I re-watched Evangelion episode 12 yesterday. It was a pleasant surprise. It was jarring to go from movie-budget 00’s digital animation to low-TV-budget 90’s cel animation, but I got over it.
What really struck me was how good the writing was— there’s thought behind it. The show is a bit heavy-handed when it comes to conveying it’s existential themes (at this point of the show, anyway), but no line of dialogue is wasted. I especially loved in when the characters were just being normal with each other, like when Misato promises the kids a steak dinner and Shinji and Asuka pretend to be excited. There’s nothing “anime” about the dialogue in that scene, it’s exactly how it would go in real life. And I think that’s what makes Evangelion so lovable. Amidst the fantastic doomsday situations, impossibly attractive geniuses, and pseudo-religious conspiracies, there’s realistic characterization. And that makes all of the difference.
I also think I understand, now, why some people hate Evangelion so much. It takes the giant robot concept from their youth, puts them in a serious situation, sucks the light-heartedness out of it, and uses it to comment on modern Japanese life. I didn’t grow up watching mecha shows, and the only mecha I had watched before Eva was Gurren Lagann, so the effect of this was lost on me. What I can relate this effect to, however, is the movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. I hate that movie. It takes a fun book about a kid fucking shit up, adds an indie aesthetic (I despise the indie aesthetic), and sucks out all of the light-heartedness out of it. Spike Jonze didn’t even try to have fun with it, he instead uses the book as his own platform to comment on modern American life. So yeah, I guess I can see where some of these guys are coming from.
While I’m on the subject of Where the Wild Things Are, though, I’d like to point out that it’s not just the above mentioned effect that killed it for me. It’s where Evangelion succeeded and this movie failed– the characterization. They did an alright job with Max, which is good because if he didn’t have my sympathy, the latter half of the movie would have been unbearable. It’s with those damn monster things. In the book they’re pretty cool, they’re physical representations of his mischievousness. In the movie, though, they’re articulate representations of his neuroses. The thing is, in doing this, the movie has to present them as fleshed-out characters, even when removed from Max. It doesn’t. The movie just throws them at audience, crying and whining and shit, and expects the audience to relate. I know it’s difficult to flesh-out such a large cast in only two hours, but that’s no excuse.