Panel Video: Weaving a Story: Narrative Traps, Collapse, and Substitution in Anime at Anime Boston 2017

A panel I gave at Anime Boston 2017, talking about narrative structure in anime.
Early access to all videos for Patreon subscribers:
The first three chapters of Animated Discussions cover the same topics in greater depth. Buy it any of the sites listed at that link!

Evangelion Realtime Viewing Project: Planning and Guesswork

So, a couple of weeks ago I floated on Tumblr the idea of watching Evangelion in realtime (that is, watching each episode as close as possible to my best guess of when in 2015 it occurs) and recording my reactions. It got a pretty positive response, so I think I’ll go for it.
This post, which I state freely in advance will be completely ridiculous and mostly bullshit, is my attempt to determine when to actually start the project based on taking the few dates given in a work that was obviously actively avoiding giving dates precisely because it doesn’t have a coherent timeline, and constructing a timeline for when the episodes occur.
So, here are the five dates/timespans I am completely arbitrarily deciding to use as the skeleton around which to build this project:

  1. The first episode has a subtitle stating that it takes place in 2015.
  2. The final episode has a subtitle stating that it depicts Third Impact and takes place in 2016.
  3. In End of Evangelion, Maya’s computer readout suggests that Asuka’s fight with the Production Series Evas takes place in 2015; Third Impact occurs later that night.
  4. Episode 9 has a calendar indicating that the defeat of Israfel takes place on Friday the 11th, month unstated, one week after the first fight with it.
  5. In Episode 20, Shinji is stated to have been dissolved in Eva-01 for 30 days.

(2) and (3) can only be reconciled if Asuka’s fight, and hence most of the first half of End of Evangelion, takes place on December 31, 2015, with Third Impact occurring in the wee hours of January 1, 2016.
There are only two months with a Friday the 11th in 2015, September and December. However, if Episode 9 took place in December, that would push Episode 20 well into 2016, after the date we’ve already established for Third Impact; therefore, Episode 9 ends on Friday, September 11, 2015, and thus the first fight with Israfel was on September 4.
So that gives us three firmly established dates to work from; now things get more speculative.
In Episode 9, Asuka is clearly still adjusting to life in Japan, and hence cannot have been there very long. Hence, Asuka moving in with Misato and Shinji (which occurs immediately after the first fight with Israfel) is likely no more than a week or two after Episode 8, when Asuka arrived in Japan, putting episode 8 at somewhere around August 21 – September 2 (since Asuka has attended school at least once prior to moving in with Misato and Shinji).
In Episode 8, Asuka was nearing the end of her sea journey (along with Kaji, Eva-02, and the Adam embryo) to Japan, which is stated in the preview at the end of Episode 7 to have set out (during or prior to the episode) from Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Wilhelmshaven is a military base, so I couldn’t get an exact figure, but according to this site a sea journey from the nearby civilian port of Bremen to Tokyo would take about 34 days. We don’t see any indication that the flotilla accompanying her is particularly faster, or even significantly different from, naval ships of the real-life late 20th and early 21st century, so we must assume Asuka was in transit for about a month.
Now, she would not have been sent to Japan with Germany’s sole Eva unit unless the UN and German government knew that the Evas were attacking Japan. The UN military seems to be far less well-informed on these things than Seele and NERV in the first episode, so we have to assume that they did not know in advance that the Angels would primarily target NERV HQ. (In particular, the Vatican Treaty, which states that no country can have more than 3 active Eva units, is spectacularly wrongheaded if everyone knows that the Angels will focus their attacks on one country.) Hence, we should assume that Asuka set out after Sachiel’s attack in the first episode, meaning that attack can have occurred no later than the last week of July. (This is corroborated by a sign visible on a construction site in Episode 2, which states that construction ends in August 2015.)
Let’s look at the first episode. Rei’s injuries in that episode are later revealed to have been caused by Unit-00 going berserk in an activation experiment; Episode 5 is stated to take place 22 days after that experiment. Hence, the first five episodes cover a time span of at most three weeks. However, Ritsuko also states that the activation experiment took place prior to Misato’s arrival at NERV, and Misato has to have been at NERV at least a day prior to the first episode (to give time for her “fanservice” letter, which she must have sent after starting work at NERV, to reach Shinji). Episode 5 is therefore at most 20 days after Episode 1–and in Episode 2, the next day, Gendo estimates Rei will take another 20 days to recover. Hence, we can conclude that Misato probably did arrive at NERV the day before Shinji  (which explains why she’s clearly still unpacking in Episode 2, though as a fellow slob I will note that I have been known to live out of boxes for months, even years, because unpacking takes time and effort), and Rei was injured the day before that.
So far, the first eight episodes seem to be able to fit into roughly a month, but there is a wrinkle: Episode 6 occurs on a full moon, the day after Episode 5. The last full moon that could occur before Asuka’s arrival is August 29; however, if Episode 5 were August 28, that would place Episode 1 no earlier than August 8, 26 days prior to the last day Asuka could arrive in Japan. Even if she set out the instant Sachiel attacked Japan, that’s still shaving it really close.
The last full moon before that is July 31. That would place Episode 5 on July 30, and Rei’s injury on July 8. Misato arrives at NERV HQ July 9, and Shinji July 10, making that the date of the first episode. So:

