Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Before and After" 04 - "After Zeruel"

The new chapter, after long last, is on FFN. The next isn't outlined yet; this week isn't going well. But one step at a time.

Commentary below.

This is the first chapter of this story I've written since I started my "storyboarding" method with Identity, and though the stories are different (as I've said before, I refuse to use scene breaks here, even when I use them quite liberally otherwise), the structure is at heart very much the same. I dare say chapter three of this story actually motivated the storyboarding process. While I based "After Bardiel" on basically five paragraphs of redone outline, it started me off with expanding my outlines in a way that would make the writing process more straightforward and require less on-the-spot filling of the gaps.

That's not to say there wasn't filling to do, of course, but I'll get to that in a moment.

If you remember this episode from the anime, you might be surprised that Rei was in it at all. She makes her only appearance a few minutes into the episode, waking up in the hospital room as I depict her here, and the only thing she says (as a radio plays in the background with news) is, "I'm still alive." It was that theme, of being alive and wondering why, that I wanted to work with. What is there to live for? Why should she live at all? And of course, the answer is that she doesn't think she should. She wants to die, but she can't. She isn't allowed to. But we're not at that point yet.

The main subplot I wanted to play on was a problem I actually had with Gendo. It's so, so easy to paint Gendo as a bad guy, as someone you want to hate, but you have to remember, he's in charge. He's, somehow, charismatic enough to seduce Ritsuko and her mother before her into doing his bidding. The Gendo we see here, though he may seem somewhat out of character, is my attempt to capture what he must act like when he's "turning on the charm," when he acts in a way that people see something attractive in him. In a lot of ways, he's not very much different. He's says little and speaks definitively. In my mind, this Gendo is an act, a facade that he puts on to get what he wants, and hence, most of the money is made off of revealing to others the image he wants them to take away. Don't think for a minute he's at Rei's hospital room because it was anything other than calculated, planned. It does beg the question of why he would've gone to so much trouble to save her from the entry plug. I'll get to that in a bit, too.

Sometimes as I wrote this I thought I was being a bit too poetic, but I do think there's something to be said for fluidity in narrative and dialogue. We as an audience tend to think of Rei as flat, stilted. And it's true, there are times I want to paint her that way, using short, choppy sentences that lack decoration, lack complication, that state the truth of things as she sees them, for that truth is very simple. But you can't do that all the time; it loses effect. Rei should, in principle, be poetic at times, if only to emphasize the times when she's at a loss, when she can't be.

Now, I know I've already skipped over something: the opening scene. I know it's a common interpretation that Rei doesn't dream, and I try not to violate that. I try to have her dreams, true to last chapter, be something that has a basis in reality. We all know, of course, that Rei is actually something else, even more strange that being a clone of a person aged to make up some time. And though she's trying to get out of Yui's shadow, the shadow of the giant is much larger still, and it's something she's yet to even contemplate, let alone comprehend. I did some research on the early Earth, including how its air pressure would've been much higher with heavier gases and that, despite the heat, this pressure would keep the water in the oceans liquid. It's the little things that count, after all.

But anyway, we have Gendo with Rei, and she's still wary of him. She remembers how he dismissed her, but inside, I think, she wants to believe. All of this here is Gendo setting himself up for later in the chapter--indirectly, discreetly. But even Gendo can't hide his indifference, his contempt, for Shinji. He's not even referred to by name. It's just, "That boy." That's not to say Gendo has never shown Shinji kindness. He praised him once. But I think that can only be something done because it served him then, too.

It's interesting to me, writing something like this when Identity has taken up so much of my free time. With Identity, people are plotting things. They make plans, have goals, and execute them. Of course, one can say goals are the drive behind any good story, but goals can take on different forms. They can be simple but require complex execution, like rescuing Ranma from the Sorcerers' clutches, or they can be more nebulous. In this case, Rei wants to go to the cage, to see, to understand. She may not even consciously have formed an opinion as to why she wants to or know what it will accomplish, but every action changes her, and it's that change that we chronicle, that we attach importance to.

You can go back to episode six when Rei says that she pilots Eva because of her bond. I like to go with that and say that what makes Rei grow are her interactions with other people. With Gendo, to start with, and now Misato, in a follow-up to their conversation in chapter two, building on the apparent suicidal action that Rei took on. And again for Rei, though Misato wants to know, it's not just that she can't speak about it. There's a tinge of attachment, of a wish to protect Misato from what she can't understand.

