Death of the Author and Anno

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Death of the Author and Anno

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Postby FreakyFilmFan4ever » Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:32 am

As opposed to that other thread (which never made sense to me, topic or title wise), I actually want to spend a thread discussion and reading the thoughts of Death of the Author and how it applies to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

This video from Idea Channel in particular interested me, mainly in how it covers the over arcing themes of Evangelion and whether or not the Author's opinions on the matter are inherently important to it, especially when it comes to intended messages over unintended messages.

But there's also tons and tons of other things, written works of those at Gainax, explaining details that may have flown over the heads of those watching. "What is LCL?" "What is the Ancestral Race?" "What is Rei made out of?" and many other, more specific questions were answered (or decidedly not answered) directly by the creative team behind Evangelion in some of these publications.

Does this same concept of Death to the Author apply when the artists are answering specific questions to details, or does it only apply when it comes to the intended or unintended message(s) behind the show? Does it apply at all, even when it does come to the intended message?

I think it does. It applies all over the place. But some of you may think differently, and I'm interested in hearing everyone's opinions about it.

EDIT: Also, look in the description under the video I posted. EvaGeeks is one of the sources for Anno quotes. Neat little find, and I guess that means you can technically answer some of your own questions be searching this very site, but whatever.
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Re: Death of the Author and Anno

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Postby ObsessiveMathsFreak » Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:04 pm

View Original PostFreakyFilmFan4ever wrote:Does this same concept of Death to the Author apply when the artists are answering specific questions to details, or does it only apply when it comes to the intended or unintended message(s) behind the show? Does it apply at all, even when it does come to the intended message?

The problem with the Death of the Author(DotA) is that it amounts to ignoring whatever message the creators were trying to convey. Statements by Anno about Evangelion being "meaningless" strike me as a retrospective attempt by the Author to sap the same meaning back out of the show -- which is all the stranger since Anno quite deliberately put entirely new context and information back into the show in the NGE2 CI.

There are two major types of "meaning" we end up discussing when it comes to NGE analysis. Firstly, we discuss what I like to call "narrative" or "setting" meaning. We ask what the Angels are, or what PWM is, or how Impacts work; essentially the meaning of the sci-fi elements of the show. Secondly, probably more importantly, we discuss "character" or "relationship" meaning. We ask what the emotions and motivations of the characters were, why they did or did not do certain things. Sometimes these meanings blend together.

Character meaning is actually a much more straightforward point to reject DotA on. We see obvious character emotions and reactions on-screen, and it is clear that the authors intended us to see them in that way. We see Shinji get depressed because he is depressed, and we are shown what issues have lead to this. We see Asuka become angry because she is angry, and we are shown her reasons. Things can get ambiguous when it comes to deliberately ambiguous scenes like the final beach, where the authors have intended meaning to be ambiguous. But our understanding is being deliberately guided by the author's intent. (At least, that is my understanding. Chuckman may have more specifics on DotA in relations to this)

DotA is a little harder to refute when it comes to the "setting". It is painfully apparent that many of the sci-fi elements of Evangelion are cotton-wool-soft-sci-fi. Elements like AT Fields, the Angels, Adam/Lilith, and Guf rely more on ambiguous, half stated religious imagery for their meaning than they rely on any scientific concepts. Moreover, the author's themselves only loosely understood both the religious and scientific concepts involved. It's easier to argue DotA on such information preciely because of the very scant and loose meaning these elements were actually imbued with.

However, that said, there is some internal logic to these various concepts. Logic we strive to make consistent. In the sense that we are often required to fill in the gaps here, DotA is quite real, and many theories for various elements have been proposed down the years. But our logic always needs to be grounded in the show itself, created by the authors, so we are still being constrained by whatever scant meaning they placed there. At least, that's my understanding.

Then of course, we have the CI: The Author returning to the text to present his all encompassing framework which consequently overrides all previous fan interpretations. But let's not consider this complication for now (Unless someone really wants to).