  • July 10, 2015: Episode 1. Sachiel attacks.
  • July 11, 2015: Episode 2. The morning after Sachiel’s attack, Shinji wakes in hospital.
  • July 13 – 21, 2015: Episode 3. Shinji starts school the Monday after Sachiel’s attack. Shamshiel’s attack at the end of the episode is stated by Hyuga to be three weeks after Sachiel’s attack, but this is contradicted by the 20-day time span for the first five episodes and by Toji being out for “two weeks” due to his sister’s injury in the Sachiel fight. Either Sachiel was tearing up the countryside for a week prior to the first episode, or Hyuga’s just wrong. If Toji’s last day in school were Friday July 9, and his first day back were Tuesday July 21, that makes a statement that he’s been out for two weeks exaggerated, but not impossible, since he missed an entire week, plus two days prior (Japanese schools have class on Saturdays) and one after.
  • July 27 – 29: Episode 4. Shinji spends two days running away, then the train station scene happens on the third. Misato states before he runs away that he has missed five days of school since fighting Shamshiel; assuming that she’s including “today” when she says it, those would be the 22nd through 25th, and the 27th.
  • July 30: Episode 5. Rei is released from the hospital, exactly 22 days after being injured and approximately 20 after Episode 2.
  • July 31: Episode 6. The final fight with Ramiel occurs on a full moon.
  • Somewhere in August: Episode 7. The cleanup of Ramiel’s corpse and repairs to Unit-00 are still occurring, so probably closer to the beginning than the end. Asuka has already left Germany for Japan.
  • Somewhere in August 21 – September 2: Episode 8. Asuka arrives, about a month after leaving Germany.
  • September 4 – September 11: Episode 9. The first fight with Israfel is September 4, and the second on September 11.

I think that’s enough to get started with.
Sites I found useful (though not authoritative) in working this out:

Anime Boston Schedule!

I’m going to be at Anime Boston this weekend, April 3-5. I have about seven hours of panels! So if you’re there and want to see me talk about anime, here’s when I’ll be doing it:

  • Friday:
    • 10:30 a.m. – 12 noon, Panel 208: Latin Latin Madoka More Latin IV: The Voyage Homura: Probably the last time I do my annual AB Madoka panel. Topics this time around include kamishibai, the history of magical girls and witches, manga spinoffs and why they tend to suck, and Homura as Faust, Milton!Lucifer, and the Nutcracker.
    • 12:30 – 1:30 p.m., The Fens: Postmodernism and Anime: A brief introduction to postmodern techniques anime tends to use, and then discussion of some anime particularly notable for their use of it.
  • Saturday:
    • 10:00 – 11:00 a.m., Panel 206: Tengen Toppa Evangelion: Aim for the Top!: Traces the use of repeated motifs and themes across four decades of Gainax mecha anime, from Gunbuster to Evangelion to Gurren Lagann to Rebuild. (Not on the schedule at the moment due to an error, but AB panel department assures me it’ll be added before the con.)
    • 9:00 – 10:00 p.m., Public Garden: Reading Too Much Into The Slayers: If you’ve been following my posts on the show…. yeah, that.
  • Sunday:
    • 1:00 – 2:30 p.m., Panel 208: Big Eyes, Small Mouth: The Anime RPG: Take 2! The audience participation segment at AUSA was a flop, so I took it out in favor of more storytime and just walking through making a character.

Favorite vs. Best

Since there’s no new episode of Friendship Is Magic today, have a short post instead.

Do you distinguish between your favorite examples of a genre or form and the best examples? I was musing the other day about the fact that my five favorite anime and the five anime I consider the best of what I’ve seen are the same five anime, but if I were to create actual top five lists, they’d be different.

In fact, here are those lists, plus an explanation of why the anime is where it is.


  •  Princess Tutu: The most badass anime about a ballet-dancing duck ever. Also, super-secret ultra-hidden direct Neverending Story reference.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: It makes me laugh, it makes me punch the air and cheer, and certain episodes make me cry no matter how many times I watch them. Also it just looks great.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Total brainsink. I can just watch and think about it for hours. Also, it’s absolutely visually stunning.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Compelling, emotional, intriguing, great fight scenes, and an utterly kick-ass soundtrack.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Explosions, giant plot twists from nowhere, and an emotional continuity that more than makes up for the plot spending most of the middle part of the series meandering aimlessly, and then, just as it’s finding its feet again, collapses into total incoherence.


  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: The most semiotically dense thing I have ever watched, easily surpassing any other TV show or film.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Packs more thematic complexity, character growth, and intriguing ideas into 12 episodes than most series manage in 50.
  • Princess Tutu: Masterfully constructed as a pastiche of dozens of classical ballets and folktales, and yet despite the fact that in each episode the characters are playing out the roles of characters in a given source story, there is also a strong character arc for each of them across the series as a whole.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: The last two episodes are a staggering work of absolute genius and the best-executed narrative collapse in all of anime.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A masterclass in creating a sprawling, complex plot with a massive cast (by the Promised Day arc, there are fifteen separate groups of characters being independently followed by the narrative) and still making sure that everything is driven by the choices of the characters, and every character’s choices are consistent with their distinct and idiosyncratic personality.

How about you? Do you distinguish between “favorite” and “best,” and if so, what are some examples?