This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.
The battle is won, but the drama is not yet over. The evil diamond from outer space, that latest Angel which arrived at the end of last episode, has been slaughtered and lies smoking amongst the wreckage of downtown Tokyo-3; no lights illuminate its lifeless shell, for all the electricity in Japan was diverted precisely to defeat it. Yet in order for Shinji's second power-blast to hit its target, Rei's Evangelion (placed on defense in its first active engagement with the enemy) was forced to fend off the Angel's own firepower with a shield that barely protects the Eva's vulnerable pilot. Her role completed, she now allows the weary mecha-warrior to collapse. Shinji races to its side, the gigantic robot he pilots providing physical power to match the skinny teenage boy's emotional intensity. Leaping from the cockpit to yank open the hatch, he sees that Rei is woozy but okay inside and tears fill his eyes.
This is the final resolution to "Rei II," more purely devoted to war strategy and military hardware than any episode we've seen so far - yet powered ultimately, like all the other Evangelion episodes, by the raw, human material of emotional anxiety and release. This conclusion also allows Shinji to come full-circle, from an isolated and weak little boy to someone capable of not only doing his duty, but rescuing another. It also, of course, echoes his father's actions which is why Rei smiles in the end: she's discovered someone else who cares about her, this time not a somewhat remote and imposing authority figure, a mysterious commander she must loyally obey, but a young boy her own age - a peer and companion-in-arms whose solidarity in suffering takes some edge off her own stoic loneliness.
If we see Shinji adapt more fully to his heroic and social role here, we also realize just how intensely professional, confident, and - perhaps - ruthless Misato is when it comes to her own authority. It is her idea to focus all the energy in Japan into a single ray blast directed at the nearly impenetrable Angel drilling its way down to central headquarters (the plan is called "Operation Yashima," a designation Japanese Evangelion fans applied to their government's similar plan to preserve energy during the 2011 tsunami disaster). What's more, as Misato proposes Operation Yashima, and smiles defiantly as she affirms that its chances of success are just below 9%, there is an almost blinding self-assurance to her presentation which both impresses and slightly disturbs us. While of course she will suffer if the plan does not succeed, its success relies ultimately on the two fragile pilots, Shinji and Rei, onto whom she confers this awesome responsibility without the slightest hesitation.
This episode completes Rei's character development which began in earnest last episode (hence the "Rei II" of the title). By its end, we feel we understand her much better; she has not lost her essentially enigmatic character and yet we gain a sense of her uncertainty, her confusion, which never interferes with her commitment to duty or sense of self-composure. And yet as she stares down at Gendo's glasses, connecting them now ambiguously to her commander's son as well, as she manages a real smile at episode's end, gazing into Shinji's tear-filled eyes, we realize she's human as well. Just because she doesn't let her essential bewilderment at the surrounding world affect her actions does not mean she isn't sad and lost inside. Of course there will ultimately be more to it than just that, but a sense of fragile soul will power us through the various hints and revelations to come, connecting us to her even as she remains - in some sense - an alien creature.
Meanwhile we see an extension of Shinji's earlier realization that protecting an individual focuses his attention and motivates him much more powerfully than entertaining abstract notions of saving the world. Just as he was battered by the Angel in Episode 3 before being forced to save his classmates (and thus finding the ability to disobey orders and attack the enemy head-on), here we begin the episode as he's caught off-guard and nearly destroyed by the lethal diamond. Only when Rei puts her own body on the line does Shinji find the willpower and determination to fight back effectively. As Evangelion never fails to remind us, the stakes may be global and apocalyptic, but it is the intimate connections which ultimately provide the greatest inspiration.
me: What do you mean by "off-model"?
me: For what purpose do you think?
Bob: I'm fond of all the music through Evangelion (I love the music that plays as the lights go out all over Japan) but here it seems such a specific thing. You don't just copy even the most obscure Bond themes without it meaning something. Well, FRWL was the movie that introduced Blofeld to the movie universe, there as the unseen/off camera cat stroking mastermind of SPECTRE. He's clearly in the same line of mysterious shadowy villains that Gendo and SEELE is a part of (even the name of the group is very Bond like). There's plenty of Bond influence in the title sequence (FRWL is where we first got the naked-bond-girl credits), and in previous episodes (Ritsuko out of the water in bathing suit). One thing is that the presence of Bond, particularly at a time when that franchise was rediscovering itself (GoldenEye was around the same time, trying to update itself from the end of the USSR), really reasserts some of the subtext of conservative militarist politics in the show.
me: Yeah, funny how cocky Misato is in ordering everyone from other organizations around. A theme that's to be replayed (we see it on the first episode too) until it's eventually sort of subverted, when she begins to doubt who's pulling the strings and for what purpose.
Bob: Right. That's something you don't see in Bond usually. That lack of moral certainty. It wouldn't really come in until the new ones, and the new shadowy organization that's bent on corrupting agents. That puts NGE at a cultural crossroads of where we look for evil in our entertainment, along with the Matrix, the Prequels, LOST. We no longer have it in strict binary terms anymore. It's returning to the days of Dr. Mabuse and hidden conspiracies.
Bob: Yeah, they get a breather. One subtle bit there is that there's that slight push-in on Shinji at the end, one of the few bits of motion they spared for this little intimate moment.