EVANGELION 2.22 BluRay Review
One of my favorite BluRay releases from last year was Funimation's "Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone". That film showed the beginning of the original series with hardly any noticeable changes story-wise, but the cosmetic facelift given to the decade-old material was nothing short of jawdropping. And although the Bluray (reviewed here in this link) was light on extras the picture and sound quality was awesome.
Now, slightly more than one year later, we get the follow-up on BluRay: "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance". Is Evangelion as stunningly epic as ever? Will the story finally diverge from the series? Is Hideaki Anno losing it completely?
In short yes, yes, and (probably) yes, but rest assured that I'll elaborate. Hugely even, if I don't control myself...
Earth is still being attacked by huge creatures called "angels", and the only weapons capable of harming them are a few "EVA", huge biomechanical creatures piloted by teenagers.
The two Japanese EVA-pilots Rei and Shinji share a troubled relation with Shinji's father who heads the EVA project. It's a situation Rei tries to resolve to keep the neurotic Shinji from becoming depressed.
But there are serious distractions. First, a new pilot arrives: the arrogant, outspoken and aggressively ambitious Asuka. Second, the American EVA-base disappears in an unknown calamity. Third, the angels attack Japan harder than ever before.
Is this finally the biblical end of the world?
One of the criticisms aimed at "Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone" was that storywise, there was almost no difference whatsoever with the original series. It was a slightly condensed version of the first six episodes with some puzzling seconds of a character from episode twenty-four stuck on the end of it. This made fans wonder: would each of the four films just cover six or seven episodes, and offer just slight differences instead of a new storyline?
Not according to director Hideaki Anno. He claimed that the second film would already wrap up the series while film three and four would cover what happens afterwards in parallel ways, covering the same material but from different viewpoints.
People fearing Anno would play the story straight this time obviously needed not be afraid of that anymore.
And "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance" seems to confirm Anno's claim. Instead of brushing up the contents of a few episodes, this second film covers everything from episode seven till nineteen and includes parts of episodes twenty to twenty-three. That's a massive amount of content, and thankfully Hideaki Anno doesn't try to condense it all like he did in the first film. Instead he retells the general story in broad strokes, adds a new flashback with a new character at the start of the film, and some additional content to create characters slightly changed from their counterparts in the original series.
Oh, and he ends the film with the End-Of-The-World. Unless you watch past the end-credits, when the End-Of-The-World gets stopped again. Normally I'd consider this to be a spoiler but with Evangelion this sort of thing is par for the course anyway...
You'd think with all of this stuff in it the film would burst apart from sheer exposition alone, but no: as always Hideaki Anno keeps things intentionally vague. Instead he shows several shots of daily life in Tokyo-3, where people mostly just get on with their lives even though the cityscape changes on a daily basis (either through morphing into a fortress or by being flattened by giant aliens). There doesn't seem to be any progression in the story either for most of the film. You see the teenage soap taking place between Shinji, his colleagues-friends and his father, and on occasion all hell breaks loose when they all have to fight another angel.
But this approach works greatly to the movie's advantage. Watching these daily sweet nothings gets you immersed into the film's world and invested in its characters. "Evangelion 2.22" remarkably manages to convey the feeling of a long-running series, even though in film form it is not. And if I make it all sound sedate, rest assured it isn't that either. There are a whopping five angels to battle in this film ("Evangelion 1.11" only had three) and these fights are glorious to say the least. The first movie's animation looked very good, merging the series' designs with modern cgi in a way which was esthetically pleasing instead of jarring. Well, guess what: movie number two does that even better.
I was lucky enough to catch this film in a cinema during last year's Camera Japanese Film Festival in Rotterdam and seeing the world of Evangelion on the big screen was mesmerizing. Each moneyshot delivered, audio and video were awesome and the giant (epic) size of both the EVAs and the angels was truly done justice. Seeing Shinji in his massive EVA-01 run fast enough to break the sound barrier (accompanied by nearly unimaginable destruction) is one of the most exhilarating depictions of speed and momentum I've ever seen in a film.
