Thoughts on watching Neon Genesis Evangelion

In which Avdi alienates his few remaining readers

So I watched the first four epsiodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion this past week.  It came much recommended.  It was good, I guess.  I can see that it’s high quality, as Anime goes.  It didn’t do much for me though.

I suspect I’ll never trully “get” Anime.  Part of it is probably due to the culture gap.  Watching most anime I find myself in a constant state of low-level “WTF?” at the character’s actions and motivations.  Then there’s the way even the most serious Anime is punctuated by moments of purely sophomoric humor, which jar my western sensibilities.  The gender stereotypes don’t help either, so much more pronounced than I’m used to.

Most of all, though, is the way the drama seems to be laid on with a trowel in an art form so often lauded for it’s nuance and subtlety.  There are many moments when I just want to say “OK!  I get it already!  Can we move on now?”

There are moments of beauty.  There’s a lovely sequence in Evangelion  where the main character sits, despondent and motionless, on a train while passengers come and go and finally disappear altogether.  Meanwhile cities are replaced by suburbs and finally the rural countryside in the train’s windows.   It’s quite evocative; the trouble is, I’ve seen it before.  As a cartoon imitation of a fairly common film idiom, it feels a little tired.

Then there’s the music (I’m gonna catch hell for this, I just know it).  I’m sorry, but the J-Rock and J-Pop I’ve heard isn’t  moving, or cute, or campy-in-a-good-way, or good in any of the other ways music can be good.  It’s just schlocky warmed-over leftovers from the 80s, reminescent of pushing the “Demo” button on a casio keyboard.  It’s hard to stay in an art-appreciation frame of mind when the theme song is saying “bad Disney saturday-morning cartoon” to me.  Japan has a fine musical tradition, as far as I know; so why do they score even their serious Anime with the cheesiest-of-the-cheese?

I wonder how many friends I have left after that screed…

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  1. I’m with you on some of your comments. However, I seem to be far more willing to look at and accept Eastern culture simply for what it is. Whenever I see a new culture, unlike most people I know, I simply fail to judge it by the standards of my own (unless said culture goes against my core values, for instance, feminism). What I’m saying is, I’m very flexible and tend to simply see and accept things in another culture for what they are, no more, no less. This is probably an anthropological trait… *sigh*. So Evangalion just *is*. Also, another thing that helps is I tend to be much more de-sensitized to traditional patriarcal societies, so the pronounced gender roles have no effect on me.

    As for the music, I am with you on that. Oyyyy… except some of the classical stuff, that was really great.

    1. I’m usually pretty open to other cultures (I didn’t start for nothing…), and allthough I may eventually make judgements, I usually reserve them until I feel I have sufficient understanding.

      What I’m not any good at is watching a sequence of events which has an underlying logic, but which, not understanding that logic, appears semi-random to me, and enjoying it. As an example, I watch a lot of oddball art-house movies. Some of them can be pretty random. But if I have some clue about what the filmmaker was trying to *say*, I’m ok. Anime is built on a set of cultural assumptions that I’m mostly unaware of. If I understood the culture better, I’d probably enjoy anime more.

      I’m a sympathetic. When I can find even the smallest portal enabling me to get into the character’s heads, I can enjoy a show or movie no matter how foreign the context. But without that sympathy, I’m lost.

  2. CArtoons are noted for nuances and subtlety?

    1. Japanese ones are.

      1. i’m way too wordy in a response.

        i know we’ve talked about anime in the past… Evangelion is a strange one. it remains in my mind a masterwork, because i feel like everything fit together in such a great psycho-spiritual way. so, after i’d first finished watching it (26 episodes and 2.5 films) i was moved and enthralled. for what must have been a year, i suggested it with the utmost fervor to anyone who even mentioned anime. then i sat down with someone to whom i’d given my usually ten minute spiel and watched the first couple episodes with them – i was disappointed lol.
        i felt like a guilt-ridden young adult impatiently sitting through prayers and “the same old” sermon, wanting only to receive Communion; if that’s not too odd a simile?

        what grabbed me first was the thick, if not altogether pithy, religious metaphors. i rather begrudgingly watched the series at first, only to be wide-eyed and curious to see the “Tree of Life”. then we are attacked by angels, NERV (whose motto is “God is in heaven and all is right with the world”) is the only one to stop them, the main computers being the Wise Men of the Orient. and our hero was a pathetic snivelling kid like i was at his age — it just totally piqued my interest.
        it’s like a strange brew of Eastern and Western perspectives. at least, in the “meta” sense, because i’ve again reached beyond the material itself into what it all means… and i guess that’s my point:

        Eva is simply an unique anime – it follows all the cliche anime forms, in the ‘traditional’ way, but it’s different. it’s merely a commercial work offered by an off-beat but in no real way inspired company, but it carries a sort of personal message or question from a particular author. it feels so much like a Kafkan, introspective sigh. the characters are people, but also archetypes.

        all in all, though, what it really is is a Japanese man using dear western symbols (Judeo-Christian, namely) to add spice to a story. as Westerners ourselves, we take the juxtapositions of all these symbols and infuse them with a particular meaning – or the story takes on a new epic meaning.
        maybe it is a work that can only be appreciated (or overappreciated) by someone already familiar with anime, and by someone deeply infatuated with the overlying religious themes. in some cases, these themes interested me more than what was going on with the characters.

        sorry for the length O:-)

  3. Try “The Tale of Genji”. I believe that is how it was spelled. I found it to be far less jarring and far more beautifully scripted and flowing than most anime I had seen. Also, the score contains no j-pop to my memory.

    1. Benji? Did you say, “Benji”?

  4. Ugh. Evangelion is not good anime. It’s sort of like the angsty goth boy of anime – great if you’re in to that sort of thing, but otherwise something of a wacko you want to keep the razorblades away from.

    Currently, the best anime out there is Full Metal Alchemist (Also known as Haga Ren.) I can’t recommend it enough. Another good on is Rurouni Kenshin, which was actually my favorite series of all time until I watched FMA. If you ever pick up Kenshin, though, stop watching it after the end of Kyoto Hen.

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