Saturday, April 2, 2011

Evangelion: 2.22 - Blu-ray Review



EVANGELION: 2.22
YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE.



Blu-ray/DVD Release Date: March 29, 2011

The second part to the recreation of the legendary anime series has arrived. Anyone that ever tried to watch the original series and just felt lost or confused can finally see what all the excitement was about back in 1995. This along with part one are here to help usher in a whole new fanbase as well as give long time fans like myself a chance to relive one of the greatest series of all time.


Review Vital Stats:
Format: Blu-ray
Player: LG Model 370 
Monitor: Samsung 40' LCD Series 5
Picture Quality: 1080p
Sound Quality: True HD - English

Biases:
Loves: The original series (plus the original movies), everything Asuka related
Likes: Most of the changes made, the new look and animation that was created
Neutral: Re-imaginings in general
Hates: That they gave my Asuka the short end of the stick
Confused?: Don't worry, that is what this show excels at


Note to anime fans, I watched this film using the English Dub. If that is a deal breaker for you then so be it. Just thought I would be up front about it in case that is an issue for you (which it most likely is).

The original series Neon Genesis Evangelion was a monumental release back in the mid-nineties. While it was not the first show to feature mechs or anything like that, it was the first anime to explore the idea of a mech anime from a very religious and extremely grim perspective. The series and film's creator Hideaki Anno was quite literally out of his mind when he first created it (he was suffering from clinical depression). Many fans ended up despising him for luring them in with a fantastic show with great characters and production values and then turning it all into a metaphorical nightmare when it all ended (the actual series never had a proper ending, it all took place in the main character's mind). After trying to make amends with the release of two films shortly after the series ended it still didn't make much sense unless you watched them a couple dozen times. It felt more like he was rubbing salt on a wound instead of bandaging it up. So now, almost a decade or so later he has given us what I consider to be a laymans terms vision of the original series. While the production values are astounding and it is beyond amazing to see my favorite characters back in action I found some of the changes that were made to certain characters to be both a blessing and a curse.

Just a quick tip, if you are unfamiliar with the show then I apologize in advance. Much of the wording will have no meaning for you but there is absolutely no other way to discuss this film (although the disc comes with a rather informative booklet with a glossary of terms and their meanings as well as many other things). Also, don't be surprised if most of this review comes off as overly fanboyish because I am one of the biggest Evangelion fanboys you will find.

We pick up directly after the events in Evangelion 1:11 and find ourselves in a different Evangelion construction base where they are under attack by the 3rd Angel. The newly introduced Eva pilot Mari takes it down quickly and enthusiastically but unfortunately her Evangelion Unit 03 is destroyed in the process. We then cut back to Tokyo-3 in Japan as the 7th Angel moves in on Nerv headquarters. Shinji and Misato are nowhere near the HQ and just when all seems lost in comes Evangelion Unit 02 to save the day. This Eva unit is of course piloted by every ones favorite red head with attitude, Asuka Langley Shikinami. Now Shinji, Asuka and Rei must all learn to work together as a team to fight off the other Angels as they attempt to breach Nerv and retrieve Lilith, the dormant Angel that lies miles underground.

Be prepared for all sorts of religious iconography.

In order for me to properly convey my feelings on this film I must give a (hopefully) brief history on my relationship with this series. I was browsing my local video store one day and other than a few anime movies I had never truly ever considered myself an anime fan at that point. I had heard things from other people about this amazing series call Neon Genesis Evangelion. It had already been released here in the U.S. completely by this point and when I saw it on that video store shelf I picked it up to see what the hell everyone was talking about. My life would never be the same, I powered through all 26 episodes in a matter of days (keep in mind these were VHS tapes with only two episodes per tape that I was renting). Even with the mindf*@# ending I was in love with anime finally. This series is responsible for my sizable anime collection, the conventions I have attended and most definitely for emptying my bank account.

I watched it all again as they were released on DVD, imported the two films WITHOUT any subtitles just to finally see them (it took over 5 years for them to finally get a proper U.S. release). I have shown it to countless people, if they didn't understand it I was there on hand to be their personal Evangelion bible. Then after the directors cut of the last few episodes of the series were released there was no mention of it anymore aside from the Weta Workshop live action attempt that never left the ground (thank goodness for that). Imagine my surprise when these films were announced then. Hearing that they were supposed to be a more coherent version of the television series made me slightly hesitant and cautiously optimistic. The charm to the entire series for me was wading through each episode numerous times to see if I could find a new meaning in the nearly incomprehensible storyline. Knowing that we had a version that was gonna spoon feed the mysteries and complexities to the masses almost made me angry...at first.

