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Royals Rumblings - News for February 3, 2023

Not much baseball, but lots of OT today

Hey, there’s a “Hideaki Anno” image in our image archive
Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Just another reminder (Greg mentioned it yesterday, too). Single game tickets go on sale today at 10am Royals time:

Keith Law came out with new prospect rankings and Rany helps frame them:

Vinnie Pasquantino chats with Fangraphs David Laurilia about the nuts and bolts of modern hitting:

Pasquantino: “Bat path… maybe. Sure. But I would say it’s more the depth of contact on different pitchers. If a guy is throwing a heavy two-seam that day, and he’s mixing in a changeup, you want to be a little bit deeper in the zone because that’s where the ball is going. You want to beat the ball to the best spot. So, I would say a little bit, yeah, but it’s more just where you want to make contact with the ball.”

He’s also appears on two Fantasy baseball breakout lists:

Craig Brown examines the return of the return of Zack:

Greinke was the second-best starter for the Royals last season. Yeah, the bar was low, but credit goes where it’s due. If Greinke is again the Royals second-best starter, there’s going to be another round of very unpleasant questions that would need to be asked. (Like…Is it possible to fire Cal Eldred again?) He was worth 1.9 fWAR last summer. Steamer and ZiPS project a year of 1.1 fWAR with an ERA north of 4 in around 140 innings.

Blog roundup?

This is another one of those days where we’re going to combine the movie review OT section and the SotD into one section since it’s all together today.

Ed note: Looking at the word count (almost 8500), this is all going getting posted today. But after today, it’s getting broken into two parts and the second part is going to show up next week so that this page doesn’t look so long. I realize we’re not going to be talking about this two weeks straight so I’m hoping there’s some Spring Training news to talk about instead. Or just lots of Superb Owl talk.

Today’s subject is the Rebuild of Evangelion movies (FYI: Amazon Prime doesn’t need someone like me to shill for them, but all 4 movies of the Rebuild are there). This is one of those entries that maybe isn’t a traditional OT Rumblings. Generally, the idea is to get the coversation started but sometimes it’s just me organizing thoughts in my head. I hope they usually fit into both buckets of “things I want to write about” and “things you want to talk about”. Sometimes they fill one bucket more than the other. I think the Wedding Singer has some sage words about this. For the two or three of you who might have seen these movies: see you in the comments section. For the rest: buckle in, kids, this is going to be a long, weird ride.

For those unfamiliar, we’re just going to let wiki start out with the Wikipedia entry for Neon Genesis Evangelion:

Neon Genesis Evangelion... is a Japanese mecha anime television series... set fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm, particularly in the futuristic fortified city of Tokyo-3. The protagonist is Shinji Ikari, a teenage boy who is recruited by his father Gendo to the shadowy organization Nerv to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha named “Evangelion” into combat against beings known as “Angels”. The series explores the experiences and emotions of Evangelion pilots and members of Nerv as they try to prevent Angels from causing more cataclysms. In the process, they are called upon to understand the ultimate causes of events and the motives for human action. The series has been described as a deconstruction of the mecha genre and it features archetypal imagery derived from Shinto cosmology as well as Jewish and Christian mystical traditions, including Midrashic tales and Kabbalah. The psychoanalytic accounts of human behavior put forward by Freud and Jung are also prominently featured.

Neon Genesis Evangelion received critical acclaim but was also subject to controversy. Particularly controversial were the final two episodes of the series, as the ending was deemed confusing and abstract to many viewers and critics alike. In 1997, Hideaki Anno and Gainax released the feature film The End of Evangelion, which serves as an alternate ending replacing the final two episodes. A series of four films, titled Rebuild of Evangelion, retelling the events of the series with different plot elements and a new ending, were released between 2007 and 2021. The success of the series led to a rebirth of the anime industry, and it has become a cultural icon.

