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Sunday, 9 September 2018

Asuka's Final Battle (What You Are Owed)

So if you have watched Neon Genesis Evangelion - not Rebuild, I haven't caught up on that - you will be aware that there's two endings.

To the uninitiated, the Anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is a "mecha" anime show. It ran for about two dozen episodes, and it started out as being a bit of a pisstake of the old tropes of mecha anime - lots of dramatic music as the "robots" are tossed out into the city to fight against the "monsters", so on. It all gets very, very dark later on - it gets terribly existential, dealing with crippling anxiety, trauma, depression, having to pilot your own mother as a war machine (true), and in the end, probable apocalypse.

See, the original ending - spread over two episodes - was a very philosophical one. It didn't hand it to you on a plate. There were references throughout the series to a thing called the Human Instrumentality Project. Instrumentality, in the end, involves humanity coming to terms with who it is as individuals and coming together. Literally.

A part of the series is that the Angels attacking Tokyo-3 have a protective mechanism called an Absolute Terror Field - a near-impenetrable barrier that can only be pierced by using another against it, something the EVAs are capable of doing. It is later confirmed by another character that every living thing (and yes, the EVAs are living underneath that armour) has one. It just so happens that it is only Angels and EVAs that can actually physically manifest the field to protect themselves or act offensively. Its primary use is not to hold anything out, but to hold the ego in.

The goal of the shadowy organisation pulling the strings behind the whole series is to bring humanity together as one, by collapsing their egos one into the other, and forming humanity into a single, homogenised existence. Wherein all of our flaws would be perfectly fitted against the strengths of others, and just existing would be enough.

That's what happened, at the end. There were budgeting issues which meant that animation had to be trimmed, but what came forth was set wholly in the minds of the main characters - which given what was happening to them seems appropriate, as they are all becoming part of one single consciousness that supports and compliments itself perfectly. Taking an external production problem and turning it into a plot point, one of my favourite things - and the dread and anguish that has littered the series comes to a resolved conclusion.

And the fanbase... went... fucking... bananas.

I hate to imply that it was because they didn't get it, but that's how it comes across. The show was full of scenes of "robots" smashing huge monstrous bad guys into pieces, and then it ends with a philosophical discussion about existing and why it hurts. I mean, I love that stuff, but the impression I get is that people feel they deserved a full, frank, totally explicit and clear explanation as to how this series had come to an end. They felt entitled to a satisfactory ending.

Hideaki Anno received death threats.

It is upsetting that, in this day and age, this isn't as much of a big deal - but in 1997 writers didn't lurk on Twitter for the world to casually fling 140-character abusive messages at. They didn't have Facebook pages for people to post awful threats on, and then complain about their freedom of speech being neutered if the person whose page it is doesn't want that to happen thank you very much.

No, he received death threats by mail. By post. Hundreds of them. And thousands of letters from fans outright stating that he had "ruined the series" for them.

As if it already existed beforehand, magicked out of nowhere, and he had dipped his toe in it and curdled it.

So Anno did something brilliant.

Regardless as to how one feels about Instrumentality and why it was happening, it was the "good ending", to use a video game phrase. What Anno decided to do was show everyone what they wanted to see, what they thought they wanted - and he gave them the "bad ending".

What's that? You thought that the actual ending was too thoughtful, too opaque, didn't tell you explicitly what happened or how or why? Well you are gonna get to see it all, from outside. So you can understand exactly how all of this happened. What's that? You hate Shinji? You only like Asuka when she's kicking ass and generally being bulletproof? You LOVE Rei? Alright. We'll do something about that.

So you get to see every single character (aside from two) get actually "killed". Rei is the one doing it. Reducing every single individual into a pool of fluid. Every background character, every side character - that isn't otherwise killed directly, by being shot or bleeding to death.

Asuka gets to be the superhero. She flies into battle like a valkyrie, she slaughters her opposition, she absolutely RUINS a dozen enemy EVAs, smashes them to pieces... until she gets stabbed in the head, and then they all get up again, and they literally eat her.

And all the carnage happens, and everything is spelled out for you, and those pools of liquid are what was actually meant to happen in the OTHER ending but now we're seeing it from the outside of someone that isn't a pool of liquid, and it is all pretty obvious...

...and then Shinji fucks it all up. And then there's only two people left alive, living on an earth drowned in the pool of liquid that used to be the entire human race aside from the main character that everyone seemed to hate and the secondary character that everyone also seemed to hate. No Instrumentality. No peace. Just a world with nothing in it but these two fucking annoying teenagers.

The end.

Congratulations, everybody, you did it. The artist responded.

Flash forward about twenty years... and now people have far greater access to the folks that create the things they enjoy. Actors have Instagram accounts. Writers are on Twitter. People can name the producers and voice actors behind things they like. Everyone has a presence, everyone has a place on the internet. That can be both good and bad.

I like to think I know how to act, when talking to people that make stuff I like. Twitter is good for that. I've only had personal conversations with a few of them. George Watsky is a very down-to-earth guy, and we had a brief talk like three albums ago. At first I freaked out a little, but then I remembered - he is a person, just like me.

There's a step further than that, though. Like, he is a person like I am - and if he started offering me unasked-for critical analysis on my writing, then I would be put out, right? Especially if he started demanding that I make changes, because he deserves this thing to be changed. That would be unreasonable, and the reverse is also unreasonable. Pretty basic. I have no place or right to demand that he rewrite Cardboard Castles because I dislike part of it. It's his art. All I can ask for is to access it, and beyond that, nothing.

George Watsky didn't owe me anything. He still doesn't. No artist owes me anything, unless I have literally commissioned a piece directly and paid for it up front, and that is a very specific artistic arrangement. I am not entitled to demand changes or adjustments.

That word, entitlement. A lot of people have that.

I didn't like Alien: Resurrection. It was a bad film. The first half - while it was still riding a train of interesting characters interacting with each other - was pretty okay, despite the direction of the thing and the cinematography being very weird and French and whimsical. The second half was hot garbage.

I am entitled to TALK about how I didn't like it, and why. I am entitled to espouse my opinion on it until the cows come home. I am not entitled to DEMAND it to be remade to my taste, and I should not expect to be able to. Being an adult is basically all about managing your expectations.

I guess that people are just happy enough to act like assholes, even to people making things that they enjoy.

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