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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

What’s To Learn From Giant Robots?

Throughout the past three or four years, Japanese animation has, slowly but surely, been making its way into the American mainstream. Child-oriented series such as “Pokémon” and “Yu-gi-Oh!” have become multi-billion dollar franchises, spawning all kinds of merchandise, ranging from lunch boxes to training pants. Similarly, Cartoon Network has been airing a number of cleaned-up renditions of other series such as Outlaw Star, Dragon Ball Z, Inuyasha and Mobile Suit Gundam, which have garnered a reasonable following amongst the 13 to 18-year-old crowd. Unfortunately, none of these at all represent the kind of cinematic and literary quality that animé has to offer; they are just the kind of bastardized, unengaging entertainment that American television is notorious for. The networks that air these series have predictably chosen the ones with the least potential for causing controversy and cut out any form of violence and sexual content past a certain threshold. On that note, I give you the antithesis to every mindless, watered-down, irrelevant piece of Americanized animé: “Shin Seiki [officially translated as “Neon Genesis”] Evangelion.”

Insanely popular and controversial in Japan [where it began airing in fall of 1996], Evangelion has, as of September 24, finally been fully released Stateside in DVD format [the final installment, the End of Evangelion feature-length film, was issued by Manga on that date]. The surface story revolves around the lives of three 14-year-olds who pilot giant bio-mechas called “Evangelions” [Evas, for short], and use them to battle mysterious beings known as angels against the background of a world recovering from a global catastrophe known as “Second Impact,” in which half its population was wiped out in the wake of the Antarctic ice caps being melted. This sounds like a plot that’s pretty much par for the course as far as anime is concerned, but in reality, it is only skimming the surface.

Watching the 26-episode TV series reveals a storyline whose depth and allegorical [not simply applicable – there is a clear intent to challenge the viewer on the creator’s part] relevance easily matches or surpasses that of most classic European literature. Using a number of engaging and impeccably developed characters as vessels, creator/director Hideaki Anno [a man with a well-documented history of psychological problems, who poured every last drop of himself into the making of NGE] raises a plethora of very mature [and by “mature,” I don’t mean gratuitously violent or perverted] issues in the realms of psychology, sociology, theology, and philosophy. Throughout Evangelion, Anno’s scripting either cites or parallels the works of René DesCartes, Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, Carl Jung, William Reich, the Kaballah and the Old Testament, just to name a few. Among the more forthright topics tackled are the long-term effects of childhood bereavement, the ramifications of man’s attempts to play god, the morality of technological advancement, the existence of the human soul and the unending conflict between man and nature. The entire series is pervasively serious and pessimistic, though this isn’t to say that it’s humorless, but even in its humorous moments it urges the viewer to read between the lines and probe for a deeper understanding of why the characters [and ultimately, all humans] act as they do, and really, that is a trait of all quality humor.

This all culminates in End of Evangelion, one of the darkest, most bizarre and most disturbing pieces of cinema [animated or otherwise] in history. If the first 26 episodes that constituted the TV series held anything back in terms of philosophical quandary and paradox, EoE is obviously the catharsis for it. Within a mere 90 minutes, viewers are bombarded with an innumerable amount of dogmatic, Kaballist and existentialist metaphors embedded in a series of cryptic and ambiguous scenes that sternly command repeated viewing to allow the audience to sort through the ambiguity to satisfy their own understanding of the ideas director Anno proffers.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column regarding how a class that offers the teaching of humanities using a non-traditional [yet still familiar] medium [namely, “The Simpsons”] could do wonders for drawing student interest towards more in-depth topics within these fields of study. Well, I’d venture as far as to say that the oversight of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” as an extremely powerful vessel for teaching the humanities would be a cardinal sin. Though the practicality of basing an entire course around the series could certainly be put into question [money becomes an issue, since there are eight DVD volumes of the TV series, plus a ninth for the feature-length film, each costing $25-26 on average], but this is one case where the benefits make the costs appear completely insignificant. Speaking from experience, it’s only been a couple of months since I first became acquainted with NGE, but in that time, watching the show has prompted me to pick up a good deal of reading material on Kant, Reich and The Kaballah. It’s amazing how much you can learn in a short time frame if you’re completely riveted.