In short, it’s one of the most significant anime in history. As noted above, it’s given credit for resurrecting the anime industry in Japan and a number of the early Toonami-era anime shows that popularized the genre in the US trace some roots to Eva, be it the “short serial” format, serious tone, or including a core of Philosophy or Psychology 101 to give the show some heft.

It’s as obfuscatingly dense and controversial as it is influential. The last two episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) series are a significant departure from the rest of the show in both style and tone, for a number of reasons. And when that ending didn’t satisfy, creator Hideaki Anno and Gainax (studio) made a movie that served as another “ending” called End of Evangelion (EoE). The best fan explanation I have for these two endings is that the original ending (episodes 25/26 of the show) are what is happening inside the heads of the main characters while EoE is what is happening in the outside world, continuing what was seen in episodes 1-24.

Finally, today’s topic is the Rebuild of Evangelion, a set of 4 movies released in 2007, 2009, 2012, and (finally) 2021. It takes the original story and retells part of it before forging its own path. If you’re just going to watch one flavor of the show, this is probably the most approachable. But there’s a lot to be gained by watching the entire oeuvre (in which case, I recommend a watching order of NGE -> EoE -> Rebuild, though fans have come up with more detailed sequences that are akin to the Star Wars Machete Order).

Before we get any further, I have to put up this disclaimer. The rest of this is really spoiler heavy as it’s going to be difficult to talk about these movies without delving pretty deep into the plot, characters, and settings, both fictionally and meta-fictionally. Eva has always been cryptic by design – I think some of it is creator Hideaki Anno being an “artist” and playing the “I’m leaving this up to your interpretation” type games. But it’s also really dense and rewatchable; for instance, if you blink, you’ll probably miss some hints about, say, Asuka’s or Mari’s past. I know I did the first time. Protip: it’s nice to have an Eva wiki handy to help decode what you just watched. The reviewer on IGN, Kyle McLain, said this: “At my showing of the film, everyone in the theater was given a small pamphlet highlighting new in-universe lore and phrases introduced throughout the movie”. On the one hand, you probably shouldn’t need additional resources to watch a movie. On the other, it’s nice to not have everything spoon fed to you and get more from repeated viewings, even if you have to put up with some obnoxious obfuscation-by-design. So keep this in mind as we go along: there may not be a right answer, even if fandom has coalesced around a particular theory. Lastly, I’m a casual fan so my interpretations are one set and I certainly don’t have views that line up with the hardest of hardcore fans.

If you’re going to try to read as you go along, these two sites can be helpful:

Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)

At first glance, 1.0 is almost a note-for-note retelling of episodes 1-6. A friend of mine said he watched this one and then gave up on the rebuilds because it was basically just going to rehash the original. By all outward appearances, this is the case. I believe this is deliberate misdirection, but, as I indicated above, with so much of this franchise, it’s a bit unclear.

For context: these movies were released across 15 years, including lots of production delays and changes. I don’t get the impression these movies were meticulously planned and, even the things that were, once they were down on paper, were subject to change. Amusingly, during the credits for each movie, there’s a trailer for the next and they never match up at all. The first two movies (1.0 and 2.0) were released less than two years apart and follow the series fairly closely. But after that, the story is almost completely new and the third (3.0) and fourth (3.0+1.0) movies took more than 3 and 8(!) year gaps between releases. While Anno was the head of the project, there were 4 different directors and not in the standard way that 4 different movies have 4 directors. Kazuya Tsurumaki is credited for all 4 movies, but there are also three others with directing credits: Masayuki (1-3), Mahiro Maeda (3-4), Katsuichi Nakayama (4). Not only that, but people and ideas and life stages change across 15 years so I can’t imagine the creative vision was consistent from start to finish, move than five thousand days later.

Just like in the series, the intro shot is gorgeous and throws you right into the action. All 4 movies start with a giant robot set pieces battle and they’re all beautiful, even if a bit over reliant on CGI. The angel designs stand out as a good use of CGI - they retain much of their original creepiness and mysteriousness; some are even enhanced by the new, modern animation. Generally, the digital ink and paint looks as good as it always had and the CGI is used to augment not overwhelm.

