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Archives de la catégorie ‘Evangelion’

Gatcha: Uberman crowds?

I’m very excited because I’ve been looking forward to this article for quite a while, since it touches lots of stuff that I really love and have not yet discussed here. It’s about Gatchaman Crowds.

Besides having the most kitsch and tackiest battles I’ve ever seen, this anime is notable for being an amazing reflexion around the interaction between human nature, politics, the social order and technology. Pages could (should) be written about its rich content. The first season explores brilliantly gamification of society and the problematic of individual responsibility (boiling down to aristocracy vs democracy, should a minority be responsible or should everyone be ?). The second continues to explore the different aspects of democracy, painting the most brilliant picture of how it can turn into the dictature of majority, how it suffers of the passiveness of human beings and groupthink phenomena. But as usual, I would like to digress a little bit from the main point of the anime and present original areas for reflection.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight confronts us with the alien Gelsadra, who has the power to read what people want. Good hearted, they aims to make everyone happy, and will do so by reading people’s inner desires. Their conclusion is that everyone should become one (hitotsu ni naru). This would lead us to conclude that mankind’s greatest suffering is individuality and loneliness, and the only cure would be some kind of absolute union.

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Which brings me back to the only part of the Bible that I actually like – Genesis. In this mythology, man was originally one with nature, living in harmony in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were originally « one flesh » (genesis 2:24), contributing of the same oneness and fullness. Only when tasting the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge did they become self aware, acquiring a plaguing consciousness, the root of all evil. They becomes irrevocably aware of their selves, and such of their separation from each other and from the rest of the world, from God, from the Everything. Ensues a whole civilization of suffering and being miserable, because of this knowledge, this self-awareness, which results in isolation.

But here is the rad thing about this mythology: notice how elegantly it mirrors the development of the human, first a baby in the womb whose every needs are instantly met through their blood ties with their mother. Then comes the shock of facing a reality that is not in communion with them, and through the confrontation with this world that raises obstacles, self-awareness (and then later language and culture) is born. And through the years, little by little, children lose their innocence, confronted with reality. As Man is severed from Nature, so to is the child severed from his mother

This awareness of self and separation from nature is the source of an existential loneliness, incompleteness… the misery of existence, as Pascal would put it, or the existential anguish that one will never be rid off, pushing them to find completeness in the Other through Love. One perfect example depicting this is the case of Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion (hehe Genesis, see what I did there).

I want to take this chance to highlight some other brilliant examples of this weighing loneliness that are close to my heart. It’s the subject of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, and illustrated very poetically by the art style of Ranpo Kitan.

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However, self-awareness is also the root of Reason, and of all cultural and artistic production of mankind. This duality of consciousness is explored masterfully through the concept of Dust in my favorite series of book ever – His Dark Materials, from Philip Pullman. While fully acknowledging the pain of this Paradise Lost (Pullman references Milton in many ways), it stands as a celebration of cultural progress. It is very interesting to note how self-awareness and the attraction of Dust really takes off at the end of childhood, standing in opposition to the childlike innocence and wonder that protect them from the Specters.

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For better and for worse, self-awareness seems to be at the core of human nature. Many religions pose the death of the ego as prerequisite for enlightening. No wonder why so many so-called distopia explore Gelsadra’s idea of a world become one: Brave New World, The Giver, Gaia in the Foundation cycle... all highlight the fullness that comes with disparition of individuality. But western society being centered around the glorification of individuality, these models often see their drawbacks highlighted: In Gatchaman Crowds, Rizumu Suzuki has the role of pointing out that in such complacency, men are no better than apes (that being said apes are part of the Whole that is Nature so….).

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Rizumu exhorts Rui Ninomiya to react and oppose this « becoming one » of society: although it may provide happiness and completeness that even Rui falls victim to, it is detrimental to Rui’s higher goal of « updating mankind », which can only be done through man confronting adversity and thereby growing for the better. Pain and loneliness build up man to something better, a modern version of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, which is Rui’s main aspiration (Rui = Nietzsche + technology). The season indeed resolves with everyone thinking deeply and getting a good hard look at themselves (although that society is still in its infancy ^^).

There you have it: would you rather be happy in a brave new world or grow in a never-ending adversity? Or could there be another way? Why is that that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, of Kaworu Nagisa, of Hajime Ichinose rids mankind of their affliction? By the way, Hajime means first, beginning, and is thereby very reminiscing of Eve and Pullman’s Lyra. Could she be the model towards a new society, a sort of growth that still preserves the innocence of genesis?

