Manga Video // 1997 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // July 30th, 2002
"Mankind found a god. And man in his folly tried to make the god his toy. For that arrogance, mankind was punished." -- Ritsuko
On August 15, 2000, Adam, the first angel, awoke and spread his wings. Fifteen years later, desperate people gather, hoping for change. Asuka, eager to prove herself to a mother whose madness taunts her from beyond the grave. Misato, eager to please her lost father to the point of self-destruction. Shinji, eager to prove himself to a father who remains cold. Rei, eager to simply prove she exists. They are all trapped by their pasts, paralyzed by their fear of the future. They can move neither forward nor back. As Kaoru, the last angel, intones, offering himself as a sacrifice for the human race, "Death is the only absolute freedom."
Be careful what you wish for...
Speaking of the Apocalypse: when Neon Genesis Evangelion completed its television run, Hideaki Anno and his creative team must have believed the barbarians were at the gate. After the artsy endings of Gunbuster and Wings of Honneamise, should anyone have been surprised that the final two episodes of GAINAX's groundbreaking mecha series were a complete enigma? Citing budgetary limitations, Anno and company wrapped up their vision of the Apocalypse with an introspective journey through Shinji Ikari's tortured mind, as the ethically confused adolescent is confronted with the real heart of any apocalyptic transformation: Judgment. I thought it was a brilliant left turn, but Japanese television audiences hated it.
But that is the upshot of free will, isn't it? Sometimes you make a bad judgment call. So GAINAX decided to try again. Putting their own spin on the Japanese pop culture tradition of packaging an entire season of television into a brief theatrical movie (in this case, a little over an hour), GAINAX whittled the first 24 episodes of Evangelion down to a single theme: Death. Then they got to work on a revised finale, this time offering mainstream audiences all the mecha action they demanded.
But they could not get the finale finished in time to make their release date, so they only packaged the first 30 minutes together with the digest feature (plus an intermission), calling the new material "Rebirth." Later, they would complete the final hour and re-release "Rebirth" (retitled "Air," with 15 minutes added, plus another 45 minute episode to wrap up the whole series) to theatres as End of Evangelion.
Were you following all that? In essence, GAINAX got to decide how the Apocalypse would play out three times. Three final judgments. Go figure.
"This is how Evangelion was meant to be done," GAINAX remarks, by way of apology, at the beginning of Evangelion: Death and Rebirth. In some ways, their apology is no less challenging than the episodes it ostensibly reexamines. New footage runs together, like the threads of a string quartet. Four players: Shinji the guilty, Asuka the overachiever, Rei the empty vessel, Kaoru the betrayer. Each has a part in this final concert for the human race. And although we get some vibrantly edited battle sequences, violent and anarchic, we never forget that Evangelion is a deeply psychological show. Most of the scenes chosen for Death focus on the characters and their personal traumas. The inventive structure of the film, focusing on each major character's trials in turn (with side visits to deal with Ritsuko, Shinji's friend Touji, and Misato's lover Kaji) in an effort to highlight their individual decisions over the course of the series. The string quartet framing device suggests that these first 24 episodes are merely the overture for the symphony to follow (and take careful note of the finale's use of classical music to reinforce this cooperative theme).
That symphony begins in Rebirth. With Asuka catatonic and Shinji left alone, the Instrumentality Project finally takes shape. Human evolution is about to take its final step: the fusion of infinite others into a single self. "The sacrament of death" will lead to cosmic rebirth. Or so says SEELE, the dark overminds behind this willful Apocalypse.
The story, at least in its first half, is more straightforward than the enigmatic television climax. Think of this as the exterior action that frames the interior, psychological trial that Shinji undergoes in the television version. But do not expect a happy ending -- more to the point, do not expect a conclusion at all. Rebirth ends abruptly, merely a tease for End of Evangelion. You'll get enough carnage to whet your appetite, but this symphony is about to get very, very Wagnerian. Hideaki Anno and his crew are only warming up for the mind-boggling fireworks to follow.
Since much of Death and Rebirth consists of footage from the television series, animation quality varies. The new material is a bit cleaner, but the smoothness of the animation is kept basically the same to avoid jarring the audience. Evangelion has always been a series more dramatic in its pauses than its activity anyway. Just watch the agonizing wait while Shinji torments himself over the final fate of Kaoru. That long minute of silence is more painful than any screaming or whining a lesser director might have shown us.
AD Vision handled the original American release for the television series. You can read my earlier reviews of the first three volumes here at DVD Verdict, where I expound on some of the themes and background of the series. Manga Video does the honors this time. They present Death and Rebirth in its 1.85:1 theatrical ratio, which is ironic considering that most of these television clips had to be cropped by GAINAX for widescreen presentation. The English dub is decent, and most of the original English cast from the AD Vision releases has been reassembled here. I think it goes without saying (after so many similar Manga Video discs) that it would be nice to have a remixed Japanese track with as much sonic punch as the English 5.1 track.
The film itself appears on the "Alpha" side of this double-sided disc. On the "Omega" side, Manga Video offers a set of trailers, photo gallery, and encyclopedia of terms. The film appears again with its English 2.0 soundtrack and two special options: "Mokuji Interactive" (a "white rabbit" feature that links back to the encyclopedia entries) and a commentary track by English voiceover director Amanda Winn Lee and performers Jason Lee and Taliesin Jaffe. Although they spend most of their time discussing the American actors and scripting, Jaffe does offer quite a bit of background on the Cabalistic references in the show. The conversation is bright and amusing, especially considering the dour tone of the film. Oddly, it ends just as abruptly as Rebirth, suggesting that it was recorded for the longer version ("Air"). I cannot fault Manga Video for GAINAX's bizarre distribution plan for Evangelion's finale, although I do think they are charging a bit much for the redundancy, considering you'll have to pay again to see Rebirth when it appears in the End of Evangelion film.
Those hoping to introduce themselves to Neon Genesis Evangelion with this "summary" will be puzzled by its focus on the introspective moments between battles, rather than the mecha action they might be hoping for. The battles are sharp and intense, but this is a story that has its best moments in between the combat, and GAINAX made the right choice forcing the audience to confront this (even if they might have overdone the introspection in the first version of the finale).
Evangelion has always been an intellectual challenge for its audience. And this revised finale is no exception. As Taliesin Jaffe remarks, "This film is meticulous in its ability to be completely incomprehensible." But Death and Rebirth is a solid bridge leading up to the real Apocalypse in End of Evangelion. You've seen most of Death in the original show, and you'll see all of Rebirth again in End of Evangelion. In short, it is the only dispensable part of an indispensable series. But even redundant Evangelion is still fun to watch and puzzle over.
Manga Video is cleared of all charges. This court stands in recess until Shinji Ikari and his friends can decide how they want the world to end.
Review content copyright © 2002 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Dubbed)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English, Dubbed)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese, Original Language)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Mokuji Interactive
* Commentary Track by Amanda Winn Lee, Jason Lee, and Taliesin Jaffe
* MAGI Archives
* Photo Gallery