In keeping with that theme of interactions, though, I looked at Rei's fascination with books, with science texts in particular, and I thought it would be reasonable for her to visit a library, where she receives a piece of advise from a strange librarian--you might recognize her as the mind-reader Nodoka Miyazaki from Mahou Sensei Negima. In that, the timeline may be a bit off: Nodoka was born in 1988, and the events of that series take place with her in 8th or 9th grade. Still, rather than create a librarian out of whole cloth, I thought it would be nice for Nodoka to make a cameo, to give Rei a piece of advice about having a little bit of courage. It's that phrase that inspired Rei to go back and look at A Tale of Two Cities (you might notice she doesn't refer to the characters by name, only "the barrister" for Carton and "the marquis" for Darnay). In trying to find some value for herself, she contrasts herself with Carton. Her conclusions are anything but solid, but she's thinking about them. She's looking for something to hold on to, whether it's Shinji's courage or something else.

By this point, it's time for the men in black to show, and I felt this was a good opportunity for Rei to, well, consider the consequences of her thoughts, her actions. She's hardly moved against Gendo, but she knows her thoughts have betrayed him, and as such, I think she's right to be afraid. And confronted with something, with Gendo's ire, she's willing to risk it, to run, to die, I think. I almost had her make her line about wanting to die at the train platform, but I felt it would be better later, after she realized what Gendo wanted from her. Even so, she feels the pull of death, of nothingness.

Something I had an idea about just recently was this following scene at Gendo's "cabin." I'd thought for longer than that about having Rei walk in on Gendo and Ritsuko having dinner, but that idea turned into this bizarre date, if you will. I thought about where Gendo would make a home, and without a doubt that had to be somewhere inside the Geofront, close to Nerv, close to Yui. His cabin on the "surface" is just for show. It's bare. It's empty. It's not even lived in. Gendo's a man who prefers privacy and to be, I think, away from the light of day. He makes his home underground, and the hallways bear that out. This man is crazy. He's obsessed. Only one thing matters to him, and he immerses himself in it. That's what the picture of Yui and Shinji is for. That's what the picture of Adam in Antarctica is for. (The third is, as best as I could describe it, the tree of life.)

I searched for a time to find a wine that would be the right shade of red. Eventually, I realized that was no easy task, and not being a wine aficionado myself, I chose a wine similar to what my father has always favored--he being a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, I chose a Cabernet Franc, one of that mix's principal constituents. It was over this dinner that Gendo would try to connect with Rei, something that she rejects at first but comes around to, or would've if it weren't for the wine unsettling her and Ritsuko dropping by. But think, for a moment, what would've happened had Ritsuko not shown. Maybe Rei drinks the wine. Maybe she gets a little tipsy for it, and Gendo, being Gendo, sees Yui so close to alive for him.

It was always my thought that Gendo would, to try to reassert his hold over Rei, be absolutely willing to violate her. For me, however, it was enough for Rei to just realize that, to understand that he saw Yui when he looked at her, touched her, and to be repulsed, disgusted by that. There is such a thing as too much punishment, after all. There's such a thing as crossing a line. I don't think someone like Rei would recover from that.

I debated for a time how Ritsuko would react to this. In one sense, she sees herself as competing with Rei, with Yui, for Gendo's affection. On the other hand, I think she was genuinely shocked that Rei almost killed herself blowing up Zeruel. To balance those, I hoped she would cautiously advise Rei, both as a rival and as an adult, to caution Rei, to make her realize just what was happening. It's something Ritsuko fears herself and hopes to change, but she knows that day may never come.

The chapter basically ends with Kaji and my attempt to explain why there's a melon patch in the Geofront. But that's not the only thing. Kaji is here to give Rei a bit of hope--again, something to hold on to. If she can't rely on Gendo and lean on him, she'll have to hope for Shinji and his kindness instead. It's eminently practical, but it's also true. That's what she goes with, watching the last effort to save Shinji, and while I'd thought at first that crying would be the main theme of this chapter, of Rei trying to understand something, watchful eyes and reflections turned out to be more important. Yui watches her and lets go. She glimpses her own reflection, however, and feels the omen, the shadow of the giant on her. But that is what that is. Shinji's back, and next time, they're going on a date.

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