I've broken from the usual practise of reviewing each individual episode in this particular case, since Episodes 25 and 26 are really one story split into two. This one volume has probably garnered more controversy and disagreement over content than any other in the Evangelion series, which is no mean feat. The series itself provokes much discussion as to what is or is not a good anime series. Indeed, I've been avoiding writing this review -- primarily because I wasn't sure how to approach this. Several e-mail discussions about one aspect of previous episodes -- the "frozen time" incidents -- with Daniel Abrego, a film student, gave me the angle that I was looking for...
Hideaki Anno breaks the flow of the series, and throws yet another curveball at the audience. Instead of providing the viewer with the expected visual renderings of the Third Impact, we're left with something entirely different -- more an exercise in experimental / conceptual cinematography. This episode takes the precepts of human psychology, and paints it with imagery more common in art colleges rather than anime productions. Aspects of anxiety, obsession, fear, self-doubt -- these are shown in various form of stills, black and whites, and abstract backgrounds.
Several scenes are worth noting: Rei's self-examination of her existence is shot against a background of Rorshach blots, and perhaps my favourite -- Shinji's exploration of survival mechanisms are done against still photos, none more striking than a shot of a single can on a chair in an otherwise deserted railway station -- which is then juxatposed against a shot of a shopping cart, full of cans...
Obviously, Anno is using the can (a container) as a metaphor for us, the individual shell -- and the isolated individual in this particular case is Shinji, who feels completely apart from the rest of the world. (Did you notice that these were all empty cans?) Just as striking is the reduction of the various characters into basic line-drawing, watercoloured representations of their former selves, as Shinji (and all other characters) meld into one consiousness in the Well of Souls. Some other scenes were not as successful -- "the world's a stage" is a cliché that I'd rather not see at the best of times, and just about everyone is familiar enough with the understanding that we humans are basically social, interactive creatures -- there was no need to give us the physics lecture on the concept of absolute freedom, or even the sidebar on human interaction as a means of defining one's self-identity.
As taken as I was with some of the artist license that Anno protrays, I kept finding this to be completely out of step with the entire series... No precedent was set for such an ending; there seemed to be no justification for the very existence of this type of ending. Why pull something like this, and give us a lecture on the obvious? My own theory amounts to this -- money. Or lack thereof. We've seen what a limited budget did to the ending of ill-conceived Star Trek V. I suspect that Anno feared a similar result with his project. (Are there other peices of evidence to suggest this theory? Well, in addition to the 'frozen time' segments, there are the countless re-used shots that became prevalent late in the series, and none more noticeable that when Shinji was about to "break out of his shell." The shots are still from the previous scenes, where Shinji was in a state of anguish. This was not at all appropriate towards the end of the episode.) So rather than create something that he and the audience would not be happy with, he took a different approach. An approach that would perhaps appeal to the intellect. Unfortunately, this is something that the audience won't appreciate. After all, Shinseiki Evangelion was really a new twist on the traditional mecha genre. Little wonder that this ending has garnered such an outcry from the audience -- this is not what they wanted, nor was it justified. In the final analysis, as striking were the individual elements -- it was still a disappointing conclusion. Unless you're a fine arts major, these last two episodes will have very little appeal.
- AN, 98.10.12