'Evangelion' Ruins One of Its Best Plot Beats With Sexist Tropes

Spoilers for Episodes 22-24 of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Evangelion is a messy series. For all the craft and care put into the characters and arcs in the first half of the show, which was rough in it's treatment of women even then, the back end has higher peaks and even lower valleys. And while lore dumps and twists are being deployed, it's Evangelion's women that end up with the brunt of the low points. For as shocking as it is to learn Rei was a series of clones all along, it's tied to it is the unfortunate flattening of Ritsuko, a woman seemingly motivated solely by her relationship to a man. We see this same story played out with her mother, and this repeated cycle implies some greater hidden truth to the actions these characters have taken. Instead of allowing these characters to have a sense of agency, they're locked into repeating the same mistakes, because "that's just how women are." We discuss this uneven treatment, the overly dramatic lore dumps, and that shower scene in this episode of Waypoints. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below:


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mb884x/evangelion-ruins-one-of-its-best-plot-beats-with-sexist-tropes
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Sounds to me like Patrick needs to watch SHIROBAKO, an anime that gives quite a bit of insight into anime production (albeit an idealized version), and has a character that definitely isn’t Hideaki Anno, Mitsuaki Kanno.

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Definitely not Anno in Shirobako. Who wouldn’t have perfectly normal couches like these?

(Also, everyone should watch Shirobako!)

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What can you say about these episodes other than, they are a land of contrasts. Three scenes, one from each episode stick with me and are so iconic. The (in)famous still shot elevator scene makes me feel like Im also in the world’s most tense elevator ride, begging to get out on the next stop, even though its the wrong floor. When Rei self destructs and turns into a more “familiar” depiction of angel, halo and all. (Its worth noting this was added as part of the director’s cut.)

Finally Shinji holding Kaworu with the choir blaring, all 60ish seconds of it. It might as well have been an eternity the first time I watched this scene, mouth agape. As an aside think unlike the rest of the directors cut episodes (21-23) 24’s DC subtracts more than it adds and makes an already poorly paced episode go completely off the rails and hard to follow, even on rewatch. I saw the original broadcast version my first time, which is where I’m coming from.

The two main halves of this episode are “Wow Shinji makes a (mysterious) new friend! Good for him!” contrasted with “Shinji must kill his new friend.” The phrase emotional whiplash comes to mind.

What sticks with me the most about this scene is the way it had my heart in my throat the first time I watched it. I might as well have been holding my breath, begging for a conclusion, some catharsis anything. To be Shinji, largely, is suffering. But I can’t imagine everything that was running through his head here, the reasons for and against. Then like the crack of a whip, resolution.

I remember my friend who wasn’t watching the show with my friend and I but around say “that took a while.” I was still sitting their frozen, reeling from what the show just put us through.

I honestly can’t remember myself having such a physical, visceral reaction to a piece of media before or since. So yeah pretty good sequence in my book lol.

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so something i have always been confused about is this the angels all seem to be communicating with each other hence why they keep adapting to the Eva’s tactics. when kaworu told shinji every one knows who he is, i have always read it as yea the angels all know who you are, you are the boy who pilots the Evas and fights angels. it helps explain to me why he zeroed in right on shinji because dude has taken out what 8 or something of the angels and is the only one to slip his own AT field and merge with his Eva. am i reading this wrong or am i on to something here?

Nearly everything I want to talk about with this set of episodes is in relation to End of Evangelion (and I have been dying for the past few weeks for them to get to it), but one thing that has continued to strike me is how forgiving the crew seems to be toward the production team and their portrayal of Kaji. Now, I haven’t looked outside of just what’s portrayed within these 26 episodes and the movie, but I really don’t get the sense that the studio made an intentional course correction away from Kaji being the absolute worst sort of dude. It feels to me like they just don’t think that Kaji ever did anything wrong. The whole situation feels to me like how Game of Thrones treats Jamie Lannister.

Link to an article, content warning for sexual assault, also the article contains GoT spoilers if you care about that

https://www.vulture.com/2014/04/rape-game-of-thrones-cersei-jaime.html

Of course, my views on the show have become, let’s say… considerably more negative over the last few weeks since I watched End of Evangelion and become more negative the more time I spend mulling it over, but that’s a topic for next week.

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I can second Austin’s comments about scavenging for table scraps of representation in mainstream media. For me it wasn’t even representation, but a coming out metaphor. At a similar point in my life as when Austin was watching Eva, I watched the first How To Train Your Dragon.

