Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance
NERV's struggle against the enigmatic angels continues, with the battle spreading to fronts outside of Japan and the attacks increasing markedly in intensity as two new pilots, the hot-tempered Asuka Langley Shinigami and the mysterious Mari Minikami, join Shinji and Rei. Meanwhile, more is revealed about the nature of the second impact and the state of our ruined Earth, while Gendo's real motivations remain uncertain and personal tensions threaten to bring the entire effort to catastrophe.
How wonderful it is when the promises hinted at but never truly fulfilled finally come to fruition. A work of art may attempt to stir one on multiple levels and yet only succeed with one, and in the case of the 1995 series Neon Genesis Evangelion, a three-pronged tour-de-force of glorious mecha battles, philosophical science fiction, and emotionally riveting drama was promised, with only the first two really being satisfactorily carried out. The show did indeed fascinate with its psychological examinations, and yet it often struggled to make its characters empathetic, highlighting their flaws at the expense of one's ability to root for them in themselves and making the experience of watching the series feel somewhat detached if always interesting. I can firmly say, however, that the second film in the Rebuild of Evangelion series has done exactly what the original series wanted and tried to do and never quite succeeded at. The story has, at last, become relatable, the powerful narrative combining with the onscreen artistic talent and ponderings to at last make an Evangelion that is at last possible to love as well as admire.
Before I continue with such praise, however, I must highlight the handful of missteps the film makes, for while they are few and their impact is inconsequential, they will still likely stick out to any active viewer. The film, unfortunately, gets off to something of a rocky start, beginning with the introduction of a character new to the franchise, Mari, without successfully proving her importance to the storyline. Although she has some interesting scenes later in the film that hint at what she may come to do in coming entries, her entrance feels out of place, and this, combined with the presence of some horrendously articulated English dialogue in the background, makes the first scene immeasurably shakier than anything else the film presents us with. The movie, like most anime, is also interlaced with select scenes of fan service, and while they ultimately do not intrude on the film's plot, I found their presence to be a bit pointless (if amusingly nostalgic of the original series' trademark "expect more fanservice!" tagline). Such quibbles, really, do little besides show that it is difficult to make a movie whose entire being shines with perfection, and while Evangelion 2.0 is an excellent work, calling it one of the best anime films ever made would be a tricky claim to make. Ultimately, however, the missteps prove to be inconsequential, being quickly and continuously outweighed by the spectacle that makes this film so enjoyable to watch.
And indeed, the sheer artistic quality of this film is unbelievable. As with You Are (Not) Alone, the fighting sequences continue to flourish with the aid of the superb animation and an extensive team of artists, the original series' scene in which the Evas must contend with the descent of an orbital Angel being enhanced with a more vivid color scheme, shots carefully cinematographed to deliver the right amount of tension, and the computer-enhanced additions to the Angels' design itself becoming jaw-dropping as a result. The series' mecha remain as distinctive as ever, the battles done with just the right combination of action and slow buildup needed to keep the viewer's eyes locked directly on the screen, and while those with more of an interest in the storyline than the fighting itself will likely find this to be superfluous to their interest, those fond of such entertainment (as I am) will be in for a treat. And even in its quieter moments, Studio Khara's art and animation suits the movie perfectly, with shifted palettes effectively highlighting plot twists, the careful use of shadows and fluid motion giving the appearance a welcome degree of realism, and the character design, if stuck in the 1990's, being consistently nice to look at.
But for what the impressive paint job does, this is still Neon Genesis Evangelion, and regardless of the changed pace, the mythological elements, whether one regards them as fascinating or hokey, continue to pour in. This stage in the Rebuild of Evangelion series serves to reintroduce us to many of the themes that arose midway through the television series, with the physical state of the post-apocalypic Earth being given a particularly extensive look. The ponderings, however, hardly overwhelm the pace of the film: more than the series ever did, Evangelion 2.0 highlights the elements it needs in order to tell an effective story. We get, for example, a poignant and effectively placed personal memory of the Second Impact amidst the scenes of the present day, as well as a short sequence in which a center designed to preserve Earth's remaining wildlife briefly yet profoundly touches on the sheer amount of death and destruction brought about, and, at the end, a surprising twist that hints at the true purpose of the EVAs amidst the climactic final battle. The mythology remains fascinating to me personally, as much as I admit that its significance as "Christian" imagery is questionable, and while the slow discussions are spaced out enough so that the film maintains its flow, they maintain the series' original atmosphere of "biological surrealism", with the question of humankind's necessity and purpose on Earth continuing to loom over its daily efforts to maintain a workable life.
And yet all of this was present in the original television series as well, for as much as the careful pacing and improved artistry do, Evangelion 2.0 is as much a mecha series that more deeply hints at questions of human existence as it was before. What truly brings it to the front is the emotional impact it provides: it now succeeds at giving Shinji the appearance of wanting to grow up and be a more confident person, depicts Rei's slowly unfolding and learning to express kindness and thanks to others, and giving Asuka a terse and yet surprisingly tender scene with Shinji that made me feel more affection for her in 10 minutes than I ever did in the entirety of the series. Indeed, the film finds its heart in the scene where Asuka, while being deployed aboard her Eva and conversing with Misato honestly for the first time, has a moment of genuine happiness rather than her usual cynical sneer, in Rei's admirable attempts to reconcile Shinji with his father, and, most of all, in the final sequences, where the desire to save someone else from pain succeeds at forcing one to loosen the hold on their personal shell, which, ultimately, I view as the underlying theme of the entire Evangelion franchise. This time around, the characters are people I would cry over if they were harmed in real life, and whose attempts to be better people make their eventual suffering heartbreaking rather than merely sad: this is an Evangelion whose strength lies in its characters rather than on the stories weaved around them, and it is thus an emotionally riveting movie to watch. By the end, I was shaking and crying over the full impact of what I had just seen, and if the upcoming sequels can continue to branch the characters out effectively while still incorporating them into the story well, the medium of anime may end up with a series to remember for years afterwards.
There has always been something special to me about the Neon Genesis Evangelion story, for as often as I hear criticisms that strike it down as being slow, less deep than it portrays itself as being, and difficult to watch, I find it and it's story to be endlessly intriguing. Now, with this second look, it has becoming emotionally affecting as well, a development that may ultimately make viewers remember its underlying theme of human loneliness better than the mere images and tales of the original series ever did. While there are enough flaws to notice, Evangelion 2.0 is, in my opinion, a superb movie: an enrapturing story that never loses sight of its characters and never ceases to highlight just how important they are to everything.
The problems, in my opinion, hardly detract at all from the excitement and sheer emotional strength that made this film so satisfying to watch. As with the first movie, those without an interest in mecha, as well as those with strong reservations about the franchise, may dock at least one star. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: The fan service that made the original series so infamous is visible in the form of some underwear here, a raunchy joke there, and a few choice shots, and while it hardly overwhelms the film, it may bother conservative viewers. The amount of graphic violence and intense emotional torment will, meanwhile, make this entirely inapprorpriate for children, although most teenagers should be fine.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance © 2009 Studio Khara
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