Evangelion + Beavis & Butt-Head = Chainsaw Man

A sketch of a character that is a combination of Shinji from Evangelion, Denji from Chainsaw Man, and Butt-Head from Beavis & Butthead

I was originally going to write about how Chainsaw Man reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s the way Chainsaw Man feels like you’re peering into a creator’s psyche, how it both leans into and plays with various tropes, and importance given to feelings of loneliness. The manga (and soon to be anime) stands out from its peers and defies so much of what we consider “proper storytelling,” and I genuinely think it’s going to become an influence on creators on the level of Evangelion

But the two works are also fundamentally different in a lot of ways, and any actual influence from one to the other is indirect at best. The missing piece of the puzzle is that as much as Chainsaw Man has shades of Evangelion, it’s also reminiscent of Beavis & Butt-Head

Denji (aka Chainsaw Man) isn’t suffering the same type of loneliness that Shinji from Evangelion feels. One could argue that Shinji is a whiny teen too caught up in his own head, but the kind of heavy introspection he (and the other characters) engage in isn’t something Denji does for the most part. Instead, like Beavis and Butt-Head, he rarely thinks things through properly, and is also obsessed with losing his virginity. And similar to Beavis & Butt-Head’s environment, Denji lives in a world that seems off-kilter, as if even that which is considered “normal” is more facade than foundation. Also, Denji is not terribly smart most of the time, but he also has brief glimmers of insight—a kind of Butt-Head-esque quality. 

I sometimes describe Denji as being cut from the same cloth as Monkey D. Luffy, but I realize now that this analogy is limited because while they share some things in common, Denji doesn’t have that sense of justice and camaraderie. I realize now that a better comparison is to say that Denji is Shinji combined with Butt-Head. He’s kind of shallow, yet his emotions nevertheless feel real and honest, and ultimately he’s not a bad guy. I think it’s part of what gives Chainsaw Man a strange profundity. 

And if Denji is Shinji + Butt-Head, that would mean the character of Power can be viewed as Asuka + Beavis. Asuka is aggressive and trying to constantly prove herself, while Beavis is like a bizarre embodiment of Freudian id who also comes across as naively innocent at times. It totally works, is something I’m currently telling myself.

Could you imagine what it would actually look like if you tried to cross over Evangelion and Beavis & Butt-Head? It would be a spectacle of the absurd, gross yet fascinating—Chainsaw Man to a tee. In a series where characters grapple with emotional problems that run the gamut of silly and vapid to deep and soul-rending, everything feel bizarre and unstable, and when you add a layer of hyperviolence on top of everything else, you get a series that’s incredibly hard to match.

Let’s Talk Evangelion in Shinkalion Z

Shinkalion Z 500 Type EVA, a robot that's a combination of Shinkalion and EVA-01 from Evangelion

It’s incredibly strange to go from the finality of the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion movie to seeing Shinji and Gendo characters show up in Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z, the fun-filled sequel anime about kids piloting bullet-train robots. What’s even more bizarre is that there’s a kind of thematic resonance between the two. The portrayals of the Eva characters in 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time and their Shinkalion Z appearances actually feel like they fit together.

Possibly due to its transportation and tourism connections, Shinkalion is famous for its unexpected pop culture cameos. A version of Hatsune Miku is a recurring character in the original Shinkalion. The franchise also makes multiple explicit references to city pop legend Yamashita Tatsuro, has Godzilla in a feature film, and showcases a Hello Kitty Shinkalion. It even just had a tiny Maetel from Galaxy Express 999 show up. Evangelion is just one of many pop culture icons to appear, but the sheer tonal difference between it and Shinkalion makes its presence all the more jarring on paper.

Ikari Shinji turning to face the viewer/the Shinkalion pilot Arata Shin.

