Monday, February 26, 2018

Fanfic Retrospective: The Tom Dyron Cycle

Normally I would do a Fanfic retrospective about Gates of Oblivion, but it does seem to be a bit pointless. The fic was clearly abandoned after only a single introductory chapter of very little content or merit, most of which was rather fiercely generic and unremarkable. In fact, if not for the author (and the obvious in hindsight connection through Hideoto), we would have likely passed it up entirely.

So instead I want to look at what I call the Tom Dyron Cycle as a whole. Encompassing four fics, DELTA Invasion, AYNGEL Project, The Apocalyptic Battle and Gates of Oblivion, they seem to be a constant effort to tell and retell the same story with variations on the same cast. And looking back at the series as a whole, some parts of each fic begin to take on more significance then they do individually.

DELTA Invasion (Complete, 1997-98?)

Or, to give its fill title, Neon Genesis Evangelion II: D.E.L.T.A Invasion. But we never use that, because just saying Delta Invasion is so much snappier.

As near as we have been able to tell, this is the first fic in the Tom Dyron cycle and lays the groundwork for a lot of the things to come. There’s plenty of material in the fic that will be seen again and again going forwards in the cycle, even if they do get slightly altered with each retelling. As best as I can tell, the fic was written in 1997-98, based on when it appeared on the ‘net (Thank you Internet Archive) and dating it from a few references in the text.

On its own DELTA is the most enjoyable of the series. Much of that is due to its ridiculous over the top, testosterone fuelled machismo desire to turn Evangelion into the sort of hot-blooded heroic giant robot story that it was supposed to be deconstructing. Everything about the fic is done to excess in a way that should be annoying but instead comes off as silly. From the brutal martial arts tournament to the giant robot pro wrestling to Tom’s bloody showdown with Jeff to the battles against SEELE, everything feels more like an eighties action movie then anything else. It doesn’t help that the fic gave is bike-riding, beer-drinking metal guitar-playing Shinji, a character derailment that is so far off canon as to be hilarious.

Added to that it has so many chapters that are stupid on the surface, but the get more and more so the more you think about them. Chapter nine, the voyage to Planet DELTA is the best example. It starts with NERV managing to magic up a giant space ship in a matter of days and only escalates from there as it becomes clear that the writer has no clue what he’s doing but persists with it anyway. Added to that, the whole thing becomes stupider and stupider the more you think about it, which manages to make it even more enjoyable. Chapters four and ten are similar, with both featuring lengthy action sequences that are so ineptly executed as to be ridiculously fun. And don’t even think about the rules of the martial arts contest Tom enters...

Otherwise there’s not much to say. The plot is threadbare, the characterisation shallow and the writing is a semi-coherent mess of clipped sentences, jarring scene changes and persistent spelling and grammatical errors. Calling it amateurish would be an understatement. And yet, there is a sort of earnest charm to DELTA Invasion that is hard to deny. Barring one or two moments, it never descends into sleaze or true ugliness unlike so many other fanfics. Looking at it, DELTA was written by a single author, probably over only a short period of time.

What it does introduce is a number of the core elements that will be repeated throughout the series. Key among them is, of course, Tom Dyron. The quintessential self-insert god-mode character, he is instantly the best at everything in the world, has an insane list of skills and qualifications for a sixteen year old, never fails at anything, is allways right and so on. And with everything else, this is all played so insanely straight that it becomes comedy gold. Tom also has a number of key background elements that will be repeated; he comes from San Francisco and/or Los Angeles, he is an orphan who’s family was bloodily murdered, he pilots EVA-03 and so on.

Another core character was introduced in DELTA, but it didn’t become apparent until later on. Matt Yazama was introduced in chapter ten to give Tom a “boss fight” against an opponent who wasn’t just another Invador. At first, the character seemed to be entirely pointless, being only present for two chapters and not actually serving any real function in the plot. Looking back on him from the other fics, it’s clear that Matt was on of Tom’s friends who was written into the story for whatever reason. We’ll see more (and a lot more) of him to come.

