NGE's Status as a Work of Art...

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NGE's Status as a Work of Art...

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Postby Eva Yojimbo » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:07 pm

One thing I've always found curious about the NGE fandom is a common tendency to downplay its status as a work of art. By 'downplay' I meant trying to dismiss elements like the religious symbolism as nothing but showy fluff, or the philosophy and psychology as merely being borrowed and not original or profound... obviously not everyone does this and some have areas they embrace and others that they don't, but it seems most are more comfortable merely keeping it limited to 'merely' SF anime and something that's personally important, but not universally so. Coming from a more aesthete background this has always seemed strange to me.

Talking to literary scholars or cinephiles or people like that, they're always quick to play up the strengths they see in their favorite writers or directors or works. Nothing is too small to be made a big deal out of. But when it comes to NGE, that 'small stuff' almost always has to do with the in-series' fictional world rather than its status as a work of fictional art. Why is this? I mean, doesn't it seem NGE has a better chance at a lasting posterity if more people point out how it succeeds on various established criteria of various art-forms? NGE certainly succeeds in these areas, and I'm often surprised it's not appreciated more by the cinematic community given Anno's very real level of auteurism. But I think part of that is because much of the fandom is intent on keeping it 'to themselves'. There's this certain level of 'keeping it in the family' I've always disliked.

Of course, maybe I'm just paranoid and that doesn't happen. But besides myself, Xard, and very few others I rarely see NGE discussed and promoted on this level...
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Postby Fast Tony DeNiro » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:56 pm

I remember when I was a freshman my friend who got me into Eva and I stayed after school and watched EoE with our psychology teacher. He was pretty blown away by it and he eventually even incorporated some of it into our class work. So yes there is definitely an "art" to Evangelion and I agree, it should be seen that way more often.

A lot of people reject that though, mainly because it's an anime. A lot of people just like watching it and enjoying it as a TV show. This is also a huge barrier to it gaining a widespread audience as an art form. Most people are resistant to anime as anything other than a "cartoon" for little kids. It's animated so it's automatically written off.

Another thing that keep it from becoming more mainstream is that it's just so weird. It's like the Sonic Youth of TV....a lot of people like it, but it can't break into the mainstream because it's just so...out there.

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Postby Zaque » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:58 pm

I thought the religious symbolism was showy fluff... as for the philosophy/psychology, although some of it may be borrowed, I'm not so sure why it can't be considered original or profound as many, many, stories are just tweaked versions of one another anyway, and yet, through this, they can also provide something original in their own right. And Evangelion probably does this better that a good amount of the other visual media out there. As for keeping it within the fan community, I'm also not sure of how much of that is true, but perhaps it may be due to force of habit if it is. I can certainly see it being something related to the separation between the methods of expression of say, visual to literary. I suppose it may also be attributed to the general population not even regarding anime as an art-form in the sense that sculpture is, both with fans and non-fans. Simply put, it's treated differently... Well, you could always discuss and promote it more, but I think with that, subtlety is important.
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Postby Synapsid » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:03 am

Um, I don't think anyone is trying to downplay Eva's artistic merit...I'm probably wrong in what ever I say but most viewers do pick up all the deeper layer from the symbolism and context. I guess it's just not talked about as much as the more physical parts because it's even vaguer and open ended than the surface.
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Postby Eva Yojimbo » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:20 am

Fast Tony DeNiro wrote:He was pretty blown away by it and he eventually even incorporated some of it into our class work.
And I've heard of the same thing happening in certain film courses of professors including it into their courses; so I know it does happen, I'm just wondering why it doesn't happen more.

Fast Tony DeNiro wrote:A lot of people reject that though, mainly because it's an anime.... This is also a huge barrier to it gaining a widespread audience as an art form. Most people are resistant to anime as anything other than a "cartoon" for little kids. It's animated so it's automatically written off.
There's obviously a lot of truth to this, but this is more of an American thing than a worldwide thing. Animation obviously has a lot of clout in Japan as it's definitely both mainstream and respected by the more "high society" types as well. Miyazaki and works like Grave of the Fireflies are prime examples. But the latter is something that even gained widespread praise by critics here; yet there DOES seem to be this barrier between the typical or more SF/Fantasy types getting respect. But in terms of animation around the world there have been many works of late in different countries - Persepolis and Triplets of Bellville in France and Waltz with Bashir in Isreal - that have received a lot of praise.

