Archive for January, 2012

The many ways in which Gravity’s Rainbow directly inspired Neon Genesis Evangelion

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

I recently read the well-known post-modernist novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon, and I noticed a number of surprising similarities between it and the well-known Japanese anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995). In fact, there are so many similarities between the two, both thematically, stylistically, and plot-wise, that I am forced to conclude that Hideaki Anno, the writer and director of Evangelion, must have read Gravity’s Rainbow and drew upon it specifically for inspiration in creating his series. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any discussion of the similarities between these two works, hence the need for this post.

I’ll assume a familiarity with Evangelion for the remainder of this post (which allows me to focus on summarizing and explaining Gravity’s Rainbow). There are some spoilers for Gravity’s Rainbow below if you haven’t read it yet, but the novel is so meandering and expansive that it’s not possible to ruin it.

I’ll examine the thematic similarities first. Gravity’s Rainbow runs from the beginning of World War II, through V-E Day, and through the occupation of Germany by the Allied forces. The first part of the novel, which takes place in England during the German bombing and rocket campaign, takes place under a heavy siege mentality. V-2 rockets are falling often, at random, and killing lots of civilians. There are many scenes that take place deep within bunkers, or have military personnel travelling to the scene of the latest rocket strike to investigate the effects. This whole section of the novel feels very similar to the overall mood in Tokyo-3 as Japan is besieged by one attacking Angel after another, right down to the missions being ordered from within the safety of a bunker.

Gravity’s Rainbow is suffused throughout with the paranormal, the occult, the bizarre, and many different references to psychology (especially that of Sigmund Freud). Pynchon is every bit as obsessed with psychology as Hideaki Anno, to the point where if you couldn’t handle the original last two episodes of Evangelion, you probably won’t enjoy the similar parts of Gravity’s Rainbow either, as there is an equal amount of psycho-analytical musing in it. Both works examine military hierarchies and point out some of the inherent absurdities in them. Gravity’s Rainbow especially focuses on jargon-heavy, acronym-laced, secret military, espionage, and industrial research organizations, and the interplay and conflict between them — exactly like Evangelion.

Gravity’s Rainbow is also laced throughout with sexuality and sexual deviance, which is another theme that Evangelion explores quite thoroughly. A pervading sense of paranoia is present throughout the text. It has a large amount of technological detail in it, verging towards technobabble on many occasions, same as Evangelion. It even has one particularly memorable scene in which a boy is plugged into a harness made out of Imipolex G, an erectile plastic polymer (you can’t make this stuff up) that interfaces directly with the boy’s neural network. This harness is then put inside a V-2 rocket and launched with the boy as the unwitting cargo (not as pilot). Shades of Shinji being plugged into an Evangelion and then losing control of it, anyone?

But the most convincing case of Evangelion’s inspiration from Gravity’s Rainbow can be made by looking directly at some examples from the text of the novel. I’ll present three passages that were so startlingly similar to Evangelion that I set the book aside in amazement long enough to take notes, wondering how nobody had ever caught this before (or, at least, if they did, why they didn’t post their findings online). All page numbers I’ll be using are from the original 760-page edition of Gravity’s Rainbow.

First, we’ll start with a passage from page 151, in which a Royal Air Force bomber squadron is attacking the German town of Lübeck.

It’s a dangerous game Cherrycoke’s playing here. Often he thinks the sheer
volume of information pouring in through his fingers will saturate, burn him out
. . . she seems determined to overwhelm him with her history and its pain, and
the edge of it, always fresh from the stone, cutting at his hopes, at all their hopes.
He does respect her: he knows that very little of this is female theatricals, really.
She has turned her face, more than once, to the Outer Radiance and simply seen
nothing there. And so each time has taken a little more of the Zero into herself.
It comes down to courage, at worst an amount of self-deluding that’s vanishingly
small: he has to admire it, even if he can’t accept her glassy wastes, her appeals
to a day not of wrath but of final indifference. . . . Any more than she can accept
the truth he knows about himself. He does receive emanations, impressions . . .
the cry inside the stone . . . excremental kisses stitched unseen across the yoke of
an old shirt. . . a betrayal, an informer whose guilt will sicken one day to throat
cancer, chiming like daylight through the fourchettes and quirks of a tattered
Italian glove . . . Basher St. Blaise’s angel, miles beyond designating, rising over
Lübeck that Palm Sunday with the poison-green domes underneath its feet, an
obsessive crossflow of red tiles rushing up and down a thousand peaked roofs
as the bombers banked and dived, the Baltic already lost in a pall of incendiary
smoke behind, here was the Angel: ice crystals swept hissing away from the back
edges of wings perilously deep, opening as they were moved into new white
abyss. . . . For half a minute radio silence broke apart. The traffic being:

St. Biaise: Freakshow Two, did you see that, over.

Wingman: This is Freakshow Two—affirmative.

St. Biaise: Good.

No one else on the mission seemed to’ve had radio communication. After
the raid, St. Biaise checked over the equipment of those who got back to base
and found nothing wrong: all the crystals on frequency, the power supplies
rippleless as could be expected—but others remembered how, for the few
moments the visitation lasted, even static vanished from the earphones. Some
may have heard a high singing, like wind among masts, shrouds, bedspring or
dish antennas of winter fleets down in the dockyards . . . but only Basher and
his wingman saw it, droning across in front of the fiery leagues of face, the eyes,
which went towering for miles, shifting to follow their flight, the irises red as
embers fairing through yellow to white, as they jettisoned all their bombs in no
particular pattern, the fussy Norden device, sweat drops in the air all around its
rolling eyepiece, bewildered at their unannounced need to climb, to give up a
strike at earth for a strike at heaven . . . .