Asuka is back! And the fiery red head has never looked better!

Then after some thought I decided to give it the old wait and see approach. Low and behold we are now two films in and I so far have very little issue with them. I never reviewed the first film but rest assured that if I did it would be highly praised. What caught me off guard though were some of the changes or edits to the narrative. The first film which comprised of the first half dozen or so television episodes kept pretty faithful and made some smart decisions on where to cut the fat. But I wasn't all that interested in the first film though. It had nothing to do with its quality but more or less due to the lack of a certain character that pretty much defined anime for me. There was no Asuka!

Asuka is and always will be my favorite character (anime or live action) of all time. I know she isn't a fan favorite over there in Japan (that honor goes to Rei) but I just love her to death. When I mentioned that I powered through the series in a couple of days I neglected to mention when the powering through began. It was that glorious episode number eight when Asuka is introduced that I officially became hooked. Her character was brash, uncompromising, bitchy, over confident and most of all had some deep seeded issues that helped put her behavior in perspective. She was a broken person on the inside and as the show progressed she actually became a very sympathetic character. She never backed down from a fight, her over confidence was almost always made good on by her actions and she was the only person to ever truly tell Shinji off for being such a wimp.

Asuka is caught trying to be nice and doesn't like it much.

I could go on all day about her but will forgo that for your sake. So, with her being such an integral part of the Evangelion experience for me I was completely on edge waiting for this second film to make its way over to our shores. I was saddened by her not making the cover art for the case but at least she made it on to the back. On the front of the disc case was the new girl Mari I had kept hearing about. I took note of this mainly because I had built up in my mind from how the series was constructed that this was to be Asuka's movie so I was a little put off by this choice. The first film kept all the characters from the show without introducing anyone new so I was interested to see how this new Eva pilot (Mari) would be integrated into the already very complicated storyline of Evangelion. What would she add to the mix that was missing?


The answer to that isn't quite as cut and dry as I would like. While I found Mari to be an exceptional addition to the cast of original characters (I just love her bloodthirsty nature) I wasn't quite prepared for how she (the character) would step on Asuka's toes. To be fair there were many changes done to the overall story but how the film's creators came in and completely changed Asuka's character arc was just uncalled for. This should have been her film, she was to be introduced her late into the film series just like in the latter part of the television series. It would take up way too much time and space to go into all the changes made to her character but suffice to say that beyond her basic personality she is a shell of her former self which is just heartbreaking to me. Because this film could have introduced a whole new legion of fans to her greatness and unfortunately she is used here so sparingly that she almost seems like an after thought and that literally kills me inside.

It brings a tear to my eye seeing the trio back together again.

With ALL that being said and out of the way I would like to talk about my feelings on the film sans Asuka's lobotomy. I thought all the other changes to the story were smart and well done. I always hated Shinji in the television series and was startled to find him to be much less of a little crying bitch this time around. Sure he still screams and gets all emotional most of the time but he almost never goes into self-loathing mode. There are moments where I actually thought to myself, "Man, Shinji is a bad ass". And that was blasphemy to even think like that about him in his original incarnation.

Same goes for Rei, in the series she was closed off and wanted nothing to do with any of the other Eva pilots. Whenever Shinji would try and help her all he ever received in return was a cold shoulder. In this alternate version Rei has finally become (Gasp!) a real character. I never really cared for her in the series because of how distant she was but I actually found myself liking her quite a bit near the end of this film. The moments when Shinji helps her or pays special attention to her were well done and made their budding relationship work which just shocked the hell out of me. When Rei attempts to bring Shinji and his father Gendo together (something Shinji is always wishing for) for a dinner, it actually got to me. For once, and I can't believe I am saying this, but for once I found Rei to be a better match for Shinji than Asuka (whom in the series was the one he connected with the most).

Mari gets downright insane during battles.

All the other characters like Misato, Ritsuko, and Gendo are pretty much off on the side lines to call shots and basically yell at the kids as they pilot their Evas. If you wish to know their characters more in depth you must travel to the murky and confusing waters of the original series I'm afraid. And Asuka wasn't the only returning character from the show to be introduced here in the second film. We also see the return of Kaji, the cool and collected guy that still owns Misato's heart despite her constantly being infuriated at his playboy antics. It was nice to see him again and I am very curious to see how they handle his character in the next film considering what happened to him in the series. The only other character worth bringing up is the new girl Mari.

