Judge Geoffrey Miller wants to warn you that the last two paragraphs of this review suck.
Our reviews of Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 1) (published August 26th, 2004), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 2) (published October 21st, 2004), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 3) (published January 13th, 2005), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 4) (published February 3rd, 2005), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 5) (published April 21st, 2005), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 6) (published April 21st, 2005), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 7) (published May 5th, 2005), Neon Genesis Evangelion Director's Cut: Genesis Reborn (published March 23rd, 2004), Neon Genesis Evangelion Director's Cut: Resurrection (published February 22nd, 2004), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Collection 0:1 (published April 26th, 2001), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Collection 0:2 (published April 26th, 2001), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Collection 0:3 (published April 26th, 2001), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death And Rebirth (published July 30th, 2002), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death And Rebirth/The End Of Evangelion Box Set (published July 28th, 2005), and Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End Of Evangelion (published October 11th, 2002) are also available.
"I mustn't run away. I mustn't run away. I mustn't run away."—Shinji Ikari
It's been over 10 years since Neon Genesis Evangelion hit Japanese airwaves, yet its seismic impact is still being felt. For better or worse, the influence of GAINAX's landmark creation permeates anime (RahXephon, Serial Experiments Lain) and video games (Xenogears and a multitude of other role-playing games) to the extent that Japanese pop culture could be split into eras: before and after Evangelion.
It has been known to divide audiences. For every viewer who's enthralled by its mix of classic anime action, convoluted philosophy, psychological angst, and religious imagery, there's another who finds it pretentious and ponderous. With a new airing of the series on Cartoon Network's popular Adult Swim block (in relatively unedited form) and a live-action movie in the works, Evangelion is poised to reach a whole new audience. But does it still hold up?
Facts of the Case
On Sept. 13, 2000, a giant explosion occurred in Antarctica, wrecking havoc on the environment and mankind. Second Impact, as it came to be known, is responsible for the demise of half the world's population, both from the event itself and the ensuing chaos. The general public is told that a meteorite that collided with Earth at close to the speed of light caused Second Impact, but the truth is clouded in secrecy.
Flash forward to 2015. Remarkably, humanity has rebuilt, but the newfound peace and normality is threatened by mysterious beings, called Angels, attacking Earth. An organization called NERV leads the fight against the Angels. Their main line of defense? Giant robots called Evangelions (or Evas for short). Shinji Ikari, the latest Evangelion pilot recruit and the 14-year-old son of NERV commander Gendo Ikari, has just been picked up by Captain Misato Kutsuragi, head of NERV operations, to report to NERV headquarters in Tokyo-3. Unfortunately for both them, they get caught in the middle of an Angel attack.
Eventually they make their way to NERV headquarters. Shinji initially balks at piloting the Evangelion to fight the angel, but agrees after seeing that the only other pilot, Rei Ayanami, is badly injured. He fares poorly in his first battle and is about to be defeated until he goes into a berserk rage, destroying both the Angel and the surrounding buildings. He wakes up afterward in a hospital bed, with little memory of what happened.
Shinji moves in with Misato, who becomes his guardian. (His father, Gendo, is emotionally distant and disinterested in living with him, and his mother died when he was young.) He continues to fend off the Angels, along with the two other Eva pilots, Rei and Asuka Langley Soryu, and the help of Misato and NERV's head scientist, Ritsuko Akagi (who is also close friends with Misato). Shinji and the others all struggle with their own demons as the Angel attacks become more frequent and dangerous; and the truth behind the Second Impact, NERV, the Angels, and the Evangelions slowly comes to light.
What is there to say about Neon Genesis Evangelion that hasn't already been said? On this site alone, there are 15 reviews of Evangelion DVDs and references to the show in 41 more. Countless magazine articles and Web sites have analyzed, interpreted, and critiqued it from every angle imaginable. Hell, there are probably a few college theses out there on it. I couldn't possibly hope to share any profound new insights that haven't been made elsewhere, especially within the framework of this relatively short review. So I'll keep it simple: Despite its many irritatingly overzealous fans, detractors, and imitators, Neon Genesis Evangelion is still brilliant—a stunning achievement that's deservedly earned every inch of praise thrown at it.
