Time and Deconstruction

Deconstruction in media is something I find intensely fascinating. And while this video by Under the Scope is a great exploration of deconstruction in anime, particularly in the ‘magical girl’ (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) and ‘giant mech’ (Neon Genesis Evangelion) genres (though it was strange to hear someone refer to the show School Days as a deconstruction of the ‘harem’ genre). What I find puzzling about the evidence he uses, is possibly my own experience with discussing deconstruction. Particularly, calling Neon Genesis Evangelion a deconstruction of the ‘mech’ genre.

A few months ago, I wrote an article discussing how the deconstruction aspect of a piece of work is waisted, when that piece of work is recommended or introduced above and before the thing being deconstructed. A deconstruction without reference. The two examples I used were Watchmen, which is often praised as one of the greatest comics ever written (personally, I think it’s just ok, but I didn’t read it at the time of creation), and often on the top of ‘comic you should read for beginners list. And I paired that with Neon Genesis Evangelion for an example in another medium that is also highly praised, and first to be recommended to newbies.

The two most common responses I got to the piece had nothing to do with the content, but argued that Neon Genesis Evangelion isn’t a deconstruction, and no one reads Watchmen first. And that I’m an idiot for thinking so. I did a little research into the profiles of the people who commented, and concluded that a lot of them were either relatively new to anime, had read Watchmen recently, or were jumping on the band wagon of the first few commentator’s due to other posts they had made being contradictory to what they had later said.

This makes me wonder something else about the nature of deconstruction. With both works being creations of (arguably) a different generation. The mid 80s for Watchmen, and mid 90s for Evangelion. Has the passage of time, and the effect these works had, changed how we view the media enough for them to no longer be considered deconstructions?

In the case of anime, Evangelion’s release spear headed a dramatic shift in the medium. Particularly in the production of original television properties. This change also allowed writers such as Chiaki J. Konaka to bring works such as Serial Experiments Lain to the screen. The Youtuber Digibro describes this shift well in his video How Evangelion Altered Anime Eternally. Concluding Evangelion’s full effect kicking in, with the series Now and Then, Here and There. Taking on the familiar trope of a young boy being transported to a magical new world. Something usually seen in a show aimed at young children. Only to be met with a dark dystopia, full of twisted characters, and plot devices including murder and rape.

In the realm of comics, Watchmen was part of a one-two punch, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Eventually culminating in advertisements for comics presenting them as “Grime, Gritty, Grown up”. These kinds of stories lead to darker storytelling, particularly in the worlds of superhero comics. A genre created for a primary audience of children, and grew in the wake of the second world war, as a means of hopeful escapism. This darker tone has continued to reverberate through modern comics, particularly in DC. With the ‘Rebirth’ relaunch acting as a course correction, and the storyline ‘The Button’, and the current ‘Doomsday Clock’ actively blaming the darker tone on the Watchmen characters. Particularly Dr Manhattan.

batman_watchmen

But this all leads back to my initial question. Is something still a deconstruction, if the deconstruction has become part of the norm?


  • Digibro (2017) How Evangelion Altered Anime Eternally. [Online] YouTube. August 3rd. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ3F_hhzJ3o [Last Accessed: 01.01.2018]
  • Johns, G. & Frank, G. (2017 – 2018) Doomsday Clock. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Miller, F. (1986) The Dark Knight Returns. DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Moore, A. & Gibbons, D. (1986 – 1987) DC Comics: Burbank.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 – 1996) TV. Directed by Hideaki Anno. [DVD] Studio Gainax: Japan.
  • Now and Then, Here and There. (1999 – 2000) TV. Directed by Akitaro Daichi. Studio AIC: Japan.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) TV. Directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. [DVD] Studio Shaft: Japan.
  • School Days (2007) TV. Directed by Keitaro Motonaga. [DVD] Studio TNK: Japan.
  • Serial Experiments Lain (1998) TV. Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura. Studio Triangle Staff & Studio Pioneer LDC: Japan.
  • Under The Scope (2016) What Actually is A Deconstruction? [Online] YouTube. July 5th. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBuo4vi_A0s [Last Accessed: 01.01.2018]
  • Williamson, J., King, T., Fabok, J. & Porter, H. (2017) The Button. DC Comics: Burbank.