The third and fourth are characters who in DELTA are so minor as to barely rate a mention, but will have a deeper impact in future works. Arcane and Xeruel, two of the Invadors who make up Justice, the end boss, will have far bigger roles in the fics to come. It is difficult to tell if the characters were created here or future use, or if the author just liked the names and decided to re-use them.

Otherwise, most of the characters who appear in DELTA are never seen again. Two of them stand out, but for different reasons. The first is John Barren, who is special. And that’s it. Two whole chapters were spent on introducing him and building him up, only to have him effectively sit out the rest of the fic and never contribute to it in any meaningful way. What the author’s intent for the character actually was can only be guessed at. Given that they do not appear in any of the subsequent fics, it does seem safe to say that they weren’t created by (or based on) one of Tom’s friends and written into the fic as a favour.

The second is Jenya, Tom’s ex-girlfriend and the source of the fic’s only really ugly and regrettable moment. The problem is not just that Jenya serves no purpose at all in the plot for her handful of appearances, but Tom’s character verbally abuses her and heaps so much bile upon her that it becomes decidedly unpleasant, and seems to be handled with more acrimony then a fictional character created for just one scene would deserve. It’s hard to escape the nagging thought that she was based on a real person, one that the author had issues with and decided to use his fic as a platform to get out.

Of course, that she also ended up paired off with John for no reason at all doesn’t help.

Project AYNGEL (Unknown, 1998-99?)

Or AYNGEL Project as it titled in some chapters, because consistency is over-rated.

By our best guesses, AYNGEL was written at some point after DELTA. Unlike its predecessor, it was a multi-author work, featuring at least three contributors. Also unlike DELTA, it was not written as is, but was instead based on chatroom role-play sessions. While not likely a direct literal transcription, it is instead a fully realised prose narrative. The sections written by each author are rather distinct, which helps place the story in the Dyron timeline.

Those sections featuring Tom Dyron, and thus presumably written by the same author as DELTA Invasion, feature a much more refine and expanded narrative style then its predecessor. There are more attempts at description, more detailed narrative, more fleshing out of the characters beyond just their surface dialogue and so on. There are still a number of ongoing grammatical and spelling errors, but they are far less prevalent then in the predecessor.

AYNGEL also has something of a tonal shift, but not necessarily in a good way. The narrative continues  its celebration of machismo excesses, but it becomes far less enjoyable this time round. Much of it is aimed at celebrating how “bad” Tom is and how he’s able to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants and get away with it because he’s just that awesome. It quickly becomes grating, especially as much of what Tom does varies between obnoxious and out and out offensive. That there is an entirely reasonable authority figure that exists only for Tom to humiliate and physically assault for no reason only further detracts from the enjoyment.

The other element added to the fic is sex. Rather then DELTA which had all the action happen offscreen and rarely even talked about it (Beyond an epilogue which featured fur hundred babies), AYNGEL moves sex into the forefront. Much of it is focused on the constant humiliation of Hideoto, one of the new characters who seems to exist solely so the lead characters can verbally degrade him. Added to that are Tom’s own discussions of his own virility and how often he gets laid and a pair of explicit sex scenes that are handled with all the grace that you’d expect from this series.

There are a number of returning elements from DELTA Invasion beyond just the theme of giant monster fights. First and foremost is Tom Dyron, who is basically the same character as he was beofre, only more so. Sharing a lot of traits with his previous iteration, this version of Tom is a vicious, sadistic killer who delights in the suffering of his victims. He also finds joy in publicly humiliating and degrading one of his supposed friends, in the form of Hideoto. Finally, this iteration of Tom has a hatred of authority that manifests itself in the form of violent physical assaults on his supposed superior that he is never held accountable for.

The second returning character is Matt Yazama, but this time in a somewhat expanded role. Rather then being an adversary, Matt is now an ally and supporting character. For various reasons it is hard to say what his overall contribution to the story was intended to be, but clearly it was more then just being a one-shot monster of the week. Matt’s creator (also called Matt, funnily enough) was a contributor to the original RP the fic was based on, but doesn’t seem to have been an actual autor.