Shinkalion already had a crossover with Evangelion in the first series, but whereas the main character back then (Hayasugi Hayato) visited Tokyo-3, here we have Shinji showing up in the world of Shinkalion. What really stands out about Shinji here is how gentle and reassuring he is in this world. The Shinji we see greeting the new protagonist, Arata Shin, has a calming presence that feels closest to the version of him we see towards the end of 3.0+1.01, as if parallel Shinjis arrived at the same place, only one had to go through some of the most dire trauma possible. The next closest would be the Shinji often found in Super Robot Wars after the positive influence of hotblooded pilots has rubbed off on him.

Not only does Shinji come across as a mature ment figure to Shin with the aura of a mentor, but he specifically mentions that he’s met a Shinkalion E5 pilot before. In other words, not only does the series acknowledge the previous Evangelion cameos within the world of the story, but we’re also likely seeing a Shinji who’s a little older. In a previous episode, it’s revealed that Shinkalion Z takes place in the world of the original Shinkalion after its climactic final battle, and reuniting with a Shinji with memories of what has come before actually creates a kind of anticipation for Hayato to return at some point.

Gendo sitting on a train platform bench next to some Shinkalion Z characters. The background is red and eerie, and Gendo's signature glasses are reflecting light.

As for Gendo (featured in the image at the beginning), he’s mostly played for laughs in terms of how incongruous he is with the relatively lighthearted world of Shinkalion. He says all the things you expect (“Shin, get in the Shinkalion”), but delivers it all with such a straight deadpan that it veers straight into parody territory. At the same time, his presence and demeanor feel reminiscent of a key scene in 3.0+1.01 involving trains, which makes the aforementioned resonance between that film and Shinkalion Z all the more noticeable. 

Ultimately, both Shinji and Gendo seem to be in better places in Shinkalion Z. While there’s nothing concretely saying so, I like to believe that the Shinji and Gendo of Shinkalion are better people because they have robots that are also trains—the kind of thing both father and son would probably enjoy, given their personalities and histories. 

Rei from Evangelion points at something, encouraging Asuka to take a look. Both are in their school uniforms.

Episodes are up on the official Youtube only until the following Monday EST, so anyone who wants to check out Shinji and the Shinkalion Z 500 Type EVA should do so as soon as they can. Unlike the last series, this episode actually has “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” for the streaming version.

Correcting Past Failures Through the Super Robot Wars Games

The Super Robot Wars series, which crosses over various mecha anime across history in the form of turn-based strategy video games, is known for trying to make giant robots look their best. One way in which this is accomplished is through the attack animations, which have become increasingly detailed, dynamic, and beautiful as graphics have improved, such that even the less popular and even less good-looking series of yesteryear appear to have a new lease on life.

However, on a few occasions there will be an attack, even an ultimate attack, that will within the context of the source material be followed by failure or tragedy, and I find it pretty funny to see when the makers of the Super Robot Wars games try to compensate for this in some way. Below are a few examples.

(Spoilers for some series below).

The first comes from King of Braves Gaogaigar Final.

The mighty King J-Der, rival and ally to Gaogaigar, launches its strongest attack, the J-Phoenix. In the OVAs, this attack is unsuccessful in taking down the enemy, but of course you can’t have that happen in the video game. I personally interpret that pause at the end of the attack animation in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 to be a vestige of that past failure.

The second example comes from Shin Mazinger Shougeki!! Z-Hen (also known as Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact!).

In the final battle, archetypal hero Kabuto Kouji sends a shower of Rocket Punches at Dr. Hell, ending it off with a final blow with a “Big Bang Punch.” However, in the actual anime, while the attack succeeds, the consequences are revealed immediately after to be arguably worse than if Kouji had not defeated Dr. Hell. It turns out that Dr. Hell, while evil, was also trying to prevent an even more evil force from succeeding. While this is acknowledged in the Super Robot Wars Z games through its story, as the games move along you can just keep using the attack mission after mission. The fact that the background doesn’t just suddenly turn red to signal further horrific developments almost feels as if something is missing.

