Neon Genesis Evangelion Analysis Episode 2: Unfamiliar Ceiling/the Beast

The title for the second episode begins a pattern that lasts for most of the series, that being that each episode has two titles. For some reason, episodes 1 and 10 don’t conform to this idea, something which I’ve never really understood. For this installment, “Unfamiliar Ceiling” refers to the first half of the episode, while “the Beast” is the title for the half that follows the commercial break.

     I’ll open this review by analyzing the mechanics of piloting the Eva, since my first review was long enough as it was. Unlike most giant robots in anime, Evangelions are piloted by synchronizing the child’s nervous system with the control system of the Eva. They think, and the Eva responds. The downside of this is that when the Eva is damaged, the child receives the mental feedback and feels like they are the ones being injured. This is shown early in this episode, where Sachiel breaks Eva-01’s arm and puncturing its eye, causing Shinji to black out from the pain.

The cockpit (actually a long, cylindrical device inserted directly into the Eva’s spinal column) or “Entry Plug,” is also flooded with an amber fluid called LCL. The LCL is completely breathable, and acts as a shock absorber for the pilot during battle, and aids in synchronization.

     As the battle is underway, Shinji blacks out and Misato screams his name in distress, when we suddenly cut to Shinji snapping awake in a hospital bed, looking at the titular “unfamiliar ceiling.”

     This jarring scene shift completely threw me off the first time I watched the series. Was Shinji dreaming the whole thing? What was the outcome of the battle if it was real? Anno cruelly leaves these answers until the end of the episode, but we are offered teasing glimpses throughout, such as Eva-01’s damaged head and a massive crater in the middle of the city. Seeing as how the rest of the city is still intact, and the supporting cast continue to appear, we know that the battle is won, we just don’t know how.

The next major scene in the episode is Commander Ikari taking part in a discussion with NERV’s financial backers, the Human Instrumentality Committee. The true purpose of the Committee is only hinted at here, but they seemingly have Ikari by the balls, which is quite impressive considering the badass presence he’s presented so far. Apparently, there is something larger at work behind the scenes than just the war with the Angels, but we won’t see much elaboration on that until the second half of the series.

Keel Lorenz

    It is here that the bizarre relationship between Shinji and Misato comes into focus. Hearing that Commander Ikari has arranged for Shinji to live on his own in an apartment, Misato instead arranged for Shinji to live with her. Not only is Shinji mystified by this unexpected extension of hospitality, but so is Ritsuko, who wonders if Misato may have ulterior motives. Misato jokingly says that she “wouldn’t put the moves on a kid,” but Ritsuko’s angry reaction to that statement seems to imply something darker beneath the surface.

Misato does her best to boost Shinji’s confidence in one of the more memorable scenes in the early part of the series. She takes him to a hillside where he can get a view full of the city as its futuristic buildings rise from the ground, where they descended during the Angel attack. Not only does this scene begin to establish what kind of city Tokyo-3 is, but really hammers home what was at stake when Shinji entered Eva-01.

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     Upon arriving at her apartment, Shinji awkwardly thanks Misato for having him, and she has to remind him that this is his home for the foreseeable future. And what a home it is, littered with empty liquor bottles, beer cans and snack food wrappers. We are introduced here to Shinji’s fastidious side as he is quietly shocked/disgusted at Misato’s way of life. We also see a bigger contrast between the Misato at home and the Misato we see at her job. It is amazing how this woman is so keenly focused and professional at NERV while acting like a careless college girl in other aspects of her life. She also questions herself as to the real reasons why she took Shinji in; it seems very obvious that it wasn’t entirely selfless on her part.

Oh, and she also has a pet penguin.

Pen²

     Meet Pen-Pen, Evangelion’s official animal mascot. In this universe, penguins have become practically extinct after whatever event heralded the Angels. Misato states Pen-Pen is genetically engineered to live in warmer climates, and the little guy is basically the main source of comic relief in the series. Enjoy him while you can folks, because that relief isn’t going to be around forever.

After a nice scene where Gendo and Ritsuko debate the ethics of using child soldiers (and which also provides us a glimpse of another one of our starring Mechas, Eva-00), we find Shinji staring at another “unfamiliar ceiling” while he lies in bed and listens to music. On an SDAT player. In the year 2015. Well, we have to remember this was made in 1995, but that SDAT player looks horribly dated in the day and age when the iPod reigns supreme.

