ADV Films // 1995 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // August 26th, 2004
"This is your home now, so make yourself comfortable. And take advantage of everything here, except me." -- Misato Katsuragi
When it first arrived on the anime scene, Neon Genesis Evangelion caused a stir. That stir has yet to subside. Often hailed as the best anime series ever, Neon Genesis Evangelion is nonetheless a difficult pill to swallow. Even die-hard fans of the series cannot completely defend it, because director Hideaki Anno delivers some sucker punches in the course of the series. By the same token, nonfans of the series must offer it grudging respect, if only for the sheer scale of spectacle it creates and psychological depth it achieves. Thus is the debate over Neon Genesis Evangelion established, with fuel enough to rage on for decades.
No matter which side of the argument you support, you cannot debate Neon Genesis Evangelion's staying power or popularity. ADV Films has recognized Neon Genesis Evangelion's classic status and delivered a remastered version of its flagship title. If you have yet to watch this seminal anime series, there's no question that this Platinum Collection is the version you'll want to seek out. Fans who own the previous DVD release have a trickier question to answer: to upgrade or not to upgrade?
When 14-year-old Shinji Ikari gets a request from his estranged father to join him in Tokyo-3, Shinji knows better that to expect warm fuzzies like Bring Your Son to Work Day or Father-Son Olympics. When the lovely Misato Katsuragi comes to pick him up, she finds Shinji in the midst of an intense assault on Tokyo-3 by a mysterious "Angel." The two flee to NERV headquarters and meet up with his father, who commands Shinji to get his whiny butt into a hulking, cybernetic warrior-beast and confront the Angel.
With the pleasantries out of the way, Shinji confronts his new reality. He joins NERV and becomes an EVA pilot, alongside the frail (but determined) enigma known as Rei Ayanami. She has been in an EVA before, and has the broken body to prove it. With the help of mission manager Misato Katsuragi and lead scientist Ritsuko Akagi, Shinji learns to pilot the EVA. But will his father or his classmates ever accept Shinji? Perhaps more important, will humanity survive long enough for them to?
If you are unfamiliar with Neon Genesis Evangelion and have yet to watch it for the first time, you're in for a real treat...or a real emotional roller coaster. On the surface, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a basic mecha series with a host of teenage pilots controlling cybernetic beasts. The lead character is a reluctant hero trying to live up to his father's expectations while saving humanity at the same time. Shinji lives with a beautiful woman and is surrounded by more beautiful ladies. Classic mecha, right?
Perhaps, if not for Hideaki Anno's penchant for delving deeply into themes of inhumanity and religion. Neon Genesis Evangelion contains rich subtext that elevates it way beyond a mere mecha story. This subtext accounts for Neon Genesis Evangelion's artistic merit and explains the widespread devotion to the series. But these artistic musings have a flip side, which is that the tale is delivered without sympathy for the viewer. Anno spares no emotion in his exploration of the human condition. Viewers are manipulated, coerced, chastised, and ignored in the course of the tale, which can be hard to bear.
Fortunately, most of this heavy stuff is not as prominent in the opening episodes, so we are free to focus on the spiffy new transfer and other technical improvements. ADV and GAINAX have conscientiously remastered Neon Genesis Evangelion to provide us with the definitive DVD experience.
The difference is immediately apparent. Each episode opens with the power-pop tune "Thesis of the Cruel Angel," a theme song that eventually becomes dear to the hearts of Neon Genesis Evangelion fans. The opening strains hit my ears with authority and clarity, then opened up when the surrounds kicked in with supporting instruments. I've heard it over thirty times, but "Thesis of the Cruel Angel" has never sounded so perky or dynamic.
This increased sonic depth continues into the episodes. Battles are naturally the prime beneficiaries, but all aspects of the show get a sonic boost. Metal creaks in older versions, but in this version it squeals and reverberates. The surrounds often come in handy, providing ambient noise and startling location effects. The subwoofer is the biggest improvement, lending tactile emphasis to the massive battles being waged onscreen. I'm not fond of 5.1 remixes, but this one was superbly handled and adds a wealth of sonic detail. The English 5.1 track seemed a touch livelier and more crisp, but both 5.1 tracks were clear and retained their natural cohesiveness after the stretch to additional channels.
