Episode 5 – Rei, Beyond the Heart

It’s old news, but it’s good news; Remasters are coming to Bluray! Friday, August 26th hardly anyone in Japan will show up for work, instead they will form polite lines trailing out of each and every store that has them in stock, be it Bluray or DVD. As electrifying as this may be, what truly has me excited are the 900 minutes of little, tid-bit extras that will grace us with information, buffet style. In celebration, a crowdfunded project has been started to send ‘the Spear of Longinus’ to the moon. Obviously whoever came up with the idea hasn’t seen the show, because that’s a very bad idea…

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the series get retouched. As with most anime, the production schedule can get kinda crazy, and especially did for Evangelion. So when the series was made available for home release, several episodes where touched up. Death (and the now forgotten Rebirth) had been released during that time in theaters, recapping the series for the future End of Evangelion. Hideaki Anno saw fit to take some of the new footage from Death and insert it into episodes 21-24, filling out some of the discrepancies left behind in the original airing. These have come to be known as the Director’s Cut episodes. It’s refreshing to see things in a different light.

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I’ve both been dreading and anticipating this episode. This is, in many ways, the debut character-wise for Rei; known in some circles as best girl. And while I personally do not involve myself in the petty squabbles of such matters, I feel both notions to me wrong. Gendo Ikari is almost as much the focus as Rei Ayanami. I spoke about different versions and views for this very purpose; learning about others from others. The idea is touched on again later; the Shinki Ikari in Misato’s mind, the Shinji Ikarai in Asuka’s mind, the Shinji Ikari in Shinji Ikari’s mind…

“Commence activation.” We hear Gendo’s voice before we even see him, and the visual of him is iconic. He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Very sparse is Gendo seen in the series without said glasses. And each and every time we do involves traveling back to a point before the current position of the narrative; in this case 22 days ago. You may notice the lack of tint in the lenses, a bit of foreshadowing for this scene, as things will be made clear.

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The activation of test Unit 00 is the one Commander Ikari refers to. We listen to the staple techno-babble, but mind only the visuals for a moment. See the reaction (or lack thereof) shots with Ikari and Unit 00. Almost without warning, the test goes awry, the yellow behemoth goes berserk. During the struggle, the entry plug is ejected, and the steely resolve of the Commander is brought down. “Rei!” he exclaims, not only revealing the pilot’s identity, but also his affection towards her. Rushing to her aid, he burns his hands, and drops his glasses. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they fall from him, and we see Gendo Ikari. Undeterred, he scalds his hands to get to Rei, “Are you alright?” Then time is spent as we watch the glasses – their lenses crack in the heat. Why? Because it’s important enough to take note. Rei is clearly the victim, but the focus, the viewpoint character, is Gendo. We now know a side to the cold-hearted father that isn’t so cold.

Shinji first catches wind of this when he sees the Commander’s exposed hands. Ritsuko accounts the events that transpired, and Shinji’s reaction of confusion and hurt curiosity matches ours. “What’s so special about her that warrants my father’s affection?” is the unvoiced question. Now the focus shifts to Rei, but not before some interruption from the peanut gallery. Knowing Anno to be a huge Ultraman fan, I can see a parallel between class clown Toji and comedic relief Ide. Perhaps this is intentional, but ‘Hey Chief’ kinda sounds like an homage to ‘Hey Cap’.

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However, the peanut gallery does bestow the line of wisdom, “You’re both Eva pilots, right? You should know her better than us.” The implication hits like a ton of bricks because it applies to the situation exactly. “I’ve hardly spoken to her.” is Shinji’s response. But the same goes for Gendo as well. Shinji should know his father better than anyone, but he doesn’t because they never talk. More time is spent talking about these two then directly speaking to them. So when Shinji sees both Rei and Gendo talking, when he sees the smiles that they wear, he’s taken aback.

But everything changes when Ritsuko plays matchmaker and sends delivery-boy Shinji off with Rei’s security card. With the doorbell out of service (and no wonder too, the whole area is a dump) Shinji enters her flat. Aside from the bloody bandages from her previous injury, he notices the glasses from before on her dresser. Unsure if they’re hers, he does what any other reasonable person would do, try them on. Rei, steaming from a hot shower, catches him in the act, and best-girl moment happens.

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The donning of glasses is a visual queue of Shinji’s intentions, that is, he want’s to see what makes Rei a better candidate for his father’s affection over him. This upsets her, because she’s seen Gendo’s ‘true nature’ and doesn’t want Shinji to soil it.

“Rei is someone who is aware of the fact that even if she dies, there’ll be another to replace her, so she doesn’t value her life very highly. Her presence, her existence—ostensible existence—is ephemeral. She’s a very sad girl. She only has the barest minimum of what she needs to have. She’s damaged in some way; she hurts herself. She doesn’t need friends.”

~Hideaki Anno, Let’s Die Together, Atlantic Magazine, May 2007

With Rei being someone who doesn’t life for herself, the only other people she has to live for are others, which is why she grows upset at the sight of the intruder in possession of her reason’s memento. Curious that a rainbow is present, as it seems to be a recurrence in the Rebuilds upon an angel’s death.

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Remember Daicon III? I talked about it all the way back in the first Understanding Evangelion hoping you would let it burn into your brains. Well here’s the last call. So the question isn’t ‘What does the water in Rei’s room mean?’ but rather ‘What does the water in Daicon mean?’ The later has a direct answer. Toshio Okada has been cited as referring to the water as opportunity. Makes sense, since without it there’s no daikon. Transposing the meaning, how does this relate to Rei? Is she falling short of her potential in life? Maybe it’s just the simple message that opportunity sits there, untapped and unrealized.

When things awkwardly move from the flat to the workplace, all embarrassment is quickly swept away. Shinji starts asking her about herself. A nice subtlety in this scene is how he actually takes  a step towards Rei as he asks her, physically closing the gap between them before he asks if she’s concerned for her own safety as a pilot. “Arent you Commander Ikari’s son?”, she retorts. “Don’t you have faith in your father’s work?” A direct parallel from the scene with the peanut gallery.

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A moment alone, and Ayanami reflects on her reasons to pilot, all revolving around the Commander. The re-activation test, now with a focus, is a success. She can continue to live so long as she’s accepted by Gendo, despite the self loathing – the reason behind Unit 00’s berserk episode. And then the angel shows up.

Be it favoritism or valid concern, only Unit 01 is deployed. Waiting above, the octahedron of death a.k.a. Ramiel, the fifth angel. With no time to react, the fifth opens fire, boiling the LCL inside the entry plug, akin to Rei. This time, where is Gendo? Cliff hanger.

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It’s comical, but to some degree I find myself in Shinji’s shoes. I don’t understand how Rei has garnered so much affection. I don’t see her the way everyone else seems to see her. It’s almost as if she embodies the series itself. One Rei dies, we get another. DVD’s go out of print, we’ll get it on bluray. The series ends, the Rebuild films begin.

I guess that’s what makes her name perfect. Rei – Zero, or Spirit. A spirit, that’s all she is. The soul of Lilith given human form. When she dies the body is replaced, only the spirit remains. The alternate  interpretation of zero holds true as well. By itself, a zero is nothing, but when coupled with another number, it is a place holder, giving greater value than before. She needs to be given value to exist, wither it be by Gendo, Shinji, or even Asuka. She takes care of her raison d’etre, almost like a mother would….

つづく

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