Evangelion’s Rebuild Refines Original’s Vision

Mark Laluan

ANIME REVIEWS

The silver screen adds luster to the latest iteration of Hideaki Anno’s landmark anime series,  “Neon Genesis Evangelion.”

The second film in the re-booted film tetralogy, “Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance”, has finally arrived on American shores in the form of a DVD and Blu-ray release marketed somewhat confusedly as “Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance.”

Beneath a heavy coating of Judeo-Christian imagery, technobabble, monster-of-the-week plotlines and giant robots is a classic bildungsroman set in a post-apocalyptic world. The impact generated by protagonist Shinji Ikari’s coming of age story goes far beyond Anno’s fresh take on an age old-concept.

Evangelion had a decisive impact on the mainstreaming of Japanese anime in the wider world. It accomplished this by combining high concept ideas with a struggle of a production staff coping with an ever declining production budget.

The resulting television show was made relevant by the questions it provoked in  the minds of otaku—members of a now global anime sub-culture—about the tragic nature of a youth spent in idle pleasure, modeling their lives after an increasingly faddish anime scene.

Evangelion’s notoriety began when its production company, Gainax, ran out of money to draw more cels. The rash of still shots and silences followed by loquacious dialogue did not emerge out of a creative choice on the part of Anno and his team but rather as a last ditch coping mechanism.

The lack of money towards the end of production forced him to substitute filler for content. This led to anime enthusiasts “interpreting” the message of Evangelion by confusing the smattering of Judeo-Christian decoration used by Anno as colorful filler as an intended form of “symbolism.”

The film keeps these elements as a purposeful throwback to the past, while the re-imagining of dialogue and action sequences work to engage an audience more effectively in the torrent of human drama appearing on screen.

These individuals almost willingly ignored Evangelion’s construction as a coming of age story and substituted Anno’s intentions with their own theories based for the most part on material the production staff had intended as filler from the beginning.

Otaku were on the whole dismayed by the completely nonsensical way the original television series ended. This disjointed finale was brought solely because of financial troubles.

Gainax’s money troubles caused them to aggressively capitalize on the popularity of Evangelion’s characters by promoting a merchandise line to recoup costs. Tie-in merchandise is par for the course as a method of earning revenue but the commercialization of Anno’s work further muddled his message.

This made pressures on Anno to revisit his work and satisfy consumer demand for a clearer resolution to the television series impossible to fend off. The resulting rewrites of the final episodes, produced in film form in the late 90s, drew even more ire.

The two movies produced in response to popular demand, “Death and Rebirth” and “End of Evangelion,” did nothing to calm the average otaku whose previously held confusion now turned to anger at the revamped and genuinely disturbing ending.

These individuals failed to see how Anno had clarified his intention of affirming human individuality over human herd mentality with the new Evangelion movies. Instead these individuals held on to their own quaint readings of the Judeo-Christian imagery which had come to dominate how fans conceptualized Anno’s work.

Flash forward over a decade later the controversies surrounding Evangelion continue to be discussed by anime enthusiasts as if they had just happened yesterday.

“Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance” is a refinement of Anno’s original vision. Improved production values brought about through a larger budget and a greater level of creative freedom lead to a film which improves upon Anno’s previous forays into this material.

The first film of the tetraology, “Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone,” followed the plot of the first six episodes of the original television series closely. Evangelion: 2.0 moves in a completely new direction from the original series and gives an almost completely new take on episodes seven through nineteen of the television show.

As with the first film, Shinji the teenage pilot of a gigantic humanoid mecha, is tasked with protecting the world from total annihilation at the hands of  equally gigantic beings known as “Angels.” Such a description is almost painfully barebones, but words chosen with brevity in mind can only go so far when attempting to describe the rush of visual adrenaline known as Evangelion.

The world that emerges in the second movie is darker and more painful to witness; Shinji must “grow up” and reconcile his inner doubts with his duty to save the world from destruction.

Granted that the majority of children do not grow up in a world of giant robots, populated by hostile supernatural beings and controlled by shadowy thousand-year-old non-governmental organizations the film succeeds at inviting an audience into a convincing and hopefully fictional world.

The second movie also breathes new life into series which has become increasingly stale and dated with the passage of time by. Cutting edge equipment of the 90s shown in the television series such as Shinji’s SDAT tape player do not illicit the same impressed response from an audience that has grown up on iPods.

The film keeps these elements as a purposeful throwback to the past while the re-imagining of dialogue and action sequences work to engage an audience more effectively in the torrent of human drama appearing on screen.

Most importantly the second film sets the stage for two further iterations, which by the events of the second film, are set to go beyond the coming of age tale that the original television series was centered on.

In terms of technical aspects, both the Blu-ray and DVD release of “Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance” are masterfully produced. Sounds remain lush, visuals are convincingly vibrant and the new CGI sequences are seamlessly integrated into the animation.

As is normal practice with anime released stateside audio choices include both the original Japanese dialogue and subtitles are provided along with English dubbing.

The original Japanese cast edges out the English dub in terms of enthusiasm but it is a joy in itself to hear the original English dub cast reprise their roles for the film with a polish that only the passage of time can provide.

The usual bevy of extras is included on both the Blu-ray and DVD release. Cast commentary, television ad spots and omitted scenes are lacking in new insights in Evangelion but are nonetheless amusing to view.

“Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance” is a required addition to any self-proclaimed otaku’s collection and a worthy first foray into the world of anime for the casual viewer.