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Doge is Dead

In this second part of our epic postmodern saga (first part here), we’ll tackle the question that every student has asked themselves at least once in literature class « what the fuck, it’s not at all what the author meant! » (or, in your case, « there’s no way the Spice Girl wanted to sing about the meaning of life »). Because as much as I have no trouble believing that Hideaki Anno was out to deconstruct the mecha genre and his own saga, I’m pretty sure that the runners of Korra or Community season 4 had no postmodern agenda and it was just that bad.

The intent behind a work of art is a question that hit me first watching stuff like Batman (1966) or The Room.  I mean when you’re faced with dialogues like this

Or acting like this

You can’t help but wonder if comedy is what they were shooting for or simply a byproduct of a colossal failure. Failing on purpose is not that rare, even though sometimes it fails… Failure is acclaimed as a didactic tool, or recognized for it aesthetics. Failing is easy, but failing hard and creatively much less so, and whatever the reason behind it, a failure of magnitude is really something to be admired. Bad movies are legions, but the ones widely renowned and acclaimed for their monumental failure are very rare.

The line between accidental failure and intended failure is thiner than you may think! It’s hard to narrow down what makes a good bad movie and how intent fits into it (discussed at length in PBS idea channel). Sharknado seems to have been intentional, and The Room seems not to, but who can tell anymore? Aren’t they both enjoyable? Where does truth lie? If

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.

Deception and ambiguity are part of its very fabric. The exact circumstances of the genesis of a work, so fleeting and influenced by billions of factors, will forever remain unattainable and unreproducible even to their author, for the world and people are ever-changing. No matter how much you research it, you’ll never get inside Tomy Wiseau’s head, even less during the making of The Room. Under these circumstances, does it even matter what the initial seed is, and with it the intent of its birth? The best you can hope for is imperfect uncertainty, the only thing you can know and observe is the work as it is, which stands immutable as the only solid truth between an unknowable genesis by the author and an ever-changing perception by the reader.

With the work of art being what it is, the same unchanging piece, does its past or intent even matter? Does It Matter What Evangelion’s Creator Says? You may even say that the work of art has taken an independent existence of it’s own, untied from its genesis and author. As Roland Barthes would put it, for all intent and purposes, the author is dead to its creation. « There is no other time than that of the utterance and every text is written eternally here and now« . Which Jacques Derrida would complete by a corollary « there is nothing outside the text« , meaning that everything is always already interpretation. A work of art only exists in its complex interaction with its reader.

And that’s why your whiny « but there’s no way that that’s what the author meant » you snarkily retorted to your literature professor is complete bullshit! It doesn’t make the analysis any less true: literature commentary is not so much about the author’s intent as about what the work of art mirrors of its author, both at the time of its creation and as a human being as a whole. It’s a door towards new frontiers, a base to extract meaning from as much as build meaning upon. There is no such thing as « searching meaning where there isn’t any », but rather explore the nebulous semantic universe around humans and their nature.

The intent of the creation is only one of the unattainable truths that a work of art captures. In a very quantum allegory, one can only infer about them by seeing the output, the work as it is (in essence, the failure has the potential to be both intentional and accidental). Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder: it’s observation that gives meaning to things, a work or art only exists relative to an audience. Who can decide but you if Tommy is mad or fascinating? If Korra is bad or interesting? Who can decide if Milhouse is a meme except the collective agreement of a global audience?

Noticing that the medium and meta-information on a work contained as much information as the content itself (were already interpretation), Marshall McLuhan stated that « The Medium is the message, and therefore the content is the audience«  (yeaah maybe on some level this article is a collection of my favorite quotes). You can consider, more widely, that the audience is part of and necessary to the work of art, as much as the author. Every work of art is kinda about human nature.

Every work of art is about you.

Robots, Magical girls, Benders, College, Postmodernism and Deconstruction

The following article is a bunch of nonsense inspired by me watching too much of PBS idea channel, and in particular the Community episode that remains one of my favorites:

This episode brilliantly highlights how Community is a postmodern deconstruction of the sitcom genre. I’m not one to restate what’s already been discussed at length so I won’t. I’d like to instead expand on that idea by drawing unusual parallels and giving you new angles of reflection based on contemporary art, and in particular how Evangelion (expanding our previous article), Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Legend of Korra all circle around postmodernist deconstruction. (so yeah spoilers about these ahead)

Many amazing essays have been written about how Evangelion is a brilliant postmodern deconstruction of the mecha genre and the otaku culture [1, 2], or how Madoka deconstructs the magical girl genre [1] into a metalepsic existential reflexion [2]. The parallel between the two series can be pushed even further.

