Sunday, February 7, 2010

On Evangelion, Suzumiya Haruhi, etc.

On the writing front, I've finished the first act of chapter 3. This is somewhat slower than where I'd have wanted to be, but as you might guess, I've been spending some of my free time on some new interests. While this slows down my work in the short-run, I think the infusion of new ideas is ultimately a good thing. It keeps one from becoming stale. And while I dislike in general working on multiple projects, it does give me alternatives to think about when a main problem at hand proves particularly difficult.

Other stuff below.

But as you might guess from the title, of late my liking of tvtropes has introduced me to more anime, namely Neon Genesis Evangelion and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi being rather newish by comparison, I find that series rather charming, at least in the sense of being unabashedly oddball in all the right places. The show is good comedy, with a heaping helping of metaphysics and philosophy on the side.

Evangelion on the other hand, is rather infamous to say the least, and the show is a bold statement about the nature of personal contact and relationships. Granted, the series is nearly overloaded with symbolism, to the point where everything is expected that way. But I do think that this series portrays well the characters' descents into madness, the reasons why they fail, why they can begin to accept a world without walls between souls. It also gives them a reason to reject that world, a reason deep-seated in their inmost desires. One other thing I'll say is that, to some consternation on my part, I've taken a particular liking to the character of Ayanami Rei, yet as the archetype for the emotionless girl in the last decade, she (a) really isn't all that emotionless yet (b) her growth into a human being, into a person with desires and cares, seems especially lacking in time spent. Once you get past her big initial arc, she seems to fade into the background, having only small hints and cues, until she becomes a plot device, and while she does make a meaningful choice, one I perceive as consistent with her character, it's just not a lot of explicit character to work with, and I find that sad on several levels.

But then, some of this is the limitation of an episodic work. Characters can and will shift in and out of focus, and the story of their growth and change must evolve naturally, over a series of events. I think the only thing that separates main characters (with whom, on some level, we should empathize) is that their plotlines must engage us and do so consistently. They have to want something, and that has to be a major motivator in their actions at least some of the time. How much we focus on those motives is what, in my mind, determines the tightness of a story. How much do people deal with artificial obstacles, as opposed to actually furthering their goals? Ikari Gendou is a great, tight character. As, in some sense, pawns in his scheme, his pilots aren't necessarily so, but they have their issues too, and their battle with stresses of the mind is, in a way, the main point of the show. That's the difference, though: whenever we see Gendou, he's almost always doing something to advance his plans. The pilots must, however, sometimes deal with the practical obstacle of how to defeat this week's Angel.

Here's a good example of tightness in storytelling: again, the first main Rei arc in Eva, episodes 5 and 6. Shinji's hopes of getting closer to his father force him to try to understand Rei, who somehow has Gendou's ear, favor, and blessing. The father who won't see his own son has, for some reason, forever burned his own hands saving Rei, and it's clear she respects him for it: she keeps the glasses he wore that day, the ones that warped from heat, forever unusable now. Shinji's attempts to understand this relationship, to understand Rei, are a main drive in the story, even as the practical issue of how to defeat the 3rd Angel plays out and puts them in a last-ditch joint operation (with a positron cannon, no less). Rei has no problem making herself a human shield for Shinji, despite any harshness she's displayed toward him---indeed, she seems entirely apathetic about Shinji and about her life---and this prompts further questions.

That's the mark of good storytelling, when you can merge the personal plot (Shinji's desire to understand Rei) with the impersonal (the need to defeat the giant Angel that's wrecking the town). There are a few times when Eva fails to do this, but more often than not, it does it very well. And the conclusion of this arc not only moves the impersonal plot forward (the 3rd angel is defeated) but it kicks off Rei's reexamination of her relationship with Gendou and what she wants out of this life before she must fulfill her purpose. It's a great plotline to have. I just bemoan that, after this arc, it gets so very little focus until we must, for the sake of plot, gulp it down almost all at once. It's something I hear they're improving with Rebuild of Evangelion, the recent movies that largely retell the story but with some alterations, yet this, too, must come at some cost. (Mostly, again from what I hear, regarding Asuka.)

But earlier I touched on the nature of episodic storytelling, which even still forms the basis for my writing, yet while I pride myself on tightness between and within installments, I find I still enjoy hunting and pecking at shows, looking for the moments I've heard about and looked forward to. With Haruhi, this is somewhat inevitable---the series intentionally plays with ordering of episodes just to have fun with it. With Eva, not so much, and I'm sure I will understand more when I've watched the whole series all the way through properly, but that's the difference between what one should do and what one wants to do. Or rather, the difference between different wants. Again, something worth philosophical examination.

No comments: