Evangelion: Death and Rebirth
December 14th, 2012
Evangelion: Death and Rebirth is the subject of the 43rd episode of Anime Abandon hosted by Bennett The Sage The episode was posted to Thatguywiththeglasses on December 14th, 2012 and was posted to YouTube on June 13, 2013
In this episode, Bennett examines one of the most divisive and controversial Anime titles of all time. In preparation for The End of Evangelion, Sage gives us his thoughts on this touchstone series that has shaped the scene, for better or worse. Inevitability: Thy name is Evangelion.
(The opening intro plays before cutting to Sage in his room, pulling at his face in discomfort at the subject of the video in question. Going on for a while before he finally relents)
Sage: (Sighs) Evangelion
(It then cuts to a rapidly put together montage of various clips and sound-bites from the show, set to "Ode to Joy" by Beethoven in the background)
Sage (VO): There's a certain....inevitability to Evangelion. You could begin an innocent conversation about watching Sailor Moon as a kid and it will somehow devolve into the first time you saw Evangelion. All anime roads lead to Evangelion. So unavoidable is the series that Toonami basically strong-armed themselves into showing it during Giant Robot Week.
Sage: You can't JUST talk about Evangelion and certainly not if you're an internet asshole who has thousands of people pedantically scrutinizing every syllable uttered. Hence my apprehension.
Sage (VO): I am going to shoot this elephant in the room right now: I don't like Evangelion, I make no secret of it. However, I can recognize it's important to the culture. Hell if the franchise was flawless, it wouldn't be nearly as talked about as it was and still is.
Sage: At the end of the day, Anime Abandon is....a museum of anime's past. And I'm the weary curator here to play tour guide. Sometimes a museum houses fine art. And sometimes someone takes a picture of a turd and puts it in a nice frame.
Sage (VO): If you manage to escape the gravitational pull of Hideki Anno's psychosis so far, allow me to be the poor motherfucker who drags you in. Evangelion started as...well a monster of the day show back in 1995. And through a director's crumbling mental state, irresponsible budgetary splurging, and WAY too much fan involvement (not limited to death threats over the course of the show), transformed itself into a near shapeless blob of navel-gazing pretension and existentialism.
Sage: That might be the most high-brow paragraph I've ever written. Can't have that continuing can we, floppy donkey dicks?
Sage (VO): So monumentally out of control was the budget for the series that the last two episodes were literally nothing but the characters of the show sitting on a folding chair, talking shit about themselves. Until through a contrived series of half thought-out statements, the main character Shinji says he is him.
Shinji: I want to be myself. I want to continue existing in this world. My life is worth living here.
(The room fades away and cuts to the infamous part of the ending where Shinji and all the characters are standing on a coral backdrop and applauding him for his "breakthrough")
(It then cuts to the infamous ending screen to the Ghostbuster's NES game. An apt visual for the ending to the series as a whole)
Sage: So, clearly this shit needs to be remade!
Sage (VO): And so it was. Again, and then again. Honestly, I can not be bothered to keep track of Anno salvaging the remains of his diseased grey matter. There are fewer versions of fucking Blade Runner. And this (technically speaking) is what Death and Rebirth is: an hour long recap (Or retread as I would put it) of the first 24 episodes of the series that leads up to the End of Evangelion. But before we could slay that dragon, we have to catch everyone up with Death and Rebirth.
Sage: So prepare yourselves for the longest, most drawn out "previously on" segment in the history of ever.
Sage (VO): Death and Rebirth is split into segments that technically follow the chronology of the series, but its framed so that it focuses on the characters one at a time. All the characters are appropriately summarized, though some are more bluntly put than others.
Misato: Let me introduce you. Shinji, this is the designated pilot of Eva Unit 02. The second child, Asuka Langley Soryu.
Recap: She's arrogant. Egotistical. Conceited. Freaky. Self-absorbed. Twisted. Cold-hearted. Schizophrenic. Saccharine. Unsympathetic. Self-centered. Totally absurd. And just plain annoying.
Sage: So....Cunt, basically.
Sage (VO): Because they're trying to cram a season's worth of stories into an hour, Death and Rebirth doesn't really have a coherent narrative. Just enough scenes to establish important character moments and setting details. It's basically the Cliff Notes version of the show.