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But what I find even more interesting is how both of the series have an ad-hoc movie addition. Evangelion has Rebuild, and Madoka has Rebellion. Interestingly enough, those works seem to add a layer of meta and deconstruction which won’t fail to make you ask « what the fuck am I watching ?« . Rebuild (so far ^^) feels like a parody, introducing ludicrous time skips, and withdrawing from the storyline most of its intellectual interest to leave us with a run-of-the-mill empty narrative. Rebellion feels like a big fuck you, undoing everything that happened before to end up in a situation negating the very purpose of the original series.

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In a sense, the two saga contain their own deconstruction within them, which adds up an extra layer of meta, reflection and analysis (post-postmodern ?). They deconstruct themselves by the very means with which they deconstructed their genre (for god’s sakes there’s a whole kawoshin romcom movie that ends with a bang…), in a very elegant self-containing self-negation which can’t help but recall the transcendence of the included middle.

Which throws us back to Community. With a very controversial 4th season without its genius creator Dan Harmon, it’s like the work took an identity of its own and rebelled against its creator to assert its own independence (not entirely unlike the development process of the original series of Evangelion). That raises a ton of interesting questions which we may follow up on later on, but it also makes a very real case for the inclusion of its self-deconstruction within the show. But worthy of its reputation, the show offers us even more food for thoughts: not only does it surpass this deconstruction with a 5th season as brilliant as if nothing happened (deconstructing deconstruction?), but it provides us with a 6th season produced independently on Yahoo!, often described as « a shadow of what the series once was » with a lot of the cast gone and an after taste of… weird. Thus, it adds up a second deconstruction layer on top of the postmodern cake and leveraging this change of medium to show the world the beauty and richness that deconstruction can offer, especially when self-aware. (deconstructing deconstructed deconstruction?)

Which brings us to Nickelodeon fan-acclaimed Legend of Korra, and the most controversial part of this essay (feel free to stop reading if you think Korra is even remotely a good idea. Is anyone even reading ^^). At first, I did not enjoy the legend of Korra at all. Korra was arrogant, stupid and stubborn and I just wanted to smash her head against a wall. But then postmodernism came along and showed me the way. Cause you know who else is famous for provoking this kind of reaction among viewers? Yep, Shinji Ikari (for the record I love Shinji). And it’s true, both characters are kind of insufferable. One may say they’re too human. Korra and her overconfidence mirrors Shinji’s low self esteem. You’d be mad to chose them for heroes, right? #postmodern

And when you think about it, it all falls into place. What kind of hero spends one season fighting people who demand the abolition of privilege (they’re LITTERALY called equalists), fight the people who want to reunite spirit and humans before deciding that hey that may not be such a bad idea after all, then fights a group of people wanting to overthrow despots to install democracy… The show makes a total mockery of the world painstakingly built inside Avatar: the last airbender. Forget the balance of nations and elements, the repeating circle of equilibrium. Instead of an epic quest of self-discovery, you get an insane amount of ridiculous sports, a flipping movie industry, people hooking up here and there, more and more ridiculous variations of bending, a genesis tale directly contradictory to everything narrated in Avatar… For god’s sakes it even ends with a fucking mecha! How could anyone take it seriously? And to finish the parallel, the genius behind Avatar, head writer Aaron Ehasz, is as absent as Dan Harmon from Community season 4. Korra even had to change medium too.

That being said, you may reply that it’s a little easy to justify something being bad with the flag « postmodern deconstruction » and maybe Korra is just that bad, to which I’d answer that a failure of this magnitude and so total is truly something to behold. But admittedly it is an easy life hack, which then begs a follow-up reflection I promised earlier (woow continuity yay) about art and the intent of the creator. Watch out for the next article /o/

Why Evangelion is the greatest work of art ever

I’ve been wanting to share my amazement over Evangelion for a long time, so this awesome video by PBS Idea Channel is a nice occasion to do so :

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Although it is a great statement on authorship and the nature of a work of art, I think it only brushes why Evangelion is so great. The heart of this matter lays in the many layers of appreciation the whole Evangelion saga proposes (not entirely unlike ogres), so without further ado let’s jump into them without delving into too much detail. Also this is spoiler free (apart maybe for one or two white sentences):

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Layer 0: A mecha anime

If nothing else, Evangelion is a mecha anime where gigantic robots fight monsters and shit. Not my thing, but I know some people are into that. It’s kinda pretty too I guess ?

