Alternative method for greater impact would be to have no one saying Shinji’s name until meeting Gendo.

(Q-16) More Military Fluff

(A-16) I’ve already detailed my fix to these elements. This is really one of the problems that dates Evangelion, and a whole lot of old Anime. Look, no matter how much people idealize the past, the fact is that the shift from SF to moe and comedy, at the very least, enforces a focus more onto characters than all these generic tropes. Even an emotionally abusive melodrama like Clannad has, on the whole, more interesting characters than so many things in the past. Akira, great visuals aside, has paper characters, not to mention Gunbuster (despite GB also having the interesting SF premise using Relativity as well). Evangelion really signified the shift in focus, but it still contains too much reliances on the most stale tropes of the mecha genre. Later Gainax Anime like TTGL and Diebuster both get over this hurdle, simultaneously tightening visuals and having greater interaction. Without the Moe-Romcom foundation, and if people were still more enamored with cool cyberpunk settings than beautiful-people-doing-beautiful-things, you’d have none of the great character-focused shows we see nowadays, from White Album 2 to Bakemonogatari to Oregairu. (Then again, Utena is also dated by Shoujo cliches at times, so maybe its just an upwards trend to understanding pacing better. Either way, it’s far from being killed by moe)

(Q-17) Showing of car fixed with duct-tape

Misato: “Yes, don’t worry about it. His safety is my top priority, so could you get a car train ready for us? The express one. Right. Well I volunteered to pick him up, so it’s my duty to make sure he gets there. See ya!”

(A-17): Comedic, but kind of a cop-out, especially with the possible direction I detailed above. There’s quite a nice touch with the shot viewed from bottom up, showing Shinji just staring out the window though.

(Q-18) Misato (Internal Monologue): “But this sucks! I just had this car restored, and now it’s a wreck. 33 loan payments to go… and the repair costs… Even worse, my only good clothes have been ruined…

Shinji: “Excuse me, Misato… Um, Misato”

(A-18) Plainly dated comedy. Characterizing Misato as an ‘adult person suffering from adult problems’ in the middle of an apocalypse scenario. At least Anno has the savvyness to make use of quick cuts here.

(Q-19) Shinji: “Are you sure you can just take those?”

Misato: “Nevermind. It’s an emergency, and we need a working car now, right? And I am a government officer, after all, so everything’s going to be perfectly fine, okay?

Shinji: “I don’t think anyone’s going to buy that.”

Misato: “Don’t get so snotty. You’re not as cute as I thought you were.”

Shinji: “Is that so?”

Misato: “Oh, did I upset you? Sorry, sorry, you’re just a kid after all.”

Shinji: “So are you. You’re not as mature as I thought you were.”

Car swerving.

(A-19) This is the kind of back-and-forth banter that is probably more needed, and it also establishes Misato’s immature character traits, which comes back into play when she becomes unable to bear responsibility anymore. One fix I can think of is to get rid of the comedy at the end, extend the exchanges (which would be possible if the military stuff was shortened) and you could even do the sudden halfway mark stop when Shinji says “you’re not as mature as I thought you were”, to give it a psychological heft.

(Q-20) Shinji: The special agency NERV.

Misato: Yes, it’s a secret organization under the control of the UN.”

Shinji: “It’s the one my father belongs to right?”

Misato: “Well, yeah… do you know what he does?”

(Pause) Shinji: “My teachers told me it was important to the safety of the human race.”

Cut to Gendo’s full face

(A-20) The pause says a lot more than what’s going on.

(Q-21) After Gendo has a talk with the Generals, he says “Don’t worry, a new (pilot) will be here soon”. Cuts to Shinji’s Face in the same pose.

(A-21) The match up is also great. Cut down on the military part and you’d have it a lot tighter.

(Q-22) Shinji: “Are you taking me to my father?”

Misato: “Yes. Yes, I think so.”

Shinji’s face darkens. Quick cut to bag and past cry Shinji.

Shinji: “Father…”

Elliptical cut to moving train

Misato (while still on Shinji’s face): “Oh yes, did you get an ID card from your Dad?”

Shinji (after realization): “Uh… Yes. Here it is.”

Misato: “Thanks… then, read this.”

Shinji: “NERV… (to self) my father’s agency (well the subs say that but he’s more like saying “Dad’s work…”)”

Book thrust in his face

Shinji: “Am I going to work for him?”

Cut to Misato looking up saying nothing

Shinji: “Of course. He wouldn’t have sent me a letter unless he needed me for something.”

Misato: “It looks like you don’t get along with your Dad… It’s the same with me.”