Sage: Though it's impressive that they were able to cram so much densely packed narrative into one hour. I can probably do them one better. I could summarize the entirety of Neon Genesis Evangelion, in one sentence. Shinji Ikari is fucking obnoxious.
Shinji: I'm the one who deserved to be hit, not you! I'm a coward! I'm dishonest! I'm sneaky! And a wimp.
Misato: Shinji, you mustn't run away. You must confront your father, and you must confront yourself
(Back to Sage with a rather obvious sour-puss look on his face)
Sage: Ladies and gentleman: (Holds his hand out) Shinji Ikari.
Sage (VO): I'm pretty sure that everyone has heard about the self-pitying emo that is Shinji. Hell people have been driven away from seeing NGE, because of Shinji alone. His presence cannot be ignored, and his constant, introspective put-downs are nothing short of groan-inducing tedium. Even when other characters tell him to snap out of it and grow up, he's still unbearably self-absorbed.
Misato: So you won't pilot it?
Shinji: It seems a bit unrealistic for you to force everything on her. Don't worry: I'll pilot it.
Misato: But you don't want to do it.
Shinji: Of course not. It's not something that comes to me naturally. But Ayanami and you and Ms. Ritsuko-
Misato: Stow that line of crap! This has nothing to do with any of us! If you don't like it, get out of here! Just forget all about EVA and us, and go back where you came from. We don't need someone with that attitude piloting.
Sage: Here's the thing though: We're not supposed to like Shinji.
Sage (VO): He's whiny, selfish, and acts like....well an angst-ridden teenager. And given what has happened to him and what is constantly asked of him it's not hard to see why he acts the way he does. His father is distant and seems to care more about the soft-spoken Rei than him. All the while, he's risking his own life to destroy the monstrous angels that threaten the world. He's basically being forced to grow up at the worst possible situation. To the anime's credit: it never asks the audience to like Shinji per se, rather it wants us to understand why he is the way he is.
Sage: He is a reluctant hero, and being that means he has less than desirable traits. On paper: this kind of characterization would have been fine if the plot was about Shinji's coming-of-age. But it's not really.
Sage (VO): Yes there are elements of Shinji facing adversity in both his absent father and his own emotions, but when it's painted against the near apocalyptic setting of the story at large, this inner conflict seems kind of moot.
Sage: Yeah Shinji, I know you're dad was an asshole and I know you miss your dead mom and I know you feel like no one likes you but-
Sage (VO): HOLY SHIT, GIANT ANGELS ATTACKING TOKYO!! GET THE FUCK OVER YOURSELF, GET THE LEAD OUT, AND KILL THIS THING BEFORE IT REDUCES EVERYTHING TO ASH!!!
Sage: See where the problem with Shinji comes in? The overall plot takes a backseat to his rambling diatribes when by all accounts: it really shouldn't. It's his own personal psychosis. (Leans forward and cups his hands around his mouth) AGAINST THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD!
Sage (VO): And again, this ties into the theme of him being an unlikely hero, but that's not an excuse. The thing about unlikely heroes is that they're typically more relatable and down-to-earth than their classic counterparts. (Shows clips of Superman Returns and Spider-Man 2) It's the typical comparison of Superman versus Spider-Man. One's a near mighty god that fights to protect the planet out of the goodness of his own heart. While the other is a wannabe photojournalist that lucked into his own powers, and fight's mostly out of guilt for not using them. They're both further characterized through what opposes them. Spider-Man's conflicts are typically more personal, his adversaries are more about going after him in particular or after his immediate family. Whereas Superman is in constant conflict with planetary threats, again, generally speaking. Both types of conflicts are equally appropriate considering each character's background, and how they're framed. But when you try to interchange the conflict with the character, you're not going to get anywhere. This is the main reason why Superman Returns failed as hard as it did. He's a god amongst men, therefore completely unrelatable. Why should we care about him feeling lonely when there's much more pressing matters going on? Same thing goes for Shinji: his daddy issues and abandonment complex maybe at the forefront of his mind. But considering what else is going on, it's small potatoes and it only comes off as self-indulgent.
Sage: Bottom line? (Cups his hands again)GET OVER IT SHINJI!
Sage (VO): Not that Shinji is the only annoying character in the show or even the most annoying. No: that distinction belongs to Asuka.
Sage: I believe we've already been introduced.
Asuka: Scheisse! Well so much for synchronization! I could never sink down to the level of this animated turnip! If you ask me, the whole idea is impossible!
