Now, it was not lost upon me that an essay — any essay, really! — on Neon Genesis Evangelion would draw out mis-readings, obsession, and all-around ignorance, especially since a good chunk of said essay is a critique. Nor would it matter that most of the essay is a defense, since, well, it’s not a defense in toto, and, by definition, nothing that’s sacred is ever ‘allowed’ to be criticized in the first place. And make no mistake about it: Evangelion is quite sacred, and too often boosted by the sort of people who end up subtly disparaging the show, even as they think they are somehow fighting for it.
Want proof? Enter Ritsumaya’s post, which went up just a couple of days after my own. It mis-reads me, mis-reads the show, claims things opposite of what I claim, and has an emotional edge from the get-go (my article apparently “infuriated” her — and I will assume it’s a ‘her’) that nicely mirrors the startling lack of genuine analysis, within. I won’t dwell too long on this, but hope to show how utterly childish and vapid the world of anime criticism usually is, oscillating, as it does, between poorly written academic jargon (a la Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine), on the one side, and pretty much all non-professional bullshit on the other.
Ritsumaya is, alas, in the ‘other’ camp, and begins her critique with the following précis:
I googled it and found a pretty lengthy essay written in that infuriating “if I use big words I must be correct” style; as much as the author derides Evangelion’s pretention, he engages in plenty himself.
I mean, I chuckled. ‘Pretention’ — does she mean pretense? Or pretension? This is, I’ll assume, one of the ‘big words’ Ritsumaya is confused by, for which I think I am sorry. But she errs in claiming that I deride Evangelion’s pretense. In fact, one of the chief arguments of my essay is in how novel the show’s use of pretense really is, even favorably comparing it to Ingmar Bergman’s great 1966 film, Persona. This is not called ‘derision,’ but ‘praise’ — two other words whose definitions Ritsumaya must be unfamiliar with.
Yet she presses on:
He has a few good points throughout the essay, which I’ll come to shortly, but he makes the mistake of many who watch Evangelion: He walked in expecting philosophy 101 and received a bunch of mentally ill people realising that it’s okay to be alive.
Well, actually, the term ‘Philosophy 101’ implies a fairly banal introduction to some fairly basic ideas, hence the designation 101. And, by often being precisely that, this is really where Evangelion comes off its wheels, with ‘a bunch of mentally ill people realising that it’s okay to be alive’ in fact being one of its better parts, as I point out, over and over again. How Ritsumaya misses this, when I explicitly state that Shinji’s refusal to grow is in fact a boon to the show, is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that this is per the course, and the reader, unfortunately, must suffer as I’ve suffered:
For example he considers the thematic repetition, the blatant commentary, and the accessibility marks of poor writing; literally he writes “[being “anvilicious”] weakened the series but it also made it more accessible”. If he considers accessibility a poor choice—if he would rather drown himself in some kind of deeply symbolic work that scoffs at the layperson’s attempt at understanding and prompts hordes of fervent critics to pore over the stills of black and white films half-filmed in French for the purposes of aesthetique—then I doubt he and will could ever see eye to eye.
Uh, did you catch Ritsumaya’s little man of straw? Accessibility and great art are NOT mutually exclusive, as per ‘simple’ tales like Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, and straightforward but wonderfully constructed films like Office Space, Annie Hall, and Umberto D. No preening there, no need for French… yet no mallets to the viewer’s head, either, no disrespect to anyone’s intelligence. That Ritsumaya is, in her narrow-mindedness, unable to grasp an in-between, as well as her stated bias against symbolism (huh?), are her issues to resolve.
Evangelion was meant to…
Oops. Another critical faux pas. No where in my essay do I use the words ‘meant to’ or ‘intend’ as a qualitative judgment, because…well, because I know better. The show could have ‘meant to’ do anything, really, and it’d still not affect my judgment, since my judgment is reserved for what ended up on the screen, not whatever it was in the director’s head at the moment of creation. As if Ritsumaya (or even Hideaki Anno, really) has access to such privileged information, anyway.
…meant to interact with the audience of anime at large, to help awaken and guide people who deep in the lifestyle of escapism and those shaken and cast to the side by the burden of mental illness and depression.