The effect is slightly lessened when watching this on a television but still very impressive.
But even with both the soapy parts and the action set-pieces working fine, there is no denying things feel rushed. With its many characters there are too many relations to juggle, and even with this new leaner storyline there are a few shortcuts made which are unfortunate. A few of my favorite angels from the series are missing or have been merged into a new one, the famous Asuka mind-rape of episode twenty-two is gone (although to be honest her character doesn't have time to get obnoxious enough to be able to show the effect of that stunning sequence properly) and most of the humor feels childish or falls flat. People hoping for more information than they got from the series are advised to let go of that: the only exposition you'll get concerning the angels, God or the EVAs comes from scientists prattling nonsensically during some of the scarier fights.
It adds a familiar level of frustration, because the lack of a proper explanation for the goings-on has always been a trademark of all Evangelion incarnations. Then again, this is about Shinji and how he feels insignificant, unloved and unworthy of love even when he is saving the world all the time. Ever since the very first episode of the very first series it has been like this. Anno constantly seems to be trying to tell the audience something but the conversation goes like this:
"Look at this poor boy who..." Oooh!!! Aliens! What are they? Tell me about them!
"Well, there is this boy and..." Ooooh!!! Giant Robots! Who made them? Tell me about it!
"And it's like, he feels ignored and ..." Nekkid girls!!! WoooHOOO! Will they have sex?
"Because his father and mother..." Religious mystery!!! This is soooo cool, in a sacrilegious sort-of way! Explain the conspiracy!
".........................................." Why are you so quiet!!! Tell us what we want to know! TELL US!
And in a way, you can wonder what Shinji's story would be like without all those aliens, robots, fan-service and Christian imagery in the background. A lot less commercially viable probably...
Speaking of fan-service, this film introduces us to the character of Asuka Langley who in the original series spoofed the concept of fan-service mercilessly while providing most of it. In the episode previews she even taunted viewers with it, shouting a cheerful: "More fan-service next time!" at the end. And indeed, patient viewers can expect that same call-out at the very end (post-credits) of this film.
On this site I've ranted several times already against the whole "lolicon" rage which plagues anime recently. Here it should be no different: both Rei and Asuka are mentioned to be fourteen years old, so any sexualization of their characters ought to be written off as creepy. But here is the thing: seen through Shinji's eyes as a fourteen-year old boy it makes perfect sense to be confronted with sexuality like this (and thankfully the girls are drawn as slightly more adult than the script says they are, instead of the pre-teens which apparently define "hot" in several series today). Also, there is almost always something more behind it. For example there is a very, VERY explicit panty-shot halfway through the film courtesy of Asuka (the "behind-the-scenes" on the BluRay even shows this shot was carefully rendered in 3D-cgi, then cell-shaded to look like 2D inked art) but you still have the feeling that it's been put there not just for titillation's sake, but also to depict the inner sexual turmoil that comes with entering puberty.
And that also fits the epic destruction on display, the allusions to Christian (or generally paternal) conspiracies, the almost improper focus on technical details, the sense of not entirely understanding what's happening... Hideaki Anno seems to delight in confusing the audience back into puberty to have them gain more empathy with Shinji.
Well, I'm definitely interested in what he'll come up with next.
No matter how crazy or over-the-top it gets, the Evangelion phenomenon remains a strangely compelling viewing experience. It is a fever dream for sure, but one that has been lovingly embellished with details and technically polished until it has become its own weird-yet-beautiful thing. "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance" undeniably suffers from compression issues, cramming its content in ways which prevent any sort of coherent plot. Then again Evangelion never needed a story really, just a few hints of one and an overall sense of dread. The action-setpieces have never been (or looked) better and make up for most of the shortfalls.
This film cannot be recommended as a starting point or a first encounter with the world of Evangelion, but if you wanted to know what happened after "Evangelion 1.11" you're in for a treat! Now bring on parts three and four already...
