Review for Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance
At any other time, getting to review the Evangelion 2.22 movie would have been the highlight of my month. After all this is the rebuild of Hideaki Anno's magnum opus that we are talking about, the television series that for a generation simply defined anime, that took existing tropes and clichés about giant robots, and turned everything on its head, delivering something fresh, original, and epoch defining. Before Evangelion, every giant robot anime wanted to be like every other giant robot anime. After Evangelion, they all wanted to be like Evangelion. It had been over ten years since the Neon Genesis Evangelion television series hit, and fans the world over wondered what Hideaki Anno would deliver. After all, part of Evangelion's longevity is down to how many ways the industry has found to sell the same series over again. But Hideaki Anno delivered something truly fantastic. This is after all the 21st Century, where everyone has high definition home cinema. Evangelion would be rebuilt from the ground up, with modern animation, in widescreen, in high definition, in four theatrical features. For those of you who would worry about redundancy, this Evangelion is telling a different story from the television series, even if the characters are the same.
Last year saw the UK release of Evangelion 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone, the first instalment of the re-imagined story. It was stunning, managing to invigorate and make original a story that most anime fans will have seen a dozen times before. That movie, with one or two major alterations, told much the same story as the first five or six episodes of the series. This second movie, Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance, takes us into new territory, with new characters and a different story. This should have been my dream anime feature film release for June 2011. Except that Manga Entertainment are releasing both this, the first Eden of the East feature, and Akira on Blu-ray in the same month. I'm deluged by an embarrassment of riches. It's like giving a starving man a menu.
The defeat of the sixth Angel at the end of the previous film must have made an impression on his father; Gendou Ikari actually spends some time with his son Shinji for once, even if it is to pay a visit to the grave of Shinji's mother. Father and son still aren't exactly communicating though, and Misato is there as a chaperone. But even this brief interlude is interrupted, the Angels' war on humanity rages on, and the Evangelions are called to fight more and more, and not just in Japan. Acheron base is destroyed when Unit 05 self destructs rather than allow an Angel to get to Limbo, its rookie pilot managing to escape the maelstrom by ejecting the entry plug. The Ikaris' day out is interrupted when an Angel attacks Neo Tokyo 3 again, but this attack heralds the arrival of Unit 02, and its pilot Asuka Langley Shikinami, who quickly shows what the benefit of a military training allows for. She instantly reveals an antagonistic disdain for Shinji Ikari, an idiot who is only there because of his father, and Rei Ayanami, a teacher's pet, and doesn't look too keen on the idea of teamwork.
Misato decides the best way to deal with this is to have her move in with her and Shinji, as well as go to school with him and Rei. That doesn't exactly have the desired effect, but as the 9th Angel will show, the three pilots will have to have teamwork if they are to succeed. But while the children are finding it hard to get along, it's no easier for the adults, with Ryoji Kaji's return making life a little difficult for Misato and Ritsuko. His return also add to the political complications that NERV has in dealing with the other nations with their own Evangelion projects, as well as the friction with SEELE, and the Human Instrumentality Project. When Unit 04 and its base are destroyed, it suddenly seems expedient for Japan to bear the burden of the Evangelions, and Unit 03 is sent there to be tested. No one expects it to actually be an Angel, and the tragic results leave NERV hopelessly undermanned when another Angel attacks. Unbeknownst to everyone, there is a fourth Child in Neo Tokyo 3, another Evangelion pilot.
The audio and visual specifications for the Evangelion 2.22 Blu-ray are nigh on identical to the first film, so with a judicious bit of cut and paste… The 1.85:1 widescreen image is sublime. The image is clear and sharp throughout, the animation is smooth and detailed, colours are rich and vibrant, and there are absolutely no typical DVD issues like aliasing or mosquito noise to worry about. Detail levels are high, and the depth and clarity of the animation comes across in full effect. There are one or two slight moments where you might see some colour banding, but these are few and far between. Evangelion 2.22 maintains the high standards for Blu-ray presentation set by the first film. Blu-ray really is the way to see this movie.
The images in the review are sourced from the PR, and aren't necessarily representative of the retail disc.
The Blu-ray offers you the choice of Dolby TrueHD 6.1 English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and the signs only track (I haven't seen the DVD to know if it suffers from the same subtitle issues that plagued 1.11). The sound here is outstanding, an enveloping and resonant experience, making great use of the soundstage to convey action and effects, ambience and atmosphere. Just as with the visuals, this is a chance to give Evangelion the space it always deserved, and watching and listening to this film, I realise how confining a medium television was for this epic story. Shiro Sagisu's music is present and correct, but has had a full orchestral makeover for the film, sounding richer and fuller than it did in the series. The remix version of the end theme by Hikaru Utada is still very catchy.
If there was one disappointment with the release of 1.11, it was the somewhat meagre and unimpressive extra features. Evangelion 2.22 continues that disappointment by merely matching what has come before. Although, this time you only get the extended version of the film, no territory has bothered releasing the theatrical cut of Evangelion 2.0 on any format. You have the choice of DVD and Blu-ray on the day of release, or should you desire it, a collector's edition release with both Blu-ray and DVD, as well as a 32-page booklet.
This disc maintains the same format in its menu design as the previous release, and on the disc, you'll find the Rebuild of Evangelion 2.02 lasting 23 minutes, which again is a show reel of how the film came together, from storyboard to final product.
