Enough of the shilly-shallying, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger. Don't hedge your bets with statements like "perhaps the best stretch of anime episodes ever"—tell us what you really think.
Our reviews of Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (Volume 1) (published August 26th, 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), Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Collection (published February 23rd, 2006), and Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End Of Evangelion (published October 11th, 2002) are also available.
"Even the Devil cries sometimes."—Toji
The re-release of anime's greatest series picks up steam with Neon Genesis Evangelion—Platinum Collection (Volume 2). Neon Genesis Evangelion taps into deeply primitive human themes, which grants it enviable staying power in our media consciousness. It tackles the most twisted depths of our psyches, delving into depression, despair, and irredeemability. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a bleak world without quarter. Even so, moments of false hope and honest-to-goodness levity balance the series, which elicits a wide (and therefore more compelling) range of emotional responses in the viewer.
Volume Two of the Platinum Collection inhabits this world of levity and false hope. The episodes depict a period of relative buoyancy and light between the stark introductions in Volume One and the upcoming collapse. Volume Two is Neon Genesis Evangelion's Belle Epoque (the tranquil age in Spanish history between the fall of the monarchy and the rise of fascism). Episodes Six through Ten are chaotic, with characters crossing swords frequently, but veteran viewers of the series will appreciate the relative peace and delight in the happy moments.
Facts of the Case
Just when Shinji has started to grasp the nuances of his reticent coworker Rei, a new pilot enters the fray. Asuka Langley Soryu is a German fireball with a hot temper and a vicious stubborn streak. She is also very attractive. These qualities add up to one enormous headache for Shinji and his friends, because Asuka quickly becomes the queen bee of their high school. She misses no opportunity to belittle Shinji or Rei.
Meanwhile, Misato must deal with a thorn of her own—because with Asuka comes Kaji Ryoji. Kaji is suave and cocky, and he has intimate experience in pushing Misato's buttons. Bothered beyond reason, Misato struggles to keep her composure as Kaji lays down a siege of innuendo.
Misato and Shinji will have to ignore these annoyances and focus, because the assaults of the Angels keep coming. The attacks have made the nations of Earth nervous, and signs of espionage begin to appear.
Even when compared to the convoluted plots and deep mystical symbolism of its contemporaries, Neon Genesis Evangelion is involved. The series weaves together innumerable threads and keeps them active simultaneously. Like the I Ching, Neon Genesis Evangelion opens itself to vast interpretation and supports almost any reasoned hypothesis. Some accuse the series of too much sleight of hand, speaking in hints and whispers but not coming clean about its own true purpose. Yet these mysterious depths fuel the fires of fandom.
Part of the complexity of Neon Genesis Evangelion is the surplus of double meanings. When you watch it once, you struggle with the simple mechanics of the plot and themes. But Hideaki Anno also plays with his audience, creating apparent questions and tension that evaporate upon a second viewing. The first time you watch the series, you might be wondering things like "Does Misato still have feelings for Kaji? Is Ritsuko jealous?" The second time around, you'll be asking stuff like "When she feigns interest in humanity before enacting her massively destructive malignance on the world, does [character so-and-so] stop to ponder her own mortality?" or "Before he callously exploited human DNA to create soulless beings, did [character so-and-so] have any shred of decency?" In other words, Hideaki Anno sets up red herrings to divert you from the true plot, just so he can sucker punch you in the gut.
That said, the red herrings are so cunningly employed that we can't help but be swept up in them. I've seen this show all the way through and I know what is coming, and yet I delight in the antics of Volume Two. When the characters act happy, I feel happy myself. When Asuka barges onto the stage in a whirlwind of red hair, perky breasts, nasty comments, and misplaced rage, I'm captivated. When romantic tension seems to build, I allow myself to get wrapped up in it and pretend that it all might work out. And that is why Volume Two is perhaps the best stretch of anime episodes ever, in any series and any era of anime.
These five episodes find a rhythm and exploit it for all it is worth. Rei is a mysterious neutral party. Misato oscillates between flirtatious wreck and hardcore tactician. Asuka is a catalyst for mayhem. The personalities are dynamic; they clash vibrantly and often.
You'll read more on that subject shortly, but for now let's delve into the DVD presentation. ADV has improved on the former Platinum release, albeit slightly. Volume One gave us clean opening and closing credits, two commentary tracks, a booklet, and a sticker. This wasn't a bad extras package, but it didn't hit the spot either. On the surface, the extras for Volume Two may not seem better, but they are. The sticker is gone, but in its place is a full animatic for Episode Nine. This extra is oddly exhilarating, because you're seeing this episode in its raw form. The polished characters are gone, and we see instead the fresh pencil strokes and rough shapes that will become the scenes. The lines are so delicate and sensitively drawn that it is easy to comprehend the artistic foundation.