Great! But what if (plot twist!) Evangelion does much of this poorly? Note that my essay is an artistic appraisal of the work, first, because I am not so condescending as to believe that Hideaki Anno, as well as the writers, animators, and composers, were ‘uninterested’ in Evangelion‘s art, an idea that Ritsumaya unwittingly argues. I mean, just look at the amount of disrespect she gives Evangelion, as an art-work, all the while assuming she’s somehow ‘saving’ it from Professional Critics such as myself:
Evangelion isn’t some sort of deep undertaking to explore the entirety of the universe; the questions Evangelion tackles aren’t Intensely Philosophical so much as they feature in the core of human interaction. The ideas Evangelion skims lie on the surface of the iceberg of philosophy, yet even something this incredibly simple escapes much of humanity—including, it appears, the author of the essay.
In other words, Evangelion isn’t a ‘deep undertaking’ (her words; and a claim I’d never make, myself), it merely ‘skims on the surface’ of things (which she defends for vapid, emotional reasons, while I defend it intellectually), and so on. And this is supposed to be a defense? With friends like these…
The accessibility of the anime isn’t a bug but a feature. Seriously, Evangelion’s just a reminder for people that it’s okay to be here; that everyone can have a chance at attaining true happiness; that attaining temporary happiness—and the indeed the pursuit of happiness in general—must ultimately come second to self-actualisation, self-awareness, and self-acceptance as well as truly understanding and accepting the others around us.
And the condescension towards Anno just doesn’t let up. So, instead of Neon Genesis Evangelion being richly image-driven, an intelligent subversion of certain hero-cliches, or featuring a novel use of pretense turned out at the viewer (which is what I argue), it is a vapid ‘reminder for people that it’s okay to be here; that everyone can have a chance at attaining true happiness,’ and that we must ‘accept others around us’? Oh, what profound ‘lessons’; and what a high compliment for an artist to receive, that all the aesthetics, inversions, subversions, symbols, anti-symbols, attempts at depth, transcendence, will tally up to little more than a neat, prim, bite-sized lesson to be swallowed like a vitamin pill to clear up Ritsuyama’s abscesses.
This is NOT an argument for art, but for therapy. Now, is there anything wrong with therapy; with ‘reminders’ (to those that need such) that depression, self-loathing, etc., are not necessarily the only ways to exist? No, but to therefore conflate art with the most heavy-handed sort of didacticism is just silly, for while therapy (like most things) concerns itself with ‘what,’ art is all about HOW something gets communicated. It is an ACTION, first, and an action to be evaluated as such. This is a confusion that far too many entertain, as if art is not its own thing, but part of whatever pet-cause (feminism, mental health, liberalism, conservatism, anarchism, etc.) that wishes to co-opt it for its own end, all the while tossing out the art. And, in Ritsumaya’s case, it’s a terrible argument, to boot, because Evangelion’s ending is FAR too ambiguous to simply be called ‘good’ for any particular cause.
Then, there’s this bit of finger-wagging:
I understand that Mr Professional Critic understood the themes instantly (or appeared to do so) and therefore became bored by the rest of the anime because he has no need of a reminder to live.
I actually don’t have much of a comment, here. I just laughed really, really hard.
Does the anime come across as anvilicious? Sure. I mean, the themes repeat themselves again and again in a myriad of ways. Nearly every character interaction adds to on to the concept of resolving the Hedgehog’s Dilemma. The external validation arc that slides into the slow unravelling and demise portrays how the exact same fault in human communication can take a wide variety of forms and be responsible for a wide variety of issues.
Yet it doesn’t ‘come across’ as anything, really. It just is, which is not some subtle difference, but a point that few consumers of art ever really think about: to just look at the object, first, and draw your conclusions from there. Nor does this ‘external validation arc’ take ‘a wide variety of forms,’ as she argues, but one really basic one: characters that hate or are uncomfortable with themselves for the same basic reason, even if there’s a cosmetic difference from situation to situation. Remarkably, this is a point that Ritsumaya unwittingly makes for me when she goes on about the show’s lack of philosophical depth. Because if that’s true, then it stands to reason that the boundaries from character to character are in fact quite minimal, since the characters come to be defined by their words (initerior or no), and the ideas this speech imparts. Yet it’d be a crude argument, one that ignores all that’s good — revolutionary, even — in the show. It is an argument, in any event, that, between the two of us, only Ritsuyama will have the privilege of conducting.
