Take Care of Yourself - Part Two

by Tim Henderson, Sep 19th 2006
This article is part 2 of four, the first part can be viewed here

There are some things in Eva that don't make complete sense within a logical story framework. Regardless of what effects the Second Impact may have had, even at a time before Eva was made, most people really wouldn't have been backing the audio cassette as a storage medium of the future. Shinji has a Walkman however, and it has a very real purpose. It's not there as an element of the larger off-screen story about the developments of technology, nor does it do anything to expand Shinji's character – what it does do, however, is become faceified. Now, I'm aware that I've just been an absolute bastard and thrown some Deleuzeian* wording into the proceedings, but it unfortunately needs to be done.

There are numerous studies out there about what constitutes and evokes film affect, and many of them are quite interesting, even though varied from each other. For example, the past ten years or so has put great emphasis on the physicality of both screen presence and the audience. There are very valid ideas here, and they can work particularly well with Ghibli films from the 90's onwards, where the very way a character moves can carry tremendous amounts of information. The Deleuzeian idea that is more useful here is unfortunately complicated, and revolves more around representations of expression. Within this frame it becomes apparent just why Eva can be so powerful, as well as perhaps where the real appeal resides. To explain why the face is seen as expressive, the basic explanation of micro-movements on an immobile surface - a ‘reflective unity’ - is given. As such, the base of a clock could constitute the reflective unity, and the hands the micro-movements - the expression. Another example beyond the obvious actual face is given in the form of a knife, one that displays micro-movement and expression when it gleams with menace and intent. Back to Shinji's choice of portable music devices and the purpose should now be fairly clear. There are an awful lot of shots of that thing getting to the end of one side, stopping, and then playing in the other direction. There's also a specific example in episode nine where Auska sleepwalks her way next to Shinji and then lies down, facing towards him and squeezing her own cleavage in his direction. Shinji's finger slips and the cassette starts to play in fast-forward, causing an immediate sense of rapidity which relays everything, both in terms of knowledge and actual bodily feeling, to the audience.

So far so good, and so easy to watch as well. After all, everything that happens in the above scene has story and plot relevance, is located in a place easily identified as Misato's apartment, and is effortlessly written off as subservient: Shinji is up late, trying to prepare for the following day's battle, and Auska shows her first signs of insecurity about her mother, which will be expanded upon further along in the story until it gets to the point where she is unable to control her Eva. Outside of reading beyond the initial televised series, however, one could only make an educated guess that directly links Auska's parent problems to her Eva, at least until the movie was released. As for how it was in the series, what started out as easily read as a means of advancing a story got gradually turned on its head, and by the time Auska is hiding, pale-skinned and in the murky water of some obscure bathtub, it is the anguish of Auska, the utter shattering of her ego, that is of primary concern – not the situation that directly surrounds her.

This is a part of where the general inability to accept Eva 25 & 26 may exist. At the start of the series the more general theories of film narrative (particularly within a classical Hollywood frame) can cope with the show quite happily, but once it starts to push past the halfway mark, cracks begin to appear in the surface. The plot and story certainly seem to run along quite happily, but with each passing episode it feels more and more like you have to actually stretch the fabric of the tale out to cover a series of increasing explosions that seem to be appearing and vying for dominant recognition below. By the time Evangelion hits its final two episodes it has caused the common B&T theory of film narrative to explode, violently destroying it as it pushes itself forwards in a manner that the theory simply can't make explanation for. With it, of course, people's expectations get dragged along for the ride. It's perhaps key that Eva strikes me as - and not just the later episodes – a work of profound expression. In all honestly, the plot is actually quite silly no matter how much I want to call it a masterpiece of storytelling. I'm just having a little bit of trouble imagining a giant deformed jellyfish wiping out mankind and becoming the new dominate species, thank you. Or what about a diamond with a drill that comes out the bottom? Or a giant orange blobby flying thing that looks like a missing part of a humongous teething ring? Come on.

Does this mean that I think Eva is poorly written? Hardly. For one thing, people need to stop associating ‘good writing’ and ‘good stories’ as if they were the same thing. It's been mentioned once already that Eva uses what is essentially a monster of the week format, but it really needs to be stressed that this should be viewed as a vehicle for carrying the aspects of what make Eva great, not those aspects itself. The Angels appear as they do on the basis of a gimmick or scenario that they can create above anything else, and this allows for varied and often exciting action scenes to take place. A diamond with a drill sees Misato sap energy from all over Japan to mount an ambitious sniping operation, and a giant teething ring mixes a race against time with the world's single most dangerous game of catch.

* Deleuzeian: Referring to Gilles Deleuze, late 20th century philosopher.


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