Sad Sci-Fi, Pt 1

When I was writing my thesis on (broadly-speaking) Eastern and Western cultural approaches to artificial intelligence, I came across Evangelion. It’s an anime series about a series of … aliens, probably… called Angels that attack Tokyo periodically, each one more powerful than the previous. The usual military assaults against them — even heavy-powered artillery — can do nothing against the monsters, so instead they deploy things called EVAs, giant robots driven by humans and powered by neural interfaces between the human and robot.

Evangelion is not about the robots. It’s really not even about the sci-fi, as detailed as the anime’s descriptions of firepower and destruction are. The first few episodes feel like they are about… loneliness. And ironically are titled “You are (not) alone”.

Teenager Shinji’s father is the head of NERV, a somewhat shadowy organization in charge of the creation, protection and maintenance of the EVA program. Shinji’s barely seen his father over the years and assumes that he’s been summoned to his presence now only because his father needs something from him. Turns out, Shinji’s right — he’s being pressed into service as one of the pilots of the EVA unit 01.

Shinji throws a giant fit at being summarily called and shoved into a fluid-filled metal machine that he hasn’t actually been taught to operate. In fact, he almost fails his first deployment, until the machine he’s in goes berserk.

This is where things get interesting, from a sci-fi perspective. After the machine loses all aux power from the monster ramming into it, it shuts down, and then suddenly goes mad. It turns back on, regains balance, runs at the monster and destroys it completely. And when the Angel explodes around it, personnel at the command center see a shadow emerging from the mess — the EVA’s “true form”. Next episode, we see EVA fighting another Angel with some kind of electrical tentacles that end up burning off the metal covering off the EVA. Underneath are hands: giant, very human, hands.

So what are the EVA? What’s the fluid that keeps pilots in sync with the machines? Why do the Angels keep attacking, and why does NERV seem to anticipate them?

Interesting point: apparently “Angel” in the Abrahamic sense originally referred not to purely good, divine beings, but messengers.

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