Hey, maybe I just have shit taste.
Again: nowhere does my essay mention the word ‘taste,’ which is a subjective reaction. Because, as it stands, I strongly like the show; it is my taste, both for reasons of personal temperament, as well as some specifics of childhood. Yet to therefore say it is a great work of art (an objective judgment) is ridiculous. ‘I’ am not the measure of the world, and Evangelion is not here to align to my personality, as Ritsuyama childishly argues for her own self (‘The show wasn’t made for you!’). My only job, as a critic, is to look at the thing and draw conclusions — irrespective of my own feelings.
I’m not coming at this with any kind of deep emotional resentment.
Right. Except the very first line of the essay reveals how “infuriated” she was in reading it, followed by arguments constructed almost wholly of emotion.
The essay does genuinely point out some of the anime’s failings, yet the author does not appear to recognise the failings of his own analysis. I mean, hell, this is apparently some kind of actual critic, so maybe I don’t have any right to comment. But then again academia doesn’t count for much and other “professional actual critics” have written garbage such as the assumption that Kaworu’s some form of antagonist.
No, I mean… fuck. Was I just confused for an academic? I wonder how someone even passingly familiar with academe could reach such a conclusion, when good ol’ Alex tried his damndest to get the hell out of school, as fast as he could, then almost lost his Valedictorian position for writing ‘the wrong shit’ about PoMo and other idiot theories? Academia, in short, is a means to stultify ideas, and to ossify the world within them. By contrast, I wish to play with them, and thereby free them.
Now, let’s go deeper, where Ritsumaya purports to take my words apart. Here’s my quote, followed by her ‘analysis’:
Alex: Nor does it help that much of the show’s philosophy (at least when un-aided by the images that undermine its weaker moments) is really high school-level fluff, wherein fairly obvious and rote observations on identity, politics, human bluster and personal relationships are tied into a wan, eschatological symbolism whose import really comes from its novel uses of pretense rather than any ‘deeper’ meaning of its own.
Ritsumaya: Translation: Evangelion’s philosophy is very basic and surface level. The observations on life are extremely obvious and bring nothing to the table. Humanity is magnified to eschatological symbolism (“eschatological” means “to do with death, judgment, heaven, and hell”). People like Evangelion for being pretentious rather than any anything the anime itself says.
Yet that’s not what the quote says, if she could only read. Yes, I write that the philosophy is superficial, but (this is important, you know) that the show’s deeper import comes from a ‘novel use of pretense’: and certainly NOT that this is why people ‘like’ it. In fact, those that hate the show hate it precisely for its pretense, which I in fact defend.
As for the word ‘eschatology’? Yeah, you got it: another hard word for Ritsumaya (she calls it “eating thesauruses”), even though pretty much every major symbol and plot-point in the show is utterly dependent upon the word’s meaning, and how it’s been used in various artistic contexts for centuries.
I mean, what exactly does the author of the essay want?
What I want is irrelevant, and should never be on the table. I am merely spelling out what’s there to see.
Alex: Just note how Crandol thoughtlessly praises cliches of phrasing (Asuka “doesn’t need anybody”) as well as of character (“fundamental feelings of inadequacy…drive Asuka to proclaim herself ‘the best’ at whatever she sets out to do”), yet passes them off as some deep revelation. It is not, and it’s predictable, to boot, for hyper-aggression implies a personal shortcoming in the same way as Shinji’s passivity, two modes of being that no healthy person will ever engage in.
Ritsumaya: Translation: Evangelion is too simple to be a serious anime for serious fans such as myself. Aggressive girls and passive boys by default have personal shortcomings in their aggression and passivity, respectively. No Healthy Person (TM) would ever act like that.
Newsflash: Asuka and Shinji aren’t healthy people. Who the hell are these healthy people you’re talking about? Everyone in Evangelion hates themself and wants to die (or almost everyone, I should say). Evangelion isn’t about healthy people. It wasn’t meant for healthy people. It’s a reminder to those who aren’t healthy, to those who don’t receive all of the constant attention and care that the Healthy People do.
