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You Can (Not) Self-Insert

May 26, 2010

When I first heard about Mari, the new chick in the second Evangelion movie, I didn’t like her.

All of the descriptions I read made her come across as the antithesis of everything we knew about Evangelion. She was happy, but as far as we knew that happiness wasn’t a front. She was competent, but she wasn’t overcompensating. She was attractive, but she didn’t have personal issues that made her focus on her outward appearance. She liked Shinji, but it had nothing to do with biological encoding or seeing herself in him.

Everything about her made her sound like the quintessential fanfiction Mary Sue character. She was the sort of character that the writer creates in order to fulfill their fanboy/girl fantasies within the world of their favorite whatever series. She comes off as some sort of attempt by a fan to insert someone “well-adjusted” into the storyline and have them solve everyone’s problems, which is a well-honed tradition of the self-insert character.

Thing is, she merely tries to right all of the wrong within the Evangelion universe. While she has an impressive introduction that establishes her as someone different from the rest of the cast (She respects her Eva, wishes it well, and thanks it for its help, for one thing), her apparently attempt to brighten things up ultimately fails.

I’m thinking that all of this is thoroughly deliberate.

Her image and personality are only the beginning of her self-insertion. Not only is she constructed as the “perfect” character (smart, beautiful, powerful, knowledgeable of the other characters, etc.), she literally drops into the lives of the characters. The way most Mary Sue fanfiction stories are written, the character in question just pops out of nowhere to wreck their correctional havoc. It’s like someone figuratively dropped them out of the sky. The second movie does so literally by having her parachute in to “infiltrate” NERV and does so by falling into Shinji’s lap.  They’ve taken the act of a fanfiction writer forcing a character into the story and turned that into a literal event. 

The next time we see Mari, she’s trying to save the day. She arrives at the most opportune time, when Shinji is cowering, Asuka is near-death, and Rei is wounded, and essentially shows everyone how it’s done. Not only does she start to kick ass, she does so in ways that no one else knew possible. She taps into Unit 02’s abilities that surprise even Misato and company, taking the Eva to a level before thought to be impossible for a human pilot. And she does all of this with ease. Willfully controlling a berserking Unit like it’s childs play is exactly the sort of wish-fulfilling act that a fanfiction writer would do if they were indulging in the art of self-insertship.

The catch is that all of this is a set-up. Mari, like everyone else in the new Evangelion movies, is being placed in very precise positions in order to have them fail in an utterly glorious and futile manner.

While it initially seems that Mari is going to save the day and defeat the Angel at the end of the movie, her final combined assault with Rei proves to be a complete failure. Despite using every trick imaginable– despite literally fighting tooth and nail– Mari and her Mary Sue ways loses. All of her tricks prove to be just as impotent as Shinji’s cowering.

It all comes back to the movie’s subtitle: You Can (Not) Advance. The characters in the movies are making a concentrated effort to improve themselves. Through a combination of downtoning their faults (while still exhibiting them) and showing some progress in resolving those faults, the characters in the Evangelion movies are decidedly more competent and mature than their TV counterparts. Asuka’s insolence is downplayed and she comes to a degree of understanding with Misato and Shinji with a bit more ease. Rei shows more human-like behavior and takes a slightly more active role in her relationships with Shinji and Gendo. Even Shinji has improved, with his impotent cowering coming off more like rage and frustration with the world than sheer fear and simple daddy issues.

Despite all of these personal improvements, and despite the manifestation of Mari Sue, everyone ultimately fails. Asuka is overwhelmed by an Angel and nearly dies. Mari is throttled and Rei is devoured. And while Shinji pulls off a remarkable feat and channels his frustrations with the world in order to ascend to godhood and save Rei from the belly of an Angel, he gets his ass handed to him and his soul sent back to reality with one swipe of the Spear of Longinus.

Everyone’s failure comes from an outside source far beyond their control, unlike the TV series where failure ultimate came from their own faults.

The TV series explored the way people can be their own worst enemies, while the movies seem to be hitting on the idea that you can have everything in the world and still be subjected to terrible things. You can compare it to Job’s trials or the “dismal tide” of No Country for Old Men or Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

This is one of the reasons why I think the Evangelion are working so awesomely. They’re playing the same notes as the TV series and hitting many of the same narrative points, but the heart of the story is completely different. I wish more adaptations (book to movie, manga to TV series, whatever) were like this: Getting at the same ideas while hitting on completely different stuff at the same time.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Taka permalink
    May 27, 2010 2:12 AM

    Interesting post analyzing Mari. I think that the movie format and also the new emphasis on growth allows the story to branch out away from it’s underlying meanings somewhat. Mari could have totally just been another way for Anno to hammer his message over his audiences head like he might have done in EoE but allowing her to fail makes her an actual character and also lets her fit in with the new theme of failure. To me it looks like a much more sophisticated method of handling the story.