Why was I crying so much? Was it because the main character had a secret about himself that he needed to reveal to be true to himself? Was it because that secret was considered “unnatural”? Was it because he was terrified that his family, friends and community would abandon him? Was it that this secret made him feel completely alone in the world?

Not wanting to kill the dragons is gay.

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Ah fuck, midway through the discussion of episode 22, I realized why the scenes they were talking about didn’t sound familiar and it’s because Netflix has the Director’s Cut version of the episodes while I’m here watching my old DVDs. Guess I need to watch the DC version…

Just started the ep and I ran into something that I had previously thought was a misunderstanding on the part of the host, but at this point is probably a word choice issue. When reading the episode titles and translations, they seem to be jammed together as if they are all different ways of saying the same thing, when the reality is that each episode has a Japanese title and an English one which may or may not be related (though I am curious about the different translations of the Japanese titles and appreciate their inclusion).

Regarding the aircraft carrier scene. It was added for the home release version of the episode.

For a long time the only official release in America had the on air version of these episodes, and it wasn't until the 3rd release (ADV's platinum release) that the American audience got to see 21' to 24'.

Well actually, there had been a previous 2 part stand alone release: “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Resurrection” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genesis Reborn” which seemed to have been meant to replace of the last two volumes of the “Perfect Collection” DVD release.

A more subtle example is episode 21 which saw some changes from the on air version to remove an unintentional suggestion that Misato had killed Kaji.

Interesting bit about Hideaki Anno gaining a more detailed knowledge of psychology midway during production. Usually people explain the tone shift at episode 16 as a breakdown during production (without citing sources). I felt that it didn’t hold up well because of the weird timeline it creates in light of the show’s content and conclusion. The show primarily being concerned with representing depression and the ending which is explicitly about coming out of depression. The new explanation is certainly better than “oops, there’s only 11 episodes until the end and we better wrap this up”.

Guess I got flagged? But my answer doesn’t change.

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Here’s the Eva version of that “war is bad” comic Austin mentioned:
image

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You know, it might just be me, I actually enjoyed the lore as it was.

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And for probably the darkest version of anime production, one can watch the 10th episode of Paranoia Agent. Just ignore the er, haunting bit.

Alright, back from my sojourn into the Director’s Cuts. Here’s what I was hoping to say last week regarding Kaworu.

Kaworu in the show is barely a character because he’s essentially just another monster of the week, a challenge to be overcome within an episode just like all the others. He’s Shinji’s Final Opponent designed to maximally test him, like Arael for Asuka and Armisael for Rei. Gainax had no clue about how popular he would become and that’s why he’s so underwritten in the original run and only slightly better in the Director’s Cut. He wasn’t intended to be that special. The fans made him a bigger part of the Eva canon (and he has a much bigger role in the Rebuild films as a result).

In the anime, Kaworu is an ethereal deus ex machina telepath psychiatrist who knows exactly what to say to Shinji to manipulate his emotions into opening up to him. After he’s revealed as an Angel less than five minutes later, we’re supposed to buy that Shinji fell hard enough for him to feel betrayed. This kinda works if we’re assuming the worst about Shinji’s desperation for any kind of human connection whatsoever.

In contrast, I am much more partial to Kaworu’s arc in the manga, particularly the part where he actually has one. He is introduced much earlier, before the Arael fight, and all of his interactions with Shinji get a lot more room to breathe. Importantly, Shinji sees through Kaworu’s transparent attempts at ingratiating himself and rejects his overtures at friendship multiple times. It’s only after Kaworu disobeys SEELE’s orders and has a genuine heart-to-heart with Shinji with no ulterior motives that they actually connect. Too bad it happens in Terminal Dogma and Shinji must crush him right after. It’s an incredible moment only possible with the benefit of hindsight because the manga chapter depicting this section of the story came out ten years after the show finished airing.

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Just two small things brought up in the episode: 1. here’s a pic from that Eva/Schick promotion, in case you want to see the two worst men of eva with their creepy smooth faces.

Seriously I hate this

shaving

and 2. in the bathing scene, the weird chemical barrels are actually a stack of plastic buckets for washing yourself off with.

See, the top one isn't stacked properly

Doesn’t explain how they keep the giant screen safe from all the steam, but at least they’re not storing nuclear waste or something where the kids are having their showers.

