A Dialogue on Evangelion

A: So you finished watching Evangelion, yes?

I: Yes, I finished watching the entire TV series earlier this evening.

A: Ah, so we don't need to worry about revealing any spoilers, then. What did you think?

I: Honestly, I felt dissatisfied. Almost cheated. I feel like the show gave many hints to plot elements which were never resolved. A lot was never explained.

A: Oh? Like what?

I: Well, for example, the role of SEELE in the plot was never explained. What did they want, or why did they want to cause the third impact? And what exactly is Adam? What about Lilith? It just felt like, even though the show ended, there was a lot I didn't understand about the world.

A: And that's what left you dissatisfied? A lack of understanding about the show's world?

I: Yes.

A: Why?

I: I'm not sure. In a way, I felt cheated, like if the show's going to bring up all these plot elements, why wont it explain them? I was expecting them to be explained, but they never were.

A: Is it a show's responsibility to explain itself?

I: I think it is.

A: Why?

I: Otherwise it would be unsatisfying, like how I felt the ending of Evangelion was.

A: Is it the show's responsibility to satisfy you?

I: Well, I guess not. But why would I bother watching if I didn't expect to get some sort of satisfaction through the show?

A: That's a fair point, which might be worth addressing later. But let's keep going, assuming that it is indeed the responsibility of the show to satisfy its audience. What I want to ask is, why is it that that the show revealing more of its plot elements and world would satisfy you, as opposed to how it actually ended?

I: Well, I want to know! When you reveal something in the world, I read that as asking me to pay attention to it, so that I might later understand how it all fits together.

A: So that's what brings you satisfaction? Having all the elements of the world snap into place?

I: Yes. I want the plot and world to make sense to me by the end.

A: Why? Or, what exactly makes that feeling of "the show makes sense" so satisfying?

I: Well, it's a like a relief. I put in all this effort to watch a show, and to follow its plot and the inner logic of its world. So of course I would want it to fit together into a "whole" by the end. Otherwise I'm left with this feeling of "something missing", why did I even bother watching if it doesn't snap into place?

A: So, to be clear, what you mean when you say you want the show to "make sense", is that you want know an explanation for each of the events occurring in the world? So that it fits into a nice causal arc, leaving no threads hanging.

I: Yes. I want to know all about it, so that nothing is "missing".

A: But what's so satisfying about that?

I: I feel like when I pick up a show, I want to enter into its world, and undergo this process of discovery, where each of the show's elements appear and then can be explained later by reasons, like solving a puzzle. And then, once the show ends, I want to feel like the puzzle is solved, so that I can exit the show's world and feel like the events transpired as a coherent unity.

A: If I understand correctly, what you want is for the show to present you with some experience as an observer, such that, through knowledge gained from what the show presents to you, the show is demonstrated to abide by some logic you find legible? And Evangelion failed at that, because certain events in the show were not provided with logical explanations?

I: Yes.

A: I see. So, in other words, you want the show to relate to you as an observer in a particular way -- you want the God's Eye View. So that you can understand the ultimate reason for all events that transpire.

I: Well, I'm not sure I'd put it that way. But yes, that sounds accurate. It's like why I enjoy history and science, I want all the pieces that I can see to fit together. I don't want any lingering "why?"s.

A: Now we can return to an earlier point. Is a show obligated to provide this to you? That all the pieces of the universe fit together from the perspective of an observer?

I: Well, I guess it's not obligated to do that, but I don't understand why a show would do anything else. It's just not satisfying to me otherwise.

A: Perhaps the show was not made for you. What if it were made for someone else?

I: What do you mean? Who else could a show be made for if not its audience?

A: Well, what if the show were made for the benefit of its director? What could he get out of it?

I: That doesn't make sense. How could a director make a show for himself? Isn't he supposed to work for his audience?

A: To some extent, yes, as something needs to fund the show's development, and who else if not the viewing public? But all the same, we can still wonder what a director gets out of making a show. Perhaps they're aiming for their own satisfaction. And some directors are satisfied by pleasing their viewers, but for what other reason might they create a show?