But it's not as if animation is a new art-form. It's been around as long as film and Eisenstein once said that it was the ultimate art-form (or something to that effect). It strikes me that animation's lack of current appreciation is due more to social conditioning of what companies like Disney and series like the animated comedies (Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.) have worked to brand animation as. But even recently dismissed forms like comic books have gotten a lot of attention because of works like Watchmen, Sandman, and several others by the literary community; so it seems to me that there's still some disconnect between NGE and those types who could really help it live on for years and maybe even centuries to come.

I guess my point boils down to: NGE is a masterpiece, a genuine work of high art at its best. It deserves to be part of the artistic canon; so why the hell isn't it?

Fast Tony DeNiro wrote:Another thing that keep it from becoming more mainstream is that it's just so weird.
I don't see it it being any weirder than most SF or even 'out there' than a lot of classic literature. I think NGE would be appreciated more by the poetic types; I mean, I can see quite a bit of similarity between NGE and, say, The Divine Comedy or 2001: ASO.


Zaque wrote:I thought the religious symbolism was showy fluff...
No. It's actually a rather brilliant (but subtle) narrative and thematic device that serves various purposes; none of which has to do with religion, but actually commentary towards the narrative and various thematic elements. You can read THIS if you care to (the religious symbolism part is about 1/3 of the way down the page; about 7k words into it).

Zaque wrote:And Evangelion DOES this better that a good amount of the other visual media out there.
Fixed. :thumbsup:
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Postby THE Hal E. Burton 9000 » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:30 am

Fast Tony DeNiro said most of what I would have, but I have a thing or two more to add

I wouldn't go as far to say this is based on racism, maybe more of a cultural bias or general unfamiliarity, but I think Evangelion being based from the Far East with its reputation such as being ridiculously violent among the art/film academics and critics alike (read: elitists, snobs, etc.) is a contributor to it not being taken srsly

think of it in the manner some believe that American culture, such as music, fashion, art, whatever, is thought be totally indebted to European culture, a similar thought permeates that since motion picture was invented in the West that the East is merely "playing off" what was already done before by some other culture

there's also the idea that the best Asian films EVAR produced were done in the 1950's, including the works of Akira Kurosawa a la Seven Samurai, Yasujiro Ozu's works like Tokyo Story or the original Godzilla by Ishiro Honda

and generally, Evangelion hasn't had the cultural impact of something like Star Wars, and at this point not enough to find much beyond the anime fandom

of course, science fiction as a genre was not taken srsly for a while until speculative fiction began to be taken srsly with the modernists in the mid-to-late 19th century to early 20th century with things like the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the film Metropolis
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Postby Zaque » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:38 am

Eva Yojimbo wrote:none of which has to do with religion

I think that was what I was stuck on >.<
I'll get through that massive document... eventually...
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Postby Eva Yojimbo » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:38 am

THE Hal E. Burton 9000 wrote:with its reputation such as being ridiculously violent
:headscratch: NGE has a reputation for being ridiculously violent? I wasn't aware. And I'm still not sure as to how this would be a problem. There's a lot of "ridiculously violent" films and books that are part of the 'canon'.
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We're all adrift on the stormy seas of Evangelion, desperately trying to gather what flotsam can be snatched from the gale into a somewhat seaworthy interpretation so that we can at last reach the shores of reason and respite. - ObsessiveMathsFreak
Jimbo has posted enough to be considered greater than or equal to everyone, and or synonymous with the concept of 'everyone'. - Muggy
I've seen so many changeful years, / to Earth I am a stranger grown: / I wander in the ways of men, / alike unknowing and unknown: / Unheard, unpitied, unrelieved, / I bear alone my load of care; / For silent, low, on beds of dust, / Lie all that would my sorrows share. - Robert Burns' Lament for James

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Postby THE Hal E. Burton 9000 » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:42 am

Eva Yojimbo wrote::headscratch: NGE has a reputation for being ridiculously violent? I wasn't aware.
no no, I meant that's what people's preconceived notions are of anime and Eastern works generally, not Evangelion specifically
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Postby Eva Yojimbo » Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:53 am