The boost in sound quality is impressive but not unexpected, because the earlier DVD release of Neon Genesis Evangelion had a very good 2.0 soundtrack. Honors for most noticeable improvement belong to the video transfer. Previous incarnations of Neon Genesis Evangelion were gleaned from video masters, which introduced numerous technical glitches. To make a long story short, the previous DVD release had washed-out colors that were not particularly stable. Black levels were weak. The image jumped frequently and was not detailed.
With the Platinum Collection comes a brand-new transfer from the original masters, which means we are literally seeing Neon Genesis Evangelion for the first time. Virtually every video annoyance is reduced. Colors are bold and bright; edges are crisp. The black levels achieve greater depth, giving Neon Genesis Evangelion an even darker tone. The jitter and focus problems are gone, replaced with absolute stability. EVA 01 goes from a lavendery gray and spring green to deep violet and bright green.
The new color depth is not without victims, however. Because of the increased black levels and saturated colors, some details are harder to perceive. This effect is most notable in the EVAs and internal shots of NERV headquarters, where equipment tends to blend into banks of dials. The color red suffers most, approaching maroon. When the headcase of EVA 01 is smashed in "The Beast" and the bloodlike fluid shoots up and down, it is bright red in the previous release and almost black in this one. However, given the vast overall improvement these concerns are negligible.
The content is unchanged as far as I can tell, though Matt Greenfield's commentary informs us that some of the English dubbing was redone to bring it more in line with the original meaning. The Japanese vocal cast does a fine job, employing some of anime's best voice actors. The English dub is interesting because the cast put much effort into the dub, but it still contains annoyances. On the whole it is a worthy alternative to the original language.
Die-hard fans who have invested in the previous release have a clean transfer and updated sound to sway them toward purchasing the Platinum edition, but the deciding point is often the extras. ADV has provided more extras than most anime releases will ever see. However, some fans may not think it enough. There are two episode commentaries, one with Matt Greenfield and one with Matt Greenfield and Spike Spencer. The former is interesting in the early stages, with Matt discussing the challenges of dubbing Neon Genesis Evangelion. He makes good points about the story arc and evil hidden in plain view. The commentary soon devolves into a detailed synopsis of the voice actors and which series dubs they participated in. If you are really into following voice actor pedigrees, this commentary is for you.
Spike brings a measure of enthusiasm to the second commentary that livens things up, but this commentary soon turns into reminiscing about inside jokes and Spike's voice acting pedigree. Spike is a fine voice actor and an entertaining guy, but I like a bit of variety in commentary topics. The extras conclude with clean credits, thorough liner notes (which provide several interesting tidbits about the production), and a NERV parking decal that just might earn you geek points.
That concludes the technical presentation; how about the episodes? The following episode comments make the assumption that you have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion all the way through at least once. If you have not, skip past them, bookmark this review, and come back to the episode comments when you have seen the series and pondered it for yourself.
* "Angel Attack"
For an expository episode, "Angel Attack" moves quickly but surely. The grim situation is spelled out through scant, but nonetheless descriptive, detail. For example, the typical "military sends everything it's got and we save their asses at the end" shtick has been compressed into a handful of scenes. Though brief, these scenes firmly establish that the military is at a loss, NERV has been expecting just such an attack, and the angels are awesome beasts impervious to known physical attacks. Nuclear blast imagery is firmly established in the Japanese psyche: The N2 mine sequence "subtly" suggests that mankind has exhausted all of its options. For the rest of the series, NERV's authority in all matters angel is explicitly understood, as is the mysterious and awesome power of the angels. Not bad for a few minutes of screen time.
The conceit behind Neon Genesis Evangelion is that it employs a generic "unwilling boy pilots mecha" framework to explore deeper issues of philosophy, inhumanity, isolation, and depression. Ironically, though its implementation of the tired framework is vanilla, Neon Genesis Evangelion manages to wring fresh nuances from the material. How archetypal to have Shinji's tentative cooperation hinge on an antagonistic father-son dynamic! Nonetheless, it works and works with a bang, parsimoniously explaining the entire cliché through one detail. This interplay between the obvious and the deeply rooted makes Neon Genesis Evangelion intellectually tantalizing and viscerally entertaining.
