Part 1 of our multi-part watchalong of the anime classic, Neon Genesis Evangelion! Vrai, Dee, and special guests Isaac Akers and Lizzie Visitante talk first impressions, the show’s legacy, and how people really need to cut Shinji some dang slack.
Date Recorded: Saturday 10th August 2019
Hosts: Vrai, Dee
Guests: Lizzie, Isaac
0:02:10 Ground rules
0:03:14 An abridged production history
0:05:03 That thing we said we wouldn’t do (the Netflix dub)
0:08:09 Backgrounds with Evangelion
0:17:13 First reactions
0:18:23 Distance and connections
0:20:50 Toxic masculinity
0:22:55 Where’s Shinji supposed to go?
0:32:36 The first Angel fight
0:35:31 Toji and Kensuke
0:38:31 Rei and Gendo’s very bad no good relationship
0:41:13 Eva’s trope reversals
0:47:36 Super robot tropes
0:51:28 Misato’s apartment
VRAI: Hello, listeners. Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on the internet on Twitter @WriterVrai, where you can see all the stuff I freelance. Or you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod. With me today is Dee…
DEE: Hi! I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. You can find all my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. And Vrai, may I say, you have a very good Smooth Jazz Radio Voice going today.
VRAI: It’s a very important occasion. I needed to put on my smoothest and handsomest voice.
DEE: It was a soothing intro. I was like, “Ah, the tension’s out of my shoulders!”
VRAI: [laughs] Before it all comes back. For this very important occasion, we happen to have two guests with us today. Would you two like to introduce yourselves and what you do?
ISAAC: Sure. I guess I’ll go first. My name is Isaac. You can find me on the internet as iblessall. I am on Twitter, but my Twitter’s locked, so if you follow me there, you have to send me a request first. In the past I have worked for Crunchyroll as an associate features editor, and I also run a blog called Mage in a Barrel, but I’m kind of on hiatus, so I don’t know if I really count as an aniblogger right now or not.
VRAI: [chuckles] You were on our Ouran watchalong. You count.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Yes, I was. I’m returning.
LIZZIE: Hi, my name is Lizzie. You might also know me as ThatNerdyBoliviane. I write for different places. You can find all of my stuff now. I have a website! That’s exciting. ThatNerdyBoliviane.com. So, if you want to check out all of the stuff I’ve written for, you can find it there. And I have a Patreon that I’m trying to somehow bring to life. And… yeah! So just follow me on Twitter @LizzieVisitante.
VRAI: And you may remember them from our Michiko & Hatchin watchalong. It’s a star-studded occasion, listeners, because as Chatty AF ramps up to its 100th episode, we thought it was time to finally pull out the big guns and do the discourse monster itself, Neon Genesis Evangelion; and Netflix putting the show onto a new service, in a manner of speaking, gave us the perfect opportunity.
I’m going to ask two things of you. For those of you who are just joining us because you saw a podcast talking about Evangelion—oh God, another one—we have two requests. First of all, if you’re going to comment, please do. We love it. But please be mindful of spoilers. The idea of this is that Lizzie and Isaac have never seen the show before and they’ll be coming at it fresh, so please be respectful of their experience.
And also, please don’t be pedantic. I know this show brings it out in people. Resist.
DEE: Please discourse wisely.
VRAI: [chuckles] Yes. So, I’m not going to go into all the production history of Eva because we would be here for literally the entire hour doing that, and I’m sure it’s going to come up as we go along. But just as a brief primer for everybody listening at home: Evangelion was a major flagship show of famous studio Gainax. It ran from October of 1995 till March of 1996 under the direction of Hideaki Anno.
It’s largely considered to be his magnum opus and also a very personal series that reflected his four-year struggle with depression after the production woes of Nadia: Secret of Blue Water and some other failures he had as a director. And as such, it has been spinning discourse basically constantly for the 25 years since.
DEE: Well, and they keep doing new versions of it and iterations of it and remakes of it, so it continues to stay in the popular sphere because of that, too, I think.
VRAI: That’s also true. Yeah, there’s a joke people like to make on Twitter that the true state of being an Evangelion fan is being mildly dissatisfied and kind of angry, and I feel like that’s accurate.
ISAAC: And they just released a new trailer for the next movie version, right? I think I remember seeing something about that.
VRAI: Yeah. Final will be out, theoretically, in 2020. I’ll believe it when I see it.
DEE: It’s like Kingdom Hearts III.
LIZZIE: [laughs] How dare you.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Exactly.
DEE: Until I’m watching the opening credits, it’s not real.
LIZZIE: I can’t believe you went there, Dee. [chuckles]
DEE: Hey, I waited so many years for that game. Of course I went there.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Same here. I didn’t think it would happen, but here I am, old. [laughs]
LIZZIE: Now for Kingdom Hearts IV.
DEE: Exactly, yeah. And we just keep waiting.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I also made another rule for this podcast, that we aren’t going to harp too much on the Netflix thing. I do want to acknowledge it. Netflix has done a pretty crap job at bringing the series to a new audience, which is depressing, seeing as it was unavailable legally for the past decade. But that is what’s legally available, so I know that it is at least what you—Isaac and Lizzie—are watching the show through, yes?
ISAAC: Yes. Yes.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Yeah. Yeah, I am.
ISAAC: I’m not pirating it.
LIZZIE: Yeah, no.
VRAI: All right. I own and cherish the big platinum box, but I’m gonna be real: I did not obsessively check it for this, and also, I really wanted to watch the new dub. So, I’m going to limit myself to one “The other translation did this” per episode.
ISAAC: Ooh. That’s brave.
