Neon Genesis Evangelion — First Impressions


First, a piece of context. Having scorned TV since the late 80s, and thus a fortiori never had a video player, it wasn't until Neon Genesis Evangelion came out on computer readable media — to wit, region 2 DVD — during late 2003 that I finally caught up with what many people have known about for the best part of a decade. Then, having watched the 26 episodes, by March '04, I ventured on to the End of Evangelion, which I've taken as canon for what came after Episode 24. That was definitely not the “what if it were fused with Full Metal Panic or some similar high-school mecha-pilot anime?” of the fragment in episode 26(tv). EoE certainly had a strong impact on me, stronger than I can remember for any movie (except perhaps Alien, which left me jittery about going to the bathroom at night for some days afterwards). There were two reactions — that Shinji was even more of a jerk than is an unavoidable occupational hazard of being a 14–year-old boy (says he from experience), and that Asuka got a really raw deal in the end (and hence this page came into being).

It must be over 25 years ago that I first encountered mention of how, in a then current piece of Japanese TV programming, a character received a magic potion from a priest of an exotic religion from half a world away — a Catholic padre. And just as in a Western production such a priest would be some unwittingly ecumenical mixture of Bhuddist caricature and familar cultural assumptions, the Japanese take appearances of Christianity — usually Roman Catholicism for its “bells and smells” elements — to fulfill the exoticism requirements. This is a thread that continues to the present day (e.g. Noir, amongst others). It's the same thing that places the events of Miyazaki's Laputa (aka Castle in the Sky) in scenery taken in first instance from exotic locations like Wales and Cornwall.

With this in mind, I've allowed myself fairly free rein on what an Angel is, skirting over the fact that in NGE — unlike many anime — the original doesn't have tenshi or Angels, but instead has things that translate as Apostles. Of course part of the reason for side-stepping that issue has been to make knowing use of those other “angelic” sources. In the one story, one character is given an avowedly secular-materialist interpretation, but has to take it on trust; in the other, no explanation is given of the Angels themselves, but an apparently mystical interpretation is placed on crucial matters surrounding Instrumentality, however the interpreter is in a profoundly disturbed mental state at the time, where such a style of explanation would come naturally to the human psyche.

As to Instrumentality/Complementation, I don't think I've done more than place other spins on the well trodden path of speculation based on the out-of-band textual material (“confused at a higher level of knowledge”, as one page puts the state after reading a translation of the RCB). What it has done is given me a chance to dance on the edge of the precipice that is the Singularity in a way that my own, rather more whole-cloth, fictional endeavours have not satisfactorily allowed.

I do think that it is safe to say that Evangelion raises, without providing more than ambiguous answers, the fundamental deep question (“Why?”) in a way that allows people to hold it up as a mirror, which makes the grand scale fan-fics interesting to read (given that the sustained works are likely to only be produced by those with a moderate competence with the written word). It is also nice to see that the flawed — damaged, even — characters, cruelly treated, can arouse sufficient sympathy to provide material for little vignettes that try to express recompense.

If I ever do something as divergent as Noir Genesis Evangelion, though, I'll regard the strictures of the source as more “nice-if” than constraints to be followed that make telling the story more of a challenge.

Open issues

Things that I didn't easily find a satisfactory explanation of include

See other essays for later thoughts on some of these topics.