Similarly, much of the excellent music has been reused and modernized. Shirō Sagisu’s iconic score still supplements the story’s strong world building. For instance, the visual and audio cues still work in concert to convey the awe of Tokyo-3, the horror of the angels, and the contrasting whimsical everyday life of Shinji, Misato, and others. It’s also gratifying to read about how Anno and Sagisu collaborated to make sure the music and visuals harmonized as it seems like more and more directors are just using temp tracks* (h/t to Matthew) and bland, forgettable music. Sadly, the original theme song, A Cruel Angel’s Thesis, which now sounds decidedly retro, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we have newer pop theme songs from Hikaru Utada, which we’ll talk more about in SotD.

As before, most all of our main characters and initial exposition are introduced during this movie. Our protagonist, such that he is, is teenager Shinji Ikari. Just as he’s always been, he’s an obsequious loser and tabula rasa, who makes the worst incarnations of Tenchi (a contemporary anime character with a similar design) look mature, composed, and brave. The main plot revolves around his emotional arc and it’s probably the greatest source of frustration in this franchise.

Anno has said that many of the other characters in the show are from different aspects of his personality and, frankly, they’re all quite broken. Though who wouldn’t be in this dystopia where half of the world’s population died 15 years ago in the “Second Impact”?

Shinji’s mother, Yui, died mysteriously a few years later in an accident with one of the Evangelions, the series namesake. What are Evas? Evas are living giants with armor and an A.T Field, created by humans from the Angels, such as Adam and Lilith, that had been awakened on earth. What are Angels? The Angels are giant beings of immense power sent by the First Ancestral Race. What is the Second Impact? The Second Impact was when Dr. Katsuragi, backed by SEELE, and accompanied by Gendo Ikari went to Antarctica and tried to merge human DNA with Adam and... you can see how the lore and world building spirals out of control quickly. Much of this lore is dripped out during the course of the series, often when it would best illuminate a character’s otherwise puzzling actions.

The death of Yui broke Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s already ambitious and unstable father, and he sent Shinji away. His motivation in all instances of the franchise is to discover a way to rewrite reality itself using the Human Instrumentality Project so that he can be with Yui once again. He is in charge of NERV, the UN agency charged with preventing a Third Impact, an extinction level event. NERV is really backed by SEELE, but Gendo plays both organizations off each other for his own gain. Also, at NERV is Gendo’s second-in-command Kozo Fuyutsuki, Shinji’s commanding officer Misato Katsuragi (I’m sure that last name is just a coincidence), and scientist Ritsuko Akagi.

The plot proceeds as it does in the originals, with minor changes and substantial omissions to get it down to half the run time. Misato picks up Shinji to make him pilot Eva-01 to battle an Angel for his father. He refuses until he sees the mysterious and injured other pilot Rei Ayanami being forced to take his place. Completely unprepared, the Angel incapacitates him and the Eva comes alive, brutally winning the fight. After he recovers, he enrolls at a local school, meets two classmates, Toji and Kensuke, and proceeds to learn how to pilot an Eva.

Many of the same broad strokes are there as he deals with problems on two tracks. With NERV, more Angels attack and he has to learn to work with Rei and overcome them in different ways. In his personal life, he deals with the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, addresses his failure and runs away before coming back, listens to his SDAT that symbolically changes tracks with his character’s actions, and grows closer to his classmates, especially Rei. The movie ends with the climactic battle where Rei selflessly sacrifices herself to protect Shinji as he defeats the Sixth Angel and he rushes to free her from the Eva.

In all, it plays like an upgraded version of the first few episodes of the series. The plot is more streamlined, the animation improved, and Shinji’s character a bit more developed at the expense of depth elsewhere. It was a commercial success and, generally, a critical one. Many correctly observed that it was just the original series with a fresh coat of paint. I think many expected all four movies to be like this. They were wrong.