DEE: [crosstalk] Okay. Way to exercise restraint.
LIZZIE: I’m proud of you.
VRAI: Yeah. I will say that on the whole, it strikes me as the new translation is very stiff and functional, allegedly due to Studio Khara’s need to be hands-on compared to when Gainax owned the property and Anno himself oversaw the original translation that ADV used.
DEE: I did not know that.
VRAI: Yeah, he was pretty directly involved himself, and now we have this instead!
ISAAC: I guess I should clarify, I’m watching it subbed, not dubbed. But through the first six episodes, nothing’s especially stood out to me in terms of the translation that’s really thrown me out of it. But like you say, this is my first time.
VRAI: [crosstalk, deadpan] Third Children.
ISAAC: Yes, that sounds a little awkward, but to me it’s sort of normal anime English gobbledygook, so…
DEE: My major gripe as of right now is that they don’t translate any of the onscreen text, and there’s quite a bit of it, especially in that last episode.
ISAAC: That is irritating.
DEE: Where I’m like, “It would be nice to know what this says,” because I speak a little Japanese, but not large swatches of kanji that blast across the screen very quickly. I’m not going to be able to pick that up.
ISAAC: I can be like, “Oh, that’s a comma. Oh, I recognize that one hiragana.” And that’s about all I get before I’m gone.
LIZZIE: So far, it hasn’t really… I’m watching it subbed, too, so I haven’t noticed anything too monumental except for what Dee mentioned. I know kanji, but I’m not there yet, so I’m just like, “Okay, I don’t know what’s being said, but it’s probably important.”
VRAI: I guess I should have expected, obviously in a first watch, generally most people are going to go with the subtitled version. I will say that if you at home are revisiting the series, the script isn’t very good, but the new dub cast is really talented, and Casey Mongillo gets all my love. They’re very good. And also, a trans actor is playing Shinji and my heart is melted. My heart is in a puddle at the bottom of my ribcage.
DEE: That is really cool.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Which I guess kind of brings me around to the three of you. I’m really curious to know your relative experiences with Eva. Obviously, you two haven’t watched it before, but surely you have been culturally aware of the phenomenon.
ISAAC: Yeah. This is my third or fourth time trying to watch it, because I think I’ve started it and watched the first episode a couple times before this, and I think the farthest I got was to the end of episode 1, and I never went farther than that before. So, it was interesting revisiting that. And as I was going through the rest of the episodes, I was like, “Wait, did I remember that? Have I seen that before?” But I think no, I really only watched episode 1 ever before. So, yeah, it’s interesting to finally get to it.
Back when I was blogging, I did write a blog post about how I hadn’t watched Evangelion, so it’s nice to actually get to experience it now: to discover the truth of the show beneath all of the memes and what you pick up through osmosis and just seeing people talk about it, and actually experiencing it for myself. That’s been fun.
VRAI: Why’d you put it down more than once?
ISAAC: I couldn’t tell you. I think it never resonated with me. And when I wrote the blog post that I referenced before, which I think was literally titled something like “I Haven’t Watched Evangelion Yet”…
One thing I really prioritize and like is making sure I’m having my own experience with shows, because I have had some bad experiences in the past with various anime where I felt like my reaction to it was being more shaped by the way other people were reacting to it rather than me reacting to the show itself. And so, sometimes you feel like it’s not you watching the show. It’s like you watching the show through the lens of everyone else who’s ever watched it before you and talked to you about it.
So, thankfully, I guess it’s been long enough since I felt that way, so when Dee asked me to be on the podcast, I felt more like, yeah, I think I could actually go into it and have my own experience with it, even knowing that we are going to be doing this podcast at the same time.
VRAI: Nice. What about you, Lizzie?
LIZZIE: I feel like I’ve just had really bad luck with the show, in the sense that I was around when it was on TV, back when Toonami and Adult Swim… but I just always missed an episode. And whenever I would catch an episode, I would be completely lost, because it was, of course, later in the season, and I’m like, “Okay…”
VRAI: Ah, the same reason I never watched Gundam Wing.
LIZZIE: Yeah. Yeah, pretty much. And I think because in a way I felt sort of… Once I hit university, you’d think I would be like, “Okay, I have all this access. I can probably watch the show now.” But I think eventually I noticed that there was a large conversation about Evangelion that I felt sort of intimidated by. I was like, “Wow, there’s so much conversation with this series that…” And also, I’m definitely aware that a lot of people really resonate with the show, so that’s something that I think I’m gonna be mindful of as we move forward.
But yeah, I think it’s just because it has such a big legacy that I’m wondering how will I react to this show that everyone seems to like so much or fight over so much. And I figured this was the best way to force myself to watch it.
VRAI: No, that’s good. I want to put you both in a little chamber and keep you there for the next month or two.
VRAI: Unsullied by internet opinions. Just drink your fresh takes.
DEE: Your fresh, unfiltered opinions on Evangelion, yeah.
LIZZIE: That must be rare. I feel like everyone has seen it. [chuckles]
DEE: It’s hard to find people who haven’t seen it, although it’s a little bit easier since it’s been impossible to track down for the last ten years. And it’s especially hard to find somebody who hasn’t seen it and also doesn’t know a bunch of the discourse already.
Kinda like you said, Isaac, it’s one of those shows that so many people have talked about and it’s such a big well-known, “masterpiece” title that even if you haven’t seen it, you might already have an opinion about it based on things other people have said. So, it’s interesting, for sure.
ISAAC: Yeah, it’s intimidating to come to something that is broadly considered a masterpiece, because I think there is always a fear of being judged by your own reaction to it.
