In Defense of Head Trips
Author: Amanda Wells
Source: Noise In My Brain
Some fans believe the quality of Neon Genesis Evangelion severely degenerates once the surreal, self-exploratory visions are introduced. Depending on what the criteria is, this begins either in episode 14 (Rei's monologue) or episode 16 (Shinji's encounter with Leliel, the shadow/sphere Angel). There are many afterwards, including Shinji's experiences after being absorbed by Unit 01 in episode 20, Asuka's "mind rape" by Arael in episode 22 (extended for the Director's Cut video version released in Japan), Rei's infection by Armisael in episode 23, and of course, the last two episodes.
To some extent, I can understand theif frustration. The ideas put forth in these hallucinations are communicated at a rapid pace, and it takes many viewings to uncover just what you think they mean (because, as we all know, there's no official answers to much of EVA's character-related interpretations).
However, most of the arguments state the visions have absolutely nothing to offer in intellectual terms. Instead, they are supposedly babble with weird visuals, either conceived to confuse viewers into ignoring EVA's glaring shortcomings, or to make some foolish pretense at depth, depending on whom you talked to.
I was, to say the least, annoyed. I felt the surreal visions usually had much to offer when analyzed. Granted, there was a bit of cheesy babble here and there (I think most of Rei's poem qualifies), but for the most part, what was said during the hallucinations explored or exposed the characters' anxieties and the source of them.
However, the representation is very raw. There aren't many straightforward explanations like "Shinji relies on the praise of others because he has no faith in himself," or "Mistato became sick of being good because being good never changed anything when she was a child". Instead, the sequences are nothing but reactions and arguments, and the audience must draw their own conclusions.
Perhaps that's why the sequences are interpreted as clumsy babble made to deceive fans into believing they're watching a good anime. However, I like it that way. Such a format encourages, nay, forces the audience to think analytically, to explore their own feelings about the characters, which is the only way to understand them.
Also, the visions wouldn't be nearly as endearing if they weren't backed up by a solid foundation, courtesy of the anime's outer reality. We know from the first episode that Shinji has a bad relationship with is father, and how often does that figure into his mind-warps? While other characters' angst isn't immediately visible, the audience gets acquainted with it through the show's "reality", before it's investigated in surreal hallucinations. For instance Misato's problems are exposed in her conversation with Kaji in episode 15, and her flashbacks in episode 21, before they are explored in the TV ending.
Also, the visions are sometimes the only source of information about the character's problems. Rei is a fine example. Her fears of lonlieness and her fear/desire to "return to nothing" are known only through her mind sequences. With Asuka, the sources of her problems are hinted at early in episode 22, but only come to the surface with Arael's attack.
Yes, there's ultimately no reason for the introspection to be presented in that particular way. It could just as easily have been done in the traditional storytelling format, with nothing, in terms of characterization, lost. Yet by themselves, EVA's weird visions have purpose and meaning; you need only to look deeper.