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009)

Whereas 1.0 is almost a note-for-note retelling of the first few episodes, 2.0 is a Greatest Hits of episodes 7-19ish and viewers are led to think that, just like 1.0, this is just a cleaner retelling of the original NGE story. Right up until it’s not.

Yes, that’s a little bit of oversimplification as there are also a lot of new bits. They can seem a bit jarring until you realize what is happening across the entire set of movies. I don’t envy the Studio Khara’s task one bit. They had to retell a wildly popular story in only 4 short movies. These aren’t supersized MCU-length movies, either; they clock in at 98, 108, 96, and 155 minutes.

Eva is a science fiction character drama that features giant mech battle action sequences, 90s-era secret government conspiracies, cryptic religious lore, and fanservice to appeal to a larger audience all set in a futuristic dystopia that requires extensive world building. That’s a lot to cover and not a lot of time. This means the movies are always moving at a fast clip (upside: we’re freed from some of the draggy sequences of characters on escalators talking about trivialities). This primarily manifests in two ways and is most evident in this movie.

First off, nearly all of the characters aren’t as deep as in the series. Yes, those plodding long shots of the NERV escalators were dry and classroom scenes were goofy, but they add richer colors to the character tapestry. A lot of the characterization that is spread through the middle episodes of the series is mashed into a couple of new events. A bunch of Rei, Asuka, and Misato character development is smashed into a dinner-with-Gendo plot in 2.0 that is also rushed, too. Asuka Shikinami is the third of the Eva pilots and her hyper-competent-bordering-on-brash introduction plays as it does before, establishing her as one of the main characters in the story.

Another new plot involves Ryoji Kaji, who in NGE, was a mysterious NERV double agent who has known Misato and Ritsuko since college. He takes the major characters who are students to a research aquarium. The world is even more bleak in the Rebuilds than in NGE as the ocean has turned red and is devoid of life. However, this refreshing scene breaks the tension between battles and reminds viewers that this even in this post-apocalyptic world, there is hope for the future.

In the Rebuilds there’s not enough time to develop Ritsuko and Kaji properly. Because of this, we lose the duality of Kaji/Gendo and Misato/Ritsuko as postive and negative role models for Shinji and Asuka. The plot from Ritsuko’s character episode (one of my favorites) about her mom and the Magi computers, is gone. Kaji’s surrogate father role is reduced to the aquarium scene, a handful of lines, some references to his offspring and watermelons, and a martyrdom that is referenced only in flashback.

Ultimately, many of the character arcs are stripped back to focus primarily on the one between Shinji and Gendo. I feel this mostly makes sense, not just because of the change in medium, but in the overall context, taking into account how the three versions of the story interplay with each other and what is most important in this third retelling. But you don’t know that until the very end.

Lost in this creative decision is any deeper meaning in Shinji and Asuka’s relationship. There’s no time for Asuka’s depression story arc or Toji becoming the fourth pilot (though I’ve always felt that plot got short shrift in the show, too) - these plots simply don’t exist in the Rebuild. And we also have to leave time for the new pilot, Mari Makinami Illustrious. We’ll talk more about her later.

The second way the shorter running time affects the movies is that some of the important moments don’t get a chance to breathe. It’s not for a lack of trying as there are times when even the movies slow down ponderously. However, in the series, the dummy plug scene and Unit-01’s Berserker Mode scene are two of the more shocking scenes in anime and are separate angel encounters (13/14) in separate episodes (18/19) of NGE.

In the Rebuild, these are combined into the Ninth Angel attack so each loses some punch. For the bulk of the movie, the trio of pilots, Shinji, Rei, and Asuka learn to work together, balancing their relationships, as the Angel attacks continue to evolve. In NGE, Unit-03 is infected by an Angel and the pilot of the rogue Eva is Toji, a casual friend who was on his first mission. In the Rebuilds, it’s Asuka, one of the core characters, a change which should have made the pivotal scene even more impactful.