DEE: And as Vrai can attest after having written at least one essay on Eva, some—not all—some Eva fans can be… destructively passionate, we’ll say.
ISAAC: Oh, that’s very gentle.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Let’s go with that. [chuckles]
DEE: Thank you. So, it can be intimidating, for sure. When we were talking about doing this podcast, a little part of me was like, “Oh, don’t ask me to be on it. Don’t ask me to be on it!” But…
VRAI: But I did.
DEE: But I bit that bullet. [chuckles] So here I am.
VRAI: I came to you, and you were like, “But my opinion on Eva is ‘Meh.’”
DEE: Yeah, I’m one of the only people who’s seen Eva and doesn’t feel strongly about it one way or the other, so I’m coming into this from kind of a weird angle, I guess.
But yeah, I watched it— There was a tweet to the effect of “The only appropriate way to watch Eva is by picking up VHSs piecemeal from the local video rental stores, and maybe you had to skip a volume along the way, but it’s fine, you’ll figure it out.” And that is pretty much how I did it, was a lot of “Oh, volume 1’s here! Oh, volume 3’s here! We missed a couple episodes. Eh, it’s fine.”
Attempted to watch it the first time, fizzled out, and then finally found a place that had all of them and watched it all in one go. I’ve actually never seen it in Japanese, which is a weird admission, so this time I am watching it subtitled because I’ve only ever seen the ADV dub, so I thought it would be fun to watch the sub cast since it’s such a good cast.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a really accomplished cast. I hold the ADV dub very tender to my heart, and it’s some nonsense what Netflix did to them, unceremoniously throwing them to the curb, but it’s a really good Japanese cast.
And so, this has put me in the awkward position of being the Eva expert, which I did not think would happen because I got away from Eva for a few years and I’m like “I don’t care that much about Eva. It’s one of Those Shows, and there’s a lot of anime I like better. It’s barely in my top ten, maybe even just outside my top ten.” And then something comes around and people are having opinions on Evangelion and I’m like, “Excuse me, what did you say about my children?”
DEE: [laughs] Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.
VRAI: Yeah. And then it turns out I have a lot of feelings about Evangelion. I rented the series from my college library when I was probably about 19 and living away from home for the first time and in a really bad place. And then I marathoned it and ended up watching the last couple episodes from underneath my bed.
DEE: Oh no!
VRAI: I don’t recommend it. So, yeah, I’ve seen it about three times: the ADV dub, the original Japanese cast, and now the new Netflix dub, which, again… man, I wish these actors had a better script, because they sound really natural and good, as much as they can.
DEE: Yeah, I guess I should’ve clarified: I did watch it when I was like, 14, so… And then we kind of tried to rewatch it in college, but I think I’ve seen the first six or seven episodes a lot and the rest of it maybe once. So I’ll start to get real fresh once we get further into it and I’ll be like, “Oh, I don’t remember any of this happening.” So, that’ll be fun.
VRAI: That’s interesting, because I feel like I’ve watched the legendary last third, revisited that a lot, but I don’t remember the early episodes much at all, so this has been kind of nice. I forgot how much there was to appreciate in the first stretch, as far as moody atmospheric stuff. Because while the series was out of print, there was that logic going around of “You don’t need to watch the first six episodes. You can just watch Rebuild.” The answer to anything involving Eva is never “You should just watch Rebuild.”
DEE: Yeah. I feel like this first stretch of episodes does a lot as far as setting up the stage for where these characters are and the beginnings of their relationships with each other and getting you settled into the weirdness that is NERV and the Angels and everything.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, so, hey newbies. How you feelin’?
ISAAC: Yeah… Uh… sad. [chuckles]
ISAAC: The one thing I will say is, for people saying to skip the first six episodes, I felt like for every episode that I watched in this first batch, there is at least one really, really standout moment for me. So, even in that respect… I guess maybe if you’d seen it before, you could skip them, and I don’t know anything about the Rebuilds.
VRAI: [crosstalk] They’re bad.
ISAAC: But to me, at least just in a first watch, they stand on their own and they’re rewarding on an individual level, so I don’t know why anyone would say that.
LIZZIE: It was uncomfortable to watch, because I felt like these first six episodes really captured what it’s like to be depressed. Again, I don’t know what the Rebuild is about, so [chuckles] I’m clueless. But for these six, it was a lot. It was a lot.
ISAAC: Well, I think, just to pick up on what Lizzie was saying about capturing the experience of being depressed, one thing that really stood out to me even in these first six episodes is how much you feel the distance between people. And I think there’s almost a wave motion to the feeling of distance and connection, because there are these moments where I felt really strongly, like, “Oh, that’s a moment of connection for Shinji or whoever else.”
I think the one that stood out to me most was in episode 4, when the two guys from his class come up when he’s about to leave, except he doesn’t, and then he punches the one boy in the face. And I was like, “Oh, that’s sort of like a breath of fresh air with how stifling everything is there.” I guess the more appropriate metaphor would be like a breeze in the summer.
So, you have to break it down, but there’s a wave where you’re like, “Okay, there’s all this distance between people, and then every once in a while, you get this ray of light or breeze blowing in, where somebody connects with another person.”
DEE: Yeah, something I was impressed with this time through is: the show utilizes something I don’t think you see a lot in anime so much anymore, that you saw more in the ‘90s, is it’s willing to sit on shots or silences to an uncomfortable degree. There’s some moments in Utena that do this, too, very well.