I am not sure that I have a full grasp on what exactly Anno and the others are attempting to do with her character yet. While as I mentioned before she is a fantastic character and she steals the show every time she is on screen, I found her inclusion here to be rather baffling at times. She is in the opening (and amazing) fight but after that she is gone again for the next hour. When she does finally show up in Tokyo-3 we only see her briefly and then she is gone again until the final bombastic act where she proceeds to go crazy insane on anything that gets in her way. I guess my real issue is that NONE of the characters even know who she is. She has a few words with Shinji but even then he still doesn't know who she is. She is never given a proper character introduction and seems to be there to take all the glory from Asuka by doing what she did in the series for her. Like I said, I like her a lot but found her to be a big question mark for what the future holds for the next film concerning her character.

Gendo just doesn't give a shit.

If you have made it this far then I must apologize for a second time because it is time to break it to you. If you have found any of what I have said to be enticing then this could be a deal breaker for you and is honestly what I believe to be the driving force behind the confusion on what exactly the series and now the films are actually about. It is all a huge religious metaphor of sorts. The cross symbol is not used in a subtle manner at all. You got the cross shaped explosions from the Angels, the cross that Lilith is hanging from, the cross that Misato wears and so on. Those are not the only religious imagery you will find here either. At one point one of the Evangelion units has a halo over its head of all things.

The history of the Evangelion world is that there was an event 15 years ago called the second impact where more than half the Earth's population was wiped out. The seas turned red where no living creature can survive and the only living organism that survived that apocalyptic event is lying in wait at the base of Nerv HQ as creatures lovingly called Angels systematically try to penetrate its defenses to reach this being named Lilith. And while both the show and film share the same amount of religious overtones at least the film isn't trying to conceal all its secrets until the final act. Which is where I think the film actually makes the entire religious angle work in a much more manageable way.

Yep...not very subtle at all.

The impenetrable nature of the original series with the mysteries surrounding things like Seele and the Human Instrumentality Project come across a lot better here in the film than they ever did in the show. I had to watch the series numerous times before I had a good grasp on what the hell was going on but the film(s) do exactly what they were meant to do in this regard. They lay everything down on the table outright and other than a few key plot points leave nothing concealed which is probably a breath of fresh air for all those out there frustrated by the show. There is one last thing that the film does quite a bit better than the series and that is regarding all the Angel encounters.

I guarantee that you have never seen creatures this awe inspiring before. While some of the designs fall on the side of being a little bit too obscure I still found each and every one of them to be as impressive as the first time I saw them a decade and a half ago. And to see them all realized with the new coat of paint that everything else in the film received is like icing on the cake. The beauty of the Angels is just not in their design but their functionality as well. With each new Angel comes a new challenge for our Eva pilots as they attempt to destroy these monsters before they can reach Lilith and end the world. Some are able to be taken down rather easily by just one Evangelion while others need a team of three to take it down. The uniqueness of each individual Angel helps bring an element of surprise that will help keep anyone unfamiliar with them on their toes.

The angels are some of the strangest and  most imaginative things ever committed to screen.

Lastly (I promise) the new animation done for not just this release but for the first film as well is just phenomenal. I never thought I would ever see Evangelion animated better than in the film The End of Evangelion but I am glad to say I am wrong on that account. While their is not one single battle sequence in either film so far that trumps Asuka's final hurrah in that original film I cannot in good conscience say that it actually looked better than what we are given here. You can tell there was a lot of work put into these re-imaginings and not one thing was given any less attention than another. And as for the Blu-ray disc itself, the HD picture and sound are amazing to behold and make this a must purchase for that point alone.

I know this has been a long (and probably complicated) ride but I do have an overall opinion on the film itself regardless of my problems with its adaptation. As a sequel to the first film I think it is a grand achievement in both visuals and storytelling. The story of Evangelion is one of the most cryptic and compelling things I have ever encountered before. If you like your anime served up with fantastic characters, outstanding animation, and limitless imagination while being thoroughly challenged on a mental level then you can do no wrong with this film. As an adaptation goes it committed a great sin against all Asuka fans out there and that was an unfortunate event. I can only hope and pray that the next film gives Asuka more to do and that she becomes more like her old self again. But even if that doesn't happen I am more than positive that it to will knock my socks off just as Evangelion 2.22 did.



