Review Summary: ITAOTS but about Asuka from Evangelion. Art is terrifying.
When art resonates with you, it can be a scary feeling. You may not expect that art to have evoked quite that response from you, and you may further be terrified by exactly what part of the art hit you like that.
The core theme that ties together almost all of Free Parking!'s albums is how art resonates with us in ways we may wish it didn't. The band writes love songs about fictional anime girls. Sometimes fictional girls from other mediums make an appearance, but it's mostly anime girls. I'll probably end up writing reviews about a good number of Free Parking! releases and elaborating on this theme in the future. But for now, I've chosen to start with Asuka, as I feel like it sets up most of their further releases.
That's one of the main reasons why I love Free Parking!'s music so much. I'm a sucker for seeing song writers carry the same themes through the years, and seeing how their attitudes surrounding the same subject matter change over time. I'm also a big sucker for earnesty. My favorite artists are AJJ and Jeff Rosenstock, and Free Parking! hits on those two things just as well as those bands. Asuka might even be the bands most earnest release. Earnesty is a really important factor in this album. The album's a character study. Not of the titular Asuka, but of the kind of person who'd fall in love with her. It's important to realize that this album isn't about someone who'd fall in love with just any fictional anime girl, but Asuka in particular. And it turns out that requires a particularly broken kind of person.
Back story about the character is slightly required here, as Asuka's not exactly a standard dream waifu. She's broken. Severely broken. She self esteem issues that she tries to solve by bringing everyone down around her. She desperately wants to be seen as more mature and more competent than she really is, to the point where she'll sexually assault older men who turn down her advances. She ties her self esteem to her ability to pilot the titular mecha in the anime, and when she finds out she's no longer as good as she thinks she is, she attempts suicide. When that fails, she decides to just sit in a bathtub in a destroyed home, exposed to the elements, until she dies. Not your standard dream girl, to be sure.
The primary song writer for Free Parking!, Brendan Steere, is acutely aware of that from the first track, Every Monster, as he sings:
You’re a bitch, you’re a cunt
You’re a lot of words I wouldn’t use in mixed company
When you look into my eyes I want to strangle you
The Asuka in Steere's writing isn't the romanticized dakimakura print depiction of Asuka you sometimes see. He's acutely aware of the broken-ness of her character. But, back to that central question. What kind of person would fall in love with this character, that Steere himself describes as a monster" We get a bit of a hint in the next verse:
I’ve almost killed myself a half a dozen times
I’ve stared into the void, but got so ***ing scared I'd pussy out
I’d punch myself across the face until I bleed
I’d weep until I fall asleep, pathetic helpless and alone
Again, it can be a terrifying thing when you find art that resonates with you. By that logic, the next line in the song is probably the most terrifying on the album:
You hold the world at arm’s length, cuz you’re a coward, too
You’ll never know my name, but I’m in love with you
Here's why the earnesty in Brendan's writing is so powerful, and so important. Art, and music in particular, has a special way of getting you to recognize your own feelings that you may have not been able to put to words before. Hearing someone put to words the feelings you haven't been able to articulate on your own for years is so incredibly cathartic. Terrifying, yes, but also release. Like opening the one creaking door in the haunted house that's been keeping you up all night. You might find a monster. That's concerning. But you know what you're up against, which is infinitely better than lying in an uncomfortable uncertainty for the rest of forever.
Of course, basic good ol' depression helps a lot when it comes to falling in love with any fictional character. Black Hole alludes to this very catalyst, and it also happens to likely be the catchiest song on the album. It's also very helpful to have had some bad experiences with the 3D variants of the fairer sex. Songs like White Flag and I'll Replace You document Steere's tries at real, physical relationships. The results are as you'd expect, developing into a sort of misogny-via-misanthropy relationship with women. I'll Replace You casts women as replaceable, boring objects that have failed to capture any interest from Steere. It's clear from his tone in the song that he feels the issue lies with him, and not the women. What's wrong with him, that he can't find the passion that others find" White Flag takes a more hateful tone, but read between the lines and you can see this same self deprecating sentiment remains. The songs ends on the pleading sounding lines, "Please don't buy it, I am such a liar, I'm not telling the truth".
And so, we get to Ghost & Child. There's a powerful double meaning in this songs title if you've watched Evangelion. All of the mecha in the show have been imbued with the souls of their pilots mothers, and can only be piloted by their children. The song flips this. Asuka, instead of the child, is now the ghost, and Brendan Steere is the child. He's a child in love with a ghost. Someone immature, and the only romantic partner he can find passion in pursuing is just an idea of a person, never real.
Figuring out who would love Asuka is important, but it begs the question. If you are broken enough to love this broken character, how do you get fixed" It's important to note the significance of Evangelion here. Evangelion's main message, at it's heart, is anti-escapist. It challenges it's viewers to take life on the chin and get back up smiling. And yet, the kind of people who relate most to it's characters are the kinds of people who try their hardest to avoid real life at all costs. Of course, Brendan is self aware of this. He sings about his escapist tendencies in Black Hole and Life on Earth. He sings with such a weak determination to escape it. More of a fleeting hope. Nothing he intends to put much of any effort into pursuing. That feeling of, "I guess I'd like to go out and live life if it becomes convenient" is such a terrifying, relateable feeling.
The dual tracks of Asuka and Asuka, continued do the best job of illustrating this point. Asuka, which comes pretty early into the album, is about a lonely night in Steere's bed. He dreams about Asuka spreading wings, and flying into his room to be with him. The feelings of uselessness and hopelessness Steere summons in this track is truly haunting. He yearns to hear her voice over the phone, so he can pretend it's enough. His begging and pleading, for any hint at false hope, hits hard.
The album ends with Asuka, continued. This is where most of the ideas in the album get real, so to speak. He posits that if Asuka were real, she'd destroy him. Rip him up and spit him out. And that's likely true. Asuka may be broken like the author, but it's a different kind of broken. Asuka's broken fights back. Against what, she may not be sure of. In fact, if she thought about it, she's probably aware that she picks the wrong targets. But nevertheless, she fights. And the author of this isn't a fighter. Not yet, at least. As like Evangelion itself, this album ends on a similar, hopeful note. The author rejects the instrumentality he's created for himself, with the closing lines:
I need to escape, to abandon this place
Need reality, not your blue eyes
Consider this a victory! Raise your flag up high!
Asuka, my friend, this is goodbye.
You can almost hear the congratulatory clapping in the distance.