But there are scenes in this where it’s stiflingly silent; where it’s two people standing next to each other, not knowing what to say to each other. And then you’ll also have these very sharp cuts that are from Shinji’s perspective of the things he’s flashing back to over the course of the day that lead to a good sense of disorientation.
It’s very well put together. I think sometimes Eva has a reputation for being a super messy narrative, and I vaguely think we’re going to eventually get to that point, but these early episodes, there’s a methodical, real tightness to the direction and the way they let certain things linger versus how quickly things happen that I think really puts you into Shinji’s headspace in particular. Like you guys said, it’s why it’s such a good depiction of depression.
LIZZIE: I was just going to add… The shots that stood out to me the most is in the first episode when he was arguing with his dad. You get these shots of everybody watching the argument ensue, and that’s kind of what it feels like when you’re depressed. You feel like everyone is judging you, seeing you as this very weak person that can’t do things that everyone wants you to do.
And the second one for me is when he’s just in the movie theater, staring, and his eyes are just blank. And it’s like, whoof! Those scenes really… They’re a lot, and it made me really uncomfortable, too, everyone’s solution to his depression was that “You need to man up. You need to man up. Why can’t you do this? You have to toughen up. Aren’t you a boy?” And that’s not exactly, I think, what Shinji needs to hear. That’s not a way to solve his depression.
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s super toxic even if he wasn’t depressed. Even if he was just a mentally healthy 14-year-old, telling somebody, “Yo, you just need to man up,” it’s super toxic. I started a “You’re a boy” tally in the early episodes, because I felt like characters kept telling Shinji “You’re a boy, aren’t you?”
LIZZIE: Yeah. You would get drunk really quick, if there was…
DEE: [chuckles] If it was a drinking game, yeah.
VRAI: [chuckles] Yeah, enjoy that ongoing theme.
LIZZIE: Oh gosh, yeah, that was a lot.
VRAI: Yeah, the toxic masculinity in this show… It’ll come back. I find it interesting that even the moment when Shinji’s able to connect for a minute and he and Toji have that punching match, even that is toxic masculinity bullshit. “I need you to punch me to express your feelings.”
LIZZIE: Yeah, he did not look comfortable. Shinji is like, “I don’t want to do that.” “Do it!” “Oh, okay…” [chuckles] That’s not what he was wanting to do, and everyone seems to like telling Shinji what to do and go against his will on a daily basis.
VRAI: I’d forgotten on rewatch how much episode 4 makes me mad, because everybody tells Shinji that if he doesn’t want to do this, he should just go. And I’m sorry, where is he supposed to go? “It’s fine. You can leave this job at any time and also all of the social support structures that you even tentatively have. And also, you’ll be all alone economically.”
DEE: Well, that actually brings up a question that maybe I’m not supposed to ask, but he was living somewhere before the show started, and he hadn’t seen his dad in two years.
VRAI: [crosstalk] He was living with a teacher.
DEE: He was living what?
VRAI: He was living with a teacher that we never meet. It’s just mentioned.
DEE: I assume he was in a different town or was going to a different school or had some kind of social structure there that he got yanked out of.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s literally never commented on besides the fact that he played the cello and he lived with a teacher. He doesn’t seem to have had any friends that he thinks about or anything. He talks about how he just existed there.
DEE: Yeah, I guess that’s why episode 4 maybe didn’t make me as angry as it did you, because my assumption was “Oh, he’s just gonna go back to whatever life it was that he left, and maybe he didn’t love it, but there was something there.” So I wasn’t thinking of him just being completely kicked out of any kind of social structure.
VRAI: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting to me because, yes, he technically has something to go back to, but I feel like the way the show frames it, it’s as though he’s finally begun to have something for his depression to cling onto, and theoretically— Misato takes up the job of helping him, and then she finds out she can’t handle it because she’s got her own stuff going on. And the initial move is to dump this off: “I can’t deal with this.” And to her credit, the thing that makes her different from Gendo is that she regrets that pretty quickly and takes him back.
ISAAC: Yeah. I feel very conflicted about her, because sometimes it feels to me like she’s even worse than Gendo because she swaps back and forth between being really nice to him, and then that’s put in tension with her job as his superior officer.
I mentioned there were moments that really stood out. In episode 1, there’s such a distinct sense of betrayal for Shinji when Misato tells him to get into the robot. She’s been nice to him, they’ve driven in the car, and then they get there and she tells him, “Get in,” with this really serious look on her face, and I think there’s a reaction shot of him. And you just feel how much her sudden about-face that she does—or how he perceives it as such—really hurts him.
And I feel like she continues to do that through the rest of the show, even though she regrets it. She obviously has ambivalent feelings about using him, but she keeps going back and forth between “Oh, I’m really nice to you. I’m going to support you,” and getting frustrated and saying, “Okay, you’re just going to do what I tell you.” But then she doesn’t like that either when he just says “Yes. Yes, ma’am. Hai.”
DEE: Yeah, I think it’s fair to have conflicting feelings about Misato because I think Misato herself is very conflicted. She’s in a position where she’s really the only adult in the show that we’ve seen who does her very, very best to think of Shinji like a kid and a person and not just the figure piloting the Eva. I think she attempts to make an emotional connection with him and try to make him feel like he’s got a place that he can live here.
But at the same time, as pretty much everyone in the show points out, they don’t really have another choice. There’s nobody else who can pilot these robots. And we haven’t been told “why” yet, but as of right now, they have two people. One of them is in multiple casts. And if they don’t destroy the Angel, it will wreck all of their shit.
So, I think Misato is also— And again, that doesn’t make the jerking around that Shinji experiences okay, but I think she’s also put in a very difficult position where she can’t just shut off the human part of her brain, like Gendo and Ritsuko seem to have done, with Shinji. But she also can’t give him the time that he actually needs because there are a lot of lives on the line.