When Shinji refuses to fight the other Eva, Gendo removes Shinji’s control of Unit-01 and switches to an experimental autopilot (the dummy plug). This causes his Eva to behave like a feral animal, brutally tearing Unit-03 apart and then crushing Asuka’s cockpit in its teeth. All while Shinji is captive in the cockpit of Unit-01, powerless to change what his Eva is doing. In the manga, this attack kills Toji. In the series, Shinji sees who it is and lets out an inhuman scream and then the episode credits roll. Here, it’s put to odd children’s music so that, even upon seeing it’s Asuka, it’s projects a bizarre tone and, because of the format, we have to charge forward into the next scene.

Upon regaining control of Unit-01, a furious Shinji attacks NERV HQ until Gendo floods the cockpit and Shinji passes out. He runs away from NERV again and has to do soul searching to find what he really wants. All of this gets overshadowed by the next scene, the movie finale. This can make parts of the series and movies feel tonally different, even if unintentionally.

Up until this point, it feels like these changes were for the deliberate purpose of better fitting the story into the shorter movie format. Or they were stylistic in nature, like Asuka having a different last name that better matched up with other characters. The finale of 2.22 changes everything.

As before, the Tenth Angel attacks but Unit-01 will not start for the dummy plug. In NGE, the Angel puts Asuka and Rei and their Evas out of commission, leaving Shinji the only one to stop it. He goes into Berserker Mode and Unit-01 devours the Angel, as noted above, one of the most memorable moments in the series.

In the Rebuild, Asuka is still hurt so an injured Rei and her damaged Unit-00 are all that stands between the Angel and NERV HQ. Her attack fails and the Angel consumes her and her Eva before proceeding to NERV. Upon seeing the Angel partially take Rei’s form, Shinji returns to pilot Unit-01 once more. To defeat it, he goes into Berserker Mode, and merges with his Eva. Rather than consuming the Angel, he reaches into its core to pull out Rei and then combine with the Angel to become a god. This triggers the (Near) Third Impact. All of our main characters have a front row seat to what Ritsuko declares is “The end of the world” and the credits roll.

The film was more commercially successful than the first, a trend that continues in the series. The movies make $20M, $44M, $67M, and $93M on budgets of $7M, $10M, $13M, and $20M. The reviews were a little more mixed, with many praising the new direction of the story while others decried them. Then again, I’m not sure the 11 official critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are an accurate gauge of critical consensus. Almost all of them are shorter than what I’m writing and read like the literary equivalent of someone forced to eat their broccoli before they can go back to watching Oscar-bait. By comparison, Disney’s Strange World, which has grossed less, has 161 reviews, so we’re talking reviewer small sample size with the Rebuilds.

At the end of the credits, the Spear of Cassius is cast down from the heavens and impales Unit-01, prematurely ending its apotheosis and the Third Impact. Eva Mark.06 and its pilot Kaworu, descend from the moon, declaring “This time, I will show you happiness”.

(EDIT: This is where the reviews for 3.33 and 3.0+1.0 were originally on February 3rd but have now been moved to February 10, 2023)

As we’ve logged over 8000 words already today, the SotD section is going to be brief.

The theme songs for all 4 movies were done by Hikaru Utada. If that name sounds familiar, I’ve highlighted a number of her songs before, as she did a number of theme songs in the Kingdom Hearts series (Simple and Clean, Sanctuary/Passion, Don’t Think Twice). Even though it took 15 years, she did the theme songs for all 4 movies: “Beautiful World”, “Beautiful World -PLANiTb Acoustica Mix-”, “Sakura Nagashi”, and “One Last Kiss”.

Rather than just post the audio, I ran across some well-done AMVs (anime music videos), one for each song. They chronologically follow each Rebuild, but will be mostly incomprehensible without having seen the movies first. However, if you want to get a sampling of everything mentioned above without sitting down for 8 hours of movies, these only take about 5 minutes per song.