June 25, 2007

Shingu and Evangelion

When I wrote my review of Neon Genesis Evangelion my reaction to the series was that the reason it was a failure (and I do consider it to be one) was creative overstretch. The director had an ambitious story he wanted to tell, but he wasn't up to the job of telling it. He hadn't really done enough journeyman work to prepare himself for a story that complex:

Prior to Evangelion he directed six OVA episodes of "Gunbuster", and 39 TV episodes of "Nadia: Secret of Blue Water". I don't think that was enough experience to equip him to tell a story as ambitious as this one. That is why the series is so controversial: some people react positively to the ambitious story itself, while others react negatively to craft failure in the storytelling.

NGE is iconic, and I doubt any series has made more money for Gainax. Certainly nothing else they've ever produced has been merchandised so heavily. So from Gainax's point of view it wasn't a failure, and Anno Hideaki ended up as a senior manager at the company. But at the time, and even today, I've wondered what NGE would have been like if Anno had been another five or ten years older, and more seasoned, before he took that series on.

I started thinking about that because Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars is the exact opposite: it is a bravura performance by a seasoned director who is clearly at the top of his game. The back-story is deep and intricate and the series construction is extraordinarily good.

Credit for the quality of the story-telling must go to Sato Tatsuo, who is credited as "Series Director", "Series Composition", and "Script". The story structure feels like a work of engineering -- and at least from me that's a compliment. It seems obvious to me that he spent the time he needed to determine what was needed out of nearly episode to advance the overall story he was telling.

Yet even with the intricacy of the story, he never lost sight of what really makes a series work: characterization. It isn't just his story which is well considered, it's his characters as well. He knows them like friends, and he clearly loves them, with all their foibles and human frailties. And he manages the astounding feat of placing his characters in his story without characterization breaks. The story unfolds as it does because his characters stay true to themselves, not because he's got them on rails.

Sato went on to direct Stellvia, which is making it very difficult for me to resist despite the mechas and the angst.

Damn it, there are few things I'm less interested in watching than a teenage girl who cries all the time. Blast it. (If I want to watch someone who's constantly at the edge of tears, I'll rewatch the execrable Oh! My Goddess! OVA.)

Just in passing, Don has started watching Shingu.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in at 05:05 PM | Comments (15) | Add Comment
Post contains 494 words, total size 4 kb.

1 I wonder if anyone's keeping track of the number of people who've picked up Shingu since you published your review.  There's currently a copy sitting next to my DVD player, and I'm on disk 3.

One thing that both Shingu and NGE have in common is that they both seem to be series done by and for otaku.  I don't know enough about Sato's works to say for sure he's a fan turned creator, though I know the Shingu box credits him with Nadesico, which probably is all I need to know.  It's something else that Shingu did well, and yet not in such a fashion as to detract from the overall characters or story, something that is very hard to do.

Posted by: Civilis at June 25, 2007 06:35 PM (3bcK5)

2 Robert probably has noticed an uptick in sales, but I haven't asked him and won't. I do confess to being curious but I doubt it's more than ten or so. I'm really not that influential.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 25, 2007 07:04 PM (+rSRq)

3 So, the guy who directed Stellvia is responsible for this show you've been raving about?

Dammit. And my budget is shot to hell for the next two months. Figures.

(Note: Steven, you probably don't really want to watch Stellvia. I like it a lot, but crybaby Shipon and the general angst levels will drive you batty. I'm sure of it. I'm one of those weirdos who can deal with angst levels most people consider toxic...)

Posted by: GreyDuck at June 25, 2007 08:39 PM (2Yvi7)

4 You and Author both mention a character named "Shipon" but the credits for the series don't list a character by that name. Is that a nickname for Katase Shima, the series protagonist?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 25, 2007 09:06 PM (+rSRq)


That's correct, Shipon is a nickname hung on Shima by one of her classmates early in the series.