Watching this first episode, I was struck not only by how succinctly it establishes complex character arcs but byhow self-prophetic the dialogue was. No matter how you feel about the series, you cannot deny that Neon Genesis Evangelion is a complex work with many layers operating simultaneously. Even in this early stage, double meanings manifest themselves. I completely agree with an insight proffered by director Matt Greenfield in the commentary. He points out that certain phrases and actions have a surface meaning that you accept at face value during the first viewing, but veteran viewers will have a completely different reaction to hearing the lines. You might go so far as to accuse Hideaki Anno of playing with his audience.
Two moments in "Angel Attack" embody two of Neon Genesis Evangelion's greatest strengths. The first is humor and/or tension based in eroticism (which could be dismissively referred to as "fan service"). Shinji is supposed to be meeting Misato. He refers to a photograph of her so that he'll know what she looks like. The photograph shows Misato in a revealing pose. She drew an arrow pointing to her cleavage with the words "attention here please." This moment is quickly glossed over, but it indicates both Misato's womanly wiles and the level of humor we can expect from the series.
The second scene is when Shinji first confronts EVA 01. The roof collapses. Unbidden, EVA 01 extends its hand and shields Shinji. This action is one of the most significant moments in the entire series. It indicates that the EVAs have some measure of autonomy and that NERV does not fully understand or control them. The gesture expresses an affinity between the EVA and Shinji that may or may not be founded in genetics. Serious ramifications on one front, cool-as-hell action sequence on another.
Anime has seen countless such expository episodes come and go. I can think
of very few with as much power and depth as "Angel Attack."
* "The Beast"
Before "Angel Attack" fully fades from our minds, allow me to retroactively point out how cool it is to have an entire episode leading up to a battle but never actually engaging one. How many episodes show us a dramatic little battle with a victorious hero standing in front of the closing credits?
"The Beast" gives us both the battle and its outcome, but not in the way you'd expect. The Shinji/EVA 01 meld takes a staggering step and then falls flat on its face. Ignominious, to be sure, but isn't this a welcome injection of realism into an unrealistic framework? Had Shinji danced out of the starting gate and summarily dispatched the Angel, we'd have a much more generic and much less interesting story.
The episode is temporally fractured. The first transition is particularly jarring: Shinji walks right into the sights of the first Angel, sees its beady eye -- and then we cut abruptly to a hospital bed. Neither Shinji nor the audience is sure what happened. The episode continues, ignoring the battle entirely, leaving us in a state of frustrated anticipation. This callous treatment of the viewer is trademark Neon Genesis Evangelion. Antics such as this make understandable fuel for opposing arguments. Proponents can say that NGE is a groundbreaking anime that doesn't cater to the audience, opting for experimental and interesting techniques over traditional narrative. Opponents can claim that the fractured style is frustrating, unnecessary, and ultimately insulting to the viewers. It would be hard to argue with either viewpoint.
Fear not, we do eventually learn the whole story, and the revelation is delicious. When Shinji finally gets a moment of peace and quiet to ponder the day's events, imagery of the battle comes flooding into his mind. We are suddenly snapped back into the battle, flooded with Shinji/EVA's fear and rage. The battle is won, but it is won through a desperate and primal surge of self-preservation. Shinji is not a highly trained operative like Full Metal Panic's Sousuke. He is a timid boy who wins battles simply by letting the adrenaline of fight-or-flight take him over.
This main theme of choking desperation is punctuated by one of the best comic relief moments in all of anime history. Shinji has just moved in with Misato. Could any situation speak more directly to the hormone-addled teenage male fantasy than living unchaperoned with an attractive, sexually frustrated young woman? Neon Genesis Evangelion wastes no time capitalizing on the situation. While Misato swills beer at the kitchen table, Shinji goes to take a shower. He is startled by a peculiar creature (that he later finds out to be a warm-water penguin). He leaps backwards to avoid it, which brings his naked body into full view of Misato. Misato's beer can chastely hides his private parts from our view, until her hand reaches down to remove the beer can. She lifts up the can to reveal...a box of toothpicks, strategically placed of course. This scene is so funny that I must fight for breath every time I see it.