There are also several new characters introduced that will be prominent going forwards. The first and foremost is Steve, who is Tom’s best buddy and sidekick. He’s also a Super-Sayajin, which does give some indication of just how far off the rails this fic had gone. Steve is an incredibly unlikeable character, but for different reasons to Tom. Likely not intentionally, but he comes over as an utter arse and complete sleaze who lacks any even remotely redeeming features. That he openly admits to lusting after an underage girl only serves to make the fic even more uncomfortable. Added to that, portions of the narrative are written by Steve’s creator, and feature a vastly different writing style and tone.

In the end, about the only good part of Steve’s character is the inadvertent homoerotic undertones between him and Tom.

The second ongoing new character is Hideoto Nidato, whose actual purpose is hard to define. On the surface, he is reasonably well realised and given a depth and a number of traits and abilities that suggests that he, like Steve or Matt, is another author proxy. Certainly, there is little reason for his existence otherwise. However, his role in the fic is to be constantly humiliated and degraded by all those around him, which does seem unlikely for an author proxy.

Finally, a third recurring character is Fugisawa, who exists solely to be a reasonable authority figure for Tom to heap abuse upon. He is also depicted as a romantic rival for Rei Ayanami’s affections, but in an entirely one-sided way to make Tom seem like her ideal man (How Rei feels about it is, naturally, irrelevant). While the point of Fugi is to make Tom look like a cool rebel, the effect is more to make him seem like an overbearing bully.

It’s hard to say what else might have reappeared, given the rather odd state that we found AYNGEL in. The fic literally stops in the middle of a chapter (in fact, in the middle of a scene), with no indication of what was going to happen next or where the story was going. We can only assume that it was completed, given that it does have a direct sequel. However, to date, all efforts at finding where it is have failed.

The Apocalyptic Battle (Complete, 1999-2000?)

The third in the series is a direct sequel to AYNGEL Project, picking up on events that presumably happened in the second half of the fic. It’s the only time (that we can tell) that a fic has been a direct sequel to a prior part of the Dyron cycle, rather then just reusing characters and story elements.

The Apocalyptic Battle shares the same two authors, and in both cases the writing style has evolved somewhat. However, it has by and large transformed into oppressively large block paragraphs that are often hard to read due to their sheer staggering size. There are still a few stylistic elements left on Tom’s part, and his chunks of fic are still easier to read then Steve’s. Overall, it’s hard to say that this is an improvement; while there are less spelling and grammar errors and the story feels more complete, it’s not actually easier to read.

Like the writing, the tone has also shifted, moving towards a heavy-handed story high on detailed and sometimes gory violence. Much of the first half of the fic consists of supporting characters being mercilessly dispatched by the new villain, which not only becomes rather dull and repetitive but in a few cases becomes actively uncomfortable to read. It also becomes painful later in the fic as it transitions into a drawn-out attempt to replicate a Dragonball Z fight in text, which simply becomes a tiresome and repetitive process. The fic lacks in humour, both from the deliberate efforts at it that earlier fics made, as well as the inadvertent humour drawn from their mistakes.

Some mention needs to be made of the killing off of the supporting cast. In many cases, the characters are introduced simply so they can be killed while the fic congratulates itself on how powerful its villain is. These characters have very little in the way of depth or personality, and most of what we know about them is informed by the narrative. This robs their deaths of any impact, which only makes the fic less enjoyable.

Fortunately, compared to AYNGEL, there is less of an emphasis on sex. Unfortunately, it does feature one explicit sex scene. Even worse, it involves Steve.

As a direct sequel, there are a number of returning characters. First and foremost is, of course, Tom Dyron. Building on AYNGEL Project, it is revealed that Tom is actually a divine agent of cosmic justice or the like. The result is that all of his actions, no matter how unreasonably violent or sadistic, are fully justified by the narrative. The result is to dispel any of the likeable traits that Tom may have had, even if they were inadvertent.

The second is Steve, who is now Tom’s unquestioned sidekick and best buddy. He’s also completely unlikeable, and fails at everything he does. However, the fic does continue to congratulate him on everything he does, even up to the point that he’s sleeping with a possibly underaged girl while his wife is being murdered. Steve is a horrible human being.

