Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
So, why should the last two episodes come as less of a surprise than they did? Well, simply because they were already occurring in various chunks throughout the series. It's actually back in episode sixteen that the common image of the abandoned black space, with Shinji's face in denial while a ghost of his childhood self makes accusations of him in a way that is very similar to those last two episodes, makes its first appearance. In fact, the show had already been developing its underbelly well before this, but at this point it takes on new heights that are convenient to speak of. Perhaps there are people out there who understand the full scientific reasoning behind the concept of a Sea of Dirac, but I'm certainly not one of them. What I do understand instead is that Shinji had one hell of an experience while he was trapped in there, and that the sea provided the perfect narrative reasoning for excessive use of Any Space Whatever. This (ASW) isn't some fancy new idea, but rather one that runs neatly alongside that of faceification and focus heavily on expression and affect. Basically, an Any Space Whatever is a location that has lost its obvious place in space and time, a location that can be linked to the rest of the world in any number of ways, and one that brings expression to the forefront. Inside this bizarre Angel, Shinji is already caught up in one – we have no idea where he really is, or how it is that he eventually came to burst forth from the shadow that was originally mistaken for the body, when it was the body as originally mistaken for a shadow that he was swallowed by. Perhaps it doesn't matter. While he is trapped inside this ‘inverted AT Field’, as Ritsuko puts it, a lot happens for both him and the viewer. He finds himself in a tram carriage, where he is interrogated by himself as he exists in the mind of another (presumably the Angel), and as is represented by a glitchy white line. Heck, Shinji himself is also represented by a glitchy white line. Here, when not confronted with white lines and flashing images, Shinji's head is shown as distorted and as wearing a timid, frail, and insecure expression. The tram setting that keeps appearing acts partly like it would in the real world, creating the kind of unease and tension that a busy trip would without there actually being one, or any other people. At this point, it's probably worth noting a comment that Roger Ebert made when speaking about Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies, wherein he said that it gains its power as animation through the purity of its representation rather than actuality, that it is all the more powerful because it presents the idea of a girl who is starving rather than an image of one.
Now, back to Shinji and his distorted features in a land of limited animation. His face doesn't produce full micro-movements, but rather a series of checkpoints within them, each frozen in time and each as a stylised image with very clear expression; an inevitable result of the limitations of television animation, but still effective nonetheless. The entire time spent inside this Angel becomes about analyzing the emotional problems and insecurities of Shinji as its point of focus, and it pulls out the stops in making you feel a lot of it in the process; something that becomes easier to accept after multiple viewings have put your pre-conceived expectations more properly in their place. It has to be noted that a rescue operation is being mounted out there in the land of discernable locations and narrative development while all this is going on, but it is at this point where the skin of the narrative is really getting shown up as becoming stretched over something else. There is still a narrative to cling to, questions are still being asked and answers are still being sought, but making the understanding of the plot here the focus is perhaps to pull one's desires over what is really going on, to ignore the rips appearing in the fabric. The key difference between the time Shinji spends trapped in episode sixteen and the almost whole totality of the broadcast ending is that one still provides aspects of familiar storytelling to grab on to while the other considers them distractions and so casts them wholly aside, along with most of the people who were clinging on to them, it seems. But lets just focus on an immediately likable bit briefly before heading to the next point proper: Eva 01 self-activating and ripping brutally free of the Angel. I can't provide a sound theory for how it got from the shadow to the body like that, but I can say that I've rarely seen blood so charged with energy as it is in the climax of this episode. In fact, the Angel as visible to the outside world becomes dynamically faceified; a once still surface suddenly ripped apart by unwavering ripples of micro-movements, and blood spraying in illogical quantities. The twitches are rapid and the spray intense, now leaving behind the insecurity of Shinji and expressing instead the contrasting ferocity of the Eva as it rips itself free in a continued rain of blood. Eva is hardly the first of its kind to use blood to unrealistic effect, but it is the sheer power of the surface that is broken that allows the full impact, and the sheer celebration of the excess that punctuates it. Countless viewings in, and despite knowing exactly what's coming, I can still feel my pulse changing at this moment every single time.