Anyway, I’m going to spend my time trying not to write a six paragraph screed on the importance of Kaworu and Shinji’s relationship, 'cos yall don’t need that…

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What I’ll say about Kaworu is that I put a load of effort into unlocking him in Super Robot Wars V and he was well worth it.

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1: Shinji
This time of year puts me in an absolutely not great place, and from here I’ve been startled by the ways in which I relate to Shinji. The most visible thing is how for the past few months, I’ve felt like I needed some sort of feedback in my head at all times (usually headphones) because I don’t think I can, and don’t want to have to, deal with the alternative. The one I feel the most is what I see as a profound, idle frustration at isolation and lonliness, while also wanting both. Which brings me to Kaworu.

2: I really like Kaworu
I’m someone who requires remarkably little to buy in to stories, so take this with a grain of salt, but I extremely felt the Shinji/Kaworu relationship, specifically because of how long we knew Kaworu. Like what Austin was saying, I would be putty if someone I liked told me that I was worthy of their grace and that they liked me, and I would ride that high for as long as I could. I could absolutely see myself in Shinji’s shoes, so I know that eventually, the anxiety would come. So the episode doesn’t let that happen; it keeps Shinji on that wave so that he can crash. I’m sure that there’s a way to have Kaworu be more present and to have a relationship develop over time (I’m super interested in reading the manga), but for me, and for how I see Shinji, this resonated so so so so much.

My second thing about Kaworu is I like his characterization here. His image and how he speaks is: (a) in stark contrast to the other angels, and (b) is relatively in keeping with the common depiction of angels (hot, flying, kinda otherworldly). It really lends to the almost dreamlike tone of the episode. Shinji has found someone who gets him, who likes him, who is kind to him, and who wants to spend time with him.

3: Regarding the Misato hand-touch
On my first viewing in Uni, I definitely interpreted this as a sexual thing, but watching it now, it comes off as more ambiguous. I kinda want to push back on what Patrick was saying about how the sexual reading isn’t as logical; I think that it is, but only through the show’s own perspective. I think the show sees Misato’s confessions to Kaji about how she uses men more as her voicing her fatal flaw, rather than her being unfairly critical of herself. The extrapolation of this is that she knows how she copes, and has had mixed success with relating to Shinji, and so offers what she knows.

Side note: short rant

Tangentially related, but it kinda rubs me the wrong way when people complain about things being unnecessary or too explicit when communicating ideas in stories. This was brought to mind by the AT field stuff this episode. I’ve never been good at that kind of stuff, and while I get that people have their preferences when it comes to stories, sometimes I just don’t want to have to look at supplemental material to get what someone else might be able to get from the text. This isn’t me throwing shade or anything, I just didn’t want to have this in my chest anymore.

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The fan theory on how kaworu’s arcs in different adaptations relate is that he is the only one who carries the memories from the previous timeline foward, right? So if manga kaworu is first (which is weird because the manga was finished so much later, but that’s what I’ve seen posited) then by the time he meets shinji in the TV series he already knows him and has had that other relationship development. This really jives with the way he’s presented in the rebuild films where it definitely seems like he’s already had those other 2 cycles w/ shinji, and they are even closer. I just rewatched the rebuild films and having that context helped 3.0 make way more sense, but IDK if that’s the actual intent.

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Bit of a side note, but I very suddenly remembered a thing that exists: The manga series Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse. An alternate interpritation of Evangelion where Eva’s are basically JoJo Stands, and The Gang fight against angels that posess human bodies and have personalities and social lives. All the same characters are there, including Kawaru, who’s central to the plot from the very begining, but the plot is completely different otherwise. Does anyone know if it was any good? I was super interested in it when I first found out about it, I read some of it out of order by hanging around in shops that sold it and reading it at the shelf, as you do when you can’t afford to get into buying Manga. I know it took itself completely seriously, so I’m interested in how well it managed with Evangelions core themes.

I was never AS interested in The Shinji Ikari Raising project, but that’s another series that took itself very seriously as I remember, so I wonder if that went a similar way. (Edit: Or am I thinking of Angelic Days? Those both have the same premise, I think)

The Evangelion Comic Tribute is good though. I got that around somewhere. Should really find it.

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Eva but JoJo Stands is just the most “sure, I guess i’m in on this” explanation for a spin off i’ve ever seen. I’m now extremely curious.