OK, so here, I will attempt to outline why the anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is a heavily influential factor in my Extended Research Project for Context of Practice 3.
Firstly, my serious interest in the show feeds on the topic of my essay for Context of Practice 1, ‘Otaku culture in post-war Japan’. During the course of my research into the key components of otaku culture, Ikari Shinji (NGE’s teenage protagonist) was a near constant presence. Shinji is a tragic figure, and knows it. In this character, Hideaki Anno seems to have created the ultimate otaku stereotype: Shinji is lonely, self-involved, sexually frustrated, distant from his father – a victim of his environment. He is expected to pilot Eva 01, in order to assist NERV‘s attempts to defend the earth against the Angels‘ attacks, but he is usually unwilling to do this, because it is scary. He has understandable, relatable emotions in the face of this terrifying proposed task:
- the angels are really, really scary creatures (I will expand on the goodness of this shortly)
- in order to pilot the Eva, Shinji has to effectively relinquish his conception of his own identity, allowing it to merge with that of the Eva (which, by the way, is inhabited by the soul of his dead mother – oedipal much)
- the responsibility they put on his shoulders is phenomenally weighty
My interest in otaku culture is has been renewed though this research project, especially when viewing it as a national syndrome which has (at least in part) arisen from a society deeply integrated with technologies that encourage escapism and increasing engagement with virtual reality. This interview with creator Anno is confusing and seems to beg negation of any in-depth analysis into the meaning of his story. The Ideas Channel produced this interesting video discussing the relevance of Anno’s opinion on his own creation, which is fantastic:
Either way, I have come to accept the fact that I have no way of getting around Evangelion as a pivotal point of interest in getting this project off the ground. I wanted to pick apart what exactly about the series (television series and films – as is often the case in many anime franchises, there is a series, followed by a feature-length reinterpretation of the series, and now a new series of films re-imagining the basic story with new characters and shinier special effects) that strikes such fear into my heart, but still keeps me coming back for more. I acknowledge that the dramatic music and frantic editing (especially evident in Death and Rebirth) will have had something to do with the adrenaline pumping through my veins as I feed on this hyper-stimulant, but the fact that I can’t quite shake the things I have seen, or the almost-disabling sense of fear I have when recalling certain scenes, led me to believe there is something in the ideas presented that directly attacks something essential to my humanity.
I went on to do some research into Monster Theory – in a way continuing on from the studies into cyborgs and the fear of the Uncanny in my Context of Practice 2 project. By way of the omnipotent Google, I came by this very interesting publication from Jeremy Jerome Cohen. I particularly enjoyed his presentation of the ‘Monster’ as a culture’s own exploration – and simultaneous distancing from – their fantasies and desires. This quote:
‘The habitations of the monsters (Africa, Scandinavia, America, Venus, the Delta Quadrant – whatever land is sufficiently distant to be exoticized) are more than dark regions of uncertain danger: they are also realms of happy fantasy, horizons of liberation.’ (18)
The idea that our fictional monsters are a fairly risk-free method of playing out our risky desires has really lodged itself snugly in my mind. Applying this theory to Evangelion aids in understanding the appeal of the horror the show brings to me. To wield enormous power, to become something more than myself, to (eventually) transcend the human form I was born with and connect, wholly, with a collective consciousness – these are fantasies explored in Evangelion, and the baffling, disorientating finale to the television series is an animated approximation of how we might experience these fantasies, were they to ever actually happen. Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses) again comes in very useful in wording things right:
‘We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy its freedom, and perhaps its sublime despair.’ (17)
I watch the Eva entering ‘Berserker Mode‘ and am at once in awe at its unrestrained brutality in tearing the Angel apart, and completely horrified – sickened to my stomach, much like the employees at NERV who can’t seem to take their eyes off the scene unfolding on their observation screens.
As well as the powerfully scary giant robots, the underlying themes in Evangelion can often pose an even more sinister threat to the viewer. This, I think, boils down to the loss of identity, a kind of death. Not a particularly new fear, but now repackaged in technophilic terms. This, I am now joyfully realising in a rather late-in-coming revelation, is the very same kind of idea discussed in some of the essays in Cybersexualities, where the concept of the womb is diabolical in its very biological function as it challenges the commonly accepted Cartesian ‘individual’ – and this is perfectly paralleled when the pilots in Evangelion enter into the belly of their assigned unit, where they are submerged in amniotic fluid which sustains their survival inside. Their ownership of their own consciousness is sacrificed. This is scary, and important.
I feel as though there is a great deal to examine in the psychology of the sexual tensions between the characters too. The pilots are a bunch of hormone-driven teenagers when it boils down to it, but this ties into another aspect of the studies in otaku culture that interest me, which explores the idea that Japan as a nation has strong tendencies toward reticence, and ah, this is a different post. I’ll come back to this.
I would very much like to dedicate large portions of my time to studying this show as an incredibly effective depiction of the modern, Japanese monster. I’ve got some work to do.