Acting Through Animation in Evangelion Ep. 5

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One of the cool things about works in the audio-visual medium, is that sometimes the visuals can be used to tell one story while the audio tells another. For instance, while Ritsuko explains what caused Evangelion Unit 00 to go berserk via voice-over in Neon Genesis Evangelion episode five, the on-screen visuals tell the story of how Unit 00 was unearthed in the aftermath of said incident. These stories both revolve around the previous scene of the Evangelion going berserk; but we learn about what happened both before and after the incident at the same time, through the layering of audio and visual mediums.

Here’s an example in which the stories aren’t really related, but are woven into one-another. Ritsuko exposits to Shinji and Misato about her findings in researching the angel’s corpse, while the actions of the characters tell us a story about how it’s early in the day, and they all need coffee to stay awake. Sure, it’s not a complicated story, but it adds more detail to the scene and helps to bring it to life, knowing that what’s going on is a part of the characters’ day, rather than a disjointed scene of expository dialog.

One of Evangelion’s biggest strengths is how it packs so much subtle detail into every scene, and how this helps to bring its setting and characters to life. Depicting the mannerisms and expressions of each character is especially crucial in this story, because almost all of its characters are terrible at communicating their feelings verbally. When you’ve got a show packed to the brim with silent, awkward characters, the only way to get us into their heads is to express their personalities and emotions non-verbally, often through very expressive character acting.

So Evangelion episode five, which is our proper introduction to the single most awkward and quiet character in the show, relies heavily on character acting to communicate its story–often filling us in on things which the audio overlooks. We don’t have to figure this out for ourselves, either, since Misato spells it out by telling Shinji that “when you say ‘nothing’ like that, it’s the same as asking others to pay attention to you.” So let’s pay attention what these characters are really saying when they aren’t actually SAYING anything!

Starting from the beginning with some of the minor details, let’s have a look at Evangelion Unit 00 going berserk. We’re told later that the mental instability of the pilot may have been the cause of this rampage; and when we see the robot going nuts, it literally holds its head and writhes in pain as if suffering some kind of existential migraine. Several details clue us in to how big an emergency this is, and how it wasn’t expected at this time: firstly, that the measure taken to stop the robot involves breaking a glass panel to press a button; and secondly that when the entry plug shoots out of the robot, it smashes up against the ceiling for a while, indicating that it was meant to shoot a very long distance, and wasn’t meant to be ejected in the middle of this little chamber.

Now, let’s look at where the Eva unit aims its punches. It tries to break through the glass to attack Gendo and the scientists, indicating that it may see them as the cause of its pain. Remember that this outburst is supposedly caused by the mental instability of the pilot; meaning that Rei may, if only subconsciously, have been blaming the scientists for her mental anguish. In the next episode, we’ll learn how Rei believes that she doesn’t have anything besides piloting the Evangelion, and that her life isn’t really worth anything to her; but we now have reason to believe that she may not have always been willing to accept this fact, and that it may have tormented her in the past.

What allows Rei to bounce back from her mental breakdown is the action of Gendo Ikari, who opens a super-heated hatch with his bare hands in order to save her. All throughout this episode, we’ll see evidence of Rei’s obsession with Gendo and how he inspires her to pilot the Eva unit; but it’s only through this scene that we can infer that this was THE incident which attached Rei so strongly to Gendo. After all, she wasn’t able to synch up with Unit 00 before this scene, and she is able to do so afterwards at the end of the episode. Gendo’s frantic rescue of Rei is the single moment which has given her purpose, and a cause to enjoy her role as a pilot.

When we get to visit Rei’s room later in the episode, we learn everything there is to know about her in just a couple of moments. Firstly, when we see her stark, disgusting and unkempt room; and secondly, when we see her reactions to Shinji putting on Gendo’s glasses and then accidentally groping her. The important thing here is how Rei is upset and takes action to remove Gendo’s glasses from Shinji’s face, but doesn’t seem to care at all and doesn’t do anything to remove Shinji from her own breast. This scene also acts as a brilliant subversion of the accidental groping trope because of what doesn’t happen. Ordinarily, this scene would end with Rei slapping Shinji in the face. She doesn’t–instead, the slap comes a few minutes later, when Shinji badmouths his father. All of this is meant to hammer home how Rei has zero regard for her own well-being except as a tool to be used in furthering Gendo’s ambitions.

When Shinji is confronted with the way that Rei and Gendo treat one-another, he cannot reconcile it against his own relationship with his father. He sees them smiling at and talking to one-another and is downright aghast at the sight. He can’t fathom that his father would care about someone, or that someone would care about him in such a meaningful way.

But Shinji doesn’t even pick up on the other character who feels just as strongly as Rei does towards Gendo, but doesn’t have her feelings reciprocated in the same way. When Gendo rushes in to save Rei, Ritsuko is also shocked at his level of compassion. Later in the episode, when she talks about Gendo, her expressions are mysteriously warm, and she even covers her face a bit as if to conceal her feelings as she answers in unusually vague terms about how Rei and Gendo are not very adept at living. For now, these moments only foreshadow the relationship that Ritsuko and Gendo have in secret, which will be explored further in later episodes.

Other great moments of expression happen throughout this episode, but more as minor details. Ritsuko’s fun little gesture that shows her genuine appreciation for Shinji leaving her an angel corpse to take samples from, or the differences in how Ritsuko and Misato sit, are just little touches that add to the feeling of their characters. The entire scene at Misato’s apartment is very adept at using expressions for comic relief and friendly interpersonal tension as well, particularly when Misato starts prying Shinji’s feelings out of his facial expressions.

All in all, this episode presents a smorgasbord of great character moments while setting up the emotional crux of the next episode’s fantastic action set piece and getting ready to round out the first major arc of the series. Which of these moments was your favorite from this episode, or from the series in general? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe for more content like this in the future. Help my channel out through patreon or paypal if you’re into that, and check out my gaming commentaries if you’re into that too. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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