    I do wonder about the effectiveness of Asuka instead of Toji in Unit 03 and whether the creators were counting on some affection already generated to the character in order for it to have more impact. Part of me wants to applaud the brilliant decision and look forward to continuing the story having committed to that plot point. The other half of me questions whether to a first time viewer having Asuka has quite the same impact as it would if Toji were there instead. Let’s face it Asuka was onscreen for less than an hour and Toji is already an established minor character and mostly an innocent in the goings on among NERV HQ and the EVAs pilots.

  2. May 27, 2010 7:02 AM

    I think there is some truth in how Mari was introduced in the series but seeing her “in action” so to speak I think her role in terms of the emotional development of people like Shinji and Asuka is only going to be seen when Kaworu is thrown into the mix. The tweaks that have been made to the core three pilots’ personalities and motivations have opened up a gap for Mari to, as you say, “drop into”.

    There is a lot of what you say in terms of “self insertion”, but Mari is only gratuitous in so far that she acts exactly how we would want an Evangelion pilot to. Like you intimate, she enjoys what she does and is ruthlessly competent at it.

    I’m intrigued to see how she plays out in the final film(s) and whether she remains a spectre to the other characters or she becomes more involved ala Girlfriend of Steel / Iron Maiden.

  3. May 27, 2010 11:04 AM

    If I may extrapolate – the movie is a grown up version of the TV series and it sees the world in a more adjusted light. You can be strong or weak, flawless or full of flaws, but sometimes the circumstance is so much greater and powerful than you that you cannot advance beyond it. You’re right about it being similar to the situation of Job.

    Good analysis.

  4. June 3, 2010 2:16 PM

    As “a guy that runs an Eva fansite”, I want to point out that our official review of the first Rebuild movie mentioned Mari and….we’ve openly explained that *she’s a PARODY of when Mary Sue characters get inserted into a series*

    She’s literally like someone from another series walked in, from a series where everyone is perfect, the creators have said as much.

    Its a PARODY. Problem is that many of the fanboys *seriously thought she should be taken at face value*

    • Eks permalink
      June 4, 2010 1:16 AM

      When I first heard of people crying Mary Sue at the new character in Eva 2.0, I disregarded it. People enjoy overusing certain terms, and “Mary Sue” gets liberally applied to random characters for no apparent reason.

      When I watched the movie, my reaction to Mari was “I am being trolled. Why must you always do this to me.”

      The fact that the creators meant for it to be a parody isn’t an excuse at all. I am sick and tired of Gainax ruining amazing shows with their misplaced trolls, parodies and homages.

      Parodies and references are fine in shows where they actually fit. Doing this in a light hearted show would be HILARIOUS. Doing it in a movie like Evangelion is just a bad, bad joke. How can you blame people for taking Mari at face value when there’s no indication whatsoever that it’s meant to be a joke? Apart for all of her dialog and actions being taken directly from a random self-insert fanfiction, that is.
      She’s not a gag character in the story (like PenPen), her actions actually influence directly the story, so you have to take her actions seriously. But how can you take her seriously when her entire character is just a really bad joke? It just doesn’t mix well at all.

      The worst part is, it’s still a great movie. You can’t say it was bad because of it. No, it’s still pretty good. Better than that; it’s still great. But it’s like eating delicious food and getting a weird aftertaste in your mouth. The food was amazing, but did they really have to add that ingredient?

  5. Sora no Kaze permalink
    June 11, 2010 8:59 PM

    That… was a very interesting input about her. I should have figured it out sooner, but with lack of time and just watching the movie to enjoy it, yes she’s absolutely a Mary Sue. Well you could say Cannon Sue, as many people call cannon characters who act like Mary Sues, it fits very well with the story. I also did not take notice of Mari as much as what’s been said and noted. I’ve seen in other that switching out Toji with Asuka was a way to take away from the minor weaker subplot. I thought, personally that it was more of a way to show that no matter who it was, the same things would have happen. With regards with You Can (Not) Advance title, even if it was someone who loved Shinji, or at least closer to him (I can assume that it was possibly much closer then with Toji? or am I wrong, it’s been a while), (depicted that they got closer together after the events), that this wouldn’t cause a change in events and save EVA-03 and the pilot, though it was probably mostly to show old fans that. The dummy system event would still have taken place. It’s almost showing us that even if event’s were changed, the outcome would be the same, although the events may occur earlier or later then expected. Even if certain events caused positive changes, the results were the same. Funny enough, she incidentally fills in Asuka place after Asuka is placed under surveillance.

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