I have to say though, that Death of the Author is a concept I still don't fully understand. All I can say is that I'm unwilling to let go of the idea that NGE was imbued with some deliberate meanings, and that we cannot stray outside of these without contradicting the text. That said, I'm a first tier canon purist at heart, so I like to stay within the show where possible -- but in a pinch I'll reach for an Anno/Gainax reference when I have to.
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Postby NemZ » Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:18 pm

My view has always been that the text must stand or fall on it's own merits, without considering other sources. A properly composed text should never NEED further explanation, and any attempt to do so almost always lessens the value of the work as a whole.

Ultimately what a story says to ME is more interesting than what the author(s) were trying to say, and sharing these personal takes on a given text is what allows a conversation to happen rather than a lecture.
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Re: Death of the Author and Anno

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Postby Bagheera » Tue Aug 06, 2013 9:45 pm

View Original PostObsessiveMathsFreak wrote:The problem with the Death of the Author(DotA) is that it amounts to ignoring whatever message the creators were trying to convey.


No, that's not true at all. What it means is that the message the creators were trying to convey is in the text. If it isn't there they failed to convey it and the work as a whole doesn't do what the authors wanted it to do. That might be unfortunate, but it doesn't change what the work says -- it says what it says, and whether or not it conveys the author's intent is a question of the author's skill in putting such intent to paper. It can't be inserted after the fact if it isn't already there (though of course the author can draw our attention to it by saying "look here, and here, and here. This means X and is commonly understood to indicate such in the work's culture of origin, while this meant Y, and so on." And if people can read the work and come to the same conclusions that's a valid clarification on the part of the author. But if the author says "I meant this!" and people don't see that he doesn't get to tell them they're wrong. Either he did it or he didn't, full stop).

That said, I think DotA should come with some serious caveats these days. In particular, many works are multimedia projects, which means the context of "the text" is something altogether different from what was understood by DotA theorists. Consider the Blair Witch Project, or Cloverfield -- both made extensive use of viral marketing campaigns to sell their products, and both conveyed a fair amount of background information about their products in promotional material that was not directly reflected in the films. But that doesn't mean the films failed to convey the authors' intent, since the "text" includes those viral marketing campaigns. The films weren't meant to be seen in a vacuum, and so cannot be judged accordingly. This is hardly an isolated incident these days; many works now use Visual Novels, Manga, Anime, console games, and other media to explore different aspects of a central work. Spinoff and companion series also do this in like fashion (consider A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun, for example, or the Clamp settings, or Type Moon's works, or what have you.

For another example, consider Lord of the Rings. Is The Hobbit part of that text? How about the Silmarillion? Perhaps not directly, but there's no question they strongly inform the work. Tolkien developed an entire world before he started writing those books, and he annotated those works accordingly. A reader approaching them in isolation stands a good chance of missing important elements throughout, even though the stories might stand well enough on their own. I feel the same is true of NGE, even if Anno clearly didn't do the heavy lifting Tolkien did beforehand. If we watch the show alone we're left with many questions about the end. Indeed, it's very easy to come to diametrically opposed conclusions with equal support within the text itself. EoE and the DC edits change matters considerably, and the CI included in NGE2 changes it yet again. Are all of these components of the same text? Obviously, it depends on your perspective. For some the show as broadcast is the entirety of the text, while for others the movie counts and for still others the game material counts. It was all written around the same time, but it was published in different formats. This means that, IMO, arguments can be made either way. It also means that one must be careful about defining what counts as the text before making arguments as to its meaning and content.

Context is also very important. Some works can be read more-or-less independently, but others require some familiarity with a particular subject matter before they can be properly understood. So long as this is fairly plain from the work it cannot be dismissed -- the author has as much as told you outright that the work addresses a particular subject, so you can't dismiss that and cry "DotA!" as you fabricate a meaning wholly at odds with the stated intent of the work. Good examples here include Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which appears absurd without a grounding in English politics at the time, or NGE itself, which is a direct commentary on otaku culture, the super robot genre, and anime in general. A more general way to phrase this is that DotA must be used with care if it is to have any legitimacy to it; it is essential that one fully appreciates and understands the work as written before he or she starts to assign meaning to it or opts to speculate about unintentional influences and messages that might have snuck in without the author's intent. If one does not understand the work and insists his interpretation of such is valid he is effectively using DotA to mask ignorance, and such efforts have no real value to them.