On to the BluRay:
Funimation has released "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance" as a BluRay which is region-A and region-B compliant. European collectors beware: Manga UK will be releasing this film (in a few weeks) in a version which is completely similar contentwise, so waiting a few days might save you a few bucks on postage & packaging.
As for what's on the disc: so far this is already the most-played BluRay in my household this year, and the reasons for that are manifold.
First and foremost: the picture- and sound quality are just as awesome as they were for the first film.
Second: some of the action scenes in this film just rock on all levels and warrant infinite replaying. The desperate run to catch angel number eight is something I watch almost weekly, whenever I feel a need to scratch that itch. It's THAT good.
Back to the first reason: the image is demo-quality. Lesser films just crumble in its vicinity. Likewise, the sound is a stellar True HD-6.1 for both the Japanese and the English dub. Subtitles are excellent as far as I can judge, and are not "dubtitles".
Now for extras:
The release of "Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone" was very shallow on extras, containing only a decomposition of cgi-effects put to different kinds of music and a bunch of trailers. Its saving grace extra-wise was the booklet, which (small though it was) contained plenty of interesting information. And I can say almost exactly the same about "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance" as this is fully aligned. No interviews, no true making-of, no documentary about the whole Evangelion-craze, nothing on the Japanese production, its ideas, advancements or its impact. You have the same kind of cgi-previsualization and loads of trailers, but only the 20-page booklet provides some real information.
And again there is not a peep from Hideaki Anno himself which remains odd, as he is royally spilling the beans about Evangelion on the commentary track he did for the BluRay-releases of "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind". He also discusses the series and films in several other extras which can be found on the Japanese and English discs for that movie, even though Evangelion is not a Studio Ghibli film.
(NOTE: for some reason Disney chose not to include the aforementioned commentary on their USA BluRay-release of "Nausicaä". Them's the breaks...)
Can we have a commentary track by Anno on the last Evangelion films please, so he can talk freely without fear of spoiling things (3.0 and 4.0 are rumored to be released together on the same day)?
Funimation has added one pretty fundamental extra though: a commentary track with the American dubbing team. Now personally I am not THAT interested in the English-language dub (I always watch Japanese with English subs) but this commentary is actually very much worth a listen or two. Instead of a bunch of people in a room talking about what's happening onscreen we have Adr. director Mike McFarland basically hosting a series of interviews with select members of the American voice cast (and some technical members as well). Each interview lasts ten to fifteen minutes and the guests talk about what Evangelion in general and this film in particular means to them. This item is interesting because several of these people have been voicing the same characters for the past fifteen years now, throughout all different incarnations of Evangelion. Some know their Japanese counterparts, all have anecdotes about meeting fans at conventions and all interviews branch off towards work in other anime as well. The general dubbing process gets explained as well, and the problems with pronouncing Japanese names. Example: for Masuka, do you use Western-sounding My-SUE-ka or original Japanese MUSH' ka?
But first and foremost, this is the only extra which discusses the impact Evangelion has had in anime, its fanatical following, the character changes between series and films, and this is all discussed by people who've been there and know their business.
Well done Funimation! I was actually disappointed when the commentary ended 25 minutes before the film did.
A word on packaging: Funimation has released "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance" in a slipcase which is totally unlike their release of "Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone". Which is a shame, even if by itself this one is rather attractive. Sitting side-by-side you have to read the spines to know the two movies are related, with "1.11" in a holographic cardboard discholder while "2.22" is in a regular BluRay-amaray with a (too loose-fitting) embossed slipcase.
You can see pictures of this packaging in our forum: in this link here.
All in all a nice release, still too slight on extras (just as "1.11" was) but oh man does the main feature shine...
You can order this edition of "Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance" through our US-affiliate:
Link to this disc
Alternatively, if you're from Europe or Africa you can (pre-) order one of Manga-UK's similar editions through our affiliate there:
Link to Manga UK's combi-collector's release, out next month
Link to Manga UK's regular release, also out next month
Finally, here is the link to my review of the Evangelion 1.11 BluRay:
Evangelion 1.11 reviewed here