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“Neon Genesis Evangelion,” Episodes 9-12: Dance Apocalyptic

The third in a series of essays covering Hideaki Anno’s landmark mecha-anime, which is finally globally available through streaming.
Neon Genesis Evangelion Rewatch is a series of essays where Willow Maclay will be covering the streaming release of Hideaki Anno’s landmark anime show.
When Shinji Ikari goes to school for the first time in Neon Genesis Evangelion his teacher gives a lecture to the students on living during the “second impact.” It was a cataclysmic event for Earth where a meteorite is believed to have crash-landed in the polar ice caps, melting the arctic and forcing the Earth’s climate to change instantaneously. For this class of fourteen-year-olds they only know of this happening through hearsay or through history books. They weren’t alive when it happened so it’s more difficult for these children to grapple with the Earth dying in real-time. They’ve grown up in a world that is post-second impact, which isn’t easy in and of itself. After the second impact the planet was engulfed in nuclear war and suffered mass extinctions of plant and wildlife species in addition to billions of people dying as well. They know what world the second impact birthed into existence, but they never experienced the trauma of the event firsthand. Up through the first eleven episodes of the show audiences perceived the second impact through the eyes of the children, as they are the point of view characters in this show. The adults, like NERV’s military captain Misato Katsuragi, are wary to talk about the event on a personal level. They discuss the event only in scientific terms, never in those of personal loss. We have no images to understand the second impact except in the rebuilding of the post-apocalyptic city of Tokyo-3. Humanity was brought to its knees and slowly  rose to their feet. The deathblow of the second impact was only something audiences could consider through imagination. That is, until the opening moments of episode twelve.
“FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
2000 A.D.” 
The twelfth episode begins with a gentle, resting image of Earth, from the perspective of the moon, which looks down upon our planet with grace. It recalls the balletic notion of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in sheer grandeur and scope. Peace. The image rises gently, as if the moon is putting the Earth in its sight and then a starlight breaks the image with a shining cross. It appears  like a kiss upon the Earth, and everything is gone. There’s an immediate cut to a world in the midst of total annihilation, storyboarded with relative simplicity to get across a complete disruption of peace on Earth as the world turns itself inside out. There are only a few cuts and images to get everything across. Electrical towers are torn down, trees are bare, and everything is colored in a molten orange to suggest a planet on fire. The sonic quality of the scene is completely overwhelmed by the gushing of catastrophic winds. One man walks across the landscape of the doomed planet while holding a little girl in his arms. He reaches, his arms visibly scarred with his flesh melting, and places the girl inside of a large insulated capsule as shelter. The little girl is Misato Katsuragi and this man is her father. She mumbles out the word “Dad?”.  On her face you can see that she’s both heartbroken and in shock at what’s happening, before the capsule closes entirely. Her father  hopes and prays that he’s done enough to save his little girl.  Knowing that he’s done all he can do he falls over to die, draped over the capsule like a father wracked with desolate grief over a coffin containing his little girl. He’ll never know if she lived. . The image is, for a moment, a bird’s eye view of him, before cutting to  a monster rising up out of the pooling magma of the Earth. It has wings that stretch out, and the image finally pulls back into space. The beautiful blue planet couldn’t rightly be described by those words any longer. A red crater has engulfed a quarter of the planet as this giant monster spreads its wings, rising out of the destruction. The creature howls. Misato is shown to be safe, floating at sea inside the capsule, which has opened up. She takes one look out into the horizon, and in an image that recalls the atomic bombs, she sees a large cloud resting atop two giant towers of flame as ash and rain fall from the sky. The next cut shows Misato getting ready for work in the present day. The silence of her mundane morning is deafening. This is where her head is at this morning. This is where the mind lingers in the wake of the second impact. This is why no one will speak with direct frankness about what happened on that fateful day, when the world began to glow.
When episode eight of the newest season of Twin Peaks arrived many rightfully highlighted the atomic bomb testing sequence as a career highlight for the filmmaker, David Lynch. It was a masterclass of abstraction and dread which signalled that the building of the atomic bomb was what ultimately birthed man’s worst evils.Neon Genesis Evangelion does the same thing when giving  life to the second impact, which greatly resembles the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a sequence it doesn’t last nearly as long as Lynch’s odyssey into the interior of the bomb, but it conveys the same sense of helplessness and desolation at tools we have created that only manage to destroy. Because Evangelion underlines the sequence with the metaphorical weight of atomic warfare the image of Misato staring at the towers of fire has a specific cultural meaning for Japan. For the rest of us it is a reminder of our potential for devastation.   This moment sets in stone everything that Evangelion will unravel as a “probable” third impact looms and the Angels, like the monster described above, continue to wreak havoc on Earth again and again. After this sequence, the context of day-to-day life in Evangelion is changed. It gives moments where characters are doing something as boring as folding laundry new meaning. Misato’s friend and NERV colleague, Ritsuko Akagi, says, “Just be happy we can do these things.” Civilization is fragile. It can only bend so much beneath the weight of our decisions, and the planet can only withstand for so long, before she gives up the ghost. 
