Episode 4 – Rain, After the Escape

So it’s 2015. Everywhere I turn, Evangelion fans are losing their minds with the prospect of the third impact being only a year away. But while that is going on, I’m zoning out to the World Evangelion Jazz Night!; let me tell you, that album is worth every penny! So while it all comes tumbling down, I’m swinging like a mother. Still no sign of Q on the horizon…

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I also just back from a holiday/vacation with my family for a number of days. During said vacation, I stumbled across Starting Point 1979 ~ 1996, Hayao Miyazaki’s collection of papers and memoirs. Some of you might have seen so on Twitter. Now that I’m home, I’ve had a chance to crack it open, and read the foreword by John Lasseter, CCO of Disney and Pixar. When I see how deeply influenced by the Master Lasseter is, I wonder if the effect is similar for Anno. I believe it is. Hell, figures pointed to Anno when Miyazaki stood down, but I digress. In Starting Point 1979 ~ 1996, Lasseter is quoted as saying this:

Another thing that’s very important in filmaking… is pacing. Pacing is the timing of shot after shot after shot after shot. I’m always thinking about the movies being made in Hollywood. They all have the tendency to make things extremely fast-paced, I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s the influence of video games, or music videos, or the result of our fast moving society in general. Whatever it is, I feel directors, editors, and studios feel compelled to hurry the action along at a breakneck speed.

There’s a term that a certain studio executive used when he sensed a movie was starting to slow down. He’d say. “I’m going for the popcorn.” He felt that unless the movie raced nonstop to its conclusion, an audience would inevitably lose interest. I totally disagree with him. Things don’t need to be faster all the time. That’s one of the ways Miyazaki-san’s films… have inspired me.

– From the interview in Ghibli, Studio Ghibli, May 2005

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Though it was part of the of the original production schedule, there where plans at one point to completely do away with with this episode and have episode five take it’s place, resulting in the overall series’ length being 25 episodes rather than 26. However, upon the completion of episode five, it was felt more time would be needed to flush out Shinji’s character, and thus reassumed it’s place after episode three. Anno, presumably already working on episode six, took no direct role in directing or scripting the episode, leaving the responsibility to Tsuyoshi Kaga and Akio Satsukawa respectively.

Tsuyoshi went on to direct episode ten, Magma Diver. This is the man responsible for the groans and moans of many fans as they watch and rewatch the series for the past twenty years. It was the last thing he ever worked on, kinda hard having a death kiss on your resume. Satsukawa boasts a somewhat healthier pedigree, directing an episode of Nadia, writing the scenario for Death and Rebirth, and working on a half dozen scripts and screenplays for other Eva properties.

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As with most of the series, I imagine the production for this episode was rushed, especially with the last minute decision to add it back into the queue, and it shows. The animation takes a dip, and feels like a $300 car going 80 mph down the freeway; ready to fall apart at any moment, leaving you stranded on the side of the road, cursing into the sky and asking ‘why?’ Ok, so maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the crispness present in other episodes is missing overall, noticeably so. If pictures are worth a thousand words, maybe there fall into the 900 range.

Anno gave us his interpretation when he gave us 1.11 back in 2007. Several changes where made to allow better integration with the film, most notably the conclusion. But with all of this, it feels like something’s missing. Granted the comparison is between five minutes of a film versus a 25 minute television episode; both are brilliant with what they work with, but the just the amount of seconds, ticks of the clock, can really help set a mood. That’s exactly what this episode is, a mood.

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We open with a shot of the rain falling over Tokyo-III, Misato still in bed. Her alarm goes off and groggily, she gets out of bed to brush her teeth. It’s a simple thing we all do every day, literally nothing remarkable about it. So why is the time being spent to show this as the set up? Wouldn’t it be better to show Shinji sneaking out, leaving a note?

To me, one of the basic elements in defining the personality of an animated character is to show the same action performed by two separate characters. No one does the same thing in the same way – no one. By using this technique, the characters really  take on a personality of their own.

