Manga Video // 1997 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // October 11th, 2002
"You were terrified by the invisible bonds that people form." -- Ghost of Yui to Gendo Ikari
In the end, you must make a choice. Judgment is all that remains. Should we cast off the body and become one? Should we learn to live with one another and ourselves?
In the end, Shinji Ikari must make his own choice. As SEELE, the ruling cabal that engineered the conflict between humans and angels, unveils its plans for the next stage of evolution, Shinji is paralyzed with shame and fear. His friends are dying around him. No one will take the burden from him. Only Shinji can pilot the final Evangelion and decide the destiny of the human race.
Nobody ever said the Apocalypse would be all sunshine and roses.
If you have not seen the previous episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, you should probably stop right now. There is no way to review this ambitious finale (which consists of two "revised" final episodes released theatrically, "Air" and "My Pure Heart for You") to the television series without major spoilers. I could just tell you that this is all brilliant and that you should rush out and buy it -- this is all true, of course. But to merely tell you, well, then you would not be exercising your free will. You would not be making a decision. Your hand would be forced. For you to make the decision, I would only be able to show you what I see, to let you empathize with my perspective, and then allow you to make the final choice on your own.
That is how free will works, after all. We are always caught in that bind within what we ought to do, what we are programmed (by biology, psychology, destiny, or whatever) to do, and what we want to do. If the Apocalypse is meant as a "final judgment," the point where all secrets are unveiled, then the key question must be, who makes that judgment?
Poor Shinji Ikari. We all know that he is not very good at making choices. Manipulated by his father Gendo, head of the embattled NERV enclave that defends the Earth from attacks by Angels, Shinji feels powerless. He is chosen as an Evangelion pilot, a task he definitely hates. Lives depend upon him. And all the women he is attracted to (perhaps projections of his dead mother, over whom Gendo also obsesses) seem to treat him as a pest, even an enemy. "All I ever do is hurt people, so I'd rather do nothing at all!" he announces.
But what Shinji does not understand, even to the last, is that his overabundance of empathy does not exempt him from action. To live in the world, to make decisions as an embodied subject among other subjects, is to commit an act of violence. Choices in suspension, possibilities and probabilities, must be sliced down to one act. To choose is to eliminate possibility. As Jacques Derrida remarks in The Politics of Friendship, "For democracy remains to come; this is its essence in so far as it remains: not only will it remain indefinitely perfectible, hence always insufficient and future, but, belonging to the time of the promise, it will always remain, in each of its future times, to come" (306). For subjects to choose as an exercise of free will always contains a risk of failure, the possibility that one might become the enemy. But there is also the possibility of learning, the promise of a future that improves upon the failures of the present. In this way, final judgment is always averted: time always promises us a new friendship -- and the risk of a new enemy.
The patriarchal determinism of history rejects this. Just read Hegel and Marx: the son must replicate the father, and so on until the apotheosis of time. The men of SEELE want to control evolution, as does Shinji's father. They want to choose how we live or die. They want us to leave our bodies and become one entity -- to destroy otherness utterly. And we see this vividly in End of Evangelion, as in a magnificent fugue, the human race bursts forth from physical form into a grand swirl surrounding the great mother herself, Lilith, taken the form of Rei Ayanami (herself a clone of Shinji's mother).
And this is also where SEELE's plans (and Gendo's) go very, very wrong. End of Evangelion reminds us, as did the television series itself, of the importance of mothers. Contrary to Aristotle (and go back to my Deep Focus column on hysteria to remind yourself what we are talking about), women do contribute to reproduction. The genetic chain (and notice how the end credits of End of Evangelion form a helix) is a chain of chance: the son may or may not be like the father. The system is unpredictable. Gendo's plans are upset by the appearance of the ghost of his beloved Yui, who brings him a message he does not want to hear. Ritsuko is betrayed by the ghost of her own mother, buried in the MAGI computer system. Asuka, awaking from her coma, believes her mother's spirit infuses her Evangelion and goes on a suicidal rampage against SEELE's sinister forces. Shinji feels constantly betrayed by Rei, Misato, and certainly Asuka -- and yet he depends on all of them for his salvation.