Group Captain St. Biaise did not include an account of this angel in his official
debriefing, the W.A.A.E officer who interrogated him being known around the
base as the worst sort of literal-minded dragon (she had reported Blowitt to
psychiatric for his rainbowed Valkyrie over Peenemünde, and Creepham for
the bright blue gremlins scattering like spiders off of his Typhoon’s wings
and falling gently to the woods of The Hague in little parachutes of the same
color). But damn it, this was not a cloud. Unofficially, in the fortnight between
the fire-raising at Lübeck and Hitler‘s order for “terror attacks of a retaliatory
nature”—meaning the V-weapons—word of the Angel got around. Although
the Group Captain seemed reluctant, Ronald Cher-rycoke was allowed to probe
certain objects along on the flight. Thus the Angel was revealed.

The similarities to Evangelion here are obvious. The bomber squadron runs into an apparition in the sky, while all radio contact goes dead. This apparition is even known as the Lübeck Angel.

Next, we have a small fanciful vignette from page 674:

Onward to rescue the Radiant Hour, which has been abstracted from the day’s
24 by colleagues of the Father, for sinister reasons of their own. Travel here gets
complicated—a system of buildings that move, by right angles, along the grooves
of the Raketen-Stadt’s street-grid. You can also raise or lower the building itself,
a dozen floors per second, to desired heights or levels underground, like a
submarine skipper with his periscope—although certain paths aren’t available to
you. They are available to others, but not to you. Chess. Your objective is not the
King—there is no King—but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour.

Notice that the city of Raketen-Stadt as being described here is pretty much identical to Tokyo-3, in which the skyscrapers are above-ground during the day, but are lowered underground into the Geo-Dome at night or when the city is under attack from Angels.

And finally, from page 753 near the very end of the novel:

The countdown as we know it, 10-9-8-u.s.w., was invented by Fritz Lang
in 1929 for the Ufa film Die Frau im Mond. He put it into the launch scene to
heighten the suspense. “It is another of my damned ‘touches,’ “ Fritz Lang said.

“At the Creation,” explains Kabbalist spokesman Steve Edelman, “God
sent out a pulse of energy into the void. It presently branched and sorted into
ten distinct spheres or aspects, corresponding to the numbers 1-10. These are
known as the Sephiroth. To return to God, the soul must negotiate each of the
Sephiroth, from ten back to one. Armed with magic and faith, Kabbalists have
set out to conquer the Sephiroth. Many Kabbalist secrets have to do with making
the trip successfully.

“Now the Sephiroth fall into a pattern, which is called the Tree of Life. It
is also the body of God. Drawn among the ten spheres are 22 paths. Each path
corresponds to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and also to one of the cards called
‘Major Arcana’ in the Tarot. So although the Rocket countdown appears to be
serial, it actually conceals the Tree of Life, which must be apprehended all at
once, together, in parallel.

“Some Sephiroth are active or masculine, others passive or feminine. But the
Tree itself is a unity, rooted exactly at the Bodenplatte. It is the axis of a particular
Earth, a new dispensation, brought into being by the Great Firing.”

“But but with a new axis, a newly spinning Earth,” it occurs to the visitor,
“what happens to astrology?”

“The signs change, idiot,” snaps Edelman, reaching for his family-size jar of
Thorazine. He has become such a habitual user of this tran-quilizing drug that
his complexion has deepened to an alarming slate-purple. It makes him an oddity
on the street here, where everybody else walks around suntanned, and red-eyed
from one irritant or another. Edelman’s children, mischievous little devils, have
lately taken to slipping wafer capacitors from junked transistor radios into Pop’s
Thorazine jar. To his inattentive eye there was hardly any difference: so, for a
while, Edelman thought he must be developing a tolerance, and that the Abyss
had crept intolerably close, only an accident away—a siren in the street, a jet
plane rumbling in a holding pattern— but luckily his wife discovered the prank
in time, and now, before he swallows, he is careful to scrutinize each Thorazine
for leads, mu’s, numbering.

“Here—” hefting a fat Xeroxed sheaf, “the Ephemeris. Based on the new
rotation.”

“You mean someone’s actually found the Bodenplatte? The Pole?”

“The delta-t itself. It wasn’t made public, naturally. The ‘Kaisers-bart
Expedition’ found it.”

A pseudonym, evidently. Everyone knows the Kaiser has no beard.

This illustrates many thematic similarities with Evangelion, including references to the Kabbala, the Tree of Life, mythological angels, the occult, cataclysmic events, and even a search for The Pole (ahem, Second Impact). And note that it takes place in the context of a long-winded, jargon-heavy discussion between military figures. If you animated this passage it would fit right into an episode of Evangelion.

I believe that the similarities between Gravity’s Rainbow and Evangelion (which came out two decades later) have been established beyond a reasonable doubt. I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word “steal”, but in my mind, Evangelion directly owes a lot of its feel and setting to Pynchon’s work. As a consequence of this, if you’re an Evangelion fan, you owe it to yourself to read Gravity’s Rainbow. Not only is it a good novel in its own right, but by reading and understanding some of the inspiration behind Evangelion, you’ll get a better understanding of Evangelion itself.