VRAI: Yeah, I don’t think Misato is a bad person. Everybody loves Misato and there’s a good reason for that. I love Misato.
DEE: I love Misato.
VRAI: But she’s in a bad situation, where she thought she could do a thing and now she’s realized it’s not that simple, but she can’t back out on either end. She rushed into something very serious when I don’t think she’s ever been in a caretaking role before.
She has friends. She and Ritsuko are friends, and they snipe at each other; and she has been a commander; but she’s never been in an older sibling, parental-type role, you get the feeling. And that’s suddenly something, like “Oh no, this isn’t easy. I don’t like this.”
ISAAC: Yeah, I certainly don’t think you can blame her, but I think just the nature of the situation and the fact that she has to be both an emotional support and has to push him in this way, I think makes her… When I was taking notes and they’re having that scene where they’ve got the cross-shadow in the blue and orange, where he’s in that prison or holding cell, I just wrote down that she feels like poison to him sometimes, because I think the emotional connection that she makes…
Well, that is the hedgehog’s— Is that the one that’s actually literally titled “the hedgehog’s dilemma”? Yeah, it is. So, it’s a very clear illustration of… as she gets closer to him that way, it also puts her in a place where she’s more easily able to hurt him.
VRAI: I do wish the show would stop making hilarious jokes about whether she’s going to bone her teenage charge.
ISAAC: [dryly] Ha-ha… Ha-ha…
DEE: Yeah… Well.
VRAI: Because I feel like in some ways the show really understands the dynamic between them and the power imbalance. She relies on him because he’s the only one who can do this piloting job, but he relies on her for his livelihood and also to advocate for him to the other members of NERV.
But also, the show, I don’t think, understands— It kind of understands what a gross misuse of power that would be, but it’s also buying into that whole bullshit: when a boy is preyed on by an older woman, then that’s hot and he’s becoming a man.
LIZZIE: Yeah, that’s gross.
DEE: Thankfully they don’t do it very much. Most of the time it’s Misato being oblivious to the fact that she’s leaning across the table and Shinji can kind of see down her shirt and he’s trying really hard not to.
I think it’s more those kinds of things, which I’m kind of okay with, because if you’re a teenager attracted to people and you’re suddenly in the house with a stranger, I could see that being awkward. So, I don’t mind it playing with those elements. It doesn’t bother me too much because it doesn’t come up very often. I just go “Ugh” when it does and move on.
VRAI: It is a shame that one of the first casualties of Netflix not translating onscreen text is the toothpick gag, which makes me laugh! It’s totally tasteless and it makes me laugh.
DEE: Oh yeah, when Shinji runs out of the bathroom because Penpen, the penguin, is in the tub, he’s carefully blocked by the beer can. And then she picks up the beer can. It’s the little jar that’s still there to carefully censor for us. It says “Toothpicks” on it. It’s a little mean. [chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah. And the relationship between those two makes an interesting foil to Gendo and Rei’s relationship.
ISAAC: Man, I just wanna say that dad sucks.
LIZZIE: Yes, he’s awful.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Gendo is the worst anime dad.
LIZZIE: He is such a fucking awful dude. He is so unbearable. And it’s worse that he looks like his son, and I don’t know why that gets me. [Chuckles] But Shinji can look at his mirror and be like, “Shit, I look like my dad.”
VRAI: No, no, hold on to that. Explore that thought.
LIZZIE: [laughs] I’d be mad. But I think what bothers me about, most of the time the adults of the show… how little they care about the children in the show. They’re young and then they’re thrown out to fight in these… what are they called, mecha suits or whatever? I don’t know. But they have no regard.
Even when Shinji first arrives in the city, the first thing they tell him is “Okay, you gotta ride down and fight that Angel.” It was like, “Wait, what?” [chuckles] You know? He had no training, no preparation, nothing. No regard if he was gonna be okay by the end of it. And even if he didn’t want to do it, they were willing to throw Rei out there, and she had a broken arm; she was bleeding everywhere.
I’m like, “Wow! This is only episode 1. I can see none of you have any regard for the young kids in this show.”
VRAI: Yeah, I am very curious as to what you two thought of that first battle sequence, because I think it’s very well-produced on its own and I think it works, but also, as a commentary on the robot genre, I think some of the stuff that it’s doing is maybe not as impressive as it was at the time now.
ISAAC: Impressive how?
VRAI: Compared to a lot of the giant robot anime that was being made before Evangelion… And I’m not prepared to say “All robots ever” because it’s not a genre I know the extensive history of, but it was pretty common to do the thing of “the from-nowhere hero who is chosen unexpectedly and gets in the giant fighting machine and is really good in the fighting machine and wins a miraculous victory, and he’s the chosen one.”
So, it was kind of a big deal for Eva to pull that same move but frame it as “This is a child soldier. He’s getting in a giant war machine with no training, and he has no idea what to do. He can’t even make it walk.” And also, the fact that the Evas are very fleshy and eldritch was a major move that inspired a lot of imitators. It really cannot be overstated how much this changed the landscape of anime and how it was made for like a decade.
ISAAC: It was interesting watching— I guess I’m not answering your question, but even just on the influence, just looking at this… I’ve seen other Anno stuff like Gunbuster, and I’ve watched a lot of anime directed by people who are influenced by him, and so it’s kinda funny watching this and how familiar so many of the shots feel, because I’ve seen so much anime that has been influenced by this, just in terms of the visual style.
