ADV Films // 1995 // 175 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // April 21st, 2005
"I think...I am the third." -- Rei Ayanami
I am numb, vulnerable, and afraid. The dark god of anime opens its mouth and spews forth bile upon the Earth. It pools and swirls around the feet of the masses, searing the flesh of their ankles. The Peoples of the Earth cry out in despair; Lo, their pleas fall on deaf ears. I am numb. Robotic monkeys blot out the sun. The octopus walks through the desert; the giraffe swims lazy circles in the ocean. The Peoples of the Earth drink acid to quench their burning thirst. They claw themselves open to rid themselves of the agony. I am immune, numb. I stand alone in the stark white kitchen of my mind, and ponder whether to press the button labeled "Annihilate All of Mankind" or the button labeled "Order an Extra Large Pizza with Sausage and Banana Peppers."
Okay, rewind a little...what just happened? In a nutshell, Neon Genesis Evangelion has gone off the deep end.
Technically, the descent into utter madness began in Volume Five with "Weaving a Story 2: Oral Stage." That episode featured the deconstruction of Shinji's wrecked psyche. It was clinical, marked by hostility but dealing with large moral and conceptual issues. True, white shaky lines were yelling at Shinji's bulbous head, so it wasn't exactly a straightforward affair.
This volume picks up with similar deconstructions of Asuka and Rei (in yet another casualty of ADV's bemusing episode distribution strategy). These episodes continue down the path of madness, but they have a quality that "Weaving a Story 2" lacked: emotional power. In fact, the three episodes on Volume Six land like body blows in your gut, unleashing emotional fury with an intensity that will probably catch you off guard. If Volume Five is the fulcrum, Volume Six is a full swing toward the brick wall that will end the series.
These episodes are inevitably colored by Hideki Anno's nervous breakdown during the course of the series. Volume Five's "Introjection" set a new watermark for graphic violence in Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the dismay in Japan when the episode aired resulted in a significantly truncated budget. Anno's fragile mental state led to deeply introspective, psychologically brutal twists of plot and a confusing structure. He capitalized on our investment with the characters and poured his own depression and grief directly into our hearts by using our affinity as a conduit. Meanwhile, the clipped budget required sparser animation and recycled footage, which somehow fed into Anno's depiction of depersonalization and spiritual agony.
These two circumstances mark a clear break between early and latter episodes. Many Evangelion fans are only fans into the late teens; they write the latter episodes off as a historical tragedy that prevented the realization of their beloved show. Honestly, the first time I saw these episodes, I was confused, appalled, and angry at Anno. He struck me as a brutal, immature man who had sucker punched the world with a great series that he used to commit psychological rape.
Seeing them again with the benefit of time and experience, I have a different opinion. Anno has created one of the most powerful psychological deconstructions I've ever seen. His series has never been trite, but its closing episodes do no less than explore man's inhumanity toward man -- with compelling candor. To anger us at such a deep level, Anno must be reaching a level of human truth that is rare in any artistic medium, but particularly for anime.
The Platinum Collection release of Volume Six celebrates the pivotal nature of these three episodes by providing director's cuts of each. Perhaps the added footage in these versions enhanced the experience in subtle ways, but I was not angry at all this time around. Instead, I was utterly moved by the tragedies undergone by these beloved characters.
The inclusion of director's cuts affects the video quality. Very faint ghosting appears, and mosquito noise swarms around black outlines (even in still shots). This is the first manifestation in the Platinum Collection of avoidable problems with the video quality, and it won't bother most people. Otherwise, both the audio and video live up to the high standards set by the rest of the Platinum Collection.
Aside from previews and clean opening and closing credits, the extras consist of a full animatic and audio commentary. The director's cuts in combination with original episodes already pushes the disc close to three hours, and this animatic and the trailers push it way past that mark. I would have opted to ditch the animatic, credits, and trailers to free up bit depth for the video transfer. The audio commentary, however, is a keeper. The frivolous tone of some previous commentaries is muted out of respect for the heavy material on the episode. Matt Greenfield made a wise decision to bring EVA lecturer Sean McCoy into the commentary; the trio does a fine job of balancing time and sharing contrasting insights into the episode. Matt provides interesting trivia and historical notes, Tiffany lets us peek into the mind of Asuka, and Sean provides a backbone with his internalization of EVA and its roots in religious symbology.
If you're ready for it, let's dive into the episodes proper. Be prepared for large spoilers, as usual.
* Episode 21: "He Was Aware of That He Was a Child"
Also known as "The Birth of NERV," this episode floods us with details about the past of the central characters in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Young Gendo, Shinji, Rei, Misato, Kaji, Ritsuko, and Fuyutsuki vie with each other in an unfathomably dark social morass. (We also get our first real look at some characters, such as Shinji's mother Yui and Ritsuko's mother Naoko.) Each revelation feels like a slap across your face, awakening your senses with a small burst of emotional pain.
This parade of bitter knowledge had an unexpected effect on me. As a general rule, movies don't make me cry. The little emotional capital I possess is best spent on real life, not fabrications and Hollywood manipulations. But I felt a tear or two spring from my eyes as this episode wore on. I'd invested wholeheartedly in these characters, almost without knowledge, and being exposed so nakedly to their abject suffering was hard to bear. Whether it is watching the final hint of Gendo's humanity wither away after Yui's demise, or watching little Rei's eyeballs pop out as she is strangled to death, or any of the countless similar moments, something is likely to affect you.