Episode 02

     However, this is the first instance of many where Anno tells us a LOT about a character by connecting them to an inanimate object. Shinji constantly listens to music when he’s feeling withdrawn, using it to block out the rest of the world and be allowed to retreat into himself. He also is only shown listening to two tracks, 25 and 26, constantly going back and forth between them. This symbolizes his tendency to make progress with his issues, but never permanently; he is constantly going backwards.

And now, we are finally rewarded with the actual events of the previous battle via Shinji flavored flashback sequence. Just after Shinji blacked out, the NERV control room was completely cut off from all control just as Eva-01 reactivated. Letting out a human like howl, Eva-01 attacks the Angel with such savagery that it becomes readily apparent just who the titular “Beast” is.

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      We are introduced here to another piece of Angel lore, that of the A.T Field. This field manifests as an orange, hexagonal field of light that acts as a barrier to all conventional weapons. This is why the military was so ineffective against Sachiel, and all subsequent Angels manifest them to various degrees of intensity. Knowing this is all the more important when we see Eva-01 effortlessly tear through Sachiel’s Field shortly after regenerating its broken arm.

The next important piece of Angel biology is established as “the Core,” the red sphere located in Sachiel’s solar plexus. Destroying it means the Angel is destroyed, as Eva-01 demonstrates by pummeling it and then tearing off one of Sachiel’s own ribs and using it as a blunt instrument. But the seemingly automnous Angel shows signs of being more than a one dimensional monster when it latches onto Eva-01 and self destructs. With this action, the Angel’s personality shines through: it knows it’s screwed, but wants to take its foe down with it.

So now we know where that crater in the beginning of the episode came from. And the Misato and the other members of NERV watch in awe as Eva-01 strides out of the flames like a boss. Only Commander Ikari seems unphased by the proceedings.

But what happened to Shinji during all this? Immediately after the Angel’s destruction, Shinji awakens inside the Entry Plug, just in time to see Eva-01’s helmet fall off. And in the most chilling scene in the first half of the series, Shinji nervously glances at Eva-01’s reflection in a nearby building, and is greeted with this:

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“Hey.”

As Shinji lets out a terrified scream (the first of many as delivered by his awesome voice actress, the incomparable Megumi Ogata), we cut back to the present, where Shinji curls up into a fetal position. The same questions running through his mind are no doubt running through the minds of the viewers at this point. Just what the hell is the Eva?

The coda bring the episode to a solid close. Misato, standing in Shinji’s bedroom doorway, offers an awkward but sincere expression of gratitude to Shinji for his role in saving the day. But her words do little to console the troubled teen as he ponders just what he has gotten himself into.

“Goodnight, Shinji. Hang in there.”

*Most images taken from Evageeks.org

Neon Genesis Evangelion Analysis: Episode 1- Angel Attack

The opening of the first episodes cuts right to the chase, as we open on a black screen with white text simply saying “the Year is 2015.” It then jump cuts to the devastated and flooded remains of a city. Military tanks line up on the shoreline, while helicopters circle above.  In the distance, something is seen emerging from the water, but the scene cuts away before we can get a good glimpse of it.

In the city itself, there is no activity to be found save one car driving through the empty streets. Inside, a woman complains about the lousy timing of whatever is occurring, while the “camera” focuses on a picture near her lap, which shows a young school boy.

          It is here that we are introduced to said boy, our protagonist, 14 year old Shinji Ikari. Shinji waits by a pay phone with his bag of luggage, learning from the automated voice on the other end that a state of emergency has been declared. As Shinji contemplates what to do, his world is literally shaken due to the footsteps of the giant monster lumbering into the city, hotly pursued by military jets.

 Sachiel

         This is Shinji’s (and our) introduction to one of the main antagonistic factions of the series: the Angels. The Angels are a race of mysterious, eldritch abominations who are attacking the human race for unknown reasons. If you’re expecting some light to be shed on those reasons, well, you may be half disappointed. Everything surrounding the Angels remains mostly vague, as befitting a race of god-like beings so far beyond our ability to conceive. There are several clues hidden throughout the series as to their true origins and agenda, but none of it is explicitly spelled out. Some viewers may find this dissatisfying, but I find that it makes the Angels much more intriguing.