Martian Successor Nadesico is in my top ten, Shingu is in my top ten, but I found Stellvia to be extremely disappointing.  It's not awful...it's very pretty and a lot of the supporting cast is likable, but the protagonist made me nuts, and I think my tolerance for that sort of character is much higher than yours.  Also, there's a huge "You have got to be kidding me" moment in the middle of the series that would probably have you flinging the DVD into the street.

Posted by: pflorian at June 25, 2007 09:38 PM (xGSSk)

6 If it were $45, like Shingu is, I'd probably risk it. But since it's $75, I think I'll skip it.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 25, 2007 10:28 PM (+rSRq)

7 You think Eva was done for otaku? It's definitely Gainax's most watched-by-mainstream production. And it's practically free from otaku stuff like direct references to other shows. "by" I'll grant, but we're talking about Gainax - everything they do is done by otaku. ;p

I've had Stellvia cooling on the shelf for a while. Looks like it could be good, but haven't had the impetus to fire it up...

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at June 25, 2007 10:34 PM (dlP4b)

8 Off-topic, but the patch for the database problem has been installed.  If anyone sees that error again, please let me know.  I'm going to modify the system to email me on any fatal error, but until then, the mee.nu blog or help@mee.nu are the best way to get my attention.  I also visit Chizumatic a couple of times a day.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at June 25, 2007 11:51 PM (PiXy!)

9 Looking back on it, it's partially that Eva has spawned so many references in other anime that it seems like it was done for fans.  I'll admit, actually looking at the series it's probably one of the least fan-oriented of Gainax's productions, but the fan-centric humor is there, especially early on in the series.

Neither Eva nor Shingu go overboard on inserting gratuitous references to other series, but the general plotting of the series and the story elements make it obvious that there is a fan somewhere behind the series.  In my opinion, Shingu does it better, and without any of Eva's most glaring failings.  So far it's not a great series, but a damned good one, and one I'm glad I was recommended.  (But I still have two discs to go....)

Posted by: Civilis at June 26, 2007 03:05 AM (E9Wiz)

10 I've been wanting to read your comments on Stellvia for quite a while.  Now I'm letting myself hope to read them.

BTW, I always cite you in the "How'd you hear about us" box when I order from Robert's.

Posted by: Acksiom at June 26, 2007 03:46 AM (kRpz5)

11 Okay, this time the database errors are fixed.  Definitely.

I've noticed a strong correlation between spam floods at mu.nu and database glitches at mee.nu, though I don't know exactly why this should be so.  The servers are separate but share a private VLAN, and I can't see how the VLAN could cause this sort of problem...

Posted by: Pixy Misa at June 26, 2007 04:41 AM (PiXy!)


Actually, I've noticed a great many movies doing the same thing (overstretch) in the last few years. It may have something to do with Lord of the Rings' succcess, but people have been trying to make extremely long, poorly-editing movies which don't really tell good stories. Most aren't completely bad, but several times I walked out of the theater thinking that even an amatuer ateur should have cut the film down by 30% or just plain told only half the story. X-Men 3, for example, really comprised two totally seperate movies, and the two stories didn't really intersect much. Wouldn't have been better not to screw up the series and just make two good movies instead of one mediocre one?

Posted by: Patrick at June 26, 2007 04:46 AM (3JTjL)


Patrick, it's a business. The goal is to make money. Quality of product as an end in itself is not a goal; quality is only a means to making money, and if quality doesn't contribute to making money then they dispense with it.

XMen3 was successful as far as the studio was concerned, in the only way that matters to the studio: it turned a profit.

Having said that, let's please stop with the topic-drift.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 26, 2007 12:55 PM (+rSRq)

14 On the other hand, people have been disappointed with Chiaki J. Konaka's adaptation of Air Gear, with one reviewer calling it a sign of his continued downfall after Serial Experiments Lain.

Can anyone comment on how the 2006 version of Kanon  compares to Stellvia in terms of angst?

Posted by: Jim Burdo at June 27, 2007 07:49 PM (qk+He)

15 Thread closed due to topic drift.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 27, 2007 09:39 PM (+rSRq)

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