It’s easy to take life for granted. It’s easy to think to yourself, “awful things won’t happen to me.” It’s how we keep thoughts of death at bay. “Forget the future and live in the moment” becomes as holy as any life advice could be. If you do this you free yourself to the idea of personal oblivion, which comes for us all. So be it. For the characters of Evangelion they can’t take normal things as guarantees. They laugh a little. The times are so hard that they have to have a little fun, and before the creators of Evangelion dropped episode twelve into the laps of viewers and hinted at where this story would go, they too, have fun, with some episodes that feel more typical of the mecha anime genre than the apocalyptic abstractions that will follow.
After the first half-dozen episodes of the show Evangelion was beginning to settle into a “monster of the week” formula. These were phenomenally crafted mecha anime episodes, with scattered scenes of extraordinary brilliance, but the structure was settling into something more normal. An Angel, the monsters that are attacking Tokyo-3 one at a time, would arrive and one of the adolescent pilots of the Evas, the robots used to battle these monsters, would fight the creature. There would be both structural collateral damage and a mental toll, but the show was beginning to have some loose fun with its premise and settle into some aspects of comedy to lighten the blow of the more serious subject matter at hand. Most of this comedy was coming at the expense of Shinji and how the girls and women in his life emasculated him. In episode eight of the show, while helping her fight off the newest angel, Shinji had to wear one of Asuka’s plug-suits (the safety uniform one must wear in an Eva), complete with padded breast forms. This created a two-birds-with-one-stone effect where Shinji could find himself in a comedic situation while also furthering his gender anxieties around girls his age. This would not be the last time he’d have to cross-dress for the greater good of humanity. It should be noted that in the new Netflix dub of the series this is given even greater context through transgender voice actor Casey Mongillo’s performance of Shinji Ikari. By casting Mongillo as Shinji their vocal performance gives new queer context to a series with an already large fan base of transgender women, many of whom have reclaimed Shinji as theirs. For those who watch the dub on Netflix, Shinji’s voice is transgender.
In episode nine Shinji has to learn to move like a girl in order to defeat the newest Angel. To be more precise he has to become more like Asuka. When she and Shinji attack the newest Angel, “Israfel,” at the beginning of the episode they only managed to split the Angel into two halves. Like in the first episode of the series they cut away from the action, only to show the aftermath, this time though, it is a farce, with both Eva Units plunged into the ground head first, an image that would look like if you buried a Barbie doll into the ground with only the legs poking up.. In order to stop the newest Angel from wreaking absolute havoc on Tokyo-3, the U.N. and NERV agree to drop an N-2 mine, a recent invention in the show, to “freeze” the Angel in place while they concoct a back-up plan. Misato comes up with the brilliant scheme for Shinji and Asuka to attack again, but in a co-ordinated dance where each move would be precise and mathematic to dismantle all of the Angel’s weak-points. It’s a joint-effort disguised as an opposites attract episode, which furthers Asuka inflated sense of self-importance over the meek Shinji, while also unravelling some more key info about Shinji and Asuka in the process.
In episode nine there are two key sequences that separate the show formally from a more stereotypical mecha anime, which would lean heavily on the eventual battle rather than everything in between. These two sequences capture the brilliant filmmaking techniques of creator Hidaki Anno and the series directors and animators at GAINAX, the production company behind Evangelion. Throughout this episode, Shinji and Asuka are forced to understand each other and get closer while practising choreography they will use in battle on a mat that lights up like a Dance, Dance, Revolution machine. Misato forces them to go one step further to keep the two in sync: Shinji and Asuka have to dress the same, which forces Shinji into loose-fitting aerobics clothing and tights. Shinji is embarrassed by this, but he has to wear these clothes to help loosen up. He can no longer “fight like a man” with the Eva Unit’s feet planted firmly on the ground and attacking at close range with power. No, this time around he’d have to pirouette in the sky, twist in the wind and loosen his body to attack like Asuka. Asuka gets some joy out of tormenting poor Shinji, but it’s only temporary as she becomes annoyed when Misato asks them to sleep in the same room as they prepare for the attack.