At its heart, Evangelion is rooted in classic mecha series like Macross (a.k.a. the first third of Robotech) and Mobile Suit Gundam. It has all the usual anime hallmarks, like neon-bright colors, blue-haired girls, and a peppy J-pop theme song; the pacing and structure should be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever watched an action anime series before. Even most of the later, less conventional episodes tend to follow the common "enemy of the week" formula. Using these traditional anime elements works well in establishing a foundation, but what makes Evangelion special is how it builds on that foundation in innovative and creative ways.
Without a doubt, Evangelion has one of the finest cast of characters in all of anime. Shinji can be very polarizing as a protagonist, especially towards the beginning. In the first episodes, he's almost disgustingly cowardly and weak. Later on he starts to grow a pair, becoming more courageous, assertive, and personable. Insight into his traumatic past and strained relationship with his father also helps to make him more sympathetic. He is layered, nuanced, and flawed; above all, he is an ordinary teenager, not an all-powerful superhero.
Misato, who is in many ways as much of the main character as Shinji, has a personality that's practically the polar opposite of his—and, as a result, she's far easier to warm up to. She's outgoing and flirtatious; she guzzles beer and lives on instant ramen in her messy apartment. In contrast to her personal life, she's highly professional and focused on the job. Her seemingly normal behavior masks her emotional troubles, which adds a vulnerable humanity to her bubbly exterior. Her considerable sex appeal, accentuated with frequent "fan service," doesn't hurt either.
Shinji's fellow Eva pilots, Rei and Asuka, are like two sides of a coin. Rei is socially withdrawn, quiet, and emotionally distant. She's almost mechanical in her measured composure. Asuka is loud-mouthed and egotistical, as fiery as her bright red hair. She's the typical irritating yet irresistible hothead, compulsively likable in spite of (and because of) her overbearing brashness. They both share unusual relationships with Shinji. Rei forms a unique attachment to Shinji that's more platonic than romantic, possibly with maternal elements. On the other hand, Shinji and Asuka have a standard love/hate relationship, which usually manifests itself in their never-ending squabbling.
Evangelion is rife with references to Christianity, psychology, and philosophy. The much-ballyhooed (and copied) religious allusions are more decorative than profound; the way the Angels are named after Christian angels that represent their methods of attack is clever, but ultimately inconsequential to the overall story. Psychology and philosophy play far deeper roles. Both stem from writer-director Hidaeki Anno's four-year battle with depression prior to creating Evangelion and what he learned while fighting it. From a philosophical standpoint, it's an overtly existentialist show; particularly in the way its characters wrestle with their anxiety, their alienation, and their search for meaning in their lives.
The importance of parental influence—viewed through the lens of Freudian theory—is a major component of the show's psychological themes. While classifying it as an Oedipal complex would be an oversimplification, Shinji's complicated parental issues are at the core of his problems. Shinji bears deep resentment and anger towards his father for abandoning him and is tormented by the loss of his mother. Similarly, Misato, Asuka, and Ritsuko all have unresolved conflicts with their parents that impede their ability to form complete, stable identities. Nothing makes the connection more explicit than the Evas themselves: Upon entering an Eva, pilots are immersed in LCL, a liquid similar to amniotic fluid; in order to function, Evas must be attached to an "umbilical cable" connected to an external power source.
Evangelion's 26 episodes can be roughly divided into two parts. The first half of the series is action-packed and upbeat (at least in relation to later episodes), with generous servings of comedy and "fan service." It's basically a traditional mecha action series, albeit an unusually ambitious and complex one. After the initial rush of the first episode, the pace slows down a bit to allow for some character development and background to develop. But by the time Asuka makes her first appearance, the show has kicked into high gear for a stunning run of near-perfect episodes.
"Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!" is a brilliant symphony that seamlessly weaves laughs, inventive mecha fight sequences, and sexual tension. After Shinji and Asuka fail to destroy an Angel, it's determined that only an expertly coordinated simultaneous attack from both of them will be able to beat it. They're forced to work together to learn how to execute the battle plan, a tightly choreographed dance that requires they be in synch. Meanwhile, Misato reunites with Kaji, her old lover from college, and finds herself drawn to him again, despite her better judgment. Shinji and Asuka finally launch into action to dispose of the Angel, their moves set to music in a masterful minute-long ballet.