 

 

 

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Deconstruction without reference – Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion

In any medium or genre, there are titans. Stories and creators that are looked upon as the very best examples of what that medium or genre can be. When a genre or medium has been around for a while, it’s natural to find works and creators that start to question why it exists. Why do we read and follow superhero comics? Why do we watch and enjoy giant mech anime?

To deconstruct something, is to tear it apart to reveal and expose the subject’s weaknesses. To understand and explore its flaws, inconsistencies, and tropes. To literally take it to pieces. However, what happens when the deconstruction becomes the celebrated work? What impact does the work have, when it’s the first thing recommended to new readers or viewers?

Both Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion are held up as master works of their medium and genre. Watchmen appears on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Best Novels in the English Language. The BBC Culture section, even refers to the series as ‘The Moment Comic Books Grew Up’. Taking apart and examining the superhero genre. Exploring the characters, motives and world, through the lens of a murder mystery. Many regard it as one of the greatest comics ever written. While others, including the books writer, Alan Moore, see it as more than a little overrated. Regardless of the opinion you have on the series, it’s hard to deny its impact, both in and outside the medium. DC Comics have even found themselves leaning back on to the books popularity and world for their storylines “The Button”, and “Doomsday Clock”. Neon Genesis Evangelion holds a similar reputation. Praised as one of the best and most influential anime to come out of the 90’s, let alone of all time. Evangelion is a cult classic, that takes apart the Mecha genre of anime. Exploring what drives the characters, the creation of the giant mechs, the EVA’s in this case, and what it’s like to face the end of the world.

Many ‘must-watch’, and ‘must-read’ articles suggest both of these are top contenders in their fields. Giving multiple reasons for why every fan of both mediums should see them. Many also suggest them as entry level material. This raises the question, what’s the point of a deconstruction, if the audience has no idea what is being deconstructed?

To use Watchmen for a moment. Readers walking into Watchmen for the first time, who have no grasp on the superhero genre of comics, or very little. Will find themselves confronted with the story of a group of apparently former heroes who grew old. When one is killed, the rest take it upon their selves to learn why, as well as dealing with their own everyday lives. However, as Walter Hudsick puts it in ‘Reassembling the Components in the Correct Sequence: Why You Shouldn’t Read Watchmen First’, using Watchmen as an introduction to Superhero comics, is a grave mistake. Watchmen is built on the very history of comics. Its characters are stand ins for specific characters. Dr Manhattan, Nite Owl II, The Comedian, and Ozymandias acting as replacements for The Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and Thunderbolt respectively. The world’s history mirroring real world comic book history. Superheroes coming to prominence before a war, thriving through, only to begin to fade in the years after. The in-universe comic of The Black Freighter acting as a stand-in for EC Comics horror line. Even the comics very core as a deconstruction of Superhero literature predates Watchmen’s creation. The likes of Larry Niven’s Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex, Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s Superduperman!, and Roger Mayer’s Super-Folks, are all sighted as highly influential works in the industry. The influence of Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex showing itself in the relationship of Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre II for example. The further you dig into comic history, and the more ingrained you are within it, the more you get from Watchmen.

With Neon Genesis Evangelion, we see a slightly different, but equally valid problem. When it comes to Mecha Anime, that is the focus. The Giant Robot battles. The pilots are children or early teen. One or two of them have family who worked on the project that created the robots. There is massive destruction to cities, and the heroes are praised regardless, because they defeated the big bad that episode. That happens when we take this apart and play it as real? We get broken people. Children told that the world rest on their shoulders, that if they don’t do their job, then everyone they know or love will die. Children struggling with depression, anxiety, and inferiority complexes. Haunted by the deaths caused just to write wrongs. A father who is so focused on his work, that the very child he calls upon to save the world, he has driven away and alienated to the point of cruelty. A world population suffering due to the destruction even the battles cause. Adding to that, Evangelion takes apart even anime wide tropes of the ‘submissive but attractive girl’, and the ‘hot headed and tempremental bomb shell’ with Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu respectively. If someone approaches Evangelion, without an understanding of Mecha anime, or even anime tropes, then how are they expected to make sense of it, on top of Evangelion’s already confusing nature?

When approaching a deconstruction, with no understanding of the base. Part of the meaning is loss. The comments the creator is making on the subject, fall on ignorant or deaf ears. While that is never meant as an insult on the audience, it’s worth wondering why we recommend such material before a proper introduction? A new reader approaching the material, can certainly enjoy it, and in many cases, it leads to them discovering the very source material they need. But why is it the first point of call?