Forcing them to sleep in the same room opens the door to the first of these formally adventurous sequences. In a previous entry I argued that Asuka was over-compensating for something with Misato. We’ve never seen Asuka’s mother or father. This is information kept at bay, but there are little tells that hint at her own paternal issues. During this episode Misato leaves Asuka and Shinji alone for one evening and Asuka is later seen wearing a yellow top of Misato’s. It’s way too big on her, beer stained, and leaves very little to the imagination, which drives Shinji crazy. By wearing this top, she’s projecting her own sexuality outward onto Shinji by trying to embody the only female role-model that she has in Tokyo-3. She wants to be like Misato. Anime production companies are by and large a boys’ club, so female characters are sexualized constantly. This was even truer in the 1990s, and Evangelion is no stranger to doing this as well, but the studio at least has the decency to ground the sexualization of certain characters in a character psychology. Asuka goes to bed that evening wearing the large yellow top she stole from Misato. In the dead of night  she uses the bathroom and when she returns she passes out beside Shinji. Shinji initially panics because he can see her breasts. A common anime trope would  have him gasp, his nose ejaculate blood, and in the process wake up Asuka who would punch Shinji, the pervert, but instead something strange happens. The image cuts to an overhead shot and zooms in, a circular motion to present the hysteria of the moment. Shinji was sleeping while listening to music and after seeing Asuka’s breasts his thumb accidentally presses the rewind button on his Walkman so the cassette hisses loudly as the tape rewinds. This sound overwhelms the scene. As Shinji panics the hissing of the tape gets louder and louder. It sounds like a twisted circus. Shinji leans in a little as if he was going to kiss her and Asuka mumbles, “mommy....mommy” in her sleep. The hissing gets louder. The image cuts away from Shinji to Asuka who is weeping. Right at the height of all this tension the tape clicks off, having reached its destination.  Shinji goes back to sleep, but on the other side of the room. Something happened to Asuka’s mom. In the following episode, as they rest at a hot spring Asuka asks Misato if she knows her entire history.  Misato sympathetically says that she does, and Asuka sighs a little, before Misato encourages her to move forward. The past is the past, but that’s the only information we have. Asuka is broken, same as everyone else, but we don’t know why or how she came to feel the way she does. Maybe she tells herself she’s the best Eva pilot so she won’t be afraid of being hurt again. Of being hurt in a way that forced her into a state of over-confidence.
The second of these unconventional sequences is the actual battle with the Angel that Shinji and Asuka have prepared for by becoming “closer” to one another. They have it all mapped out. They will dance until they win, and what follows is one of the most graceful sequences of action montage in the entire series. Shinji and Asuka climb into their Eva units as the target regains mobility after the N-2 mine wears off. Shinji and Asuka have 62 seconds of external battery life in their robots to destroy the creature and a timer appears in the bottom right hand corner of the screen counting down. The score goes from bombastic to operatic as Shinji and Asuka are launched into battle. The editing in this sequence is incredible, creating a forward movement that mirrors the Eva Units’ battle dance. As they are launched into the sky they shimmer off the sun and twist in mid-air, throwing their knives at the Angel who swats them away in beat with the music. The Angel divides itself in half to fight Shinji and Asuka, and the image cuts back to Shinji’s Eva unit in close-up, then an image of a rifle being launched into battle, which Shinji grabs. The Eva unit runs horizontally across the city, firing, while the image cuts to the gun in close up and then of Shinji in the Eva unit concentrating on his movements. There is another cut to Asuka that mirrors this same image, but in reverse, the close-up of the Eva, then running, then firing. As the xylophone of the score thumps, the Eva units do backflips in sync with the song, avoiding the attack of the Angel. Explosions pop directly after the xylophone too, creating a syncopated rhythm around the song and the image. The editing reaches wider than the Eva units now, intercutting to Misato ordering commands, as NERV fires missiles out of the base, all soundtracked to this same song, emphasizing the beauty in their plan working perfectly. As the music swells with the timer reading “22 seconds” the final assault begins. Asuka and Shinji’s Eva Unit’s are split-screened into one close-up image, and while the Eva flexes Shinji and Asuka dissolve into the image, flashing in and out. And in split-screen they charge. When reaching the Angel the split-screen disappears, but the Eva units are moving in perfect motion as they land a bicycle kick on the Angel, so it still gives off the appearance of the split-screen. The Angel chooses a different attack and merges into  one figure again, and there’s a cut to the joyous faces of Asuka and then Shinji as they know their attack  is working. They ascend into the sky, and there’s a cut back to everyone at NERV looking on, with hope, and in Misato’s case, determination. Shinji and Asuka descend, twirling in the sky as the timer ticks down. Their attack lands directly on the Angel, and as the timer reaches zero the Angel explodes. Perfect. Graceful. Balletic. Except for the fact that when the dust settled it is revealed that the Eva units fell on top of each other in another embarrassing pose. This daring sequence of expert storyboarding and montage ends on a joke.
