Friday, May 27, 2011

Before and After 05 - "Before Arael"

Chapter Five on FFN

Commentary below.

I've said before that in stories I write I may not have every plot element or piece of dialogue planned out before I write it, but I do have some formative and critical scenes in mind that drive the story, that only need enough connective stuff in-between to form a complete tale. That's not to say that intermediate material is unimportant--I think I discover some interesting perspectives in that work--but writing out what's stuck in your mind for so long is particularly rewarding.

This chapter is one of those moments. Let me do something rare and quote my original outline:

Class is thinner now. Hikari is subdued. Toji still has physical therapy. Shinji is just beginning to catch up to all the assignments he missed. Asuka took Shinji's absence hard, too (or perhaps resented that she couldn't beat Zeruel before Shinji did); her synch scores are dropping. And Rei? She stares at the window, as usual, taking notice yet never watching, except for Shinji. He too is absent-minded, so she starts an IM conversation with him over the computer. He admits that he felt his mother in the Eva and asks if Rei felt the same, if Rei thinks there are others in the other Evas (which she denies but doesn't really know, save for her own Eva). To her own surprise, Rei asks Shinji to continue this conversation later, which flusters Shinji, but not enough to deter him.

Rei picks the place: a train station, someplace noisy, that Gendo's intelligence can penetrate but not easily eavesdrop on them. She doesn't know why she cares so much if Gendo hears what she says to Shinji, but she does, all the same. She notices the people touching each other, being intimate, and wonders. Shinji arrives, and she puts those feelings aside, uncertain. As roundabout as she can be, she arouses Shinji's dislike of Gendo, prompting him to remark how Gendo blackmailed him into piloting because he threatened to send Rei out instead. This, like the memory of how Shinji saved her, moves Rei into silence. Shinji inquires about what Rei does in her free time. Rei mentions the viola, reading. To these things Shinji can relate; he remarks how at times he's gone riding the train before but gone nowhere, but never with anyone else. He's always alone, and for the most part, he likes it that way. For the most part. Rei suggests they take the train somewhere, it doesn't matter where, and Shinji accepts, but not before catching a glimpse of Asuka.

On the train they ride in circles, going nowhere, yet both are grateful for the company. Shinji admits that, after Asuka came to Misato's apartment, he's worried about Rei, from time to time, but he also thinks that maybe the commotion Asuka makes would be too much for her. Shinji cares much for Asuka and her declining scores, but he doesn't know what he can do to help. His helplessness doesn't suit him, Rei thinks. He's capable of being brave where she is only capable of disregard for her own life. She cannot be brave while there are clones of her. The night wanes, and Shinji knows he needs to get back soon, so he walks Rei back to her apartment, and while Shinji bumbles ("I know we didn't really do anything, but if you enjoyed it--") and Rei cuts him off ("I should smile."). And she does. And Shinji delights to see it, but he wonders--why doesn't Rei smile more from now on? And Rei only says that that would diminish the action; she thinks, she guesses, most people smile even when they don't mean it. Shinji agrees that she's right, but when she's happy, she shouldn't fear to show it. And Rei doesn't; indeed, she wants more.

The next day, Rei thinks back on this encounter with Shinji, about how being with him made her feel, and while she doesn't particularly enjoy Asuka's company, her well-being is important to him, too. After a long silence, she musters the will to speak her mind about the Evas, about their souls, and Asuka slaps her, but Rei is confident, certain. She's not a doll anymore.

This is what I started with, and you can tell I made some adjustments. I inserted the scenes at the athletic fields to bookend the chapter and hit home the idea that Rei's learned something about friendship and what it means to people. I also had the idea for the arcade later on, to help hit it home further. I think my original idea in this respect was something like laser tag, but the arcade did just as well. It seemed empty to me to have Shinji and Rei go on a train ride and nothing happen after that. I also added the confrontation with Asuka near the beginning to emphasize how Rei's mindset has changed, how she's willing to engage Asuka when she wasn't before.

Originally, when I conceived of the "instant message" scene, it was going to be pretty generic, but I've been working on unix machines more of late, and I thought using a typical unix prompt and some realistic commands would give more a touch of groundedness to the scene that wasn't there before. I figured a legacy system like that would also bear relics of an earlier time--the school's server still considers it Hakone Middle School, for instance.

I have to admit, it's hard to write Asuka realistically here. She's going on and on about hating things and hating everyone, and I found even lifting the translated dialogue from DVDs or fansubs and tweaking it to fit my style was difficult. You can write, "I hate everyone!" only so many times with a straight face, but in that respect, I can't go against the material. I actually reproduced the elevator scene here, even though it goes against my usual rule, because I wanted to emphasize it as a culmination of the chapter's events. To gloss over it would've greatly reduced its impact.

The scene at the train station was, in my way, a means to explain why Shinji and Rei would be there in the first place (which is a scene present in the revised cuts of the episode). I admit, I struggled mightily with what Rei was trying to accomplish in engaging Shinji, but I thought her ultimate question--of why Shinji returned--was the real goal. Shinji is a hard person to peg, too. I think what goes through his head here, recounting his first day in Tokyo-3, is an everyman's perspective, and it's that perspective that's been warped through his childhood and his experiences piloting Eva. But's it's that everyman perspective, that human perspective, however buried and beaten it is, that Rei finds attractive, that she needs. Everyone else around her is bent and twisted in some way.

To write the arcade scene I did some cursory research on Japanese arcades, which you can probably find pretty quickly on Google, but I have a love of pinball, and I definitely wanted to include one of those. A whack-a-mole machine seemed simple enough to describe and for Rei to pick up as well. The kind of support that Shinji's providing Kensuke is wordless, and I think Rei and Shinji both know that, so I didn't follow the two boys here for very long. The shooting game they play is somewhat distantly based on The House of the Dead, but really only in very broad detail.

As for Rei's smile, well, does it not seem a waste that she doesn't get to smile again before...well, before things start really hitting the fan?

I think I've said enough for now. There will be more to say with chapter six, which I've got a preliminary outline for and will start working on imminently.

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