Ah, gotcha. Well, we might not be expected to utterly change a whole culture's preconceived notion of an art-form overnight, but shouldn't the more culturally/artistically appreciative types be able to accept great works in new forms faster than others? I mean, I again go back to the rather wide acceptance/appreciation now of comic books in the literary community primarily thanks to a few good examples set by authors who showed that comics were not just a legitimate art-form, but one with as much artistic potential as any other. So isn't a no-brainer that anime/animation should/could gain that kind of perception?
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We're all adrift on the stormy seas of Evangelion, desperately trying to gather what flotsam can be snatched from the gale into a somewhat seaworthy interpretation so that we can at last reach the shores of reason and respite. - ObsessiveMathsFreak
Jimbo has posted enough to be considered greater than or equal to everyone, and or synonymous with the concept of 'everyone'. - Muggy
I've seen so many changeful years, / to Earth I am a stranger grown: / I wander in the ways of men, / alike unknowing and unknown: / Unheard, unpitied, unrelieved, / I bear alone my load of care; / For silent, low, on beds of dust, / Lie all that would my sorrows share. - Robert Burns' Lament for James

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Re: NGE's Status as a Work of Art...

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Postby Mr. Tines » Tue Jun 09, 2009 1:46 am

Eva Yojimbo wrote:the religious symbolism as nothing but showy fluff
We have it fairly authoritatively as being exactly that (unless you want to get all pomo death of the author on us).

There are many immediate things about NGE that will trigger prejudices amongst artfags

- animation : that's for kids (Disney) or people who refuse to grow up and are just big kids (South Park, Simpsons)
- from Japan : oh, wait, you mean it's tentacle porn (Urotsukidōji)
- SF : automatically at the bottom of the pecking order (unless done by an approved person, at which point it ceases to be SF, e.g. 2001 or Oryx and Crake)
- it isn't about middle-class adultery (which seems to be the sole theme of literary novels, so far as I can make out ... what's that? One of my prejudices is showing?)
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Postby Eva Yojimbo » Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:03 am

Mr. Tines wrote:We have it fairly authoritatively as being exactly that
I don't want to sidetrack this thread, so we can split it if you want to keep this up; but I'll point to two specific things in that link that illustrate the significance I'm referring to:

Reichu wrote:I should point out that one of the greatest misconceptions people have about NGE is that the religious content has any actual meaning, at least as far as a religious agenda on the part of the creators goes... I think that the religious symbolism used in NGE should be viewed within the context of the show itself and how it oftentimes reinforces some of the themes and ideas being presented. Some of the references are empty and just there to “look cool”, but others do, like Hexon.Arq says, have more "substance" to them — just not in an actual religious context.
Tsurumaki wrote:There is no actual Christian meaning to the show;


I've tried to make this distinction many times and it seems as if people somehow have this mental block about it having meaning on the narrative, fictional, thematic, artistic, symbolic, etc. level without it having any religious meaning. Many of the significances lie in just how perverse the references are (Shinji being crucified is a good example) and we all know that Anno wasn't adverse to counterpoint; Hallelujah to a mind rap, Ode to Joy to the 24' finale, Air to the Eva/MPE battle, etc. so it's not as if this is really 'fanwanking'. Plus, it's nearly impossible to read Jung's interpretation of Genesis and the whole 'blotting out the self in the abyss by dissolving the persona' and 'innate longing for the mother' and not see the NGE parallel and I've often wondered if that isn't what primarily inspired Anno to include these things in NGE. If not it would be a pretty big coincidence that he just happened to choose those elements that related to these interpretations.


Many of your examples are the kind of ignorant preconceptions I've alluded to. But, again, I see people overcoming these in different cultures and towards different forms. I think you have a wonky concept of most literary novels though... I don't recall much of that in, say, War & Peace or Dickens novels e.g.
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Jimbo has posted enough to be considered greater than or equal to everyone, and or synonymous with the concept of 'everyone'. - Muggy
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Postby Szmitten » Tue Jun 16, 2009 10:50 am

I would argue that Evangelions status as a work of art is overblown by a number of fans.