There is some question whether or not we've seen a character die in the series thus far, but this episode makes it clear. Aside from little Rei, Yui, and Naoko, whose deaths we either knew about or suspected before now, "He Was Aware of That He Was a Child" caps with the definite murder of a popular character. Kaji's death opens the floodgate to a river of misery that will flow until the end of the series.
It is dark, to be sure, but this episode sparkles with such emotional
intensity, and it unlocks our minds in so many ways, that it is a resounding
narrative success. It forces us to acknowledge that the sunny days of
Evangelion are far behind, and indeed it casts suspicion on any sense of
happiness we may have had.
* Episode 22: "Don't Be"
The last volume contained a stark deconstruction of Shinji's mind. This episode lays Asuka's mind bare, and the experience cuts much deeper.
Asuka is not having a good time of it lately. She defines herself almost exclusively by her prowess in an EVA. Her capability in that arena compensates for a world of hurt that is out of her control. Asuka has just started her first period, which has decimated her ability to pilot an EVA. She screams at it in frustration, but no matter what she says her time as an EVA pilot is nearly past. With the one thing she depends on wrested away, Asuka's issues surge to the surface. Asuka does not have one issue, or two, but a cascade of issues that make her buckle at once under the pressure.
She has a funny way of showing it, but Asuka loves Shinji (or at least desperately wants him to love her). This unbidden emotion has colored her perceptions. She thinks that Shinji and Rei are an item, which boils her blood with jealousy. She has no social support in place: Her relationship with her foster mother is superficial, as is the adulation she receives from classmates. It may sound trite, but I assure you the episode brings this isolation home with authority.
Her already fragile state is tested further when she comes under psychological attack from an Angel, who blasts her with Handel's "Messiah" while probing the reaches of her mind. The horror of her upbringing is piercing. When little Asuka cried out in fear ("No, Mommy, no, please don't kill me!") my tears threatened to return. These emotions twist in on each other until the Angel leashes its final attack: confronting Asuka with herself. She learns that the hatred she has for others is a manifestation of the hatred she has for herself. Hatred in any form is difficult to bear.
"Don't Be" is neither gentle nor pleasant, but it is capably
executed and keeps us riveted in spite of our disgust. The imagery delivers
Anno's dark message with impressive precision.
* Episode 23: "Rei III"
Neon Genesis Evangelion is marked by an intricate structure. One such structure is repeated three times. Gendo, Yui, and Naoko form a lover's triangle; Gendo swaps spit with the warm, vivacious, and approachable Yui as well as the clinical, detached Naoko. The middle-generation triad of Kaji, Misato, and Ritsuko shares a similar sexual tension: Kaji and Misato are the "item," but Ritsuko's flirtation with Kaji suggests a deeper intimacy between the two. As with Gendo and Naoko, this tryst was probably not born of love or compassion, but ulterior motive. Finally, we have the younger generation of Shinji, Asuka, and Rei. You're probably familiar with their issues, so I won't delve into them.
On the surface, "Rei III" is a third focal piece on Rei and the third in a string of recent "EVA pilots laid bare" episodes. These "Rei" episodes are characterized by a clinical detachment that sharply contrasts with pain and misery. In this, "Rei III" matches the previous such episodes, "Rei I" and "Rei II." But "Rei III" is also an exploration of these three triangles and the linkages between them.
Some of the links are obvious. Shinji is Gendo and Yui's son, while Ritsuko is Naoko's daughter. These generational relationships create emotional ties that we are familiar with. Less obvious is the cross-generational hanky-panky. We've always known that Asuka has the hots for Kaji, but "Rei III" sheds light on Gendo's seductions.
Gendo had feelings for Yui, but he had no compunction about using sex to gain Naoko's support and to keep her in line with his goals. He needed her to complete the Magi computer system that keeps NERV operating. When the system was complete, she was literally tossed over the railing. If it worked once, why not twice? Gendo has also been sleeping with Ritsuko, for equally callous reasons. When she wises up to the truth, her bitterness and despair well up as she cries for death. Gendo's actions and attitudes paint a grimmer picture of him than we may have suspected. Gendo has written off humanity altogether. He views people as tools to usher in a new reign of godhood. In other words, Gendo is like Hitler without the people skills.
Along the way, we learn more about Rei. Specifically, that "Rei" is really a bunch of dolls that float in a pool of LCL in the basement of NERV. We knew she was out there, and this explains a lot.
Let's not overlook the action that takes place on top of this stream of
revelation. Asuka's EVA sits useless and immobile while Rei takes the brunt of
the sixteenth Angel's umbilical attack. Rei's psyche is investigated, but her
psyche is not entirely human, so the experience is a little different. Don't
worry, it all ends in bitter tears just like the other two "EVA pilots
ripped to shreds" episodes did. We also get to watch the complete
destruction of Unit-00 when Rei sacrifices herself and her EVA to stop the
Angel. She's always trying to do that, and Anno finally lets her blow herself to
smithereens. The director's cut of this event features a beautiful shot of
Unit-00 turning into a giant, glowing Rei with a halo. Did you ever get the
feeling there's an undercurrent of religious commentary in this show?
That's it for Volume Six. Sit tight for the grand finale!
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 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: 175 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director's Cuts of Episodes 21-23
* Commentary on "Don't Be" by Matt Greenfield, Tiffany Grant, and Sean McCoy
* Animatic for "Rei III"
* Clean Opening and Closing Credits
* ADV Previews
* DVD Verdict Review of Platinum Collection Vol. 1
* TV Tome: Neon Genesis Evangelion