Saturday, May 29, 2010

A whole new ball game

I first watched Evangelion way back in the late nineties. For some reason, the introspection and angst resonated with me. I was then a teen, angry at the world, angry at everything. In comparison, back then, Eva's creator, Hideaki Anno, was suffering from a deep clinical depression - Eva was in a way his method of self-therapy. Thus went 26 episodes and one movie's worth of psychological and emotional issues. Every character in Eva had this deep-seated emotional flaw that was potentially self-destructive - and self destruct the characters did, in one completely awesome display of mindfuck ever. Even now people debate about what really happened in the end of the series. Even now people debate if it was really all worth it.

Almost ten years later, the new series of Evangelion movies came. Time passed and things changed for me. No longer was I an angry teen, I was a young adult, whose viewpoints in life had changed since that time. With the second movie of the Rebuild of Evangelion series, we finally see that even Anno himself has changed. After a self imposed hiatus with anime and a segway into live action fora, he's now "grown" in both his directorial style and his viewpoints on the world.
The first movie was almost a complete retread of the first few episodes, redone in high definition glory. There was something about the characters that was strangely off. The second movie shares some similar elements with its respective part of the TV series, but as its title (which translates into "division") indicates, this is a whole new Evangelion.

The characters themselves have shown different facets of themselves compared to the TV series. Shinji actually has a spine in this movie, and he's no longer talking about whether to run away from unpleasant things (at least, not all the time) or not. Instead, we see someone wanting to be accepted by his father, his peers, and the people that he loves. Rei shifts from an impenetrable mysterious character trying to learn her own individuality to someone who also strives for acceptance and recognition in the world, and is growing increasingly frustrated by the fact that she isn't exactly living a normal life. Misato is still beset by her need to be with someone, anyone - but isn't projecting herself unto others as much as she used to. Asuka's insecurities becomes determined individualism as she has learned not to depend on anyone - but even this crumbles in the presence of true friends. Gendo seems less distant from his son, and we see him as someone bound to the past in ways that we are only beginning to (re) understand.

As for the new character, Mari, she's still a bit of a mystery to me. At times she was channeling a bit of Guren Lagann in the way she goes about in her devil-may-care way, but whether that is merely a facade covering something else, or her true personality is something we do not know yet.

But all these changes are not an indication that this has turned into a cutesy-pie moe fest with fanservice. The movie still has bouts of both emotional and psychological violence, and the subtle irony between what you see and what you hear still rears its head here. It's tragic in a way that will only be apparent as the movie goes on (I won't spoil you.)

I think Justin Sevakis, in his review of this movie, says it best when he says: "this film is not about happy endings, it's about setbacks. Violent, horrible, rage-inducing setbacks. They are terrifying, they are raw, and they are devastating." We can't always expect life to be a free ride, and there are times when nothing goes your way at all. But instead of running away, Anno seems to tell us, we can strive to fight for what we truly want. Maybe for ourselves, maybe for somebody else.

Anno definitely shows a more refined directorial style in this movie, and he uses some of the tricks he learned from his subsequent live action movies and anime productions. The long static shots that punctuated some of the memorable TV series moments are gone. Some fanservice shots and odd camera angles remind me of Love and Pop, and his visual flair has this flavor of Shiki-jitsu in it with vibrant reds. The introspective parts of the movie has shades of Kare Kano and the last part of Cutie Honey along with Eva. (Indeed, astute listeners will no doubt recognize musical cues from Kare Kano used in some of the more quiet scenes.) Shiro Sagisu has infused a bit of his experience with orchestrating Bleach in making the soundtrack of this movie, with more vocals and swelling orchestral sounds. Whether we will go back to the trippiness of Komm Susser Tod or the R&B stylings of Thanatos is up in the air.

The visuals are absolutely perfect. The Angels and Evas are rendered in CGI and they look amazing. The AT fields and cross explosion effects benefit from the nearly 15 year technology leap from the series to the new movies.

Eva 2.0 brings us an older, world weary, mature Anno, both as a director and in his vision- remarkably in sync with myself. Again the movie has resonated much with what I am thinking and going through right now. Now that nothing is guaranteed, now that the plot of the movie has radically diverged from the original, how will it all end? We're going to have to wait for Eva 3.0 and 4.0 to know, and it's going to be one hell of a wait.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Point Point Point

When I was a kid, when we were playing together with my cousins, I always wanted to be the "villain." I loved making up diabolical plots to derail the other guy (whoever it was) and make their day miserable. Of course in the end I would lose, but it would be a glorious death. With a defiant "I will not be defeateeeeeeeeeed" my persona in the game would die... only to show up the next time with an even more diabolical plan.

The first impression I got from role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were that they were "evil"and somehow bad for me. But as time went on, I realized that these games were merely an extension of what my childhood play was. There wasn't really a difference between the two except that this was more structured.

There are some people who take this to another level; Live Action Role Playing games, or LARPs, make the player take the role of their character and play them out in real life. In parks and soccer fields they engage in battle over a fictional world. In real life they may be your usual dude, but in this fantasy world they could be Borgania the Dark Elf of Highward or something. The possibilities are endless.

The Documentary film Darkon chronicles the tribulations of one such organization dedicated to LARP. The movie opens much like you would see a fantasy film, with grand sweeping shots of the landscape. Immediately you are immersed in the world of these roleplayers. Juxtaposed with these scenes are scenes from the other side of their lives: a stay-at-home dad, a mom working her way up, a lonely teenager wanting to fit in somewhere.

The camera accentuates the action and political intrigue of the events of the role-playing scenario and are given a stylized treatment by the camerawork, immersing you in the role-play itself, as if you are part of it.

The documentary casts no aspersions or makes any judgements on any of the people involved - it merely portrays them as they are - which is to me, a group of people hanging out and totally having fun. Ultimately, the film asks, (or perhaps, you ask yourself) what's wrong with that?

From start to finish, the film engrosses you and doesn't let you go until the 90 minutes are over. I highly recommend it.