ADV Films // 1995 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // May 5th, 2005
With your torrent of ardent pathos
If you are to betray our memories
You, who embrace these heavens and shine
Young boy, become a legend!
In my review of Volume Six, I stated, "If Volume Five is the fulcrum, Volume Six is a full swing toward the brick wall that will end the series." The time has come to expand on that statement. (Though this is a review of the series conclusion, if you haven't yet seen the series all the way through, you should be aware that spoilers lie ahead.)
Volume Six is a full swing because it is fluid, relatively easy to comprehend, cohesive, and emotionally resonant. The episodes fly by. They are the peak of the series. Volume Seven, which contains the final three episodes, is a brick wall. In other words, it is everything Volume Six is not. This brick wall halts understanding, ease, and enjoyment. It is as unfluid, incomprehensible, and unappealing as anime comes.
Episode 24 retains a shred of comprehensibility, but in general this volume is a grueling test in psychological trivia, played in fast forward on badly spliced tape. The first time I saw the final episodes, I was confused and disappointed, left with a well of despondency. Not emotional, character-based despondency -- this despondency was more like "what a craptastic ending to a good series!"
Years have passed since that first viewing. I know more now. In the Platinum Collection special features, Matt Greenfield has asserted that the entire series has taken place in Shinji's mind, that everyone he knows is dead, and that the whole of Neon Genesis Evangelion up to Episode 25 has been one long rumination meant to help Shinji make a choice. That choice will apparently lead either to the destruction of humanity and a new dawn of Angels or the continued existence of humankind. This all may be true. But watching it again with the benefit of years and experience (not to mention graduate work in clinical psychology) I conclude that the end of this series is still maddening and unfulfilling. It is as enjoyable to watch as two hours of training videos on how to proofread income tax statements.
Everyone may be dead, and Shinji may be the savior / destroyer of our race, and Sean McCoy's lecture on religious symbolism in EVA may be accurate, but I'll never know it because these episodes are complete failures of storytelling. At one point, Shinji is rendered in black and white, floating in white space, with no constraints whatsoever. That image is a remarkable parallel to Episodes 25 and 26, which also have no establishment or context. The desaturated Shinji found his footing when Anno drew a line across the screen to distinguish earth from sky, giving the drawing orientation and an anchor. I wish he would extend us the same courtesy.
If what Matt and Sean say is true, and Shinji is indeed faced with a choice between the annihilation or salvation of mankind, it would be nice to have some context. Where is Shinji physically located? Who is he talking to? If Misato, Ritsuko, Rei, and the rest are dead, who is there speaking with him? Who is presenting him with the choice? Where or when is this choice explicitly stated? Why are the real / fake / imaginary Misatos and Asukas screaming at Shinji? These questions very well may have answers, and if you seek a reference outside of the series itself, you may gain these insights. But in terms of being an anime series, and these being the final episodes, it is as complete a failure as I could possibly fathom. Its failure is so complete that it fails in ways I didn't know existed.
Lest you think I'm being completely reactionary (which is probably true in some measure) and blind to the merits of these last episodes, let me be clear. There are compelling artistic moments in this finale. Anno elevates anime to the realm of high art, expressing heavy psychological and sociological themes through creative line work and animation. As art, it achieves success. Where it fails is in concluding the story in an absorbable manner.
Sean McCoy, EVA lecturer and frequent contributor in the Platinum Collection extras, says that if you freeze the DVD and advance frame by frame you will pick up on a lot of images, words, and concepts buried in the animation. He says that reading Kabbalah texts and other Judeo-Christian sources will fill in more of the story. I say that I should not have to pause a DVD frame by frame just to get the most basic orientation to what is taking place in an episode, nor should I have to rely on intimate knowledge of religious texts to understand the basics of the plot. That should be provided by the animators and writers who are creating the episodes.
Speaking of the episodes, let's take a look:
* Episode 24: "The Beginning and the End, or 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'"
The one saving grace in this mess is that "The Beginning and the End, or 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'" was originally the conclusion of the series. Japanese audiences were so livid at this ending that they essentially railroaded Gainax into producing more episodes, which are the aforementioned sucky Episodes 25 and 26.
Episode 24 is a fine ending. Episodes 20 through 23 have rent a dark psychological rift and poured the audience into it. We walk dark paths through the psyches and past traumas of each EVA pilot. Everyone dies, or kills, or breaks down; the thin veil of humanity that decorated the series disintegrates. In the wake of this morass, Shinji provides a piercing monologue about isolation and connection, wondering what would be the point of communicating with Asuka or Rei. The Fifth Child/17th Angel shows up just when Shinji needs a friend, instantly becoming the most captivating and loathsome antagonist Shinji has ever faced.