The remastered soundtrack makes a huge difference in the final part of this episode. I performed an A-B comparison between the Neon Genesis Evangelion: Perfect Collection set and the Neon Genesis Evangelion -- Platinum Collection versions, and the difference is amazing. The older release has watery, fluctuating sound that lacks oomph. EVA 01 makes vague grunting sounds, smacks the Angel a few times, falls down, and then waits for an explosion. In the Platinum version, EVA 01 keens with a mixture of pain and rage as he charges the Angel. He screeches to a halt, then lands a series of resounding blows on the Angel's carapace. When the EVA falls, we experience a cascade of sound from the mains through the surrounds, followed up by an aftershock from the subwoofer that lets you feel the impact. This aftershock is nothing compared to the explosion, which will scatter the hairs on your arm.
The toothpick thing alone would warrant an A, but the rest of the episode is
good as well.
* "A Transfer"
There are many undercurrents to Neon Genesis Evangelion, but one of the best is the way it taps into deeply rooted male fantasy. As we've seen, Neon Genesis Evangelion effectively plays on the sexual elements of male fantasy, but "A Transfer" captures a more subtle and complex dynamic.
I can't speak for every male teen, but as an awkward teenager I often played melodramatic (and completely unrealistic) scenes in my head where people discovered my secret burden. How sorry they would be when they found out! This "burden" was invariably spectacular: Perhaps I belonged to a secret government organization, or I was part robot, or some other nonsense. The important part is that people shunned me, and I bore their disdain with stoic calm, and they later found out that I was part robot and couldn't have been sorrier for the way they treated me.
If you know what I'm talking about, then perhaps you agree that "A Transfer" nails it perfectly. Most of the episode shows Shinji trying to act normally in the society he has just ravaged through his berserker rage in the EVA. (This is yet another touch that separates Neon Genesis Evangelion from the pack -- how many mecha shows dwell so long on the aftermath of the battle, showing the pain of the survivors?) Shinji makes a dramatic admission that he is the EVA pilot, and suddenly his classroom is charged with energy. Everyone has questions for him. Two of Shinji's classmates take particular interest in him after this admission. Kensuke is a military fanatic, and he longs to ask Shinji serious questions about the EVA. Toji has a sister who is in critical condition after Shinji's battle, and he is decidedly sour on Shinji's actions.
Shinji momentarily relishes the limelight, but it soon becomes too much for him. When he seeks solitude, the angry Toji and the jealous Kensuke are waiting for him. A couple of black eyes later, Shinji is finally alone to stew in his own ruminations.
This meeting becomes important at the end of the episode. Shinji once again
finds himself in the EVA protecting Tokyo-3 from an Angel. This time, Toji and
Kensuke have abandoned their shelter to get a front-row view of the action.
Their presence hinders Shinji, who must let them into the EVA for their own
protection. Shinji has another primal battle for survival, tearing his own
psyche to the bone to overcome the Angel. Toji and Kensuke watch, speechless,
and the look on their faces is glorious payback for the pain they caused Shinji.
Of course he doesn't see them -- this shot is for us, the misunderstood,
alienated male teens with overdeveloped imaginations and/or secret government
affiliations. Who knows why these absurd fantasies had such a soothing
psychological effect, but I get a vicarious thrill from it even as an adult. And
this is but one of many such undercurrents that Neon Genesis Evangelion
* "Hedgehog's Dilemma"
"Hedgehog's Dilemma" is something of an anomaly in the 26-episode series. There is no Angel, nor is there any real action. The episode feels like a footnote about Shinji's penchant for isolation. The liner notes for the Platinum Edition shed some light on this. Apparently the staff of the production felt a need to further explore Shinji's relationships with Misato and his classmates after the dramatic battle that closed "A Transfer." As a result, it is the only episode in Neon Genesis Evangelion that wasn't directly overseen by director Hideaki Anno.