(Back to Sage with a deadpan look on his face)
Sage: (waving towards the camera) Hi Asuka.
(Fade out into commercial break.)
Sage (VO): I've never encountered a character so blatantly annoying and hateful than Asuka Langley Soryu. Written with the subtlety of a gay pride parade down Market Street by a guy who probably never talked to girls until he was 20 years old.
Sage: It amazes me that Shinji's considered the go-to the series when for my money, Asuka is the worst thing about Evangelion
Sage (VO): Shinji may be annoying, but at least his annoyance sprouts from self-pity, which is more tolerable than Asuka's shallow pride. Death and Rebirth doesn't really delve deep into why Asuka is a braying jackass, or jenny, as it were. But it's mostly linked to her witnessing her mother's suicide after going insane after coming into contact with an angel.
Kaworu: You are extremely afraid of any kind of initial contact aren’t you? Are you that afraid of other people? I know that by keeping others at a distance you avoid a betrayal of your trust, for while you may not be hurt that way, you mustn’t forget that you must endure the loneliness. Man cannot erase this sadness, because all men are fundamentally alone.
Sage: What makes her truly hateful however, is the fact that the anime casts her in a sympathetic light. No character ever chastises her for her bullshit, and they will actually offer sympathy when her pride is wounded.
Asuka: What's up? Are you happy that I'm having trouble with my EVA now?! Well don't worry, cuz when the next angel comes, our invincible Shinji will ride out and destroy it. We sweet little girls won't have to fight anymore, they only need stupid Shinji! I thought it was bad when he was nice, but when an emotionless wind-up doll like you starts being sympathetic, I'm doomed!
Rei: I am not a doll
Sage: (Sarcastically) Not that she's grateful for the concern or anything!
Sage (VO): By the way, the human wisp with a voice that sounds like a ghost whispering down a sewer pipe is Rei, but we'll get back to her in good time. Back to Asuka, her only redeeming value to the story is her relationship with Shinji. He's at once confounded by her and drawn to her, but mostly because of his teenage hormones.
(A scene then plays of Shinji and Asuka laying next to each other on a mattress as Shinji's tape player starts fast forwarding and takes involuntary movements from Asuka as an invitation to make out. He doesn't get it though, as she starts whispering "mama" in her sleep and cries involuntarily as the tape runs out of time. Then it cuts to Shinji sleeping over on the right side on another makeshift bed, disappointed and frustrated at what has taken place)
Shinji: So, you're just a kid yourself.
Sage (VO): Sexuality plays a huge part to Shinji's coming-of-age arc and in that sense, Asuka is the perfect, if not vexing foil to Shinji. The character herself is an obnoxious brat but in the context of Shinji's personal growth, she at least has a clearly defined place.
Sage: But, again, in the context of the plot, her presence boomerangs right back to infuriating! She's like, the perfect storm of shitty characters. (Holds up hands) Maddening, yet necessary.
Sage (VO): The third of this triumvirate is Rei, and her place in the story is not nearly as well-defined as Shinji's or Asuka's. She's an enigmatic, soft spoken girl who quietly goes through the story, appearing every now and then. Leaving an impact, but with not much clarity.
Sage: (Stretching himself out) Alright. Get the kinks out people. I feel a long-winded explanation coming on.
(Sage then heavily breathes in as the scene with Rei and Shinji doing the coordination exercise is interspersed with text from a video game)
Announcer: Are you ready? GO!!
Sage (VO): (Motormouthing like a madman) While there is no specific statement over where Rei came from, it's hinted that she was created from the remains of Shinji's dead mother, which explains his father's attachment to her....
….She's an expendable homunculus and only one of many copies that allow you to take in a lab in the same headquarters that houses the Evangelions….
Announcer: Good one!
….There have been three copies throughout the story, each one killed at different times throughout. Because of the weird connection to his mother, the relationship she shares with Shinji can be interpreted as Oedipal in nature, and yes, for the umpteenth time, we bring up on incest here on this show....
Announcer: Did he say that?!
….Because she knows of her expendable nature, she shows little emotion in her interactions with both Shinji and Asuka, with only the occasional smile or tear managing to crack through her emotionless façade. Like the nature of her past, her character serves mainly a utilitarian purpose, providing a catalyst that would spark the annihilation of Earth and as such, she could be viewed as the most fully realized character in the entire cast. That, in a nutshell, is Rei Ayanami.