It’s not for you.
Again, did you get all that? She conflates one claim about ‘a’ shortcoming of Evangelion with the idea that the show is ‘not serious’ in toto — as if that is my argument. Odd, too, that while I’m critiquing a writer who has called the show GREAT ART, by the very definitions such things entail — great characterizations, deep dialogue, etc. — Ritsumaya brings the conversation back to, well, herself, in some bloviating need to interject her own ‘personal’ reaction to things, as if they are what’s under discussion. The point, of course, if she’d bother to read Crandol’s words and my reaction to them, is that Asuka is NOT a great character, but a predictable one, and to say that she’s well-sketched merely because YOU identify with such is the height of self-absorption. Evangelion is animation, i.e., art, not your personal handkerchief to merely wipe your boogers on. (Depression? Self-hatred? Just bloooow!) For as wrong as Mike Crandol was in his art-first assessment, there was at least a pretense to assess, and from an area far outside of himself.
…but if you refuse to comprehend the mindset of someone who is depressed and/or otherwise mentally ill, then of course the characters are going to feel oddly “unrealistic” or “simplistic” to you.
There’s so much great art that focuses on mentally and existentially sick people, including the very film that becomes my own essay’s de facto controlling metaphor: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. It just so happens, however, that Neon Genesis Evangelion is not one of them. Yet, as before, the ‘what’ is confused for the ‘how,’ and nothing to the narrows of Ritsumaya’s mind seems to make much sense in the interim.
If the author of this essay would like to show me what he means by “complex characters”, then he is free to do so, but at the moment I honestly don’t understand what the hell he’s talking about.
Any character in one of Woody Allen’s Golden Age films. The characters in Irwin Shaw’s tales, Herman Hesse’s novels, the ‘I’ of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass. The subtly rebellious women in Yosujiro Ozu’s films, and the hyper-realistic ones in Kobayashi. Characters, naturally, that are real people, not bumper-stickers for some idea. Ironic, too, that Ritsumaya says over and over again that the characters are little more than vehicles for DEPRESSION, or SELF-LOATHING, or whatever other thing, then requests I provide her with something realer?
Take Misato, given the analysis I put together a few days ago. She comes closest to self-actualisation once she strips away society’s expectations (symbolised by the heels she drops) and accepts her true(r) self.
Ah. Fuck, man. I just can’t. Misato is now ‘deep’ because she strips away society’s expectations in the most banal and painfully obvious way possible? By throwing down her…heels? Is this supposed to be a step up from the cliche of a woman ripping off her apron, throwing Hubby’s plate of spaghetti against the wall, and chugging down a beer? Way to ‘defend’ Evangelion by offering up one of its most obvious moments for analysis, as if a critic’s explication was ever needed in the first place. No wonder she’s asking me for examples of great characters, although with such a wonderful ‘eye’ for things, I doubt all the Colonel Daxes in the world could matter.
Alex: In The End Of Evangelion, 29 year-old Misato gets shot, and although the viewer doesn’t know it quite yet, is about to die. Prior to this, Shinji is being his typical, selfish, 14 year-old self, a fact Misato chastises him over, then proceeds to give him an “adult kiss” (as she calls it), requesting they “do the rest when you come back.” Now, it’s hard to tell whether she does all this because she’s been shot, and is now delirious, but it matters not; the scene, as many scenes of sexuality in anime, as a whole, are little more than ‘fan service’ from the director, as a kind of wish-fulfillment for his demographic.
Ritsumaya: Right. Let’s take this apart one bit at a time. First up: what do you mean by the “the viewer doesn’t know it quite yet”? Not only was Misato’s death already confirmed in episode 25, which aired prior to End of Evangelion by years, but being shot with that much blood and the line “Don’t worry; it’s not as bad as it looks” would have set off major death flags in the minds of any savvy audience whatsoever. Of course, Misato herself tells Shinji that he’ll be on his own from now on….