Hideoto also returns. He doesn’t have much of a chance to be humiliated this time as he dies in a car park in the first chapter. Of course, this still leaves the question of what he was doing there in the first place. It is still unclear what his overall role in the narrative was, and his sudden death does not help any.

More interesting is Matt Yazama’s contribution to the fic. Killed off early on, he is replaced by a series of other characters called variations on ‘Matt Yazama’, none of which have any distinctive identities or hint of individuality. The main purpose seems to be to give ‘Matt’ a continued presence in the fic as a nod of the head to the author.

Fugisawa is present simply to act as a form of odious comedy relief. Tom’s violent, unprovoked and entirely unreasonable attacks on him are played entirely for laughs. That should tell you a lot about the fic.

There are two other characters who return from DELTA Invasion, albeit in forms that are completely different to their prior usage. Xeruel was previously one of the three Invadors who made up Justice; a miniboss before the main boss. Now he is returned as a completely independent character,  built up to the point of being the sole villain of the piece and is eventually responsible for killing off the entire cast, save for Tom. In this case, the name is the only element common with the previous version.

Arcane, another of the Invador portions of Justice, also returns, albeit completely redefined. Now existing as an entirely separate entity, Arcane appears to be some sort of handy plot device to provide bulk exposition.

Unlike AYNGEL Project, Apocalyptic Battle is complete. It also appears to be the last part of that particular storyline, as no evidence of other fics in the series has been found. Of course, given that the rest of AYNGEL is still missing, that could mean anything.

Gates of Oblivion (2002, abandoned)

The last of the Tom Dyron Cycle, Gates of Oblivion represents a significant departure from the previous fics in the series. It was created after the author chose to disown DELTA Invasion, claiming that it ‘no longer represented his vison for Evangelion’ and appears to be an effort to completely reboot the series while drawing on elements from the past incarnations.

Gates of Oblivion appears to shift back to a single author, albeit with a considerably more refined style. The narrative is mostly handled through reasonably sized and spaced paragraphs that include a fair amount of description and scene setting. Gone are almost all of the signature stylistic grammatical and spelling errors that defined the previous fics in the cycle. It’s functional, but entirely unexciting, and would be unremarkable save for the author’s previous works.

Tonally, Gates of Oblivion mostly plays everything entirely straight. The machismo excesses of the prior fics have been reigned in, replaced with an entirely functional but remarkably bland narrative that does very little to stand out on its own. Likewise, the efforts at humour are confined to several side scenes that are remarkably generic and unfunny, simply relying on rote repetition of already overused and tired shtick. In many ways, it is a very stock Evangelion fanfic, well removed form its roots. And that is actually to its detriment.

The biggest surprise in Gates of Oblivion comes from the only confirmed returning cast member, being Hideoto Nadato. Introduced at the start of the chapter, save for a single brief attempt at comedy, he is played entirely straight as a protagonist from there on in. He is shown to be competent and capable, and saves the day at the end of the chapter. Not once are there any efforts to humiliate or degrade him by the rest of the cast or the narration, which puts him in stark contrast to his prior depictions.

There is also a brief mention of Arcane, but with no indication of who (or what) they might be.

What the fic does have is an implied Tom Dyron. Mention is made of a “sixth child” who comes from Los Angeles and will pilot EVA-03, all common traits to the prior versions of Tom. However, this character is never explicitly named, nor do they actually appear to confirm this. We can say that they might be Tom, but nothing is certain.

Of course, much of this is based on just a single chapter, written before the fic was abandoned. The page it was hosted on remained in place for seven more years before vanishing along with the rest of GeoCities. Archived versions exist, but show no signs that the fic was ever continued. Likewise we have found no evidence of further Tom Dyron fanfics, leading us to conclude that Gates of Oblivion was the last in the series.

As allways, we would love to hear from anyone who was involved in the writing of these fics. There’s still a lot we don’t know, and we have about a billion questions. And after how much they’ve given us, we’d like to give back some as well.

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