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GAINAX’s willingness to challenge themselves formally with sequences of montage and psychological ramifications put Evangelion a touch above most television series, which too often settle for less. In the following two episodes, there’s more “monster of the week” structuring, but not without some of the same craftsmanship that goes into episode nine. In episode ten Asuka is plunged into the Earth’s core to retrieve the body of a developing Angel, which presents the situation in a way that is stylistically opposed  to how she normally fights and carries herself. . Because she has to be lowered slowly, the tension has to be glacial and they pull this off by cutting back and forth to NERV who keep proclaiming that Asuka’s Eva is overheating and may explode. The danger of the Angel they have discovered underground possibly being awakened also poses a threat. This is submarine cinema with a death wish, where the pace forces audiences to wait with baited breath for the inevitable to happen. The Angel will wake up, something will go wrong. It always does in situations like these. The formal dexterity of Anno and the directors at GAINAX is evident in these two sequences in episodes nine and ten. The timer/dance montage is Evangelion at its most rhythmically propulsive and joyful, while the plunging of Asuka into the depths of the earth feels like a funeral dirge with slow-cinema aesthetics as she lowers herself deeper and deeper into the crust. These episodes don’t push the bigger plot and government conspiracy at the centre of the show forward very much, but remain incredible, due to the form always being the highest priority.
The twelfth episode of the show is called “The Value of Miracles.” Misato has just been promoted to captain, but she has different concerns. She’s drifting in thoughts of the second impact. She’s quieter than usual in this episode, more introspective. In Evangelion every character has been affected in one way or another by the second impact or the war with the Angels. The show latches onto the trauma of other characters to give everyone depth. Misato’s struggles lie with the second impact and the death of her father: a man she hated, but someone who saved her life. Misato is trying to navigate these feelings through actions of war. She’s military above all else and tries not to let her emotions get the best of her, but in this episode she strays. She lets herself get angry enough to say that she wants to kill the Angels for what they’ve done. They took her father away from her, but they also took away her entire world. She wants to kill each and every one of them, and that’s what drives her. She isn’t proud of her newest promotion to “Captain.” She won’t be happy until all the Angels are dead. If this happens she won’t owe her father anything. She won’t have to chase after his ghost, and maybe she can live her life. Shinji empathizes, chasing his father, Gendo Ikari’ss love and acceptance. Parental figures cast shadows over both of their lives.  All their decisions are an act to free themselves from these feelings of owing their father something. When Misato talks about the problems she had with her father Shinji listens, because Misato is also fundamentally talking about him.
Shinji’s father Gendo is the highest in command at NERV, and has been brutish and difficult with Shinji in the first ten episodes of the series. He doesn’t seem to have much concern for his son, who he forced into piloting Eva Unit-01, but he slowly loosens his grip around Shinji in episode eleven. Even trusting Shinji to arrive at NERV despite the power outage that happens in that episode during an Angel attack, and he gets the closest he’s ever felt to love in episode twelve after Shinji, Rei, and Asuka work together to take out the massive Angel called Sahaquiel, who appeared in Earth's orbit, and dropped bombs all over the world. Gendo says he’s proud of Shinji and Shinji genuinely smiles for the first time on this show. Despite this major breakthrough happening between Shinji and his father, it isn’t the most striking element in this episode. That would belong to the damaged Earth of the flashback sequence at the beginning of the episode and the current state of Antarctica, which is where the second impact originated. Gendo is at the South Pole to investigate after being given a DNA fragment of Adam, the first man, in episode eight. They arrive in Antarctica with the intention of learning more about why the second impact happened all those years ago. This far into the show, we’ve been told that the second impact was caused by an Angel on the moon, and that the Angels have the same DNA as human beings.  They want to know more to further the “Human Instrumentality Project,” a covert operation being kept under the table by government officials to “evolve” the human race. 
Antarctica looks like a wasteland. Pieces of the remaining icebergs rise up out of the pewter sea like graves in a cemetery. An exterior shield protecting them from the uninhabitable air quality insulates Gendo and everyone else on his boat.  The sky is green, meant to look like the aurora borealis, but it looks more like they’re in hell or an alien planet. Gendo is cocky, stating that science makes up for the limitations of human strength when he is told by his second-in-command, Doctor Kozo Fuyutsuki, that they shouldn’t be here, that it isn’t “made for humans.”  Kozo refers to the second impact as a “punishment” for our “science,” but here they are again, in a land where no one should be, investigating something they have little understanding of. This brief conversation and single image of ships drifting in a literal dead sea are all that are shown of Antarctica in this episode. In episode eleven, Shinji questions why they fight the Angels. He wonders if  “they might be messengers of God,” and they may have a “right to the Earth.” How much more can the Earth bend to the will of our needs before it breaks? Maybe Shinji is right.  

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