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Postby BattleMonkey » Tue Jun 16, 2009 12:02 pm

It's more art than most of the generic anime we constantly get tossed our way *shrug*

It's ironic that many of those that hate Eva will say it's not artistic but at the same time claim it's too artsy. :nyao:

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Postby Incisivis » Tue Jun 16, 2009 12:03 pm

Hmmm...interesting.

A question might be, though, are you speaking about Evangelion-as-art in relation to the "western" canon, or to a worldwide canon? Because either would make the difference: while a lot of things (including this board) prove that stories can contain many nigh-universal aspects which can be understood by many different cultures, ultimately a work is most heavily influenced by/reflective of, its "home" culture.

So I would hesitate to expect Evangelion to be considered "art" in a non-Japanese context, simply because in a non-Japanese context, you aren't getting the whole "package" of what Evangelion represents. You can understand the cultural aspects intellectually if you're a non-Japanese viewer, but there might also be something missing if you haven't grown up in the mileau the show was created in. Which means you can ENJOY Evangelion on other levels, but it's something to consider when regarding the show as a work of "art".

And yeah, I wouldn't discount the obstacles proposed by all the little prejudices about Evangelion's medium and genre floating around, and the merchandising blitz surrounding it probably wouldn't do it any favours in the academic reputation department, either.

As to the actual content of the series, though...might it be that Evangelion is in many ways a little rough around the edges? Works in the "canon" are sometimes known to be cryptic, but NGE has this air of being somehow unrefined in a lot of ways, (though in a good way, I feel), and the sense of instability that comes from this might also inhibit its ability to be seen as a work of art.
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Postby Synapsid » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:03 pm

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Re: NGE's Status as a Work of Art...

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Postby VoidEater » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:56 pm

^ Well done, me thinks.

Eva Yojimbo wrote:Smart stuff.


@Incisivis: Art seems to be a communication of experience and/or idea; whether the message transcends cultural boundaries wouldn't alter the artfullness, to me. To define Art as something beyond this minimus tends to deprecate art to some kind of oxymoronic elitist common denominator...

The message may or may not transcend culture, but it is still art. I do think there is primal (mythic, or archtypal) symbology in NGE, which the religious imagery provides handy shortcuts to.
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Postby Incisivis » Tue Jun 16, 2009 3:14 pm

Well, Evangelion does transcend cultural boundaries to a degree, or we wouldn't be here talking about it.

But what I was trying to say was that each culture has a "canon" of its Great Works, and while these canons are very similar, there are also many culturally-specific factors that lead to a work being integrated into its local canon. Thus, it's important to ask why Japan, specifically, hasn't made NGE part of its canon of Great Works.

But the more I think about it, the more I believe you can't avoid opening that particular worm-can if you really want to answer Yojimbo's question: What makes a Great Work, and does Evangelion have that quality?

It's a question I haven't been able to personally answer, at least because I see many of the same appeals to archetypal imagery and universal emotions in both "high" and "low" art, though I've noticed that Great Works tend to be more forward and exploratory about such things, and in that fashion, NGE qualifies.
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Postby Eva Yojimbo » Tue Jun 16, 2009 8:58 pm

Szmitten wrote:I would argue that Evangelions status as a work of art is overblown by a number of fans.
If you were to argue that against me I'd leave you lying in a puddle of your own Tang. :rant: :fume: :slapslap: :shoot2kill:

Interesting; I'll have to read it later.

Incisivis wrote:I would hesitate to expect Evangelion to be considered "art" in a non-Japanese context, simply because in a non-Japanese context, you aren't getting the whole "package" of what Evangelion represents.
But then how does one reconcile this element with works that are part of the canon that are decades, centuries, or more old from cultures that are completely alien to our now? I mean, I'm currently reading Homer and Jane Austen; two authors depicting worlds that couldn't be farther away from my own, yet there is always that element of universal human interest that transcends such boundaries. Hell, with Shakespeare even the very medium of communication (the language) should be a "barrier" to the modern reader, yet people still seem to read him constantly and find relevance in his plays and poetry.