So I see these nicely composed shots and I’m like, “Oh yeah. I’ve seen that before.” I mean, even down to some of the characters, there are direct parallels. I am like, “Oh, this character reminds me of this other character from another show I’ve seen.”
VRAI: Rei invented an entire archetype.
ISAAC: Yeah. But even in the side characters… I don’t know if you guys have seen Kuromukuro, which is also on Netflix, but it was a PA Works robot animation.
DEE: Yeah, I’ve seen a little bit.
ISAAC: Yeah. And there is a character in that show who is just a side character in the class, who has freckles and a camera and likes to go out and try and film the battles. I forget what the character’s name in Eva is. But I saw him, I was like, “Oh! This is familiar. I’ve seen this before.”
DEE: Kensuke, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, put a pin in that. I want to come back to Kensuke.
LIZZIE: [perplexed] Oh, okay…
VRAI: Well, it’s not so much that he’s an important character so much as I think the episode where Shinji runs away, that whole little arc with him becoming friends with Toji and Kensuke is freaking fascinating in terms of giving Shinji a reason to fight because he now understands the magnitude of civilian casualties; and then juxtaposing his decision to run away with Kensuke playing gun otaku war games in a field.
I think that whole sequence is brilliant, and the color composition. And I really appreciated these episodes this time around in a new way that’s exciting for me. God, the remaster looks good visually.
LIZZIE: I think what I appreciate about those two characters, whose names I can’t remember… Basically, I like that they’re one of the very few people his age who show empathy towards him. They have no idea how to help or support him, but when they see him break down in the mecha suit, and they— I don’t know, something about that shot when you see them and they see how much in pain he is, it was like, wow, this is nice.
This is kind of what Shinji wants. He wants people to actually reach out to him because he’s just incapable of doing that himself. So, I appreciated that a lot with those two characters. Maybe that’ll change later down the road. Who knows? But yeah.
DEE: No, I know what you mean. I agree. Because even in the next episode, when Shinji briefly decides to quit and they meet him to say goodbye, they’re like, “Yeah, we do kinda need you, but we saw what it’s like in there. We totally get why you wouldn’t want to keep doing that, so we can’t blame you for wanting to leave.”
And I think that, more than anything, is the reason he decides— I don’t think it’s necessarily the daddy issues or the developing relationship with Misato. I think it’s that moment of somebody saying, “No, I get it. I get why you don’t want to do this. I totally sympathize with that, and I’m not going to put that pressure on you.” I think he kind of needed that, that element of sympathy and willingness to let him actually have a choice.
ISAAC: Yeah. And that really makes the end of that episode confusing, because it’s hard to know: is this a good thing or a bad thing that he’s staying? Or is it heartwarming that he’s had this connection and now he’s not going to run away, or is it actually really heart-wrenching because now he’s going to go through a whole bunch more pain probably, because he didn’t take his opportunity to leave?
LIZZIE: I would’ve left.
DEE: Yeah, no, it is a “conflicted feelings” kind of ending to that episode.
ISAAC: And it has that long, long shot. You mentioned—one of you guys did—the long shot of him and Misato, where he’s standing there and she’s by the car, and it’s probably a minute or longer where it’s just on that shot. So you really get to think about how conflicted you are about this.
LIZZIE: And it’s even more conflicting later on when in episode 6, towards the end, you finally see him smile, but I feel like seeing him genuinely smile and reaching out to somebody, which is when Rei was hurt and he did the thing of copying his dad and getting her out of that capsule… He’s like, “No, don’t say goodbye as if this is the last time I’ll see you.” And him reaching out and then him showing empathy to somebody else, since everybody else is just not capable of doing that to him, except for those two boys I mentioned earlier…
I mean, I felt conflicted with that, because on the one hand I’m like, “Yay! I see a genuine smile in you for one thing,” but I also don’t like that it has to be in the middle of a battlefield where you’re probably gonna get killed, you know?
VRAI: And his first reaction to having a full conversation with a girl his age is to tell her to smile. I’m joking, but I find it really funny.
DEE: I was gonna say, in the context of the scene, I think it’s kind of a sweet moment.
VRAI: It is! It is. It just— It makes me laugh, decoupled from context.
ISAAC: You can’t even have that sweet moment because she smiles back at him, but she’s also seeing his dad in a brief flashback, so it’s like, “Is she actually smiling because she’s happy or is she smiling because he reminds her of Gendo, who is so awful to him?” And so, we can’t have any nice things in this show.
LIZZIE: We can’t. And I felt really uncomfortable with Gendo and Rei. [chuckles] I’m just like, “Something about those two…” I was like, “Hm, I’m uncomfortable. I don’t like that you have his glasses. Can you not have his glasses?”
DEE: Yeah, they linger on some stuff between the two of them just enough that you’re like, “Mm, I don’t feel good about this.” [chuckles] This doesn’t feel like a mentor thing. This feels a little creepy.
VRAI: Mm-hm. It’s one thing that she pretty clearly admires him and maybe has a crush on him. It’s another thing that you get, by the end of these episodes, the impression that he’s happy with that as long as… He is the kind of person who would know that and use it to get her to do what he wants, because he’s awful.
DEE: Yeah, but she’s also the only person we’ve seen him visibly give a shit about, so it’s concerning in a way. [chuckles] Which it shouldn’t be. It should be a humanizing moment, like “Oh, he actually does care about people,” but it ends up just coming across as kind of creepy, because we’ve seen him be so, so awful to Shinji up to that point.
LIZZIE: Yeah. It’s such the opposite feeling. I’m like, “I feel like you should have a heart in this moment,” but I don’t. I feel like there’s something more here.
