Tag Archives: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Mushi-Shi: Also Not About the Plot

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This is my thinking face.

It took a lot of thinking to come to the conclusions I reached about Neon Genesis Evangelion. As I mentioned, I first viewed the anime with very unprepared eyes, and initially I was extremely frustrated and confused. I kept asking myself questions like,  “Why was all this crazy crap happening? Why did the story just suddenly stop at the end? What does all this even mean?” I managed to push on and do some research and after reading some reviews, talking to some friends, and digging a little, I think I managed to get a grip on what I can take away from Evangelion. I’m no longer confused because I accepted that it’s not about the plot.

While I musing on the idea of the plot taking a back seat, I realized that I had already seen and appreciated another anime that doesn’t hold its plot front and center. I’d seen it a few years back and it had never occurred to me that the very thing that bothered me about Evangelion is what made me fall in love with this other anime- Mushi-Shi.

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Y’see, Mushi-Shi is the story of Genko, a roving Mushi master (spirit bug exterminator) who goes from town to town helping people with the various Mushi (spirit bugs) that plague them. On the surface, this sounds like a mediocre anime at best. What’s the draw? It’s a guy killing bugs; what could possible be so enthralling about seeing a new kind of spirit cockroach torture a village? The best answer I can give is that it’s not about the bug-killing. Sure, a few Mushi make interesting subjects due to the unique nature of their plague, but on the whole, this is not a show to watch for the action value. It’s predictable; Genko always manages to get things under control after the reluctant townsfolk let him treat the issue. I could probably write an episode in an afternoon if I tried. What makes it stand out is the fabulous mix between a stellar soundtrack and beautiful visual effects.

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Trees big enough to make a grown man look like a child.

Mushi-Shi is a show devoted to the experience of a young Japan. It’s the story of Genko, yes, but it’s really about a world of spirits and life, when Japan was vibrant and virile and the landscape was thick with flora and fauna. It’s a show about creating a world where the viewer can experience beauty, both in sight and sound. The plot is just an opportunity for Genko to travel across this stunning landscape while soothing melodies play in the background.

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Still shots from this anime could pass as paintings.

I loved Mushi-Shi, but it took me a while to understand why. I was intrigued by the characters, but the main draw was the atmosphere. I loved the beauty and majesty of the world the show created and I wanted to return to that world whenever I could. It created a special place in my mind unlike anything else and that alone set it apart.

I say all that to say that I’ve learned something from these two anime: sometimes, the plot isn’t the center of things, and that’s ok.

More to come! Stay tuned!

Symbolism and Metaphor (NGE Part 2)

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So, last post, I discussed whether or not you should watch Neon Genesis Evangelion and why. This time I’d like to get a little more in-depth about a point I mentioned; some of this stuff can’t be summed up properly in just a few words.

Primarily, I’d like to talk about symbolism.

An article I read recently talks about the importance of the symbolism in this show, and I have to agree with a lot of what was said. Probably the most relevant thing mentioned in this article was the idea that NGE is not about the plot.

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He’s just as confused as you are.

Nope. The plot is not the center of this show. That sounds odd even as I write it, but it fits when viewing the work. The anime doesn’t bother to center itself around its plot, instead opting to focus on storytelling through symbols and imagery, with enough plot to keep everything else afloat.

I, being the somewhat average anime viewer that I am, did not know this going into my first viewing of Evangelion. I found out the hard way that if you’re looking for a cohesive narrative about a boy and his robot, NGE is not for you. You have to appreciate this anime as a work of art rather than a book or a movie; you might even say that the metaphor in this show is just as much a character as Shinji or Rei.

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Nope…the giant, cross-shaped explosion is CLEARLY not a symbol…not at all…

I’m not exactly used to shows where the plot isn’t front and center, but after considering Evangelion again, I’ve begun to understand the merits of a non-plot-driven approach. Today’s media is devoted to complex narratives and tight synergy; fans obsess over plotholes and loose bits in the story where things could have gone “better”, or idolizing visual effects over deep, impactful messages. Often something with a truly profound message is overwhelmed with elements present in its storytelling. Take The Matrix for example. Over 15 years after its release, the public remembers The Matrix for “that one scene where that guy dodged a bullet”, or the new innovations in camerawork that made that scene possible. People glaze over the philosophy of the film because other elements were flashier or made more noise when in reality, The Matrix posed some seriously deep questions about existence and choice. Hideaki Anno, the director and creative vision behind Evangelion, must have seen this coming and intentionally saturated his work with religious symbols, metaphors for childhood, the process of growing up, and sexual frustration to keep his audience from falling into the trap of surface-level viewing. It had mixed success (as my misinformed viewing might suggest) but the goal is admirable nonetheless.

Did I find Evangelion confusing, frustrating, and even obtuse at times? Yes. Do I think that’s a bad thing? No, not really. Every frustration I had with the story, every qualm I could come up with regarding the specific details of the setup, every little nit-picky problem I chose to deride the show for only made me feel more ridiculous when I realized that basically every aspect of the show was screaming “That’s not the point!”

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“That’s not the point!!”

Now, is it fair to say that authorial intent is God, and that all viewer input/interpretation is null and void? Of course not. Anime is intended to be watched, and interpretation by the audience is inherent in the watching process. But to critique Evangelion for its narrative is like trying to take apart a jazz singer’s scat performance for lyrical depth- it’s just not the point.

More to come! Feel free to comment if you think I’m wrong, right, or anything in between!