The Evangelion Pilots, Represented in Combat

I’ve been revisiting Neon Genesis Evangelion lately and have come to appreciate it in ways that I hadn’t before. While I always found the show to be especially good at showing the deep-seated fears and emotions within the characters to the point that they feel almost tangible, I’ve begun to take note of how well the characters’ words and actions exemplify their personalities.

One example that stands out in my mind comes from Episode 19, the famous episode where EVA-01 goes berserk and eats the enemy angel, Zeruel. When Zeruel descends upon Tokyo-3, it is first met by a barrage of artillery fire from Asuka and her EVA-02, just weapon after weapon after weapon, with Asuka getting progressively angrier until she is defeated. Rei then appears, her EVA-00 missing an arm, and charges at Zeruel with a powerful bomb with the plans to detonate it at point blank range. Later, right before Zeruel can attack the staff of NERV, Shinji bursts through and engages in melee combat, then loses power, then goes berserk. What I’ve come to realize is that the way each character fights in that scene represents them incredibly well, acting as more than just a visual spectacle.

Asuka is always looking to prove her self-worth, particularly as a pilot and as compensation for her traumatic childhood, and her desperation mounts increasingly as more and more weapons are deployed by the EVA-02. This loud, brash display of firepower is Asuka.

From the way everyone else reacts to seeing Rei carry the N² Mine, it is clear that no one knew of this beforehand, which means that the idea is entirely her own. Rei, who constantly questions whether or not she is human at all, has very little regard for her own life.

Shinji fights with a form of desperation different from Asuka’s, and as one of his core traits is a vague sense of self-identity, Shinji’s close combat perhaps shows his desire to gain an identity through the piloting of EVA-01. This also differs from Asuka because Shinji is not looking to prove himself, but rather to find himself. It might also be possible to say that the berserk scene itself shows Shinji’s tendency to be pulled along, though I’m not sure about that one.

I think the best indicator for how much this particular moment in Evangelion represents the inner feelings of its characters comes from a comparison to the redone scene in the second Rebuild of Evangelion movie. In it, Mari replaces Asuka in EVA-02 for the film’s iteration, and the fight begins in a similar fashion, with EVA-02 surrounded by firearms which Mari initially uses one after the other. However, the scene itself feels remarkably different. Mari uses each weapon more slowly and deliberately, never really reaching the intensity that Asuka did in the TV series, and after only a few decides to run in up close with a melee weapon. The method Asuka used is something only Asuka can do; it would not reflect Mari’s character.

As for Rei and Shinji, their changes highlight more of a subtle shift in character, a fundamental part of the new films. Rei, just like the original, attempts to defeat Zeruel by detonating a bomb at point-blank, but in this version Rei takes the time to push Mari and the EVA-02 out of the blast radius while thanking her, showing that her actions do not simply stem from doubting her own humanity but from also affirming the humanity of others. Shinji’s fight is initially similar, but as I once mentioned in my review of the film, Shinji never loses control, the “berserk” EVA-01’s actions conscious and deliberate on the part of Shinji. While he still seeks his own identity, he is able to set that aside to save Rei, establishing a stronger identity in the process.

I’d like to actually end by talking about Mari once more, because as I was making this comparison I realized the role she plays relative to the others in terms of their relationship to the Evangelions. Asuka pursues self-worth, Shinji self-identity, and Rei a connection to humanity, but Mari seeks pleasure in the act itself. She revels in being an EVA pilot in and of itself, with no seeming underlying motivation except perhaps some strange desire to experience life to its fullest. Her “bestial” fighting style, even before she activates the actual “THE BEAST” mode, is indicative of this. That Evangelion is able to cut to the core of its characters in even its action scenes makes it truly impressive.

The “Curse” of Redline’s Aesthetic

Ever since before its actual release, Redline has been getting a lot of buzz among anime reviewers who have noted the look of the film, incredibly unique especially in today’s anime environment with a good deal of exquisite animation and attention to detail. The crowds are full of life and interesting alien designs. The vehicles used for racing are all incredibly stylish and showcase the wide array of personalities in the film. Redline oozes style and panache. However, for as refreshing as Redline‘s art is, it appears to be a double-edged sword through no fault of its own.

The “problem” with Redline‘s art is that it apparently makes people think the movie has no story, that it’s nothing but a pretty face, and has little to offer people who are interested in characterization and narrative. This is a mistake.

I’ll explain what I mean by just using the introduction to the film.

The movie begins with the Yellow Line race, a preliminary to the main “Redline” race which everyone in the galaxy looks forward to. The main character is Sweet JP, and based on the fact that it’s the start of the film, it’s easy to assume that we’ll know what will happen. If it’s a race designed to make JP look impressive, he’ll win. If he’s supposed to look like an underdog, he’ll lose. But then Redline throws us two seemingly contradictory bits of information. First, JP is a notorious for purposely throw races for profit. Second, JP really loves to race and has a passion for high-speed shenanigans. Just from that bit of information, the outcome of the race becomes ambiguous, as does JP’s character. How can a guy who fixes races enjoy himself behind the wheel that much? It gives Sweet JP a sense of mystery, and as the Yellow Line race builds up towards its climax, the question isn’t simply “will JP win or lose?” but rather “what kind of person is JP?” Would he give up money for the opportunity to enter Redline? It makes for a compelling protagonist, and it’s done with a good degree of subtlety.

I think part of the issue might be that Redline‘s frenetic, intense, and to some extent macho style makes people think that a show like that can’t have some heart, and even if the reviewers think otherwise, it doesn’t come across in the way they talk about it. While I do think that the aesthetic of Redline is such a prominent part of the film that if you dislike the way it looks you probably won’t enjoy it, I strongly believe that someone who is merely neutral towards the look of Redline can still get a ton of enjoyment out of it. Let’s not forget those potential viewers.