So many of the primary themes in NGE are ages old and seem to be a constant theme of humanity itself; that search for meaning, love, acceptance, defining oneself and the world around you, the importance of subjective perception, etc. These are themes I don't see dying out any time soon; so I really don't think think that NGE should have a problem connecting to people, and I really think all of the cultural nuances and how they relate to the work CAN be intellectually learned later.

Incisivis wrote:I wouldn't discount the obstacles proposed by all the little prejudices about Evangelion's medium and genre floating around, and the merchandising blitz surrounding it probably wouldn't do it any favours in the academic reputation department, either.
I would say that it SHOULD be discounted. The prejudice against mediums is silly and only shows a lack of imagination as to what profundity could be expressed through them. As for marketing and merchandising I just see that as a modern version of selling one's work; the great composers did it, afterall.

Incisivis wrote:might it be that Evangelion is in many ways a little rough around the edges? Works in the "canon" are sometimes known to be cryptic, but NGE has this air of being somehow unrefined in a lot of ways,
Hmmm... :chinscratch: I would really like to comment on this but I'm not quite sure what you mean by "rough around the edges" and "unrefined" and how this would exclude it from any canon. On a formal level, NGE is full of refined, learned cinematic and narrative techniques. Many of which are ages old, sure, but are hallmarks of many works we deem masterpieces for using the same things. And its modulation of styles is of a kind that I've never seen before.

Incisivis wrote:Thus, it's important to ask why Japan, specifically, hasn't made NGE part of its canon of Great Works.
Has it? I've always been a bit curious as to NGE's stature within Japan's various cultural divisions. How popular is it on a mass scale? Is it closer to a cult hit (like all anime is in the West) or is it closer to a culture phenomenon like Star Wars? How is it perceived in the Academic community? The film community? Etc.

Incisivis wrote:What makes a Great Work, and does Evangelion have that quality?
That's an almost impossible question because it seems to change depending on what we're considering. Often the very elements that make one work a masterpiece can, in their absence or use of opposing elements, make another work an equal masterpiece. For instance, in film, one might praise the highly composed nature of Citizen Kane; with each shot, each cut, each transition having a meaning or purpose behind it, while in Breathless it's the absence of those very things that makes it great; its spontaneity, its lack of formalism, its subversion of various Hollywood and film cliches, etc. In literature one might praise the highly stylized rhetoric and formalism of Shakespeare, and then praise the chaos of Joyce, praise the realism of Tolstoy and the caricatures of Dickens, the dryness of Austen and the opulence of Faulkner.

Are there any universal elements within all of these that can possibly form some kind of standard criterion by which to judge all works? I'm not entirely sure. But I do see in each a tendency towards balancing emotion with intellectualism, a certain equivocality and inclusion of details and nuance which lends the works a richness that rewards repeat experiences, discussion, and study, a real thought behind the craftsmanship and form so that what's said and how it's said are of equal importance, a tendency towards artistic expression or impression of some kind (be it self, criticism, commentary, observance, etc.)...

If we're to agree on these elements then NGE contains them all, and, for me, contains them to such degrees as should make it almost a mandatory part of the canon. I could easily write huge essays on each individual element and how NGE does indeed contain them, but I think this site is as good a proof as any that these things exist; huge threads on a single aspect of Shinji's character and the disagreement therein is the proof that Anno hasn't created a work of simplistic, one-dimensional, artless fluff here. Threads which highlights the motifs, themes, and echoes show that Anno paid thought to such minute details... It's all there. When I've analyzed the work on various criterion it always seems to not just fair well, but pass with flying colors.

It's that very thing that's lead me to question why NGE isn't already hailed as a modern artistic masterpiece, and I've yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion.
Cinelogue & Forced Perspective Cinema
^ Writing as Jonathan Henderson ^
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VoidEater
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Postby VoidEater » Wed Jun 17, 2009 12:08 pm

Ah, a distinction between Art and Canon.

To a certain extent, works enter canon in retrospect. NGE hasn't really existed long enough to evoke it's sense of place (in many meanings), I don't think. Time will tell.
"I would like to see a clown remake of 'Terms of Endearment' or 'The Thorn Birds.' Or maybe a big disaster movie, like 'Towering Inferno.' That's stuff I'd pay to see. Nothing says entertainment more than burning clowns."


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