The third comes from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

When the Angel Zeruel appears, it’s the toughest enemy that Ikari Shinji and the other Evangelion pilots have ever faced. At one point Asuka, desperate to prove herself, launches a non-stop artillery volley at the Angel, only for it to prove utterly ineffective. In the anime, this is one of the stepping stones to Asuka’s total breakdown at the end of the series, but in the video from Super Robot Wars MX below shows it being used to defeat opponents with few problems.

As I mentioned, most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars don’t really have this issue, and generally it’s all about celebrating their successes and having fun with characters from multiple series working together. Though, if most of the attacks in Super Robot Wars were to come from failures in the original anime, that might say something about where mecha anime as a genre has gone.

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I’ve Been Wanting to Draw this Comic for a While


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 Cross-Cultural Exchange of a Couple of G’s

In 1996, Russian-American animator Genndy Tartakovsky premiered Dexter’s Laboratory and pioneered the thick-lined,”flatter” animation style. This style can also be seen in Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, as well as in Powerpuff Girls, where Genndy was director.

Flash back a few month to 1995 and we get one of most the influential anime ever, Studio Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Gainax, known for a variety of works from various genres, are especially fondly remembered for their giant robot fare, most notably Evangelion but also Aim for the Top! and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann.

Now, in late 2010: Gainax’s latest anime is a tongue-in-cheek cartoon about a pair of misfits and heavily utilizes thick outlines and very flat character designs, while Genndy Tartakovsky’s newest show is an honest, non-parody attempt at a super robot-themed series. Both series’ debuts occurred less than three weeks apart from each other.

While the relationship between Japan and America’s cartoons and comics have been put in the spotlight recently with collaborations such as the joint Iron Man and Wolverine projects involving Marvel and Studio Madhouse, the fact that Genndy Tartakovsky’s Sym-Bionic Titan and Gainax’s Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt have come into existence so close to one another puts an even greater focus on the two nations’ cartoons. Here in one cross-section of time, we can see the active/passive exchange of ideas as these cultures’ animation styles appear to intertwine so tightly that they sling each other across the Pacific Ocean.

Neither show is so like the animated series of the others’ country that they come off as weak imitations. Sym-Bionic Titan takes fusing robots, a fight against a powerful invading force, and various other giant robot tropes, mixes them in with Genndy’s own character aesthetics, and places the story firmly within America and its own cultural norms. Meanwhile, Panty & Stocking utilizes the visual elements and humor of early “Cartoon Cartoons” (as Cartoon Network referred to them) while also injecting very anime-esque expressions and reactions from its characters, most notably in their faces, and also ramping up the humor to more “adult” levels. The two series and their hybrid styles reinforce both the idea that creativity is not limited by national borders and that individual cultures can still maintain some of their distinctiveness when it comes to artistic output.

This is not a bad thing.

As a final aside, the personal robot used by the character Lance in Sym-Bionic Titan reminds me of the titular robot from Galaxy Gale Baxinger.

I can’t be the only one, right?

Believe in the Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance that Believes in You

I watched Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance over the weekend and I have a whole smattering of thoughts to put down on the subject. It’ll be part-review, part-editorial, and it will contain a ton of spoilers, so watch out.

Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance is the second of four movies whose purpose is to retell the story of Studio Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most influential works ever in anime history. Fueled by hindsight and merchandise profits, Rebuild brings it all back while taking into account changes that have occurred in the world and in anime since the original series ended back in the 90s.

The basic premise of Evangelion is that a cataclysm in the early 21st century has left most of the world unpopulated. Ikari Shinji, a quiet, passive teenager, is tasked  with defeating otherworldly monsters known as “Angels” through the use of unusually organic-looking robots called “Evangelions.” However, his nature and personality make him perhaps the least qualified person in the world to be engaging in battle, let alone defending the Earth. He is supported by the organization NERV, which houses the Evangelions as well as his fellow pilots, the mysterious, stoic Ayanami Rei and the aggressive and competitive Sohryu Asuka Langley.

