REVIEW: The Phone That Never Rings/Hedgehog’s Dilemma (Evangelion)
The Phone That Never Rings:
We open with Shinji in the pilot’s seat, morosely going through target practice while Ritsuko dumps more info on him and us at home. Evangelion are powered by umbilical cords from under the surface of the city. Without them, they can only stand for five minutes. What Ritsuko hands to Shinji, I pass on to you. The limited power supply will be important later, I promise you. Shinji’s just transfered to a new school here in Tokyo-3. When he shows up, two guys named Toji Suzuhara and Kensuke Aida are talking about the giant robot fight yesterday. Turns out Toji’s little sister was injured in the conflict. Boy does he want to beat up the pilot of that robot.
Can you tell that this week continues the theme of people treating Shinji badly? Sure enough, Shinji is suckered into telling the class that he’s the pilot (he doesn’t know any better) and Toji takes him outside and flattens him in one punch. Shinji angrily mutters that he doesn’t have a choice but to pilot it; Toji, as a result, punches him again. Those guys from Kansai, with their punching and idiotic sweatsuits. (Okay, the sweatsuit is rather cool.)
Shinji and Rei are called away as the fourth Angel attacks Tokyo-3. Good question: how come these things never attack New York? As it turns out, Kensuke is a military nut. Going off the scant information Shinji gives out in class, he and Toji duck evacuation to go outside to watch the battle. Yes, that sounds like they’re too dumb to live, but remember. A theme of Evangelion is people who don’t realize the consequences of their actions or the reality of the situation acting in such a way that should get them or others killed immediately. This is why a character like Gendo is so threatening–he knows the consequences and takes the action anyway.
Good thing he’s not in Tokyo this week, right? Misato orders Shinji to allow Kensuke and Toji into the entry plug of the Evangelion and make his retreat. Ritsuko passionately explains to Misato, her old friend, that she is exceeding her authority. Misato doesn’t respond directly to her; instead, she tells Shinji to hold on his current orders. Taking action without realizing consequence number two.
It should be said at this point that Shinji is unlike any giant robot protagonist in a lot of ways. He’s afraid. He’s shy. He’s easily led by others. He takes orders because he doesn’t know what else to do. He doesn’t talk to others because he doesn’t know how to do it. But he and your typical giant robot protagonist do have something very important in common. They never lose. Indeed, ordered to retreat, with two foreign minds messing up the sync in his entry plug, compromising the control he has over this giant walking deathtrap, he goes berserk. Fourth Angel defeated with a progressive knife to the eye. Disobeying orders without regard to the consequences. Shinji may be afraid to make friends, but if you back him into a corner, be afraid yourself.
It’s raining. Shinji’s been skipping school for the last five days. Misato’s been rather busy living her own life at NERV to notice that in addition to Shinji not attending school or piloting Eva for the last few days, Shinji’s run away from home. Hey everybody, let’s play a game. It’s called Let’s Spot the Scenes in Which Shinji and Misato Interact Like a Couple as Opposed to Mother and Son! This will either get much easier or harder as time goes on. I’m taking bets.
Shinji’s gone as far as he could on the Tokyo Loop Line when it stops for service in a seedy, red light district. He goes to see a movie, but he’s sitting in the back row and staring at the aisle. A couple halfway to the screen start making out in front of him. Funny but true story, the movie that’s playing is about the Second Impact, the near apocalypse that has resulted in an eternal summer in Tokyo. Or at least, that’s what it sounds like between the overblown dialogue and hilarious accents. Then there’s this weird little moment where the silence of the world tries to psychically kill Shinji. Maybe they were under time?
Misato and Ritsuko get a great scene together, talking about why they have to use 14 year old kids to pilot these robots. Except they never mention the reason, and only that it must be adolescent children behind the wheel. It seems weird that they’re discussing the exploitation of kids while Rei is wrapped in bandages covering her naughty bits and being put through a 3D modeler. Mixed message much? We get a flashback to Misato’s debriefing (read: dressing down) of Shinji for going all cowboy cop in a robot the size of a skyscraper. Shinji has lost all will to care about his well-being. Piloting this robot means nothing but pain to him. Misato thinks that maybe he shouldn’t come back.
While Shinji’s run away from home, he runs into Kensuke, who apparently runs away from home weekly to play soldier. Are you ready for some foreshadowing? “I really envy you. I mean, you live with such a beautiful woman and you get to pilot the Evangelion.” Remember that for later. Oh, also, both Shinji and Kensuke have lost their mothers. That’s weird. Long stories short, Shinji is caught by NERV and taken back to Tokyo-3. He tells Misato he wants to leave, so she sets him up to leave on a train. Just before he ships out, Toji insists that Shinji punch him in the face. So Shinji does. Then breaks down crying about how he’s a coward and deserves to be hit for piloting that robot.
Eventually, he decides to stay. “I’m home.” “Welcome home.”
It’s all still worldbuilding to start with. This first arc, from the first episode until the arrival of Asuka, the third pilot, has always felt like interesting if kinda shallow filler. The highlights are the fifth and sixth episodes, Rei I and Rei II. As far as I remember anyway. Still, good stuff!