"I Would Give You Anything" Scene NOGUCHI ver lasts 5 minutes, and is that scene from the end of the film, with a slightly different music track accompanying it.
There are four omitted scenes from the film, presented in storyboard and animatic form, with Japanese stereo audio only, and they last a total of three minutes.
In terms of promotional material, you get the original trailer, a train channel spot, some Japanese TV spots, and trailers for the Japanese DVD and Blu-ray.
You'll also find Madman trailers for Evangelion 1.11, Summer Wars, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, as well as an Australian anti-piracy advert.
What redeems this release somewhat is that Funimation have recorded a cast commentary for the film, although it plays as a series of interviews. The ADR director Mike McFarland hosts the English voice cast of the film, one at a time, as they speak about the film, their particular characters, and the recording process. The audio commentary certainly puts more meat on the bones of this disc, and is a welcome addition.
It's been a fair few years since I watched the Evangelion television series, although I did see the End of Evangelion movie that span off that series more recently. I don't recall that series, or the original movie ever being anything close to as spectacular and as breathtaking as these rebuild movies are turning out to be. Evangelion 1.11 was a stunning reinvention of that series, which even though it followed it closely, delivered its visuals and audio, and more importantly its story and its characters in a way that the series never did. It's still just as cryptic and as deep as the series, but it's now also immediately accessible to audiences, and not as close-lipped with its secrets. Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance is bigger and better than the first film, building on what it has set in motion, but even more spectacularly. Best of all, this is where the story goes its separate way. There are emotional arcs, story elements, and an overall flow that matches to what the series did, but then again there are significant changes to the plot and to the characters, the story takes some wholly unexpected directions, and of course there is the addition of a new character, the fourth Eva pilot Mari Illustrious Makinami.
I definitely don't want to spoil the differences in the story here, especially as some of them will leave the jaws of dedicated Evangelion fans hanging open. But if you still had qualms about this series of movies as being redundant in the face of the existing series, you can put those concerns to rest. The first film had some subtle changes, and one not at all subtle difference; this film is where the plot begins to diverge significantly from the original storyline. If that divergence continues, then the Evangelion rebuild movies will wind up as different to the Neon Genesis Evangelion series as the Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood series is to Full Metal Alchemist.
The themes are still the same though, it's still an examination of teenage alienation and isolation, albeit set in an apocalyptic future world, where said teens are the sole hope for humanity in the face of overwhelming attack. Throw in a whole heap of biblical, mystical and mythical references, and stew for 112 minutes, and you have a peach of a film. Shinji is still conflicted about his relationship with his father, still wants to live up to his expectations, yet still resenting his father for abandoning him, and those very same expectations. In this film, Shinji begins to tentatively form a bond with his father, mostly through external impetus. Misato pushes him, and so does Rei to a greater degree, but perhaps because of that, it's not a rapprochement destined for success. Rei is getting in touch with her humanity, which makes her relationships with both Shinji and his father complicated, as she has affection for both. Speaking of awkward triangles, this film sees the introduction of Asuka Langley Shikinami (note the name change), the brash confident pilot of the Eva 02, whose introduction rubs people the wrong way, when she insists on belittling everyone else. She's an avowed loner who is desperate to prove herself, but slowly finds that she's competing with Rei for Shinji's affections.
There are differences in these characters certainly, and to the relief of many, Shinji isn't as much of a whiner anymore, and he shows that he has a backbone on more than one occasion in this film. Rei's humanity and warmth is far more obvious in this version of the story, while the gap between Asuka's outer confidence and inner insecurity isn't as large as before. The characters seem more rounded, more human in the films, and less defined by their negative traits as they were in the television series.
The overall story is still the same, even if the details are different, and certain key points in the story such as the test of Eva Unit 03 do recur. The world is still embattled by Angels looking to finish the destruction that the Second Impact began, and in doing so bring about the Third Impact. So in between quiet moments of school life, relaxation, and teen angst, it's down to the Eva pilots to defend the world from the increasingly fantastic and bizarre Angels. There are still factions playing politics and scheming from behind the scenes. The various nations of the world all have their own Evangelion projects and international treaties govern how these can be developed and used. NERV ostensibly is trying to protect the world, but its hidden backers SEELE have something else in mind, which they use Gendou Ikari for. Meanwhile, Shinji's father has his own agenda, and there's something mighty odd happening on the moon. And then there is the fourth Child piloting the Evangelions, Mari Illustrious Makinami. But she's such a wonderful, and unique addition to the cast that rather than spoil it, I'll let you discover her for yourselves.
Evangelion just goes from strength to strength. This second film of four is excellent. It's got the animation, the action and edge of the seat thrills down pat. I'd defy you to not have a silly grin on your face when the 8th Angel attacks, requiring a race against time for the Evangelions to be in place to intercept. The visual spectacle aside though, the story and the characters are what make this film special. If Hideaki Anno can keep this up, the Evangelion rebuild movies may just turn out to be the best anime feature films yet. The only annoyance is that he's working to a 'they'll be ready when they're ready' schedule. It may guarantee the films' quality, but it also means that we'll probably have to wait until 2013 at the earliest to see Evangelion 3.0 in the West.