So, to answer your question: yes, DotA does apply, in that the text as presented is the beginning and the end of the author's message and the expression of his intent. If his efforts are successful his message will be apparent to those who experience the work, and if they aren't the audience won't "get it". But at the same time, the author does get to tell us what constitutes the text. If he shows us a "director's cut" of a work and says "this is what I intended for you to see" it doesn't change the theatrical version at all, but it is nonetheless a valid thing for him to say. Saying "this is part of a larger body of work, and my intent will make more sense if you view it all in context" is also valid (just as noting the importance of the environment that produced the work is likewise valid). In the case of NGE the author has provided texts in three different media and told us outright that we are to find our own meaning in the mess. DotA thus cannot help but apply to NGE, as Anno effectively killed him when he said "I have no bloody clue. Fanwank something!" :lol:
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Re: Death of the Author and Anno

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Postby Chuckman » Tue Aug 06, 2013 10:49 pm

View Original PostBagheera wrote:No, that's not true at all. What it means is that the message the creators were trying to convey is in the text. If it isn't there they failed to convey it and the work as a whole doesn't do what the authors wanted it to do. That might be unfortunate, but it doesn't change what the work says -- it says what it says, and whether or not it conveys the author's intent is a question of the author's skill in putting such intent to paper. It can't be inserted after the fact if it isn't already there (though of course the author can draw our attention to it by saying "look here, and here, and here. This means X and is commonly understood to indicate such in the work's culture of origin, while this meant Y, and so on." And if people can read the work and come to the same conclusions that's a valid clarification on the part of the author. But if the author says "I meant this!" and people don't see that he doesn't get to tell them they're wrong. Either he did it or he didn't, full stop).


I basically came in here to say this as soon as I saw the thread title. You're scaring me, Bagheera.

Although this is not the time or place, I would argue that Gulliver's Travels does not require an understanding of the politics of the time to fully parse, as it touches on universal themes that are just as applicable today. To relate it to the topic, you don't have to be Japanese to construct a meaning from watching Evangelion.

The one thing I think is indisputable here is that if the author has to offer a detailed explanation of what they wanted the work to mean outside of the work, they have failed to create a work that conveys their intended meaning, full stop.

If we're going to parse Eva, I'd say the economics of Japan after its crash, Aum Shinrikyo, the post-cold war worldwide political structure, Japanese shame culture, and conspiracy theory are more important than Anno's comments.

As I said in the chitchat thread on continuity, the most reasonable and useful approach to ancillary media with a property like Evangelion is to treat {the series}, {the series + EoE}, and {the series + EoE + the stuff from those video games} as separate works. (I say works, not continuities, purposely. Like deconstruction and canon, continuity is a word that has been savagely butchered by nerdloids) I don't consider any combination of the above with Rebuild/NME to be a "work" at all, but rather two works to be compared. (Hence the sequel/time loop theory missing the point and being a total waste of time, now watch it be confirmed so I can eat crow)

I've argued in the past that several of the assumed principles of Evangelion based on the ancillary works or paratext/interviews were clearly made up after the fact and don't reflect events that happen in the show. My way of viewing things is extreme but streamlined. Things that happen > What a character says about things that happen > What someone who worked on the show says about things that happened. My arguments for such don't rest on any authority but events within the narrative of the show itself.

On the matter of the symbols used in the show (as in the actual symbols- crosses and Jewish mysticism as opposed to symbolism, i.e. hands) I consider it irrelevant how much if any understanding of or intent to construct a larger meaning from the authors had of these. They carry an intrinsic meaning, tapping into a current if you will, that constructs a certain meaning in the minds of an audience that is prepared to receive them. What those symbols mean to an audience familiar with their actual meaning (if anything can be said to have actual meaning, which I will fluctuate on from day to day) and to a Japanese audience that sees them the way we see culturally appropriate themes and symbols from Asia in Western works can be totally different and yet equally valid.