The idea seems fairly simple, but Evangelion would eventually become a whirling dervish of emotional trauma and introspection that sucks you into the characters’ thoughts and fears, and that characteristic of the series is by far its main strength, and according to some, also its main weakness.

Shinji especially is a pile of neuroses and doubts, which can make him an aggravating main character but also establishes him as quite a bit of an “anti-protagonist.” In watching the first Rebuild of Evangelion movie I found myself unable to engage Shinji, as they tried to build him up to have just an ounce more confidence and determination, but failed to spend enough time on his inner thoughts. His change of heart at the end of the movie comes so suddenly that it rings false to some extent as a result. Luckily, You Can (Not) Advance solves this problem with grace and artistry, which is to say, I liked this second movie. Now on to why.

While the movie opens with a fight between brand new character Makinami Mari Illustrious and an equally brand new Angel, I feel like the movie truly “begins” with the scene immediately after. Here, Shinji and his father Gendou, who is also the head of NERV, are at the grave of Shinji’s mother. Prior to the first movie, father and son had not seen each other in years, and so their relationship is justifiably awkward. Walls have been erected towards each other. However, here at the grave of Ikari Yui, both show that the walls are not absolute, that they are willing to express their feelings towards each other, if only briefly.

While Evangelion has always been about humans relating to one another, this idea of taking just that one tiny step towards trying to connect with others is what really sets apart the Rebuild of Evangelion from the original TV series. The characters aren’t significantly different from who they were in previous incarnations, but by attempting to reach out to others they encourage others to do the same as well, which keeps everyone from retreating into the comforting shell of personal insecurity. Ayanami Rei is seemingly without personality in the first film, and could have very well remained that way, but Shinji is able to reach out to her. In turn, in this film when Asuka (now sporting the surname “Shikinami”) confronts Rei and accuses her of being a “doll,” Rei is able to reply that she is not, but more importantly tries to help Asuka, who she sees as being much more human than herself and thus able to foster relationships outside of their “work.”

I really became aware of this element when Rei invites Shinji and Gendou to dinner to try and have them grow closer (or perhaps less distant). Amidst all of the talk of Angels and Human Instrumentality, I began to care a little more about this dinner, as I felt it skirted closer to the heart of the movie than anything else. The film follows a minor variation of the motto for success from another Gainax work, Gurren-Lagann, “Believe in me who believes in you.” Everyone is portrayed as a thinking and feeling being, even the Angels, who are not one-trick ponies but instead contain backup plans which are augmented by contingencies, hinting at the idea that they have brains underneath those monstrous facades.

The dinner ends up being canceled, as a disaster leads to Asuka and her new experimental Evangelion being possessed by an Angel. Shinji is sent out to fight the compromised EVA, but cannot act out of fear of hurting Asuka. Despite Shinji’s protests however, Gendou is able to override his controls, causing Shinji’s unit to go on auto-pilot and crush the Angel, with Asuka still inside. Shinji is justifiably upset at the whole ordeal, but what he curses most is that he ended up doing nothing. When Shinji is faced with a similar situation again, this time with Rei being the one at risk, Shinji is determined to not repeat the same mistake. Even if something terrible happens as a result, it’s better than having stayed on the sidelines.

The final scene of the movie mirrors one of the most famous scenes in Evangelion, that of Shinji falling unconscious and the EVA rampaging out of control, ultimately leading to it consuming the Angel in an orgy of violence and “evolving.” In this instance however, Shinji does not fall by the wayside and instead is fully in control. His desire to do something and make a difference where he once could not causes the EVA to transcend into a god-like state, visually captured by the movement and posture of the EVA. Neither hunched like normal, nor craven like when berserk, this divine manifestation stands with shoulders apart and head raised, as if to say that it has transcended into another level of existence. Its movements are steady and deliberate, with a clearly conscious mind behind them. In the end, Shinji is able to succeed because he has grown as a person with the help of those around them, who were themselves made better by knowing Shinji.