The two commentaries have been pared down to one. Actually, for all intents and purposes, the first DVD's commentary tracks were just one extended track. Matt Greenfield stayed in the booth after the first commentary and Spike Spencer joined him. Greenfield stayed in the same groove and covered similar ground, so the commentary wasn't as dynamic as it could have been. Spike and Matt shared interesting information with us, but Tiffany Grant and Allison Shipp (the English voice actors for Asuka and Misato) pack more into one commentary than the former release did into two. The ladies are full of energy. They seem to relish their characters and their experiences on the show. They flirt with us by slipping into and out of character, keeping the track full of fun and vitality. Grant and Shipp validate the fans and make us feel proud to be fans.
The booklet has improved also. The improvement starts with the very first page, a great breakdown of the opening theme song. Neon Genesis Evangelion has one of the coolest opening themes ever, and it is nice to read a little about its construction.
Volume Two maintains the visual and aural quality that began with Volume One's remastering. Once again, the colors are vibrant and deep, with improved black levels. Volume Two is mostly stable, a welcome change from the previous releases. There was at least one moment of judder that reminded me of the old video master days, but stability was quickly restored. I also noticed just a hair more twitter this time, but it was never enough to draw me out of the otherwise impressive experience. The audio bowled me over anew, starting with the dramatic opening theme, moving through the quietly immersive indoor scenes, and carrying through to some impressive sounds of battle carnage. A lot of metal creaks in Neon Genesis Evangelion, and we hear it all with detail and oomph. A handful of effects such as whining power stations and firing plasma rifles took me by surprise. In parallel with the video, there was one moment of clear disruption when the screen turned white and the sound dropped out for a second, but it was the only moment of note. The bottom line is that the transfer is not pixel perfect, but it is a marked audio and video improvement.
Now for the episodes. As in the previous review of Neon Genesis Evangelion—Platinum Collection (Volume 1), the following episode comments make the assumption that you have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion all the way through. If you have not, skip these summaries, bookmark this review, and come back to the episode comments when you have seen the series and pondered it for yourself.
• "Rei II"
This leaves him free to join Rei in a counterattack, in a touching display of partnership and sacrifice. The stage is set through the unification of Japanese resources, where all power on the island is diverted to Shinji's weapon. In a scene that could only be done in anime, we see the power drain out of Japan as a massive blackout spreads across the country. Meanwhile, Shinji and Rei share some words on the mountaintop while they watch the reverse fireworks. It is almost like a date, except for two massive robotic carcasses standing in the background and an Angel hovering above raining down death.
The end of the episode cements (well, rubber cements, anyway) our
understanding of Rei. She says she will protect Shinji, and you know she will if
it means her life. The prototypically awkward conversation that occurs once the
Angel is felled practically screams that Rei isn't all there. But at this early
point, we're clinging to the hope that her mysterious lack of socialization
masks a suppressed romantic longing to find the touch of the right teenaged
whiner-recluse. "Rei II" features one of the baldest ironies in the
entire series when Shinji asks her to smile. It is obvious that her muscles
aren't used to working that way, and her smile hints at a mixture of emptiness
and ferocity. But the gesture pleases an oblivious Shinji, who thinks she is
actually smiling at him. The psychological insights into both characters are
enough to recommend this episode, even without the dramatic Angel showdown. On
the other hand, it is curious that all of NERV's "8.6% probability of
success" plans always work.
• "A Human Work"
Intrigue isn't all that "A Human Work" offers. The focus on interpersonal relationships extends to other areas. On the Shinji-Misato front, we see Shinji loosen up a little and begin to express his true feelings of annoyance. Toji and Kensuke tease him about the relationship and open Shinji's eyes to the truth about family, a moment with great emotional impact. We also get insight into the EVAs when we listen in on Shinji's ruminations. Don't know about you, but when I learn that the cockpit smells like blood, it freaks me out a little bit. Finally, we learn of the world's opinion of NERV through a clever visual device. In a crowded banquet hall, NERV's is the only isolated table.
Taken together, these interpersonal threads cause the episode to feel
disjointed, but the depth of understanding we gain more than compensates. The
"runaway robot" scenario is a transparent means of maintaining the
action level, but it is a welcome balance to the intrigue-heavy side. "A
Human Work" packs much into the episode that will blossom later.
• "Asuka Strikes"
Aside from the nifty battle sequence with Asuka playing hopscotch with the naval fleet, the real standout in this episode is Asuka's jealousy of Shinji. She has heard of Shinji through the grapevine, given his impressive raw synchronization with Unit-01. Asuka longs to fight and prove her superiority. She displays little comprehension of teamwork, preferring a Top Gun approach. Shinji is her polar opposite, but he has enough spunk to show his annoyance. This dynamic will only grow more heated, so it is a hoot to watch Asuka set in right away.