– From the interview in Ghibli, Studio Ghibli, May 2005

Again Lasseter has been paying attention to Miyazaki and hits the nail on the head. The reason this scene works is because we can relate to Misato, it’s a simple thing we all do every day, groggily getting out of bed to brush our teeth. It establishes Misato’s character without words, and we understand without having to be told. When she finds Shinji’s note (addressing her with -sama, two levels of honorific suffix against her wishes) she knows instantly what’s going on. She doesn’t have to read it.

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As previously mentioned , there are some parts where the animation just falls apart. One such case is Misato’s monkey monster hand. Somewhere along the way, I got the bright idea of watching the episode without subtitles in the original Japanese. I didn’t realize until my eyes where free from the shackles of text just how generic 90’s a lot of the effects are. When added with the shortcuts and glaring animation errors, you’re in for one roller coaster ride of quality. But it works.

Despite being the main character and having the majority of the screen time, Shinji has relatively few lines.That’s the saving grace; a decompressed view of what’s happening to Shinji inside. Sometimes its better to feel than to be told, and in this case it makes the episode.The scene on the train is well crafted in this manner.

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No words, save the announcer over the speaker, but we don’t need them. The track on the SDAT moves forward; people slowly phase out of existence.The SDAT moves back. Slowly, people fade back into view. Then the world goes black. But the most important factor in this scene is what happens immediately after… Nothing. Nothing stirs, it’s a static shot, a breather. We got the message, now we get to internalize it. Got it? “I’ve got to go back.” Track 26. That’s pacing.

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Worth note is also the theater scene. Anno doesn’t revisit it in the Rebuild, but it does bare a striking resemblance to the live actions shots in End of Evangelion. It’s more than likely a coincidence, but a curious one at that. What the idea taken from this episode, or improved upon, maybe removed entirely? Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop, the world may never know.

Let’s go back to Miyazaki for a moment. No, not another Lasseter quote. As Shinji leaves the big city that is Tokyo-III, he sits and hangs his head in what is an obvious homage to My Neighbor Totoro. Remind you, Anno did not direct this episode, thus isn’t responsible for the reference, but he certainly isn’t above it as we see in his previous work, Gunbuster.

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The mountain range featured is Owakundani, a fairly well known area and suicide hotspot. It’s something only those familiar with the geography of Japan would recognize. Sure there could be a sign detailing present dangers, but doing so would ruin it. Not everything needs to be blatant. Sometimes our own thoughts do the heavy lifting for the director; we meet them half way. This is such a case. Shinji wears his poker face here, no telling what he’s thinking, it’s for us to decide.

From that point on the episode slowly winds down and resolves Shinji’s disappearance. He receives a scolding from Misato but still doesn’t get it. Not until the very last second, one footstep away from the last train out of town, does it all come together. Shinji admits his faults, Misato sees him for who he truly is and the two reach an understanding. It’s a solid episode in my book, flaws aside.

I said a picture is worth a thousand words, the animation quality falls short of that in episode four. But what about the value of six? The last track of World Evangelion Jazz Night is maybe my favorite. It’s a nice rendition of Fly Me to the Moon (official name In Other Words by old Blue Eyes himself) but with spoken word in place of lyrics. The narrator details in the first-person the story of a friend warned not to overwork himself. The friend foolishly decides not to heed his council, landing himself in the hospital after a collapse. Sympathetically, the narrator then gives a solid piece of advice, ‘If something’s bugging you, walk away.’

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I’ve found no proof if the story is a work of fiction or not, but at times I wonder. I ask the question. ‘was episode four a commentary on Anno as seen by his coworkers?’ In the end, was it really best for Shinji to just walk away? Again, these answers might evade us forever, but they carry significance.  All of us need a vacation sooner or later; life is full of joys and strife. But the key is to make sure our joys outweigh our strife.

つづく

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