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What's on the disc?

While I don't normally expect the special features for an anime film to be very extensive, I did get a little excited when I saw all those bullet points on the back of the case. But low and behold, just about all of them are fairly pointless and feel like extra padding. Don't get me wrong, if this was all Funimation could get from Japan then so be it but the way everything is listed on the case is a little deceiving. Just for reference, I would have purchased this gladly with zero extra features. You will see the word "montage" used a lot below and that is because much of everything here is just a series of scenes played to music which is kind of a let down. The one lone U.S. feature of the audio commentary is probably the most worthwhile thing here but only if you like and care about the English dub. If you don't then unfortunately you don't have much else to look forward to here. Although I really liked how the features got checked off each time I watched them, I have never seen that before and found it quite convenient to keep track of what I had watched already.


Things get pretty ugly in the final act.

Rebuild of Evangelion 2.02 (22:27 min) HD - This feature consists of a series of scenes from the film shown in storyboards, pre-vis animatics, and alternate angles. Basically it all amounts to a quick and dirty way of showing off the amount of work done to recreate the series. It is all played in a montage style with constant music tracks playing over the visuals. My only gripe with this is that it is fairly lengthy for a montage and it definitely feels long after a while but it is all well done and interesting.

U.S. Cast Commentary (29:41 min) -  Now this was done in an interesting way. Hosted by Line Producer Mike McFarland, we get a series of individual ten to fifteen minute chats with the English voice cast. Spike Spencer (Shinji), Brina Palencia (Rei), Allison Keith (Misato), Tiffany Grant (Asuka) plus many more show up. For someone that loves the English voice cast I found everything they had to say and contribute to be quite interesting. From Spike Spencer and Allison Keith's reflections on being attached to the series for so long to Brina discussing how amazing it is to be part of such a revered anime. And it was a real treat (me being such a huge Asuka fan) to hear Tiffany Grant give her thoughts on her experiences from recording the character for the past 14 years (along with her dismay over Asuka no longer speaking German). Overall this is great stuff that thankfully fills the void left by the other lackluster features here.

Japanese Original Trailer (1:27 min) HD - Your standard everyday trailer with scenes from the film.

Train Channel Spot (00:14 min) HD - Not too sure what a train channel is but this is the same as a TV spot.

DVD and Blu-ray Spots (3:00 min) HD - Two quick ads for TV again along with a promo reel that runs a couple minutes long showing scenes in a montage form...again.

Japanese TV Spots (1:38 min) HD - A series of very quick spots. They are all so quick that the music that plays and restarts every ten to fifteen seconds really start to get on my nerves (they are not individually selectable).

Omitted Scenes (3:25 min) HD - Four brief scenes with three shown in storyboard form and one in pre-vis animatics. Nothing really note worthy since the dialog from each scene is still in the finished film. These felt more like alternate scenes more than omitted.

Remixed Scene aka "I Would Give You Anything" Scene NOGUCH ver. (4:55 min) HD - I am still a little unsure what exactly this is. It is called one thing on the back of the Blu-ray case and something else entirely on the disc itself. Then the actual content seems to be nothing more than the final scene of the film with one of the music selections playing over it. Perhaps I missed something but I didn't really see any point to this feature at all.

Trailers HD - A collection of trailers from FUNIMATION's catalog.

Included in the actual Blu-ray case is a mini booklet with information on all the subjects, terms, characters and situations that occur in the second film. So if you are weary of jumping into the series and being lost I suggest picking it up regardless because this little booklet is like a mini Evangelion bible and will answer most if not all your questions.

Mari adds some interesting, ahem, assests to the cast.

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Final Verdict:

If you have seen the first film then this is a no brainer, if you haven't seen it then do so immediately and pick this one up while your at it. I cannot steer anyone away from this film because of my own personal issues with it. It is without a doubt one of the greatest achievements in the anime world and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible in which ever way they can take it. The Blu-ray packs a spectacular picture and amazing audio but the extra features are unfortunately lacking. If you are a fan of the Japanese only dialog you will not find anything of use here but if you are inclined to go the dub route you will find the commentary a good listen. It goes without saying at this point I think but let me be clear just in case...

BUY IT IMMEDIATELY


You can purchase the first film, Evangelion 1.11, from Amazon by clicking the images below.

Blu-ray                                   DVD
Evangelion: 1.11 You Are Not Alone [Blu-ray]         Evangelion: 1.11 You Are Not Alone

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