(Sage then bows down, clearly proud of his impressive diatribe as the screen shows a faux results screen with an S rank given out and all the bars maxed out with PERFECT! on the ends)
Announcer: That's right: You a rap master!!
Sage (VO): Compared to the other two, I guess I technically like Rei's character the most. But that is an entirely deceptive statement. There's nothing about her to like.
Sage: With so much of this review talking about the three main characters, how come we haven't talked about the story or the setting? (Beat) Well, it's because the story is more interested in the inner workings of these three than it is in anything else.
Sage (VO): Man coming into contact with God? Man surpassing God by enslaving his angels to do the bidding of teenagers? Oh hell: who want's to hear about that when we can listen to Shinji telling himself to not run away?
Sage: I mean, the show does focus on the metaphysical stuff where it needs to. But, the story and the setting is WAY more interesting than either of the three characters.
Sage (VO): Normally, I would give a nod of appreciation to Anno for not letting the backdrop of the story be the only driving force OF the story. But it seems he was too focused on the nature of the characters, instead of letting the backdrop affect the characters. Nothing kills your plot quite like removing the narrative entirely just to have your characters speak obliquely in front of a constantly shifting backdrop.
Shinji: I've learned how he feels about his work. A-about my mother.
Ryoji: No, you're wrong Shinji. You only believe that you've learned. But people can't even really understand themselves, much less each other. Understanding 100% of anything is impossible. That's why we spend so much time trying to understand our own motivations and those of others. That's what makes life so....interesting.
Sage: At the beginning of the series, Anno managed keep himself in check, and the first few episodes showed a lot of promise and were actually pretty good. But then Anno lost it. Lost his mind. Lost his marbles. Lost his shit.
Sage (VO): What started as your typical giant robot anime quickly became a mess of introspective monologues and enough religious symbolism to last five Dan Brown novels.
Sage: It's almost like Anno tried so hard, that he went full circle, and went right back to being lowbrow. There is such a thing as trying to hard, and man did Anno pass that, and collect $200.
Sage (VO): Given it's the medium of animation, it's important to explore all possibilities, and try to show people something they've never seen people before. But when you use that same medium for THIS....
(Sage then shows a scene of Asuka and Rei in a non-moving elevator. There is no dialogue, no music, nothing going on except for Asuka hiccupping slightly half-way through. And Bennett inflicts this on us, in all its 40 second glory. Yes I timed it.)
Sage: (Pointing at the camera)….THAT'S pretentious.
Sage (VO): (Sarcastically) Oh look, she hiccupped! I am so glad that countless animators, cell-painters, storyboard artists, and assistants spent their collective 18 man-hours to animate those 1104 individual frames. And that's me being generous.
Sage: And it's not like this is the worst the show gets.
Kaworu: My life was meaningful, because of you.
(Then it transitions to the infamous clip of EVA Unit-01 holding Kaworu while Beethoven's 9th plays in the background, a scene which is infamous for lasting over a minute and ten seconds with absolutely nothing happening on screen. Thankfully, a phone-call interrupts Bennett, causing him to come back while the scene continues on in the right hand corner of frame.)
(Bennett answers his phone.)
Sage: Yello? Oh hey man, thanks for getting back to me. Uh, you got my email? (Beat) Oh great, thanks! Thanks a lot man, this means a lot to me. (Beat) Oh yeah, I'm in the middle of the review right now. (Beat) Oh, don't worry. Don't worry at all. You're not interrupting anything okay? You know it's that scene where Shinji has Kaworu in his hand while Beethoven plays in the background. Yeah, what is up with that scene anyway? (Beat) Yeah, I know you didn't voice him, alright? It was a rhetorical question. (Beat) Yeah, I'M a rhetorical question, great comeback Potsie. Listen: just send me the cameo, and you could go back to doing...….whatever you weren't doing. Alright? Bye.
(Sage hangs up his phone as the scene goes off-screen, having finally gotten to the smash cut to black.)
Sage: Fucking actors.
Sage (VO): So, what is the end result of all of this? What will meet us after all the incessant prattling, the eye-rolling symbolism, and the overblown grandeur?
Sage: Welp, we're about to find out.
(Holds up the copy to The End of Evangelion)
Sage: Till next time.