I think a lot of that can be blamed on a post-2010 Western perspective being retroactively applied to an earlier Japanese
work. A lot of Western media is stuck in this quagmire of bullshit postmodernism where fun and optimism are dirty words, where writers are pretentious dickwads who can’t even bother hiding their open disdain for the source material and its fans, who think “muh subverted expectations” automatically equates to great writing. When you’re coming from a culture where it seems like a writer’s main job is to fuck with the fans and insult their intelligence and moral integrity when they dare to complain (instead of.. ya know.. just writing a good story
), Anno can be easily mistaken
for that kind of writer due to some stuff he’s said in interviews being taken out of context.
2.0's problem is not that it's fun or optimistic. 2.0's problem is that it's generic. It's filled with aggravatingly on-the-nose fanservice, the whole world seems to revolve around Shinji and his desires, most of the characters are one-note, and it just generally seems to go against a lot of what made Evangelion stand out in the first place. It's like a bad imitation of itself. The difference between the elevator scene in NGE vs. in 2.0 highlights this so perfectly that I have to think it's intentional to some degree.
I get that "subverted expectations" is a big meme nowadays or whatever but I don't think it's fair to characterize the impression of Eva being subversive as a wrongful one imposed by Westerners. Eva is
subversive. Rebuild is
subversive. Anno loves subversion. That's not an impression that comes from interviews, it's just blatantly apparent in his work. And it's not a bad thing either. Subversion is an integral part of storytelling. It's not a crutch for bad writers, but it is something that good ones can use to massively elevate their stories.
I mean... Misato gets a personality change in a similar manner to Luke in The Last Jedi. The Disney/Marvel-esque "I must subvert expectations at all costs" vibes are absolutely present to an extent, lol. Anno even did it first.
Both Misato and Luke in those films are consistent with their established characters but I agree with the larger point you're making.
The Disney/Marvel-esque "I must subvert expectations at all costs" vibes [...]
I like the rebuild instalments quite a bit but..I doubt he thinks his fans are geniuses or treats them all that differently from a JJ Abrams or a Rian Johnson, lol. I think that's a stretch and a half.
I mean, the vast majority of Disney and Marvel films explicitly don't
set out to do stuff like this, and I don't know why you lump Abrams in with Johnson - they're polar opposites in this regard - but again, I agree with the larger point here.
To make 3.0 work better as a standalone movie, I think that’s all you need to add: the actual REVEAL of the misdirection. That way, the audience starts
the movie relating with Shinji’s actions, but ends
the movie with a new perspective on the earlier events, and leaves you with the fairly easily understandable moral of “acting impulsively without understanding everything can make things worse for everyone, including yourself”. Even if the other characters are still left static and the background lore is left mysterious, this at least gives you a solid arc for the main character. I think its absence is what makes 3.0 feel kinda aimless for a lot of people, and why they feel that “nothing happens” in 3.0: Shinji begins the movie clueless and acting impulsively and he ends the movie clueless and acting impulsively. Stuff happens, but nothing really changes for the characters, which isn’t good in a series that’s predominantly character-driven.
3.0 is the "darkest hour" portion of Rebuild. Since we're on the topic of Star Wars, you can compare it to The Empire Strikes Back. That is a story where the protagonists do exactly what they are not supposed to do, fail miserably, and everything goes to shit. That is just what happens at this junction of the story. It is not yet time for the character to learn from their mistakes and build themselves up from the ashes. Even so, you can clearly extrapolate from both films where the protagonists erred, even if they
haven't learned it yet. Personally, I've always felt like these films stand well on their own even if they are bleak and "unsatisfying", but I realize many people don't seem to feel that way. That's okay, because, again, they are the "darkest hour" in a larger, unfinished narrative.
I’m just addressing the common defense of Q’s complete lack of exposition as purposely done to put us in Shinji’s shoes. If this were true, then the only purpose I can see for it to be that way would be to later go back and turn it on its head and reveal that everyone else was right, Shinji (and the audience) were wrong.
If Q were just about failure leading into more failure, I argue a more effective way of doing it would be by showing that EVERYONE is wrong and acting irrationally, which would be done by giving us MORE background, not less.
All I want clarified/justified for me is, what is the narrative purpose of “putting the audience in Shinji’s shoes” through lack of information and exposition if it’s not to later show that he (and the audience) were wrong?
Shinji and the audience are
wrong. But this is something that's made clear within the film itself. That is the purpose of the part where Kaworu shows him what the world is like and tells him that it's his fault. Shinji then goes on to fail in much the same way, because, again, this is the darkest hour of the story and he still hasn't learned his lesson. The theme of Q isn't just failure, it's guilt. Shinji can't feel so guilty if everyone is equally culpable for what happened. Even then, the other characters do
make mistakes in the film. Kaworu does, Misato does, Asuka does.
I just fail to see how purposely not explaining either side’s actions/motivations and making EVERYONE appear stupid makes Q a better movie than if it showed that both sides had perfectly rational justifications for their apparently irrational actions.
No one in the film acts irrationally
stupid. Characters make mistakes but none of said mistakes feel out of character. Ascertaining the motivations of the characters really isn't that hard, it's something you can put together fairly easily during an analysis of the film. Asuka and Misato alienate Shinji into joining NERV because they don't trust him after what he did. Shinji is so driven to undo his fuck up and make everyone like him again that he makes that exact mistake twice. Kaworu wants to fulfill Shinji's happiness so much that he plays right into SEELE/NERV's hand. It's perfectly rational for human beings to act irrationally.