Uh, Episode 25 or not, The End Of Evangelion is its own film, with a far different ending from the series, for good or ill. To nakedly assume that the fate of ONE character would be identical to her fate from a previous show, despite so many other differences, within, is simply bad movie-watching, and an example of bringing one’s own biases to the table instead of leaving them at the door. Nor do the ‘major death flags’ matter, because there’s no reason to believe she’s dying at that very moment, or even going into delirium just yet — especially since she’s being quite cogent immediately prior. So, no, the viewer has no objective means of discerning what’s really happening on-screen until it is in fact confirmed.
I mean, is there a reason for this ridiculous nit-pick — of the etiology of a mere 60-90 seconds, of all things?
As for Shinji being his typical, selfish, 14-year-old self? That’s a funny way to spell his depressed, suicidal (the film implies a suicide attempt prior to the beginning; while this is a matter of interpretation, Shinji does state that he wishes to die and chooses to “die” at the pre-climax). Yeah, he’s being selfish. His selfishness is part of the crux of his character development. But wanting to die because you just killed the only person who ever showered you with so much affection on top of the attempted suicide, death, extreme grief, and/or complete absence of every single other person in your entire life isn’t fucking selfishness. Holy shit.
He becomes suicidal after killing Kaworu, a necessary step (or so NERV thinks) in order to save humanity. A mature, older gent will unflinchingly make the right decision without too much brooding. Yet, more importantly, his refusal to pilot Eva is not some aberration due to the ‘death, extreme grief, and/or complete absence of…’ of this particular film. It is a continued pattern from Neon Genesis Evangelion, wherein he refuses to pilot on several occasions, for personal reasons, despite knowing the consequences for the world. So, yes, this is selfishness, of the 14 year-old brand, in particular, wherein the world revolves around YOU. Nor is my comment re: Shinji’s immaturity, of course, a value judgment upon the show itself, as is assumed. It is, in fact, a mere observation of its characters’ whims, one which — despite her protests — Ritsumaya responds to emotionally, and only emotionally, as seen above.
As for the adult kiss? If you think that the adult kiss was due to delirium, I suppose that you could be partially correct, since she knew she was dying and was making whatever last push she possibly could. But to reduce the motivation and reasoning behind the kiss to mere delirium and nothing more indicates to me that the author of this essay hasn’t paid close enough attention to the anime to be making such commentary.
Whether it was fanservice … sure, you could construe the scene as fanservice, although I’ve never seen it as such (I know that some fans do). I won’t defend the fanservice at all. Still, the sequence serves better to demonstrate one last time Misato’s reliance upon sex as a method of communication with men. When everything else fails that’s the final ace up her sleeve.
In other words, “Alex, you might very well be right. I see you’ve got a good argument, even. But I think this instead…”
Seriously, why does she feel the need to so interject; to prattle on so god-damn needlessly?
Yet let us save the best for last:
Alex: … because for every well-parsed line or interesting phrasing, there are atrocities such as: “If you decide to live, anywhere can be heaven — because you’re alive. There will be chances to be happy anywhere. As long as the sun, earth, and moon exist, everything will be alright.”
Ritsumaya: Atrocities. Yes, how dare people reveal an uplifting message without a catch? How dare the audience be given a reminder of optimism?
And so, the stupidity continues, because it must continue. Unbelievably, Ritsumaya speaks as if I was commenting on how ‘terrible’ an uplifting message is, as opposed to HOW this message is in fact phrased and delivered. I mean, is there so little nuance in her head? Must ALL these conflations come so hard, so fast? If you want to see something uplifting, go watch Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which is better scripted, better acted, better shot, and a greater work of art, overall. Yet had it merely been uplifting, as opposed to great and well-executed, I’d not recommend it, a difference Ritsumaya doesn’t seem to get.
The rest, I guess, I’ll just have to SNIP, whether it’s comments on my writing style (coming from someone who self-admittedly loves cliches, and indulges in and excuses so many of them in her own blog posts), passive-aggressive remarks about my person, and all the rest. It matters not, really, for such things have a pretty short shelf-life, anyway, and tend to correct themselves in time. But, consider this a little help — a cosmic push, if you will — and an article for Ritsumaya to peruse if she’d ever wish to truly engage me, as opposed to blowing wet smoke out of her asshole. How’s that for fan service, eh?