And when in the midst of his fateful decision, suspended in space while his Evangelion forms a Tree of Life as part of the final ritual, Shinji is offered his deepest wish, he can only remember (as a sort of stage play) his pain over the absence of his mother. All the characters want love, the recognition of that absent other, to validate their identities. If Shinji's frustration throughout the Evangelion series is over the ambiguous relationship we have to others, he invariably expresses this through withdrawal and even violence (going so far as to strangle Asuka in his fantasies). But he always comes back: he always needs others, even if he does not understand why. Shinji begs the comatose Asuka to save him, begs Misato to leave him alone. He wants unconditional validation, to have the power of choice taken away.
But Shinji cannot have it, because others have their own needs. Another subject, another person, is fundamentally incomprehensible, different from you. SEELE's plan to fuse all humanity and destroy all difference must fail because, as Shinji learns, reality itself is generated through opposition. Even during the ascension of souls, as all lonely souls are released to become one, the dream of isolation is revealed as just that: an empty dream. Reality is a group effort and requires multiple subjects (hence Derrida's notion that decidability leads to democracy). But in a world where others exist, there is always the possibility if fear and pain and failure.
But only through free will comes the potential for change and for real perfectibility. Only in a world where subjects compete comes, as Shinji realizes, "the chance to be happy." And so, the cycle starts again, time does not end, and final judgment is forestalled.
If all this analysis seems rather, well, complicated, it is here to demonstrate what I have been saying all along: Neon Genesis Evangelion is more than a mere mecha show. It is as philosophically complex as any "literary" work. Sure, this DVD release of the series finale, The End of Evangelion, looks and sounds gorgeous. Although the film is presented in its theatrical version (which differs from my bootleg of the laserdisc only in its opening and closing credits), Manga Video eschews an anamorphic transfer. Nonetheless, colors are bright and sharp, although I've always thought director Hideaki Anno overlights some of the scenes a bit much in an effort to give the drama an ethereal quality. Where Manga Video's transfer stands out is in the audio department. First of all, the English dub is not so bad: the cast pulls off the emotional extremes reasonably well. And finally, we are given a Japanese soundtrack equal to the English dub: both are presented with a choice of 2.0, 5.1, and DTS. You may have to manually select your soundtrack during play, however, as I discovered a glitch that caused the feature to revert to the English 2.0 no matter which option I picked from the menu. Maybe there is a message here about the difficulty of exercising one's free will.
Unfortunately, where Manga Video drops the ball this time out is on extras. After loading up the otherwise redundant Death and Rebirth disc with supplements, perhaps in an effort to get fans to buy it even though it is completely unnecessary to the story (remember, "Rebirth" is merely the first 30 minutes of End of Evangelion -- no more, no less), there is nothing here but a trailer and a commentary track. As for the commentary track, the first 30 minutes is, as I suspected on the Death and Rebirth disc, the exact same commentary from "Rebirth." Go ahead and skip to chapter 5, where the new stuff begins. As before, Amanda Winn Lee and Jason Lee spend most of the first episode joking like this was an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and laughing at their own often crude quips. Amanda Lee also spends a lot of time trying to justify some moments of, well, liberal translation. In the second episode, the Lees defer more to Taliesin Jaffe, who interjects substantive comments on the mythic references in the film and other serious issues.
Very few television shows aspire to art. The ones that succeed can easily be counted on one hand. Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of them. Disguised as an action show with giant robots and a level of hysteria more befitting to a psycho ward than prime time television, Evangelion builds momentum over the course of its 26 episodes until it reaches The End of Evangelion. At times lovely, at times terrifying, frequently cryptic, The End of Evangelion may not wrap up the lives of Shinji and his friends in a neat little package, but it will keep fans coming back to tease out more questions, if few actual answers. Although the film does not stand on its own (you will need to pick up the series first to make any sense of this -- I am not sure that the "summary" of the show in Death and Rebirth will suffice), even someone not familiar with the ins and outs of Evangelion cannot help but be impressed at this film's scope and ambition, as well as the stunning animation and art design, which is still some of the best in anime.
But in the end, what more can I say about the wonders of The End of Evangelion? The decision is up to you.
This court acknowledges that it has no jurisdiction over the actions and choices of Shinji Ikari: he has made his own future and must now live in it. However, Manga Video is given a suspended sentence for failure to provide adequate supplements, a somewhat redundant commentary track, and other minor infractions.
Review content copyright © 2002 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Track by Amanda Winn Lee, Jason Lee, and Taliesin Jaffe
* Translation of the Japanese Screenplay
* Another Interpretation of the Film