DEE: I was gonna say, I think these early episodes especially do a very good job of taking some standard archetypes and things and spinning them in such a way that the tone is totally different.
Like you were saying, the super-special boy gets in the robot, but it’s actually very traumatizing and horrifying to watch. Or the cold, hard leader has a moment of what looks like humanity, but then it ends up coming across as very creepy and concerning as you go on. And I’m especially thinking about the scene in Rei’s room—
VRAI: [laughs] I was about to ask!
DEE: —where Shinji falls on her naked, and oh no! I mean, it’s been done to death at this point in harem anime, right? It’s such bullshit. But the way that scene is framed… First, we never really see Rei. She’s very carefully covered and clothed throughout the entire thing. And two, the long silences, the lack of music, her complete unresponse to it. That scene is super disconcerting. It is not played for comedy at all. It is very uneasy and tense the whole time through.
VRAI: It’s such an upsetting scene. And I love how Evangelion uses nudity overall, but that scene in particular is such a standout of “Oh… Oh God. Oh God, everything is uncomfortable and none of this is normal or okay.”
LIZZIE: Yeah, even her room is a total mess. You can just tell she’s not looking after herself, and clearly no adult or anyone who gives a damn is looking after her, so I’m just like, “Okay…” There’s a lot happening in her life that we’re just not seeing yet.
DEE: Yeah. Even during that scene, instead of lingering on the kids, they keep flashing to the bloody Band-Aids in the trash can or the pile of medicine on the desk, and so, again, it gives the whole scene this… very tinged over with “Things are deeply, deeply wrong here. This is not amusing teen comedy shenanigans.”
VRAI: Even when Shinji is thinking that maybe he’s attracted to her, it’s all tied up in this fact of he’s also jealous of her for usurping his place, essentially.
ISAAC: Oh, yeah. That awful scene where he’s watching Rei talk with his dad from his cockpit and has got that shocked face because he’s like “Oh wow, look. My dad is human to another person that’s not me. Why couldn’t he be like that to me?”
VRAI: Right. And “It’s not that my dad is incapable of loving anyone. It’s that he didn’t love me.”
LIZZIE: [laughs as if pained] Aw! I feel like this is gonna be a terrible running joke.
VRAI: Being Shinji is suffering. I love my son.
VRAI: And he’s gonna do some awful shit later on.
LIZZIE: Oh no.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] I gotta say, for all of the jokes you hear about “Get in the robot” and people not liking him— Like I was saying at the beginning, you never know how you’re going to react to something when it’s actually just you, and just because of everything I’ve heard, I was surprised at how quickly I liked Shinji from the start and just felt for him. I think even within the first episode, even though he’s so bad at communicating and is kind of whiny, I liked him. I guess he’s cute, which helps.
ISAAC: You guys remember that moment where he’s wearing the hard hat with the medical cross on it? Adorable.
DEE: You just want to protect him.
LIZZIE: I felt a lot of empathy, too, because one of the things I noticed about the very intense discourse is how much everyone dislikes Shinji. And as of now—it could change later—in the first six episodes, I felt a lot of empathy for him because, again, that’s what it’s like when you’re depressed. You feel disconnected from the world, you feel like you’re just unlikable and whiny, and everyone’s judging you with all your flaws, and you’re just kinda there.
So, I felt a lot of empathy for him. If nothing else, I was really uncomfortable and impressed about how well these first six really captured his state of mind.
DEE: Yeah, I agree with that on this watch, for sure.
I can explain the Shinji dislike a little bit from my own perspective, because when I watched it when I was, again, the same age as these kids… Part of it, I think, is expectation of the audience going in. There’s this sense of “Oh, it’s a big, epic mecha action show about kids getting into robots.” And most of the time that is played in media as wish fulfillment, like “Yeah, I get to be the big hero as a teenager!”
So when I’m watching as a 14-year-old, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for Shinji because a part of me is like, “Dude, either do it or just leave. Why do you keep doing it and whining about it? You’re saving the world.” So, from that perspective of: “It’s a piece of fiction; it’s supposed to be a power fantasy.”
But that’s not what Eva is doing. And so I think some of that is the disconnect between what Eva is actually trying to do with the concept of “No, this is what being a child soldier would actually be like” versus the audience expecting it to be more of a “Hoorah!” action series. I think that is a large chunk of it.
And I also think the other part is the show does a really good job of making Shinji both very realistically and relatably depressed, but also sometimes just a petulant 14-year-old. Because he is. He is also a 14-year-old in addition to being depressed. Like that scene with Misato where he’s just answering “Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am,” and she kinda snaps at him like, “Are you actually listening to me?” and he’s like, “Yeah, but it doesn’t matter, because it worked out, and also I’m the only person who can do this.” And I’m like, “Mm! You’re kinda rubbing this in, aren’t you, buddy? This is a little bit of a power play for you.” And Misato gets annoyed at him, because he’s being fourteen.
So, I think it’s a combination of those two things. Again, watching through this time, very sympathetic to Shinji. My opinions have changed a lot since I was 14, obviously. But I think that is where some of it comes from, is a lot of people who watched it when they were younger remembering the story from that perspective.
ISAAC: Or even just talking about the genre, the show even sets you up for expecting a grand fight, because every time the Eva launches, there’s that theme music that goes along with that as it’s going up through the channels, which is very classic mecha anime mech launch track. And then you get there and you’re like, “Okay, I’m ready.” And then bad things happen when they get to the top.