The reaction of the audience is vitally important, as it is arguably the point of the work. The presentation of any art is part of the art, part of the text. The medium of television/anime itself is part of the meaning of the show.
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Postby Lavinius » Tue Aug 06, 2013 11:49 pm

Bagheera that doesn't sound like Death of the Author at all. That sounds like being reasonable.
Death of the Author is a very solipsistic concept and also immature. If there is a meaning to something, it is the meaning that was placed there by a human mind. Meaning is thought, it is created by humans. Art, or communication, is the vehicle of thought/meaning.
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Postby NemZ » Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:01 am

Which creator, at what time and place, in what context, and in what emotional state?

The me who wrote this sentence is both the same and not the same me who wrote the previous one.
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Postby Chuckman » Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:14 am

No work of art is wholly the product of the author's mind. Creators often don't know why they do what they're doing, or have subconscious biases or fears or feelings that they're not aware of. All authors produce their work in a shared framework of meaning and symbol. Anno didn't invent anime, giant robots, teenaged pilots, or angst.

Art is indeed the means by which meaning is created, but it's not a direct route of transmission. The audience's mind is where the meaning is created, a meaning distinct from the author's mind, and that transaction doesn't require the author's presence except in the existence of the work.
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Postby Lavinius » Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:35 am

^I can't see how any of that first paragraph is relevant.
But as for the second, it's clear that your understanding of the word meaning is different from my own. In my speech, meaning denotes a thought, it is created by a human, it is the purpose/message of their words/action. It predates the art, it is the thought that the art is to transport.
But even if we understand the word "meaning" differently, when I say it it is the vehicle of my thought, and when you say it the vehicle of yours, regardless of how we misunderstand each other.
Oh, and what you call meaning I think I call understanding.
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Postby Chuckman » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:32 am

The author loses control of the meaning of their work as soon as they present it to others; they can't control the perceptions and cultural experience of the person viewing it, which determines how they respond to it. They don't really control it to begin with, as it will be shaped by experiences, biases, fears and subconscious actions that they aren't even aware of making during the act of creation.
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Postby NemZ » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:57 am

In essence, all art must operate in a framework similar to instrumentality, where the work in the author's mind is no more relevant than the work in the minds of everyone who encounters it, and all are a real and valid rendition of the text unless they are odds with the concrete reality of the text itself.
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Postby Bagheera » Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:08 am

View Original PostChuckman wrote:The author loses control of the meaning of their work as soon as they present it to others; they can't control the perceptions and cultural experience of the person viewing it, which determines how they respond to it. They don't really control it to begin with, as it will be shaped by experiences, biases, fears and subconscious actions that they aren't even aware of making during the act of creation.


But of course herein lies the danger, since if we take this to its logical extreme all manner of meaning and symbolism become meaningless beyond any given viewer's mind. If we are going to discuss a work and assume that the symbols therein have value we have to assign some significance to the author's intent, since he has arranged those symbols in various patterns to communicate an idea to us. That is to say, the symbols we encounter did not arise spontaneously, and it is a mistake to treat them as though they did. Put simply, the author is more familiar with the work than anyone, and can thus shed light on the various intricacies bound up in the patterns presented on the page. If a viewer has sufficient knowledge the author's voice is unnecessary, but very few do.

In other words, while the author does not assign meaning to the symbols in the work he very well might be able to reveal them to us in ways we wouldn't otherwise understand. That does not preclude the existence of other meanings of which he himself is unaware, and discovery of such is as valid as anything else. But pretending we can discover all meanings within a work while ignoring the author's voice is the height of hubris. It is ivory tower thinking, and it does not readily survive contact with the outside world.
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Postby Chuckman » Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:39 am

Is the author more familiar with the work than anyone? Who's spent more time thinking about what Evangelion means? Anno, or, collectively, all of you?
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Postby Bagheera » Wed Aug 07, 2013 3:02 am

View Original PostChuckman wrote:Is the author more familiar with the work than anyone? Who's spent more time thinking about what Evangelion means? Anno, or, collectively, all of you?


