What Master Shake can teach us about graphic design

Me: OK, so I know it’s a lot later than what I promised, and I know it’s awfully dorky, but I do have some images, so can you post it anyway?
Editor (also me): That depends. Do the images reinforce the dorkiness?
Me: … Yes? But some of them have captions.
Editor: Not good enough.
Me: Funny captions?
Editor: *sigh* That’s debatable, but fine. I’ll post it.
Me: This counts as your disclaimer, folks.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - “Super Hero”

Remember that episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force where Master Shake tries to become a superhero? He steals some radioactive waste from the “storage facility” (a.k.a. the river), dunks some worms in it, tries to get the worms to bite him, fails, and dumps the waste on himself, thus supposedly giving him superpowers. Over rain. For some reason.

Of course, in the end it works about as well as it did in that one Family Guy episode, but that’s not the point.

Between dousing himself in radioactive waste and his eventual (literal) meltdown, Shake focuses on marketing his new superhero identity rather than doing any actual superheroing. Most of these efforts are naturally inept, such as his The Drizzle cell phone giveaway or his black-ink-on-black-paper stationery.

However, there is one moment in the episode (possible the only moment in the entire series, in fact) where Shake demonstrates actual competence. It’s when he calls the T-shirt printers to complain about the The Drizzle T-shirt they designed. The design shows lots of villains running amok, and Shake points out how it’s too busy and no one will understand it. His observation is borne out when Shake goes on an angry rampage through the city, which is caught on film by the local news, but the best they can make out of the design on the shirt Shake is wearing is “ants marching at a picnic.”

So, even Master Shake, someone who at best enjoys a fleeting and tenuous grip on reality, understands that making a graphic too complex can ruin it.

So why can’t a certain set of professional animators understand that?

I am talking, of course, about the logo redesigns in the forthcoming new Neon Genesis Evangelion movies.

[Editor’s note: Hey, it’s not my fault you ignored the disclaimer.]

SEELE Logo (original)

Let’s take the original logo used by SEELE. Now this is a logo befitting a shadowy, secretive organization that’s pulling the strings and orchestrating events for its own mysterious goals. The logo tells you nothing about who they are or what they’re doing, but it’s clear they’re powerful and probably evil. They’ve got the Illuminati outclassed: their logo’s got seven eyes, and their pyramid’s upside-down. What does that mean? They certainly aren’t going to tell you!

And as for the rainbow coloration, um, that’s a good question actually. Maybe it’s there to annoy Jerry Falwell or something.

We’re talking about an organization that’s so shadowy, their meetings look like this:

SEELE Meeting

SEELE 01: Good call on the monoliths, Jenkins. Think of all the money the animators will save with slow pans over a static image!
SEELE 06: Not to mention not needing to come up with character designs for all of us!
SEELE 07: Or names…
SEELE 03: But Chairman, what if the audience starts to lose interest during these scenes?
SEELE 11: We could use the money we saved from the animation budget to, I don’t know, interrogate a naked chick at our next meeting?
SEELE 01: Brilliant! Let’s pencil Ritsuko in for our meeting in Episode 23.

SEELE Logo (new)

Now take a look at this redesigned abomination. That is, if your eyes can even decide what part of it they’re supposed to focus on first. There is way too much going on here.

Sure, the classic bits are there, but they get crowded out by all unnecessary new pieces. I mean, what kind of secret organization puts their name right on the logo? That’s a rookie mistake. You might as well go ahead and put your street address and URL on there while you’re at it. (Sorry guys, seele.de is already taken.)

Bringing out a slogan in German isn’t helping the cause either, guys. Sure, if you want something that sounds evil, German has pretty much been the go-to language since the 1930s. But when you’re quoting Ode to Joy, the whole thing kind of loses its impact. (And if there’s one thing SEELE doesn’t want, it’s to lose its impact.)

And OK, the snake coiled around an apple makes sense if you understand just what SEELE’s trying to do, but is it really necessary? It’s not like there weren’t already plenty of references to that part of Genesis in the series already, what with the whole Adam and Eve thing being warped into an important part of the plot and all.

Although I suppose Evangelion has hardly been subtle about its use of Judeo-Christian imagery to begin with.


Misato: Um, yeah, wow. I’ve just got one question about this.
Kaji: Just one? I can think of a dozen.
Misato: Good point. But I mean, is this whole crucifixion thing actually symbolic, like the Sephirot in Gendo‘s office, or is it just there to look cool and meaningful like all those inexplicably cross-shaped explosions?
Kaji: Except for it being named Lilith, I’m guessing the latter.
Misato: Well, at least the imagery can’t get any more over-the-top than this.
Kaji: Are you kidding? Have you seen the movie?

NERV Logo (old)

But the unnecessary redesigns don’t end there, oh no. They even tamper with the classic, if not iconic, NERV logo. Being a publicly known paramilitary organization ostensibly working for the UN, NERV’s logo isn’t quite as sinister looking as SEELE’s.

Nevertheless, the logo still makes it clear that they’re hiding something, even though in the public eye they’re The Good Guys. Note especially how their name is partially obscured by the half fig leaf. A fig leaf’s at least a little more subtle than a snake-and-apple.

But don’t try telling me my criticism of the added SEELE slogan should also apply to the Browning quote that arcs along the bottom here, because it doesn’t. First, NERV’s slogan is at least scrutable. Besides, NERV is publicly recognized, remember? Of course they’re going to have a slogan that sounds reassuring, even though later on you learn just how ironic it is.

NERV Logo (new)

Besides, the old logo is far better than this new abomination they’re trying to foist on us. To quote Master Shake in a cameo on Sealab 2021, did an elephant paint this?

Who thought superimposing an upside-down apple (again with the apple!) over the half fig leaf with some swoopy highlights was a good idea? It looks like someone went crazy go nuts with the filled polygon tool in MS Paint. It’s almost indecipherable. I mean, what’s going on with the part to the immediate right of the V?

And as for the design of the slogan, it gets a resounding meh. It’s just sort of… there.

But lest you think Evangelion’s only about using religious iconography in weird ways, don’t worry. There’s also plenty of superficial allusions to genetics and molecular biology — the series could probably justify putting an “In Popular Culture” section under the Wikipedia article for Pribnow box, which would be quite an accomplishment.

And of course, there’s a healthy dose of Freud to be found too.

Entry Plug

A cigar may just be a cigar, but a long cylindrical tube you sit in to be inserted into the body of something that contains the soul of your dead mother? I’m pretty sure we all know what that represents, Oedipus Shinji. At least it only goes into the back of the neck, though I can imagine what might come out of Rule 34. Stupid Internet.

(Doubt me about the Oedipus crack? Shinji, Gendo, and Rei. Q.E.D.)

So, given how the two logo changes seem to beat the viewer over the head with the existing symbolism , I can only assume the remake movies are going to be cranking things up to eleven. So, in other words, I predict it’ll be The End of Evangelion all over again, but for the entire series instead of the last two episodes. Which is simultaneously exciting and frightening.

In conclusion, that is how you judge a series of four movies based solely on two small images taken from them. Next time: judging books by their covers.

[Editor's note: Not really.]

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