(A-22) The visuals here are the best part, adding the psychological accentuation to everything. This kind of rhythm is what most people would kill for to be able to pull off. But this is the start of the Freudian psychology though. It could probably be shortened with a lot less dialogue and a lot more focus on the visual placement.

(Q-23) Reveal of the Geo-front

Shinji: “Awesome! It’s a real Geo-front!”

Misato: “That’s right. This is our secret base; NERV HQ. This is the key to rebuilding our World. A Fortress for all Mankind”

Cut to halfway mark.

(A-23) So far this sequence of entering NERV is quite okay. I have nothing wrong with it being here, except for maybe the halfway placement (since I believe it could be used a lot better everywhere else). I guess Shinji acting like a Wowwed kid is quite okay characterization.

(Q-24) Misato: “What on Earth? Isn’t this the right way?”

Wind blows

Misato: “This is why I don’t like wearing skirts here… and where the heck is Ritsuko anyway? I’m sorry. I’m not used to this place yet.”

Shinji: “We passed this spot just a little while ago.”

Misato (making a uuuhhh face): “Don’t worry about it, and anyway, they make these systems to be used you know.”

(A-24) Another comedic exchange. Whether its really necessary… I can probably think of a few ways to use silence instead for better effect. But then it would probably turn it more into Lain’s atmosphere or something.

(Q-25) Establishing Ritsuko swimming in shots.

Ritsuko: “I can’t believe it, has she got lost again?”

(A-25) Probably fanservice. But I like how Anno rarely introduces characters the first time with a direct shot of their face (besides Shinji).

(Q-26) Lift door opens replacing Misato’s reflection with Ritsuko

Misato: “Ah… Ritsuko”

Ritsuko: “Why are you wasting my time, Captain Katsuragi? Aren’t you aware that we’re both short of time and manpower?”

Misato: “Sorry!”

Ritsuko: “Is this the boy?”

Misato: “Right. According to the Marduk report, he’s the Third Child.

Ritsuko: “I’m glad to meet you.”

Shinji (a bit awkward): “Uh… hi”

Misato: “He’s just like his Dad. The unfriendly part, that is.”

(A-26) The constant Misato shown to be immature with a joking smile, can be quite old. I wonder if its possible to redo all the sequences with less reliance on the joking faces.

(Q-27) Cut to Gendo

Gendo: “Handle the rest of this.”

Futsuyuki: “Their first meeting in over three years.”

Soldier: “Vice Commander, the target has started moving again.”

(A-27) Probably better if they just showed Gendo silently traveling down the elevator or something.

(Q-28) Purple Background. Elevator going upwards.

Voice: “Battle Stations Level One etc…”

Misato: “Here we go.”

Ritsuko: “It sounds pretty serious.”

Side profile silhouette of Shinji’s face

Misato: “So, how is Unit 01 doing?”

Ritsuko: “It’s currently undergoing refridgeration using the B-type equipment.”

Misato: “Does it really work? It’s never worked before has it?”

Ritsuko: “The possibility of activation is 0.000000001%. We call it, pathetically enough, the O-9 system.”

Misato: “Does that mean it doesn’t work?”

Ritsuko: “Oh, don’t be insulting It’s “O”, not “zero”.

Misato: “Well, it’s just a number. Anyway, it’s a bit too late to be saying, “Sorry, it didn’t work”.

(A-28) This is probably the best use of the jargon, because of Shinji’s reaction to everything. He completely does not care about what they are saying.

(Q-29) Small beam of light illumating them. Closes shut.

Shinji: “Ah. It’s so dark…”

Flash to Eva 01’s face in front of Shinji.

Shinji: “A face? A giant robot?”

Ritsuko: “You won’t find this in the manual… this is man’s ultimate humanoid fighting machine, the first model of the synthetic life-form Evangelion Unit 01. Built here in secret, it is mankind’s last hope.”

Shinji: “Is this a part of what my father’s been doing?”

(A-29) Shinji is shown to be quite slow here.

(Q-30) Gendo: Correct

Pan upwards to face

Gendo: “It’s been a while.”

Slow zoom in to Shinji’s

Shinji: “Father…”

Shinji’s face on multi-monitors

Gendo: “We’re moving out.”

(A-30) The multi-monitors is one of the best shots in the episode.

(Q-31) Misato: “Moving out?! Unit 00’s still in cryo-stasis, isn’t it? Wait a moment. You’re going to use the 01?”

Ritsuko: “There’s no other way”

Misato: “Now wait, Rei can’t do it yet, can she? We’ve got no pilot.”

