In case you haven’t heard, a certain anime movie was released in Japan on Blu-ray and DVD on May 26, and it has made quite the splash. Thanks to Japan not having as good theatrical pirates as the US, it was only then that a proper direct feed to the movie became available to us outside of Japan. But it’s finally here, GAINAX’s 2nd entry into the remake of their show from 1995, Neon Genesis Evangelion, easily the most impactful anime ever released.
I myself only got to watch it last Friday, and it’s taken me this long to digest it enough to make a post (ok, I was also pretty busy during that time). And to be honest, I’m still digesting it. I’m going to have to watch it start to finish at least once more, but let me just say, I loved it. It was well worth the wait and was probably the best animated work I’ve seen in quite a few years.
A Love Letter to Fans
That’s exactly what Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance was. If Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone was a nudge and a wink to the fans with its near identical scenes from the show, this was a full on love letter to those who are already familiar with what’s supposed to happen. That is to say, everything was familiar enough to elicit nostalgia, but different enough to keep you on your toes. And your heart pumping.
My favorite such scene was definitely the climax, which merged elements from 3 different iconic scenes from the show and End of Evangelion. Of course, the encounter was an analog to the one against Zeruel in the show. But having Zeruel eat Unit 0 and subsequently transform its body into Rei’s was reminiscent of the end of the fight with Armisael (the glowing white tube) in the director’s cut, in which Unit 0 transforms into a giant Rei. And the final sequence was, of course, a callback to the famous Komm, Susser Tod scene from The End of Evangelion.
Another highlight was the infamous elevator scene featuring Asuka and Rei. I loved the short call back, showing us just a few seconds of that scene that had remained near static for a minute in the show before the conversation actually began. The contrast produced by that quick cut, along with the way Rei defended herself from Asuka, really drove home the point, “this is not the same as the show you watched a decade ago.”
It’s a given that this anime was going to look good. This is GAINAX with an unlimited budget, after all. And the movie followed through on that expectation. A comparison might not be the most appropriate, but I kept thinking of the recent Kara no Kyoukai movies, which were somehow showered with compliments for its great animation. I never shared those sentiments; besides a few brief fight scenes in movies 5 and 7, I thought it had been pretty mediocre in the visuals. Watching Evangelion 2.22, I couldn’t help but think, “Now this is what a high budget anime movie should look like in this day and age.” I simply couldn’t find any places that I felt could have been done better or any obvious cost cutting measures.
Given co-director Kazuya Tsurumaki’s directorial credits – FLCL and Diebuster – it came as no surprise that the action scenes were fluid and well directed. Especially with Maaya Sakamoto in the cast, sometimes I felt like I was watching Diebuster in an Evangelion setting. And that is a very good thing.
Beyond the technical impressiveness though were the art and design. Evangelion 1.0 had expanded upon the original Angel design a little with Ramiel – the blue octahedron – being animated with CG for its attacks. They added interesting eye candy, but nothing else to the scenes. In Evangelion 2.22, GAINAX took things a step farther and made the design changes also affect the way the encounters progressed.
Take Sahaquiel (the falling meteor Angel), for example. The movie did the same race-to-catch-it scene from the show. That scene was appropriately tense and exciting and very well animated. The additions of the rising platforms and having Eva Unit 1 break the sound barrier were wonderful embellishments that added a lot to the scene. But the best part was having the Angel come out and defend itself. That was all new, and having Shinji suffer like that made the scene all the more intense. Same goes for fast-moving core defense, which made Rei’s and Asuka’s roles in the scene much more important than in the show.
And there’s the star of it all, Shinji, who, by the end, was barely recognizable as the same character from the show. Shinji is probably the most maligned character in all of anime for being a timid, indecisive coward. I never really saw him in that bad a light, given his past and where he is in life, but it is true that he has no backbone, to a fault. The transformation we see of him in Evangelion 2.0 is profound and should please many of those people.
I find it hard to quantify how Shinji was different in Evangelion 2.0 compared to in the shows. He still has that insecurity, that lack of confidence in himself that makes Shinji Shinji. But even from the beginning, he seemed more sure of himself as a pilot. Perhaps the success in the fight against Ramiel at the climax of Evangelion 1.0 had given him the appropriate boost in self confidence.
And when he does run away, it feels entirely justified. Heck, even during the unit 4 scene, he seemed less like a pussy. But with what happened to him, his reaction feels right, not over the top or feeling like running away. His return during the fight was similar to the scene in the show, but it was Eva Unit 1′s berserk mode that really showed how different this Shinji was. That is, this was not triggered by his mother in order to protect him, it was triggered by Shinji himself in order to protect Rei – who is sort of his mother.
What a reversal! That entire “internal” scene in which Shinji was trying to break into Rei’s cockpit to pull her out gave me chills, and that shot of him finally pulling her out was just… badass. This was a Shinji we could all get excited about rooting for.
Of course, I’m a little/completely biased, because I’m a Maaya Sakamoto fan, but I fell in love with Mari‘s character right away. To be sure, she doesn’t get enough screen time to give us a good idea of who she is, but what we see of her is pretty awesome, from the fun, almost light hearted romp in the opening scene (reminiscent of Chiko‘s scene at the beginning of Diebuster episode 3, right down to the mecha being destroyed) to the intense beastly transformation at the climax.
My one complaint might be that she seems too similar to Asuka. Asuka on steroids, if you will. She does manage to differentiate herself a bit in that she’s not a complete bitch. Her scenes with Shinji were great, especially that last one which prompts Shinji to turn around and fight. I thought Sakamoto’s performance did a lot to show off Mari as the fun, thrill seeking girl she is. Her role as Asuka’s stand-in in the fight against Zeruel was over-the-top intense and had me wishing she wasn’t destined to lose.
I hope the mystery surrounding her origins and motivations become a bit clarified in the next movie. Who does she take orders from, and why did she parachute into Japan? How did she get access to Unit 2 and learn to have such a lackadasical attitude about piloting? Well, I don’t really care as long as she remains this awesome, but I’d like to find out regardless.
This post isn’t so much a review or even a commentary as much as it is just a (partial) brain dump of what I got out of Evangelion 2.22. I just… loved it. Story-wise, it didn’t explain a whole lot, and I doubt someone who didn’t watch the original show would understand much. But at the same time, it was just a good action movie, filled with intense hot blooded moments that GAINAX is so good at creating. It’s easy to forget with all the psychological and political drama, but Evangelion is a mecha anime, after all. This movie shows us that GAINAX certainly didn’t forget.
I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who’s seen the first movie, even if he hasn’t watched the original series.