Although it isn’t revealed yet in this episode, this particular Angel is classified as the 3rd Angel, codenamed “Sachiel.” Each of the Angels are given names from the actual Bible, or related academic sources. The Biblical Sachiel was an angel of the Cherubim order, said to govern over water. The latter aspect is alluded to when we first see this creature swimming through the flooded ruins of old Tokyo. If you look closely enough, you can even see that it has some amphibious and fish like features, like these gills:

 

            Anyway, the Japanese military attempts their standard “shoot at the giant thing until it goes away” tactic that has never worked in the history of ever. Meanwhile, Shinji gets picked up by the woman that we saw driving earlier. This is Captain Misato Katsuragi, and she is perhaps the second lead character in the series, and my second favorite (we’ll be getting to my #1 a little further down the line). She was supposed to pick Shinji up earlier, but was delayed due to the state of emergency. She drives him out of the city as the JSDAF drops a weapon called an N^2 Mine (think a nuclear warhead without any radioactive fallout) on poor Sachiel, which completely wipes out the rest of the city. Unfortunately for the army (but fortunately for us!) the Angel sustains very minor damage, which it deals with in a rather creepy fashion.

    While they are driving to their destination, Shinji and the audience are provided a chance to catch their breaths while Misato provides a little exposition. This is a standard trait of a lot of Anno’s works, as well as Studio Gainax in general. The audience is often dropped in the middle of a fast paced story, and expected to pay attention to visual cues and stray bits of dialogue that will catch them up to speed. Usually, background is shared a few episodes later; episode 7 in this case.

With this scene, we learn that Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari, is the leader of a clandestine organization called NERV, sanctioned by the U.N to defeat the Angel invasion. Shinji is estranged from his father for as yet unknown reasons, but he jumped when his father contacted him to come to meet him. Shinji has been living with a teacher (an old friend of Gendo’s) for the past few years.

Right away, we should be able to tell that Shinji isn’t the typical action series protagonist. He is shy, soft spoken, and indecisive. Misato herself even comments on this, saying that “for a boy,” he’s very withdrawn. The fact that he withdraws into himself when she teases him is also a telling sign. Misato herself sheds some information on herself as well: she didn’t exactly get along with her father either.

        As Shinji and Misato arrive at NERV Headquarters (a building within a massive underground cavern located beneath the city) we are introduced to another important support character, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, Chief Scientist of “Project E.” Don’t get used to the fanservice of Ritsuko in a bathing suit, because we don’t get much more of it after this.

Right away, Ritsuko seems like the polar opposite of Misato. Misato seems child-like and unprofessional, while Ritsuko is self assured and analytical. We will learn shortly that these masks they wear hide the whole truth. She brings Shinji to a section called the “UmbilicalBridge,” where Shinji meets the real star of this little show: Evangelion Test Type Model Unit-01.

     Realizing that this is what is father has been working on, Shinji is immediately greeted by his father, who coldly tells him to pilot the Eva and battle the Angel. Both terrified and disappointed that his father only wanted him as a tool, Shinji refuses. Misato attempts to find another way, but when Ritsuko informs her that they have no other options, Misato does a 180: she coldly tells Shinji to get inside. Here we get our first glimpse of Misato in “work mode.” She is carefree and outgoing when off the job, but she is head of the Tactical and Combat section for a reason. She is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the Angels from destroying what’s left of humanity, even use child soldiers such as Shinji.

When Shinji still won’t budge, Gendo summons Rei Ayanami, another child Shinji’s age who has been has been in an Evangelion before. Just by looking at her, you can tell that it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and another attempt at piloting would most likely kill her.

     It is here that we see one of Shinji’s more positive traits come to bear. He sees this girl is suffering, and agrees to pilot in her place. He doesn’t even know Rei at this point, but he steels himself by saying “I mustn’t run away” over and over again. This line becomes Shinji’s recurring mantra over the course of the series, and proves that while Shinji isn’t a badass action hero, he isn’t completely a coward either.

    After a long, detailed scene depicting Shinji getting inside Eva-01’s cockpit, Eva-01 is launched to the surface, where the Angel is waiting. It is here that we reach out first cliffhanger, leaving us wondering if the (understandably) terrified Shinji is going to pull through this alive.

Since this is the first episode, the answer is “DUH.” But as you’ll see, Shinji’s inevitable victory isn’t as predictable as we are lead to believe.