As if episode sixteen wasn't enough, the following one opens directly on Misato in an unknown area of pure black, highlighted by a spotlight. In fact, rooms and areas in Eva can have a large tendency to put purpose in front of having a logically explainable location. All that black space in 25 & 26 really isn't that big a break from what came before. The committee meeting space is pure blackness as well, and without the glowing tables it becomes even more so when Seele start doing things themselves. Frankly, that space below headquarters, Central Dogma, doesn't make a whole lot of sense either, and seems even more disconnected than the previous examples.
Progress even further into the marked episodes towards the end of the series and even more time gets spent in the abstract spaces of character's minds: most notably Auska's. After getting shown up one too many times, we get childhood flashbacks that focus on the facial expressions of her broken, younger self. We get words violently flashing across the screen after both she and her Eva have been removed from their usual sense of visually discernable spatial coordinates from a interrogating beam of light spewed forth from a glowing Angel in orbit. We see her Eva twitch and writhe in representation of her in pain and frustration, against a bright backdrop. We see her, also removed, desperately grasping at her own skull, trying to keep the assault at bay. We see doors opening with a menacing intimidation, opening up into numerous different abstract spaces with a desperate forcefulness that actually becomes quite unnerving. Elsewhere throughout the series we see other characters intimidated by young a Rei, destroy spare Rei's, and Rei herself enter discussion with an Angel as vein-like tendrils seem to burrow through a body who's mind is being confronted by an Angel, one that is sharing her own bodily form, as it teaches her about herself and emotion within an abstract environment. Water drips against removed blackness, characters curl up insecurely in a dark room marked only by a NERV logo, and hands flex with intent. In all cases, either distinct expressive micro-movements are shown, Any Space Whatever has taken over the more recogonisably connected Tokyo 3 locales, or both. As the show pushes towards its end, such examples become easier to spot and more commonplace, and even begin to take over themselves, such as after Shinji has become absorbed into his Eva.
And then, it seems, the Eva fan has blinked and the once obvious objective narratives sort of just end without any major fanfare. The final Angel has been destroyed by Shinji's own hand, but it isn't the excuse for celebrating the defeat of the bad guys that it seemed it would be when the show started, and Shinji's own personal grief is far more the focus. The secondary plot that gradually rose to the surface – the Human Instrumentality Project - just sort of goes into play without any real explanation. All we know is that it involves Rei, it gets initiated and then, well, that's it. Both of the typical objective based threads of the narrative have run short and there are two full episodes left over: One second Shinji is grieving that Kaworu had to die, and the next we're cut straight to his interrogation over the matter; a sort of pure flow of character examination without the in-betweens of the greater story getting in the way. It's little wonder that those intently following the narrative were disappointed. However, for all his abandoning of following his narrative and answering the questions that he has raised, Anno has successfully peeled back all unwanted distraction. Back when cinema was first starting out, it could be described as having been a sort of ‘Cinema of Attractions’, as has been written elsewhere. People would go along simply too see things happen on screen and to be thrilled by the raw nature of it, and even watching the expressions on a human face was almost a genre all of its own. Then the Hollywood system of filmmaking gradually moved in, packed to the gills with two-hour blows, and plot became much more important. It's hard to keep a person's attention on what you're showing for over an hour, and so stories were written as a means of keeping a viewer's interest, giving the intellect of the brain something to hold on to while the rest of the film did its thing. There's obvious perspective in describing things this way, but it does show up why B&T (and by turn, most of the rest of us) may have things back to front in how we appreciate narrative: other aspects, or ‘excess’ as has been commonly been termed, is not strictly subordinate to the story. Rather, if the filmmaker or director really wishes to express something, the plot will be used as a structure upon which to hang what he or she really wants to show instead. The thought that Anno wanted to tell the story of a boy named Shinji who against his will must face his father and rise up to battle Angels, all the while against a backdrop of a secret organization seeking to mash everybody's minds together seems both shallow and absolutely ludicrous. While nobody can say for absolute certain exactly what he wanted to say or express, it's far more likely that it could be found in the way he relates different emotional and physical states to the audience, born from a desire to make his own pain, suffering, insecurities and hope to be understood, or at least felt. Instrumentality may have just provided the ultimate excuse to tackle this in as much of a head-on manner as possible and it may be that in the setting created in 25 & 26 it is possible for Anno to examine not so much his characters, but rather the very traits that have characterised them. Themes are bound to follow as an almost inevitable result.