Obviously, I think people are fairly well aware of a lot of Anno’s influences of super robot shows and stuff that he was a fan of. And it’s interesting how the show takes some of those elements and uses them in a way that looks like it’s going to be straight, and then when you get to the real stuff, then it’s sad again.
VRAI: “Then It’s Sad Again: The Evangelion Story.”
DEE: That’s our tagline for this one, Vrai. “And then it’s sad again.”
LIZZIE: Oh gosh. And even the fight scenes are brutal to watch. When Shinji is fighting, because the mecha’s connected to his… in a way, he’s connected to it psychologically, so if that arm gets broken, he feels his own arm getting broken, or when his mind breaks, he feels that. So, it’s really awful to watch.
DEE: It’s very brutal, yeah.
LIZZIE: Yeah, there’s nothing pleasant about fighting in that mecha suit, because if you get shot in the head, he feels that in his head; in his nerves.
DEE: I think Shinji’s technically died like twice. He’s felt like he has died, twice. [chuckles] And we’re only six episodes in!
VRAI: And the fact that they very deliberately give the robots a knife instead of guns. That’s a very up-close, visceral weapon.
ISAAC: Although they do use guns in the last episode. I was thinking that in the beginning when you said we were bringing out the big guns. I was like, “Oh yeah. They did bring out the big guns, eventually.”
VRAI: They did. They brought out a really big gun.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Really big gun.
LIZZIE: They actually have it.
VRAI: I love that that’s a tiny moment of levity in a pretty quietly oppressive series of episodes when Misato politely bullies the department for their big gun and then just has Rei lift it out through the roof. I love that sequence.
ISAAC: That whole thing was actually nice to see for Misato, because up until that point I don’t think you really get a sense of “Why is she a captain? Is she just there because the show wanted a hot girl involved?” But then you actually see, “Oh, they’ve characterized her in a way that makes it clear she can come up with plans and ideas for operations and make things happen.” So, I actually really liked that.
DEE: Yeah, I think Misato is a very well-developed character. And yeah, like you said, that scene really shows that not only can she take charge and be assertive, but also, she’s very clever, she thinks outside the box, she finds ways around these very bizarre problems and potentially world-ending problems with a lot of coolness. I love Misato. Sorry. Just had to throw that out there again.
VRAI: Someone on Twitter the other day was like, “Misato is the first millennial.” And I feel that so hard in my bones that it actually hurts.
VRAI: Because she’s really clever and creative and she works constantly and her personal life is a depressed disaster and she has an alcoholism problem that we’re not talking about!
ISAAC: She does drink a lot.
LIZZIE: She has a penguin.
DEE: She just likes beer. And she has a penguin. What’s not to love about her, I ask you.
LIZZIE: That caught me off-guard. Everything was so intense and serious, and I see this penguin. I’m like, “Okay… You’re there.”
DEE: Something that I noticed in these first six—and I’m curious to see if this continues—is, like Vrai said, there’s not a ton of moments of levity or warmth, but the scenes in Misato’s apartment almost feel normal sometimes. All of a sudden, we dip into a sitcom-y vibe where she and Shinji— Shinji, when he runs out naked because there’s a penguin in the tub! And then Ritsuko comes over and they’re complaining about the bad curry that she makes, that gets all messed up. It has a feeling of almost-normalcy.
Obviously, they don’t get along 100%, but most people in their day-to-day relationships don’t. But you can almost forget that there’s life-threatening danger going on when you’re in her place. It feels like when Shinji says “I’m home” as he walks across the threshold, that her apartment does become the one space of semi-normalcy.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s like this warm reprieve from the everything. Which is good, because otherwise I think it would get a little bit unbearable at times. Like I said, Anno was— You can characterize the show by: the first 12 is Anno not treating his depression, and the second half is Anno treats his depression and shit gets real weird.
DEE: So we have that to look forward to, team.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Yay.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Uh-huh!
VRAI: We’re running up towards the hour, but just real quick, do you two have any predictions for the next set of episodes?
LIZZIE: I feel like it’s gonna get more weird and depressing.
VRAI: Usually a safe…
DEE: “And then it gets sad again.”
LIZZIE: Tagline that.
ISAAC: Yeah, I don’t really predict much, but yeah, I’ll probably not feel good about several things that happen, is what I expect.
LIZZIE: [chuckles] I love that.
VRAI: I am very interested to hear your reactions to next time. Extremely.
DEE: Eva keeps you on your toes. I will say that about it, as my memory of it. It definitely keeps you on your toes.
VRAI: If you are following along with us at home, next time we will be watching episodes 7 through 13, so that’s the end of the first half. That’s exciting.
ISAAC: And we’ll feel sad.
LIZZIE: Yeah. You know what? At least Vrai will enjoy us being sad. And that’s okay.
DEE: That’s true.
VRAI: I’m really enjoying this. It’s like when I ask people to live-tweet Interview with a Vampire on the internet. It’s delightful!
VRAI: Thank you so much for joining us, listeners. We hope that you have enjoyed this first of four episodes looking at Evangelion. Yes, we will be doing End of Eva. Don’t worry about it.
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That’s it for us this time around. And remember until next time, you don’t have to get in the giant robot.
DEE: [sarcastically] I mean, I guess if you want the world to end, no, you don’t have to get in the giant robot, Vrai! No pressure, whatever.
VRAI: The giant robot is a metaphor, Dee!
ISAAC: But even if you do, it won’t help because you’ll still feel sad.
DEE: Oh no!
LIZZIE: And you could die.
DEE: What a good note to end on.
LIZZIE: You could die, and it’ll all be for naught.
DEE: [chuckles] Anyway, here comes our cheerful ending outro music.