Layer 1: A rich anime ?

The mysterious plot and numerous endings and versions makes for very interesting analysis but let’s talk about the most interesting aspects of that more in detail.

Layer 2: A meta critical deconstruction of the established mecha genre

Literature is plentiful about how Evangelion takes all the well known archetypes of the mecha genre and destroys them thoroughly. All the cliches are present and crushed to ashes, all the stereotypical characters turn out to have a painful and tortured psychology. Exit the mecha babydoll, welcome darkness and depression… Everything in this series up untill its ending is a giant Fuck you to the basic otaku. More on that

Layer 3: An exploration of depression and madnessShinji

Because of that, and also because of the well known psychological difficulties  the creator Hideaki Anno had to face during the making of the original series, it is filled with the side effects of the psychological demons that were haunting him at the time (some even say madness). The whole series is tainted with the depression of the creator or the characters, so deep that it makes a neverending source for psychological studies. More on that

LayerNGE_-_Shinji_and_Eva01[1] 4: A question of self definition

As long as we are into psychology, let’s talk about why Eva redeems the whole mecha genre to my eyes. Giant humanoid robots are a scientific heresy and do not make sense from a logical point of view whatsoever. I cant stress that enough: Noone would ever build such an inconvenient shit. However the one thing they are good for is symbolism (this is the key word for the rest of the article). The fact that mecha is a human inside a human-looking shell allows some clever work to use this as an excuse to work on the difference between the inner-private self and the outer-public self. Under this light, you can appreciate how the insecurities of the characters are hidden from the public world to which they display this cold and reliable (and fake) image. It’s a lense I like to adopt while watching good mecha.

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Layer 5: A freudian/oedipian nightmare

But let’s face it, when you say Eva and psychology, the most interesting and richest part of it is the freudian mumbo jumbo. The whole dynamic of the show, hell the number one motor force is the relationship between Shinji and his father. The ambiguous and enigmatic nature of the evangelion robots make you wonder what exactly is Shinji getting inside of (get in your mom shinji, dad orders it). You could write books and teach class with the interaction between Shinji and his parents, but I don’t want to be too long or to spoil anything.

Layer 6: Symbolism, religion and human nature

téléchargementNow to my favorite part of it and the biggest. If you’re not into psychology, regardless of the intent of the author, there is more than enough philosophy in the original series to feed your curious mind. If you’re anything like me, Evangelion will leave you with a feeling of « dafuq did I just watch » and you’ll be looking for commentaries and analysis on the internet. The everpresent and often played-with christian mythology comes here as a vector to reflect upon human nature (yeah ok much like in Pullman’s His Dark Materials). Countless analysis provide for a very interesting litterature on the subject, centered around the nature of the angels and why are they attacking ? Why are they called angels ? What’s Seele’s project and who is even Seele anyway ? The number of lines you could write/read on these topics is unfathomable. Writing this article, I spent hours browsing the web to find the analysis I liked the most. I recommand this post, this, this…. the list is endless tbh. This is also a cool document. Anyway I said no detail and you should probably travel your own path as Hideaki Anno keeps saying ^.^ but I can’t help but love the analysis centering on self-awareness, innocence, abnegation….

Layer omega: A meta-meta post-post modern self deconstruction

And that’s where genius turns into the absolute best and my mind is blown to the point I have to write this article. Because this meta post-modern deconstruction of the meta genre now carries with it its self deconstruction, delightfully ironically entitled Rebuild. In this successful attempt to troll every-fucking-body, the creator Hideaki Anno took this whole mythology and huge work he had constructed and proceeded to tear it to pieces by wiping out symbolic aspects, messing up all the analytical aspects of the previous work (which makes it kinda harder to find good analysis of Evangelion nowadays). More on that

Conclusion: A delightful irony coating

Rich from all of these layers full of symbolism, of the original criticism of the otaku archetype, and of its self-reflective deconstruction, one can’t deny the artistic interest of this outstanding saga, probably in spite of all the efforts of its creator to diminish its work, making it the ultimate irony (yeah I do love irony).

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