ADV Films // 1999 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // April 26th, 2001
"Mankind has no time left." -- Gendo Ikari
AD Vision begins the first collection of one of the best Japanese television series ever made. Part giant robot combat, part psychodrama, part apocalyptic myth, this is the show that every "cartoon" aspires to be: artistically relevant and full of breathtaking action.
In the year A.D. 2000, Earth was shattered by a disaster known as the Second Impact. History states that a meteor crashed into Antarctica, exterminating most of the world's population. An angel, a messenger from God, came to Earth. And civilization changed forever.
Fifteen years later, Earth has been waiting and preparing to the return of the angels. But these creatures are no friendly visitors from Heaven: they are monsters. Unstoppable, seemingly immortal, they threaten to finish what the Second Impact started. Only one group stands in their way, a secret unit of the United Nations known only as NERV. NERV's best weapons: giant robots called Evangelions. The word derives from evangel, or "bringer of good news." But piloting these mysterious and unstable machines is far from good for their pilots, adolescents upon whom the safety of the entire world depends.
But are the angels really the enemy? And where did the Evangelions come from? NERV and its enigmatic commander Gendo Ikari may hide dangerous secrets -- secrets that suggest that NERV's cure for the world is worse than the disease...
The first volume of Neon Genesis Evangelion includes the first four episodes of this 1995-96 television series (26 episodes total, plus a two-part revised ending). While it will be hard for newcomers to really judge the quality of this series from this small sample, fans of the show can attest that the complete series stands as one of the best examples of the popular "giant robot" shows that litter the media landscape of Japan. Such shows usually follow a particular set of rules: a reluctant young hero, plenty of sexy women, a secret team of scientists behind the titular giant robot, lots of soap opera histrionics, and of course, major property destruction.
The first episode of Evangelion, "Angel Attack," looks like it will fulfill all these requirements. Shinji Ikari, the nervous and introverted son of NERV's commander, is summoned to his estranged father's side just in time to pilot the requisite giant robot against the arrival of the Third Angel. Shinji is terrified of his new responsibilities, but as his new guardian, Misato Katsuragi, tells him, "You must confront your father, and you must confront yourself." Every cliché is in place, from the heroic music to the hyperbolic launch sequence. Just another overblown mecha show?
But things take a radical turn in the second episode, "Unfamiliar Ceiling/The Beast." Told in flashback, the episode reveals that Shinji's first battle is a disaster. The cabal that runs NERV scrambles to cover up the attack and lie to the public, while Shinji's father is chewed out for cost overruns and ignoring more important projects. The sexy and capable Misato turns out to be a beer-swilling slob with a grouchy pet penguin. And Shinji's defeat of the Third Angel? In his panic, he allowed the Eva to go berserk, caused the angel to self-destruct, and revealed a frightening hint of things to come: the Evangelions may be more organism than machine.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is really an inventive re-writing of the giant robot formula. All the surface trappings are in place, as seen in everything from the ubiquitous Gundam series to the fantasy-tinged Aura Battler Dunbine to the retro thrills of Giant Robo. But Evangelion takes everything to the next level. The reluctant hero becomes a psychologically complex victim of monstrous trauma. The complex story incorporates elements of Hebrew Cabala and apocalyptic mythology. The production design stresses the show's sinister and brooding nature. Even the music, including the great opening theme ("Thesis of the Cruel Angel") and closing music (a different mix of the classic jazz song "Fly Me to the Moon" for each episode), is on target.
As noted above, little can be said at this stage to demonstrate the show's wonderful depth. These first four episodes set things up, showing us Shinji's first, almost fatal, battle, then following through with a pair of episodes which establish Shinji as an already broken child. Abandoned by his uncaring father, forced to save the world at the expense of his own sanity, Shinji struggles to establish his own identity, to make friends, and to even find a purpose in life. NERV's motto -- "God's in his Heaven; all's right with the world" (taken from Robert Browning) -- has never been more ironic than when applied to Shinji Ikari.
AD Vision offers Neon Genesis Evangelion in its original Japanese with optional English subtitles. An English language dub is also included, which is not too bad, although the performers do not give as much emotional depth to the characters as the original soundtrack. This first volume also includes Spanish and French dubs. Previews for a dozen other AD Vision releases are offered, as well as a handful of "character biographies" to help introduce some of the ensemble cast of the show.
Because Evangelion was done on a limited television budget, the DVD format tends to heighten the limitations of its animation. Colors tend to shift slightly from time to time (the fault of cel motion and not the video mastering), and there is occasional fading and grain. None of this is really AD Vision's fault, nor Studio Gainax (the creators of the series); this is merely the upshot of low-budget television animation in Japan. Fortunately, these problems are minimal, and the excellent production design and writing easily make up for any deficiencies in production quality. AD Vision's DVD transfer is still much better than the bootlegs and VCD imports of this show that I have collected over the last couple of years.
Neon Genesis Evangelion transcends the limitations of its medium and aspires to art. While this is not entirely evident in these first few episodes, patient viewers will be rewarded with a complex and intelligent psychodrama that is more than merely another mecha combat show. Evangelion is about human destiny, individual free will, and the epic struggle to find our place in the cosmos. And lots of stuff gets blown up too.
AD Vision is ordered to provide more extras for such a complex and rewarding show. Studio Gainax is acquitted, pending evaluation of the remaining volumes in the series.
Review content copyright © 2001 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Character Biographies
* Featured ADV Previews