"Hedgehog's Dilemma" is typical of other episodes because of the frustrating/rewarding dynamic. The male fantasy from "A Transfer" is extended as we see Toji and Kensuke grapple with their new knowledge of Shinji. Meanwhile, Misato experiences her own ruminations on Shinji's personality. These internal conversations are rewarding. The episode also does a fantastic job of depicting isolation as a defense mechanism.
On the other hand, because "Hedgehog's Dilemma" has no actual bearing on the main plot of the series, it is forced to resort to filler. Shinji walks through fields, then through mountains, through streets and woods. He walks and walks and walks. Then he takes an extended train ride, where we watch him sit and sit and sit. The end of the episode is a minute-long staring contest between Shinji and Misato. You get the impression that the writers said what they wanted to say, then filled the rest with shots of Shinji.
The episode also weakens Shinji's character considerably. Without this episode, we'd have Shinji going straight from a tense battle to uncomfortable interactions with Rei. This intermediate episode has Shinji running away, leaving (then rejoining) NERV, whining to his classmates, and generally emphasizing the wishy-washy aspects of his character. Shinji is a delicate character, straddling the line between sympathetic victim and whiny annoyance. "Hedgehog's Dilemma" shows us Shinji's whiniest side, his most abject self-isolation, his most uncertain decisions. It is hard to forget these moments of weakness throughout the rest of the series.
Hideaki Anno gives us plenty of annoying moments in the latter half of
Neon Genesis Evangelion, but you can never accuse him of holding back
punches. The series moves quickly apart from "Hedgehog's Dilemma," and
I can only speculate about its subtle derailment of the main thrust.
* "Rei 1"
In all of anime, Rei is one of the most popular and enigmatic characters. Is she hot? Sure. Is she mysterious? Oh, yes. Is she maddeningly stoic, yet inexplicably volatile? Just ask Shinji -- the slap marks are still fresh.
Rei's popularity is well earned. Hers is a complex character, not only in mood and personality but in the roots of her physical being. Later episodes will have you pondering whether Rei is one person or an infinite number of persons, whether she is a person at all. One thing is for sure, she does the "tragically wounded but resolute to perform her duty" shtick better than anyone.
"Rei 1" does a great job of building subtle clues about Rei. The episode seems to say so much, and first-time viewers might be forgiven for thinking they have Rei figured out. Does Shinji love Rei? Does she love Shinji's father? These seem like central questions, but upon second viewing you will skip right past these to greater issues of her identity.
The best scene in this episode is the apartment scene. Rei's apartment is grim and unkempt; the genetics textbooks have seen more use than the sink. Bloody bandages lie in piles on the floor. Shinji somehow winds up on top of Rei's naked body with a pile of her underwear on top of him. She doesn't even bat an eyelash. The whole thing is just creepy, yet funny at the same time.
Later, when Shinji speaks negatively about his father, Rei dishes out the
slap that we expected earlier. This reaction speaks volumes about the mysterious
Rei. Hers is a character that can easily support two focus episodes and leave us
The prosecution withholds comment at this time. We're waiting for later episodes to take the offensive. Enjoy this period of relative sanity while you can, dear viewers.
As an authoritative release of one of anime's most beloved titles, there is little to say about Neon Genesis Evangelion -- Platinum Collection (Volume 1). It is a vast technical improvement that delivers an impressively modern audiovisual experience. The extras are not overwhelming, but they are better than most anime releases get. As a fan who owns the previous release, I feel this new release justifies purchase if you have the funds. It is expensive, but you'll see Neon Genesis Evangelion like you never have before. Anime fans have never had easy financial choices to make, and this is no exception.
His honor is still recoiling from the Angel attack and visions of toothpick containers. We heard him mumbling something about "not guilty" while he ran for cover with a stricken look on his face.
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* English (Signs only)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean opening and closing animation
* Commentary by director Matt Greenfield on "Angel Attack"
* Commentary by Matt Greenfield and Spike Spencer on "The Beast"
* Profile booklet filled with screen shots, Japanese commentaries, and character profiles
* NERV parking sticker
* Judge Pinsky's Review of Collection 0:1
* Eva Monkey