I: I dunno. Maybe for some sort of personal reason?

A: I agree. Let's say Evangelion was made not to appease the viewers, but to entertain something personal about the director. What could this be?

I: Shinji seems like the most richly developed character in the show, so maybe the director was writing themselves as Shinji?

A: That makes the most sense to me as well. The director writing themselves as Shinji, trying to work through some of the problems they face in their life. And isn't it interesting how all these questions line up? Shinji asks himself "why do I pilot Eva? [is it so people like me?]" The director may well be asking himself "why do I create anime? [is it so my viewers like me?]" And even the viewer, after watching, asks himself "why do I watch anime? [is it so the show can satisfy me?]"

I: I guess that makes sense. But it still doesn't answer my question of what can a show do except try to satisfy me?

A: What does Evangelion do if not provoke these questions? You were dissatisfied by the form of the show, that it failed to follow your narrative expectations. What if that was precisely the point, to ask you to look at your own motivations for watching, just as Shinji looks at his own motivations for piloting?

I: What's the point in that? Seems dumb.

A: What's the point in asking questions? It seems to me that all understanding starts with a question, of why? And was discovering the answer to "why?" not exactly what makes a narrative arc satisfying to you? The only difference here is that the director of the show refuses to answer the particular "why?" question for you: he can solve for you the puzzle of "why do the show's elements exist in this particular arrangement?", but he can't tell you "why do you, the viewer watch anime?"

I: Ugh, that's so annoying. Seems like a lot of extra effort. I watch TV so I can relax after a long day, not to raise questions about myself requiring further thought.

A: Yes, I agree to an extent: it's a lot of extra effort, to deal with a piece of art that forces you to ask yourself questions, rather than containing the question and the answer within its form. And that's exactly why I think Evangelion is a far deeper work of art than most anime in existence: it's one of the few shows that the viewer must grapple with to understand, even after the show concludes itself. But the show does contain a hint to solving the puzzle. Specifically, how does Shinji answer his own "why?" question at the end of the show?

I: Weird question. I'm not used to seeing characters like that. I mean, the ending felt redundant, like it just repeated what we already knew about Shinji. How do you figure?

A: Right, well, that's another facet of Evangelion that makes it complex, is that you're forced to deal with the characters' own knowledge being different from your own. But what if you tried anyway, to understand what Shinji was thinking?

I: I guess I can try. It's like, Shinji asked himself a bunch of questions and tried to dig into things he thought he knew, but actually had no evidence for; he just assumed those things and then believed them. And those questions, in undermining his beliefs, opened up new avenues of understanding.

A: Yes! So can we not do the same approach? Why do you watch anime? You said earlier that it's supposed to be satisfying, or relaxing, and also that this satisfaction comes from the show fully explaining itself to you as the viewer. What is it about this full explanation that feels so satisfying? Or, what exactly is the unmet need within yourself that the shows you like meet?

I: If I were to own up to it, I'd call it "escapism". I want the show to feel like a different world of its own, where things make sense. And I guess that's because, to some extent, the rest of my life might not make sense.

A: What does it mean when you say that the rest of your life doesn't make sense?

I: Oh, it's just that, I deal with a lot of unexpected events at work, and the world seems like it's in such a crazy place right now, with all sorts of political and cultural events happening every day. It feels like a relief to enter into a world where things do make sense, and I think that's what I expect to receive from TV when I watch it.

A: I buy that. It's admirable you own up to it. I can understand why you would be upset that a show doesn't deliver such an experience.

I: Thanks. I guess we each get something different out of our experiences with art, eh? I can also see the other side now. Maybe some people do want to be challenged by what they watch, in a way that makes them reflect on their own lives. But I guess it's just not for me.

A: I'm glad we agree. You might enjoy Evangelion more at another point in your life. I recommend giving it another shot when you feel ready.

I: Thanks! I might do just that! Anyway I just got a page from work, I need to figure out why our website just went down.

A: Good luck! Talk to you later!

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