The episode employs clever shots to demonstrate the relationship—or, more precisely, the lack of a relationship. Asuka takes it upon herself to ready her EVA for battle, but she doesn't fill Shinji in on the plan. She tells him to stand guard at the top of the stairs, and undresses herself to put on her flight suit. Her back is to Shinji and he isn't even looking at her, but we can see Asuka's calculated smirk. When Shinji looks her way, Asuka launches a diatribe about how perverted Shinji is. This will not be the first time Asuka uses sex to rile Shinji.
Perhaps more telling is the interior shot of Asuka and Shinji in the EVA's cockpit. She is sitting comfortably in the driver's seat while Shinji sits uncomfortably behind her. Banks of readout screens form an arch around them, with red error messages throughout. This composition speaks volumes about Asuka's need to dominate, her lack of teamwork, and the negative results of such behavior.
You have to see it to be swept up in it, but "Asuka Strikes" is
the perfect wind of change at the perfect time. Neon Genesis Evangelion
was not a comfortable show to begin with, but Kaji and Asuka raise the bar. The
episode is capped by a fantastic commentary track.
• "Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!"
These petty annoyances temporarily vanish when Shinji and Asuka must confront a surfacing Angel. When the Angel morphs in two and handily defeats units 01 and 02, NERV must come up with a new strategy. Asuka and Shinji must share an apartment—eat, study, and sleep together—in order to synchronize themselves. Only a carefully orchestrated simultaneous attack will defeat the Angel. As you can imagine, the petty annoyances suddenly become central to humanity's survival.
This episode is masterful from opening to close. It builds slowly to a simmering confrontation, sparked by Rei's cool efficiency in synchronizing with Shinji. (Of course, it forces us to ask "why not let Shinji and Rei fight the Angel?") Toji has one of the best comeback lines ever, while Asuka and Shinji work through their relationship. The night before the battle is laced with tension, both sexual and non. We also learn something about Asuka that will become very important down the line. In addition, the adults have their own tension to deal with. When his advances on Misato meet with resistance, Kaji changes tactics. He cups Ritsuko's breasts from behind and tells her she's lost weight. Ritsuko seems perfectly amenable to the flirtation, especially since it will annoy Misato. From a perspective of character, "Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!" is a delight.
But the action finale is the real triumph. The ridiculous image of Shinji
and Asuka in '80s dance outfits provides a powerful contrast to the reality of
their situation. When the EVAs dance in unison to ethereal music, sidestepping
bullets and counterattacking viciously, the net effect is both moving and
adrenaline-charged. It is one of the most poetic battle sequences in all of
anime, and its impact is not lessened by the humor in the rest of the episode.
This episode and the prior episode combine to form an early high point in
Neon Genesis Evangelion.
• "Magma Diver"
Of course, we have some funny interpersonal moments before the action kicks in. Asuka learns that instead of touring the shore with her entourage on the class trip, she will have to stay behind with Shinji and Rei. Asuka makes the most of it by flaunting her saucy body in front of Shinji just to see him squirm. Love her or hate her, the Second Child keeps things interesting.
Asuka's guard finally comes down in the magma battle, when it becomes clear that she will die. But we didn't count on NERV's ability to turn a one percent probability into 100% success! Unit-01 reaches down at the last minute (into pure molten lava, mind you) and saves Asuka. The image of Shinji's EVA eyes burning through the lava is powerful.
The episode wraps with one of those infamous "bath" scenes, where
Shinji listens to a naked Misato and Asuka tickle each other. The pair could be
teasing him, or actually fooling around, and either explanation is equally
inviting. "Magma Diver" is good clean fun all around.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said before, there is an audio dropout and a couple moments of instability in the transfer. Not much to complain about in terms of extras or audio visuals. Diehard Neon Genesis Evangelion fans can find fault with the simple reality of having to buy the whole series over again. However, we are getting five episodes per disc and extras, which is a good value for a popular series with proven staying power. Odds are that you'll watch this one multiple times.
This series is notorious for being an emotional roller coaster. If that is true, Volume Two provides many of the highs. It isn't the most focused set of episodes, but in terms of tone, character development, mixed messages, and outrageous flirtation, Neon Genesis Evangelion—Platinum Collection (Volume 2) delivers a satisfying anime experience. It is a personal favorite of mine in a genre full of creativity. Right here and right now, Neon Genesis Evangelion is riding high.
Everyone is guilty, everyone. But we don't know that yet, so the whole lot is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Clean Opening and Closing Animation
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