Whether or not I like this more than the original TV series is still up in the air, but seeing as there is so much to this film, so much to discuss and address, I am quite surprised that so much of the discussion going on about You Can (Not) Advance tends to be rather lacking. Instead of exploring the characters in-depth or talking about themes and story, the conversation revolves around talking about whether or not Asuka is tsundere, the levels of fanservice in the film, and how much merchandise the whole thing generates, as if to say that the movies do not contain any merit beyond being cash grabs. Why is that? I understand that Evangelion, being the classic it is, has been discussed to high heaven by anime fans the world over, but I don’t think any of us are too cool for school that we cannot bring about that fervor again.

Actually, a better way to put it would be to say that people seemingly do not allow the discussion to move beyond the idea that Rebuild of Evangelion is tapping into that pool of devoted fans. It is doing that of course, but no one ever said that they cannot still put heart and effort into the whole project.

So let’s talk!

(And if you’ve talked already, kudos to you.)

Spreading Cubeesm, Finally

I’ve actually been meaning to post about this for almost two years now, but have never gotten around to it until now.

The above image is from the site Cubeecraft, which provides free papercraft models of characters from anime and manga and other areas of nerd popular culture. While I haven’t taken the opportunity to construct any myself, which I understand limits the authority of my opinion a great deal, I’ve seen them in action firsthand. The really great thing about Cubeecrafts is that, unlike many other papercraft which require a lot of precision and know-how and exact details, Cubeecrafts are beautifully simplistic and easy to construct. They don’t even require any tape!

So naturally when it came to picking an image to lead this post, I had to go with my namesake.

So check it out when you have the chance. Having a color printer helps of course, but is not absolutely necessary. Also, I’m well aware that these things have been featured on Adult Swim in addition to Cartoon Network proper, so you’ve likely heard about it well before I ever got off my lazy ass and made this post, but I wanted to do this, just in case.

The Essential Strength of Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most famous and influential shows in all of anime history and whether you’re a fan or a detractor there is no denying this fact. As time has passed however, Evangelion and its legendary status have been thrown into question. Critics will say that its story falls apart or makes no sense, that it’s chock full of plot holes, that its characters do not act as proper story characters. And all of this might be true; going over Evangelion with a fine-toothed comb reveals that much of its symbolism is paper-thin, and that its characters tend to not have much personal resolve or major development. That’s okay, though, because none of that is the truly essential strength of the series.

What is Evangelion‘s biggest strength then? To explain, I’ll use some examples from the series. Not any particular example, as my memory’s faded a bit, but some common ones: Shinji riding the train, and an Angel Attack.

There Shinji is, sitting on an empty train, listening to the same two tracks on his Walkman as the sun sets and ambient noise echoes through the city of Tokyo-3. You can sense how little he thinks of himself, how easily he gets into a rut, how much he prefers to just ignore the world if he can.

Then a grotesque monster appears. It’s vaguely humanoid, but the angles of its body and its lack of a real “face” make it incredibly jarring, even moreso when this song starts up. It’s not really an “evil” song so much as it is one that announces an inescapable and impending doom. That monster, called an “Angel” apparently, is disturbing. You can feel a certain mood, just as you can feel Shinji’s mood of doubt and despair and frustration, and that is where Neon Genesis Evangelion gets you.

The main strength of the series is in its ability to convey moods to its viewers. Whether it’s a character’s mindset or the setup to an action scene, you experience this strong understanding of the emotion the show is trying to make you feel. Whether you like him as a character or not, with Shinji you can always feel his crushing depression in every scene. So too with Asuka, where you can always feel her absolute fear of failure, and with Rei there is the constant sense that she is struggling with something and that she doubts her own identity.

While Evangelion came out at a time where it captured the zeitgeist of Japanese youth, and it owes much of its success to that fact, I think the ability of the series to transmit moods and emotions to the viewer is its primary and longest-lasting legacy and is the thing that makes it accessible and relatable over a decade after its creation. It’s what draws people in, it’s what causes people to reject it, and it’s something that it does better than nearly every other series in anime history.

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.