Getting to Like You, Getting to Hope You Like Me

What is a MILF?

The correct answer, of course, is a Mother You Would Like to Meet Between the Sheets. It is a fetish towards older, more mature women. But while a million things could be said about the concept of the MILF and its appeal, I want to point your attention to one in particular: what the word “mother” in this context really means.

The “mother” in MILF does not refer to the stretchmarks or the fact that they have a five year old sitting at home. Rather, it is very much a visual ideal. The MILF looks more mature and is therefore attractive in a way younger girls are not, and while it has a conceptual side to it, the idea that the MILF is also far more experienced in them in bedside manners, this is also achieved through visual signifiers, such as the clothes they wear and the hairstyles they favor.

While I’m no scientist, I think it’s safe to say that our minds are built to connect ideas and images, to associate one thing with another. This is evident in art, as symbolism abounded in works throughout history, changing depending on the culture. There, we find increasing levels of abstraction, wherein the “symbol” itself may potentially have the power to supplant the original itself, or at least to carry significant weight. So when it comes to anime and manga, the mental association of visual attributes to other physical traits as well as personality and sexuality isn’t that surprising.

Anime fans are encouraged, for better or worse, by possibly the shows or fellow fans, to grow and cultivate a visual vocabulary in this manner, creating a two-way street where looks imply personality and vice versa. Girls with large breasts either tend to be hyper-sexual (Anybody in Ikkitousen, but especially Ryofu Housen) or reluctantly so (Asahina Mikuru from Haruhi). Tsundere can often be found with twintails, due to their potential implication of guarded innocence.

At their most extreme,  these visual signifiers can describe not just personality and background but the entirety of their characters. It’s like instant ramen. It tastes “enough” like the real deal, and it doesn’t require the time and preparation of a real deal. You might consider it shallow, efficient, or both, but it makes sense. Anime fans new and old and from every generation have loved anime partly because of the connections they make to the characters. They want their characters to have personalities attached to their looks, even if those personalities might be one-dimensionally simplistic. This is what a lot of the successful Visual Novel companies have realized. While the characters’ story arcs are just as important, the companies know that they can set the stage with the appealing character designs and hint at their personalities through those deisgn aspects.

They can have players experience love at first sight. Or first moe or whatever.

(Oh, and in regards to MILFs and taking things too far…)

Cliff Notes Characterization: Another Moe Discussion Part 3

In my previous two entries in the Another Moe Discussion series, I may have generated some confusion on the topic, particularly because my own choices for characters I find to be particularly moe may seem somewhat unusual. In addition, reading the comments I received,  a question popped up in my head: does the “moe” label imply a certain character depth or a lack thereof? The answer I’ve come up with is that it is both and neither. A seeming cop-out response, but allow me to explain.

Let’s say there’s an anime series you absolutely love, and in it is a character with strong characterization who goes through some trauma, and in the process resonates with you emotionally, possibly sexually, and you want to tell other people how great the character is and how powerfully attractive they are. The best way to try and make them understand would be to get them to watch the series, but if that is an impossibility, the best you can do is summarize the character and try to describe in fewer words just what made the character move you so. If you have to summarize your complex feelings towards the character in a few sentences, you’re going to have to either pick very specific moments or generalize greatly to give a broader view.

Now then, what happens if all copies of the original work fell into the ocean without any chance of salvaging them, and all the world had left was that summary you wrote? To be sure, your summation has its own merits, as does your intent to really get to the core of what makes you love that character so dearly, but what you’re left with now is a record of that depth. It would be like if nearly every book in the world on a subject was destroyed and the only ones left unharmed were Cliff Notes, and then everyone assumed that this is the way things are and also begin to write their own original stories in the Cliff Notes format. The summary becomes the entirety of the work.

Let’s use a famous character who is often argued as both moe and not-moe: Evangelion’s Ayanami Rei. Having watched the entirety of the original Evangelion series, I can say that there is a lot to Rei’s character to the extent that it’s somewhat difficult to summarize her character and do her justice, but if I had to, I would describe her as an expressionless girl who is fully aware of the fact that she is not unlike a human doll, and has to live while being unsure as to whether or not her emotions are real or just facsimiles. Rei often puts herself into danger as she does not regard her own life as more special or important than the task at hand. To abridge that once more, “Rei is a seemingly emotionless human doll who has little regard for her own well-being.”

But what happens if you take that Cliff Notes version and were to simplify it even further? A Spark Notes of the Cliff Notes one might say. What if you were to reduce the element of time down to zero, and attempt to express those aspects of Rei purely in her visual design? Blue hair and pale skin make her appear more doll-like. An expressionless face implies a seeming lack of emotion. The frequent appearance of bandages on her body implies that she often gets injured. These visual elements become symbols with their own power, which then can be isolated, codified, and even fetishized. Rather than looking for a character by their description as a conflicted human doll who struggles with understanding emotion, you can instead look for a character with pale features. And then you can play off of that trope by making a pale character who acts unlike the stereotype. That leads us to where we are now.

Depending on the extent to which you simplify and distill the attributes of a character, moe can be something with plenty of depth or very little, be it an emotional depth, a storytelling depth, or some other kind. I think this also explains why some people can have such a bad reaction towards moe, because it can be seen as a reduction of what should be there, a quick-and-dirty facsimile of storytelling and characterization. However we must also keep in mind that art and fiction itself is often an exercise in summarizing and simplifying ideas and emotions to transmit them more easily.