Ritsuko: “One’s just been delivered.”

Misato: “Are you serious?”

Ritsuko: “Shinji Ikari.”

Shinji: “Yes?”

Ritsuko: “You will pilot it.”

Shinji: “Huh???”

Pan outwards with Shinji in between.

Misato: “But even Rei Ayanami took seven months to synchronize with her Eva. It’s impossible for him to do it. He just got here!”

Ritsuko: “He just has to seat in the seat, we don’t expect more than that.”

Misato: “But…”

Ritsuko: “Repelling that Angel is our highest priority. If putting someone who has a chance of synchronizing into an Eva unit gives us even the slightest chance then we have to do it. You understand that, don’t you, Captain Katsuragi?”

Misato: “I suppose.”

(A-31) Shinji is, once again, shown to be quite slow. If Shinji joined the shouting match here, it would be quite something. At the very least I don’t think people’s impression of him would be as whiny. The documentary Seven Up + Seven, which details a series of characters taken from Seven, then Fourteen, does show that at around the age, such reserve is completely normal though, so I’m not complaining.

(Q-32) Shinji: “Father, why did you send for me?”

Gendo: “You know exactly why.”

Shinji: “So, you’re asking me to take this thing and go out there and fight?”

Gendo: “Precisely”

Shinji: “No way! How can you do something like this to me? I knew you didn’t want me!”

Gendo: “I called you because I have a need for you.”

Shinji: “Why me?”

Gendo: “Because no one else can.”

Shinji: “No, I can’t… I’ve never even seen anything like this before! I can’t do this!”

Gendo: “You will be instructed.”

Shinji: “But there’s no way! I can’t pilot it!”

Gendo: “If you’re going to pilot it, do it now and quickly. If not, leave!”

(A-32) The voice-acting here completely drew me in the first time I watched this. It’s just so perfectly shrill and whiny.

(Q-33) Cut to various faces looking in. Angel explosion causes shake.

Gendo: “It must have located our position.”

Ritsuko: “Shinji, we don’t have time.”

Misato: “Get in.”

Shinji: “No! I didn’t come for this! This is all wrong!”

Misato: “Shinji, just why did you come here? You can’t…You must confront your father and confront yourself.”

Shinji: “I know it! But I just can’t!”

Gendo: “Fuyutsuki, wake up Rei.”

Fuyutsuki: “Can we use her?”

Gendo: “She isn’t dead.”

Fuyutsuki: “I understand.”

(A-33) Misato also begins to become a mentor figure here, which is a strange switch. Of course you can link it to her own views towards her father. I guess I would prefer it if she was more ambivalent towards saying stuff here. The “confronting your father and yourself” part sounds slightly cheesy. Actually that’s one of the primary conflicts in Misato’s character. I think it would have been a lot cooler if they were willing to risk playing her more lackadaisically and aloof, having more moments where she cares less about Shinji and just wants to do her own thing. But, of course, Shinji has to have people care about him.

(Q-34) Fuyutsuki: “Rei.”

Rei: “Yes?”

Fuyutsuki: “Our spare is unusable. You will do it again.”

Rei: “Yes, Sir.”

Dark Shinji Silhouette, while Ritsuko gives commands

Ritsuko: “Reconfigure Unit 01’s system to Rei, then activate!”

Shinji: “I knew it. I’m not needed after all.”

(A-34) Did I mention how on point the cinematography is throughout the whole part, because it just is.

(Q-35) Rei comes in on hospital bed. Breathing heavily. Shows Angel attack again. Force causes Rei to topple over. When the light crashes down the Eva hand protects Shinji. Everyone over-reacts, with exposition of course. Shinji runs to Rei. His hand is covered in blood.

Shinji: “I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away…. Let me do it. I’ll pilot it.”

(A-35) The moment of resolve. I wonder how it would play if it was completely silent instead of him doing the ‘tell himself he can do it’ thing.

(Q-36) Eva preparation sequence. LCL fills the Shinji plug.

Shinji: “I feel sick.”

Misato: “Stop whining. You’re a boy aren’t you!”

Continuation of preparation sequence…. Shinji launches and faces Angel.

Misato: “Shinji, don’t get killed out there.”

(A-36) Mandatory sequence in a mecha. What Misato says about Shinji being a boy can be seen as maybe deconstructing the masculine mecha-pilots, but I don’t want to stretch that too far. It also ends on a Hollywood cliffhanger, but this is only the first episode. Later endings will be a whole lot more interesting in their placement.

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