A good show can sometimes fall appart because of it’s tone shifts between what could have been good-handled vibes on their own, but didn’t have good transitions or a point to be made between each other, resulting in conflicting feelings from the viewer.
But also, a show can have it’s good qualities amplified by it’s well-handled tone shifts, wich is the case of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Evangelion takes advantage of it’s ability to shift tones quickly while having an impact with the feelings it’s trying to convey when it puts them into contrast with one another. This happens both in bigger scales, when shifiting tones from one episode to another, or smaller scales when changing the mood from a scene to another.
The first and most obvious one is what happens between episodes 7 and 8. Episode 7, while being less sad and depressive than the previous ones, a overall feeling of uncertainty remains. Until that point, Evangelion was a pessimistic show wich only started showing a little bit more of happy points on the side, while maintaining the overall serious tone that defined the show. But on episode 8, it all changes. –Digibro has a great video especifically about this, check it out, in case you haven’t already.
In episode 8, Evangelion sudenly feels a lot more ”positive”, even making us laugh at times. The reason why this works so well is because of everything that we have been through before it. Everything that Shinji had been through. This episode doesn’t just make us happy because it is fun, but because we feel happy for things taking a brighter turn. At this point, we are basically Shinji, and we feel not just relaxed, but reliefed. Finally there is someone the same age as him that he can relate to, and she is an energetic girl who likes to fight, not just a source of more depression, like Rei, who only gave us questions, but never providing answers. Rei herself didn’t have the answers.No one did. But now, after 7 episodes of just trouble and crippling depression, we get to have some fun, and rest.
The tone shifts between scenes become a lot more common after this transition. Now that it has been possible to establish the fun side of Evangelions characters, we get to see more of it. The characters didn’t get to having that much fun until now not just because Asuka wasn’t there. Shinji could have still had more fun with his classmates. But the show needed this impact in episode 8 to have the show’s identity definately established. It subverted our expectations and showed us that Evangelion can also be really fun, and not just the depressive sci-fy/Mecha show with emo kids, something that would probably get redundant after a while, having not a lot for the show to explore but depressed 14 year olds and a kind-of gimmicky plot.
It is said that there only can be happiness with sorrrow, but it also works the other way around.
The shifting tone between fun, slice-of-lifey scenes and dramatic, serious scenes is crucial to what makes this characters believable and their struggles even more shocking than they already seem for their extreme nature. From now on, the show gets progressively darker, and it is interesting how, to multiply this feeling, the fun scenes are used as counterweight to the slow decline into depression in a downward spiral that the show becomes. The fun scenes are already on a minor level used like this, with an unneasy feeling that grows as Evangelion goes deeper into its characters minds.
The show might seem fun at times, but these scenes only last so long until they are proceeded by something serious that makes us reevaluate how we can be so relaxed when so much stuff is going on, like the constant threat of deadly Kaiju atacks that may or may not end in the defeat of the human race. And once the show knows it has made you unneasy, it goes back to the slice-of-lifey scenes, that now are totaly different from what they seemed when you were relaxed.
This is specially noticeable when rewatching the series. Things like Asuka talking to Shinji about her breasts growing bigger just as a way of explaining to him how thermal expansion works, become something sad upon further inspection, since it reflects Asuka’s lack of confidence and self-esteem that is compensated by her egotistical attitude.
The problem is not with how contrasted tones are, but with how you set them up. If you know how to do it, you can even use contrasting tones as a tool for maximization of impact.