All three pilots work together for the first time in "The Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still," when all the electricity in Tokyo-3 (including NERV headquarters) is mysteriously knocked out. A higher-up in NERV comments that it would be disastrous if an Angel happened to attack right now. Guess what happens! Shinji, Rei, and Asuka are walking home from school together when the blackout hits, and they need to make their way to NERV so they can fight the Angel. Their adventure traveling underneath the city provides a rare chance for all three to converse and interact with each other. Laced with tense humor, the episode also has a subplot with Misato and Kaji getting stuck together in an elevator.
A darker, more cerebral mood dominates the second half of Evangelion. Battles with Angels become increasingly dangerous, with many close calls and casualties. The show's naughty sense of humor all but disappears. Characters turn towards introspection, especially Shinji. When Shinji is swallowed inside an Angel that's comprised of a large nebulous shadow that sucks up everything in its path in "Splitting of the Breast," he contemplates his existence in a series of abstract visions. From then on, these sequences increase in frequency, culminating with a controversial conclusion that alienates and disappoints many viewers.
Much has been made of the final two episodes, which primarily deal with Shinji's psychological problems and, by all appearances, take place entirely in his mind. While they don't provide the sort of neat, satisfying resolution that fans crave, they are in line with the rest of the series, particularly the second half. Despite consisting of crude or recycled animation, these episodes carefully and intelligently explore Shinji and his mental state.
There are countless interpretations about the ending, and the only thing they have in common is that they obstinately insist they're right and all the others are wrong. It may or may not be a more metaphorical interpretation of the events in End of Evangelion, the "alternate ending" movie released after the series. It could be a reflection of events happening in the "real world," thoughts going through Shinji's head, or something else entirely. There has never been an "official" explanation, so no one knows for sure.
The ambiguous conclusion isn't necessarily the problem, though. What's most frustrating about Evangelion's ending isn't its actual content—it may be weird and vague, but that's true of a lot of show—so much as the feeling that it's the end of a chapter, not the whole story. If it's meant to be representative of End of Evangelion's far more literal and definitive ending, it's not made clear. If it's just Shinji resolving his issues and becoming a happier, more confident person, then it's an inadequate way of wrapping up a show so rich in possibilities.
Quibbles about the ending aside, there are just so many things Evangelion does right that elevate it beyond pedestrian anime. The world is so alive and well-developed, right down to the smallest details (like the way cars run on batteries instead of gasoline, as one would expect in a future following global disaster that would limit access to fossil fuels). Even the minor characters, like classmates Toji and Kensuke, are remarkably fleshed out. The way Misato's mature (but dysfunctional) relationship with Kaji contrasts with the teens' awkward, tentative steps towards romance is brilliant. In other words, Evangelion pulls off the remarkable trick of feeling tantalizingly real, an exceedingly rare accomplishment in anime (and animation in general).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For something that advertises itself as "the ultimate version" on the back of the box, Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection sure is lacking in features. The original single-disc versions of the Platinum releases were filled to the brim with extras (commentaries, animatics, detailed liner notes, featurettes). This new collection only retains the director's cut of episodes 21-24. While some added scenes make these the superior versions of the episodes, the removal of the other extras is highly disappointing. It's a practice in line with the other ADV thinpack sets, but it's a bigger loss than usual because of the amount of extras featured in the individual discs and the way they helped explain some of the more complex and potentially confusing elements in the show. If it was clearly marked as a budget box set (which is essentially what it is, being the cheapest way to get the whole series), it wouldn't be such a major issue. But when something is called the Platinum Collection, it should damn well have everything the original Platinum discs had.
Nevertheless, the video and audio quality is superb. The new remastering job, supervised by GAINAX as part of the "Renewal of Evangelion" project, fixes some old technical problems (the frame jitter has been removed) and adds a whole new level of visual sheen; quite simply, this is the best Evangelion has ever looked. Both the English and Japanese language tracks are presented in 5.1; regardless of whether you're a sub or dub person, you'll be pleased with the results.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is so sprawling in scope that summarizing it is a nearly impossible task. It's a visionary work of art, filled with dense, heady mythology and an unpredictable, labyrinthine plot; every viewing brings about new revelations. The quality of the show is certainly not in doubt, but whether or not this box set is for you depends on what you're looking for. For the curious newcomer who just wants to see what the fuss is about, Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection is an ideal choice: It's the most affordable way to see the series. Hardcore Evangelion nuts would be better off sticking to the individual Platinum collection discs (assuming they don't already have them) for the nicer packaging and extras.
Not guilty, but ADV Films is issued a citation for taking some of the shine out of this Platinum.
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