The episode features a dramatic showdown in Central Dogma that poses a very real threat for the extinction of humanity. We may not get all the details, but the gist is clear: If Shinji lets Kaworu go, humanity will cease to exist, but if he crushes the little bastard in Unit-01's hand, we'll continue to thrive. Sounds good to me. We hear a little crunch in a black screen, and the series wraps.
It isn't the most exciting episode in the series, but it does have some of
the most intense intracharacter fireworks. This episode gains sympathy points
because it is the last cohesive episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion. In
other words, it has a rudimentary plot, with an identifiable antagonist and a
reasonable facsimile of cause and effect. As the rightful and creatively
executed end point to a series of woe, it earns a solid B.
* Episode 25: "Do You Love Me"
Dead people yell at Shinji, who is apparently floating in a psychological void that makes The Construct in The Matrix seem like an all-expenses paid vacation to Cancun. Animation and still shots we have already seen flash in front of us, intercut with stark black and white titles of psychobabble, while choir music ("Ode to Joy") plays in the background. The animation takes a nosedive while Shinji screams, ruminates, whines, and then screams some more. Everyone gazes into their interminable navels. Dead people yell at each other. Shinji becomes the all-powerful God of his own reality while the audience yawns.
* Episode 26: "Take Care of Yourself"
"The Case of Shinji Ikari..."...blah blah blah..."The Human Instrumentality Project..."...blah blah blah...humans are missing components and seeking their lost complements while they bond together, you must decide to love others and love yourself and reality is not concrete. Are you happy?...blahblahblah...crappy animation...whoa, that was kind of cool...Everyone turns into happy characters in a harem anime...blah blah blah..."Don't forsake me..."...blah blah blah..."I hate myself. But maybe I can learn to love myself. Maybe it's okay for me to be here! That's right! I'm me, nothing more, nothing less! I'm me. I want to be me! I want to be here! And it's okay for me to be here!"
Everyone cheers. Finally, it is over.
To their credit, ADV makes an attempt to make this last volume an event. In addition to the usual 12-page booklet (which has a nice timeline on the back page), opening/closing credits, and ADV previews, we get a featurette, commentary track, and two animatics. I'm not sure why we need an animatic for Episode 25 considering it is mostly recycled footage, and you could claim that episode 26 is one slightly polished animatic anyway, so Episode 24 is the only one that really requires the animatic treatment.
The "Mythology" featurette is not as polished or complete as the previous version. It ends abruptly and is riddled with weird screens like "Subject Unavailable" and "SEELE 01 Sound Only." The first featurette was heavy and deep, but this one feels like an apology for the series conclusion.
That leaves us with the commentary, which I'm sharply divided on. On the one hand, Matt and Sean address the confusion and frustration inherent in the finale (Matt calls it the "Double-You Tee Eff Episode"). They provide a constant, lucid stream of commentary that tackles the dark heart of EVA head on. On the other hand they, like Anno, make the critical and incorrect assumption that we have any clue what the hell is happening. I wanted to like Sean's commentary, but I wanted even more for him to say something along the lines of "Okay, I think Shinji is in the billiard room with the revolver, and Miss Scarlet is about to walk in." In other words, in the absolute absence of any establishing context, it would have been nice for someone to provide what Anno did not. Honestly, I cannot evaluate what was said in the commentary because I'm not in that place yet. All I know is dead people are yelling at Shinji, and he is whining to himself about humanity, and people clap at the end.
I desperately want to flunk Volume Seven outright, but that would not be fair. ADV has provided a decent slate of extras, fine liner notes, and a great audiovisual upgrade. If you consider "The Beginning and the End, or 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'" the actual ending of the series and the last two episodes as a misguided appendix (which is, in fact, not far from the truth) then this volume is much less frustrating. We'll let this disc go with a stern warning: Make sense next time, or else.
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 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: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 12-Page Booklet
* Director's Cut of Episode 24
* "The Mythology of Evangelion Part II" Featurette
* Commentary on Episode 26 by Matt Greenfield and Sean McCoy
* Animatic for Episodes 24 and 25
* Clean Opening and Closing Credits
* ADV Previews
* DVD Verdict Review of Platinum Collection Vol. 1