Nope, collectively doesn't work. If you're going to argue DotA you don't get to say my symbols are any more valuable than your own, and that means each of us only knows what meanings we ourselves have assigned to the work. So do any of us know more about Eva as individuals than Anno? Doubtful. Hell, most of us can't even understand the original work without translation, and that means we're ignorant of whole realms of nuance and cultural resonance found in the original script.

This is why I said DotA has to be used very carefully. Unless your familiarity with and knowledge of the work approaches that of the author's it's foolish to say you have nothing to learn from him. He doesn't tell us what it means (that's where DotA comes in), but he shows us what's in it so we can make that determination ourselves. Some other random guy doesn't have a hope in hell of doing that as effectively as the author can.
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Postby Mr. Tines » Wed Aug 07, 2013 3:22 am

The critical distinction is between what the author consciously intended to say, and the side-channels of association in how it was actually said -- the sub-texts, if you must.
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Postby kuribo-04 » Wed Aug 07, 2013 6:50 am

I posted this in the Everything Else Evangelion thread, but it seems that it is more appropiate here:

About the death of the author theory, while it is true that every person can understand the work in a different way, and there is no right or wrong, I'm positive most people care about the author's intention. When an author makes something that has a hidden meaning, I think it is often fun to think "Maybe here is some clue of the meaning", it is fun because the work is like it is because of the author trying to communicate something.

@Chuckman, I know that you defend this theory. I read your post about the hospital scene in EoE, and while I found it very interesting and well done, I just can't see some of the things you say related to the actual film. Your interpretation of some things related to religion contradicted Anno's statement about religion in his work. You can still make interpretations related to the Bible, but when I watch the film, none of them cross my mind. There is a part of the death of the author theory that I like though. The part that says that an author could make references that he doesn't even know about because it is something that is part of our culture and is in his subconscious. For example, why does Eva-13 have four arms? Maybe Anno just gave it four arms without thinking much about it, but was actually relating the four arms to something divine, because he has seen some deity with four arms. Maybe he knew that he was making a reference. This is actually the kind of conversation that you often encounter in evageeks, because you aren't actually saying "The four arms are a reference to a deity, I don't care what Anno has to say".

So in the end I think the death of the author discussions don't make much sense. Everyone tries to proof the other person wrong, and we end up forgetting that every work of art is "just something that some guy made and that we find interesting". Chuckman likes to see Evangelion and interpret the shi. out of it, probably because he likes doing it and thinks that Anno's interpretation isn't enough, other people are very interested in Anno (like myself). We sometimes fail to see that we are enjoying the same things in different ways, there is no right or wrong.

What I recommend is sharing both views. When you watch the film, why don't you try discovering what the author's intent was? But you can also have fun interpreting things like you want.

Another example. Chuckman, you once described Anno's director's cut revision of Kaji's death as a failure. There are many things that make me think that it isn't (For example, if you like death of the author, why don't you look at the director's cut as just another interpretation? You don't really care about Anno anyways) but what I think is most important here is that we need to understand different points of view. Maybe you liked the open ended nature of the first version? Anno was clearly invested in communicating the meaning in this scene, that's why he wanted to change it. You could say it was a failure because he didn't succeed the first time, but it's also true that being the director is not the same as being the viewer, so communicating something to an unknowing audience can sometimes go wrong, like this time, and you can't really consider the second version and Anno's clarification later wrong, in fact, I'm happy that he made the statement, because it shows that he is trying to communicate something, and I like that, and Evangelion is a very personal series, with the protagonist being a self insert of the author (you must admit that that makes Shinji interesting) so communicating the "true" information was important for Anno and also for me. Sometimes he was still open ended though, like in EoE. I'm sure that his feelings are still there in his final scene, but we can only speculate. (When I see it I feel like I know what it means, I could be wrong, maybe I understood Anno, but that's why I try to avoid these definitive answers to interpretation in film, I just want to see it and enjoy it.)

I will also say that I don't really like film theories, because they try to explain and give answers, something that reminds me of science, and I prefer to see art as something natural, something that I just feel without really caring about the most appropiate way of enjoying it (not that that exists).
In the end my interpretation of Eva is just one more, but still, I try to understand what Anno meant, even if I am not Anno. Maybe I can be him through Eva, I'm sure that is one of Anno's desires, communicating his thoughts and feelings. Why did he care so much about people knowing that Misato didn't kill Kaji? Because it is something that defines the character probably. Why doesn't he give a shit later in EoE's ending? Probably because there are no rules in art. He just did things like he felt he should do them in that moment, and I'm OK with that.

I hope I explained myself correctly. (:|
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Ryuko: "I'm gonna knock ya on your asses!"
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Postby Lavinius » Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:16 am

View Original PostChuckman wrote:The author loses control of the meaning of their work as soon as they present it to others; they can't control the perceptions and cultural experience of the person viewing it, which determines how they respond to it.
No. The artist does "lose control of the meaning" once the work is finished, simply because what has been said has been said, and they cannot change what they had meant by it. Of course, this may not stop them from saying anything more...
Certainly the artist does not control the reactions and understanding of the viewers! But the reactions and understanding of the viewers are irrelevant to the meaning.
Your worldview holds that all communication is worthless. My yes may be seen as- no, not merely be seen as, but actually somehow be- no, and my no may be yes, it is entirely at your whimsy and caprice.
It's fantastically immature, like a spoiled brat, to think that one can, no, must always be right. If you insist on playing in your contradictory Instrumentality fantasy world where everything is right just as everything is wrong, both of which now mean nothing, fine, but do not insist we must play along.
If even this does not enlighten you, I will not waste my time with you any further.
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~ibi cubávit Lamia, et invénit sibi reiquiem~
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Postby Chuckman » Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:19 am

I can't avoid talking about Anno when I critique the series on a narrative level, as I'm quite literally talking about what the production staff did, but it would still be true that Rei's character arc is fractured and disjointed and the series kind of forgets what to do with her after the smile scene until she becomes involved in the instrumentality plot later, whether Anno admitted it or not.

Eva-13 has four arms because it's part of a symbolic framework in the film that's tied to the image of the Virtuvian Man; we see Yui in a similar light, with cables connected to her back taking the place of a second set of arms. (The cables also resemble wings, and she's positioned inside a circle that recalls both an angelic halo and the corona around a lunar eclipse, identifying her with the moon) It also has four arms because it's identifying Shinji's actions in 3.0 with the Bardiel scene, suggesting he's causing harm through stubbornness again.

@Lavinius

Chill out, brosephus.

Nothing is true. All is permitted. I was saying that before it was in video games.
the prophecy is true

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Postby LeoXiao » Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:46 am

The author can explain more about his work, but he can only add, not detract, from the work's possible implications. Saying, for instance, that the words "Neon Genesis Evangelion" were just there to sound complicated may reflect what Anno thought when he came up with it, but it shouldn't invalidate interpretations that do find symbolism in the Greek.

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Postby Chuckman » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:44 am

That matter is more complicated due to the translation issue. My understanding is that the actual name of the series is to "New Century Evangelion" which has a different meaning. The English title implies a creation story, the Japanese title implies a revelation, Old Testatment vs. New Testament.

He may have consciously decided to use the Greek because it "sounds complicated" but whatever his reasons, the word means "Good News" and is broadly connected to the series' themes and attempt at being a pathway out of depression.

The problem of a translated work raises a whole other issue- is Neon Genesis Evangelion, as adapted by ADV, a work in and of itself, due to the choices made in translation, like calling the alien creatures "angels" instead of messengers or apostles?
the prophecy is true

Statistical fact: Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics. —Marty Mikalski


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