Review: Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance

The subtitle for the second installment of Evangelion New Theatrical Edition is “Break”…Part 2 “Break” departs, with a few exceptions, from mere reproduction of past material to proceed toward a basically new creation…[marking] a complete updating of the impression Eva originally gave.

Evangelion 2.22 booklet

As repetitive and dull as I found the rehashing known as Evangelion 1.0, the second movie in Hideaki Anno’s re-imagining of the groundbreaking Evangelion series was refreshing and exciting.  As the quote above, extracted from a fun 20-page booklet included in Funimation’s Blu-Ray release of the movie (entitled Evangelion 2.22) , explains, this sequel takes the story into a different direction.  And because of that, the film achieves something rare: it matches, and maybe even improves, on the original.

For those unfamiliar, Evangelion takes place in a near-future Japan that was devastated by the third impact, where a being known as an “angel” destroyed much of the planet.  Shinji Ikari and other teenagers are commissioned to pilot Evangelion units, which are angel-like mecha/living creatures, against the returning angels.  This film focuses on the arrival of Asuka Shikinami (formerly Soryu), the development of new Eva units and their use against the angels, and the mystery behind another pilot, the new character, Mari Illustrious Makinami.

The movie immediately drifts from the original series, but particularly so when Asuka first goes into battle alongside Shinji and Rei.  Besides what amount to stylistic, surface-level differences, the motivations, actions, and personalities of characters evolve drastically beginning with that battle.  Asuka, the whipping girl of Anno in the original series, still gets it tough, but not only does she respond better in the face of adversity – she also becomes a much more sympathetic character.  The same can be said, strangely enough, of Gendo Ikari (though he’s generally still the same ‘ol generally rotten dad he’s always been).

And Shinji?  Oh Shinji, since when did you become awesome?

But it’s Rei and Mari that deserve the most attention.  Rei  became a model for the cold (but attractive) character type in anime.  But in the Rebuild series, her coldness thaws steadily and strongly.  While she certainly participates in the fights against the angels, it’s her daily actions which will surprise and uplift viewers of the series.  Meanwhile, Mari is an interesting addition and brings with her a shining and unique personality, highlighted by the voice of the always-wonderful Maaya Sakamoto.

Rei and Asuka’s rebuilt elevator scene

Since the film moves quickly, without dwelling too long on exposition, it’s natural that themes like isolation, loneliness, self-dependence, and finding one’s way in the world might get lost.  But they aren’t – they remain strong, reflected through conversation and characters’ actions, instead of coming in the way of hitting the audience over the head with the expository hammer.  Spiritual themes abound as well.  Even though Anno long ago stated that Christianity (and other religions) were used for superficial reasons, some Christian motifs (particularly thoughts about sin) resonate strongly in Evangelion 2.0.

I enjoyed the Japanese voice actors in the film – this was the first time I’d ever watched any Evangelion work in Japanese.  I also re-watched it in English, and though I was disappointed by the absence of some voice actors (Aaron Krohn as Ryoji Kaji was particularly missed), the inclusion of most of the original mains was a real treat.

The extras in the Blu-Ray edition are more than decent, including deleted scenes, U.S. cast commentary, an a storyboard-type “making-of” short called “Rebuild of Evangelion 2.02.”  The cover art is wonderful, and I really like the Tang-colored (fan service?) slip cover.

Evangelion 2.0 is an outstanding film, but is only able to challenge its predecessor in terms of quality because of the brilliance of the original series.  Aside from the obvious – that the movie’s storyline is based on the anime series – the movie seeks (and often does) improve on Neon Genesis Evangelion because it purposely highlights differences, like the aforementioned characters, the radically redesigned angels, and even specific scenes (ex. the addition of dialogue in the “Kaji watermelon” scene). 

Evangelion 2.0 remains powerful and compelling, but it’s also more refined.  Anno treats his characters with just a touch of gentleness, and so does the same with his audience, who can now walk away from watching Evangelion both entertained and with a smile.


11 thoughts on “Review: Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance

  1. I’ve watched this movie four times (twice in English, twice with subs) and I’m still not tired of it! 😀 I really liked Evangelion 1.0 a lot, but this movie pretty much had me singing the praises of the Rebuild series as a whole. While there are some dramatic differences between the Rebuild and anime versions of the characters, they’re never so different that you feel like you’re watching a movie with a completely new cast (well, with the exception of Mari, lol).

    Also, the movie is *gorgeous.* I really wish I could have seen this in theatres; blu-ray quality anime is truly astonishing. (It’s for the same reason that I want to see Trigun Badlands in theatres next month, but alas, it doesn’t seem to be playing in Boston.)

    Whoa, sorry about the random gushing. :O Anyway, great review and I agree with everything you said~

    1. I agree with everything YOU said, hehe. Yeah…you’re making me want to go watch it again, right now. 🙂

      I want to see the Trigun movie in theaters also! But they’re not showing it here either, which is unusual, because we often get anime releases.

  2. I watched the TV series a while ago, so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but Shinji annoyed me to death in the TV show and in the movie he was, as you say, awesome. The gross unfairness of his situation and the fact that he’s still a child come across much more starkly in the movie.

    Another change, I feel, was Misato, who I remember liking in the TV series, but in the movie she came across as manipulative and hypocritical, to the point that my dislike for her even exceeded my dislike for Shinji’s father. Shinji’s father at least has no pretensions of being a good father: Misato acts like she cares for Shinji and wants to give him a choice of whether to fight, only to guilt trip him into fighting and then attempt to absolve herself of all responsibility. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the show, though, so I’m not entirely sure whether it’s Misato who changed or myself.

    1. Thanks for the comments. 🙂

      I’m a big Misato fan, but actually, she was very manipulative in the original. But because she had so much screen time, you also got to see more of how she cared for Shinji, and in the end, I generally chalked up the manipulation to her not only trying to do her job, but also because she wanted Shinji to mature – for his own good.

      One thing I did like regarding Misato in this movie, though, is that Kaji gives some exact background about her, which I think softens her character some in the film.

  3. What Mari does for the movie is allow Asuka to step out of her pariah role that we saw in the TV series. The guilt and responsibilities get spread around to more characters to share and allow them to grow in ways that we didn’t see in the TV series. For one, I wouldn’t say that Rei was cold in the TV series. She just lacked personality, which made sense because she was an artificial being. It’s suggested that’s also the case in 2.22, but this time around she gets to develop a personality on her own terms rather than just getting puppeted around by her instincts.

    But Mari wins points from me because she fits so many of my favorite character archetypes – twintails, glasses, crazy, confident. =P And then I get to listen to Maaya Sakamoto’s beautiful voice!? /drool

    1. Thanks for the great analysis. Reflecting back, Mari’s final fight in the movie, where’s she’s prepared to give up her life, reminds me strongly of Asuka’s fight against the multitude of enemies in End of Evangelion (or was it Death and Rebirth?). I think the supports your points even further.

      You know, I generally don’t like ANY of those character archetypes – but Mari was an amazing character, especially voiced by Maaya.

      1. It was End of Evangelion where Asuka fights the Eva Series. Death and Rebirth was an abridged summary of the series that came packaged with End of Evangelion to give it context for people who hadn’t watched the TV series.

        1. Thanks for the clarification – I barely remember anymore. Unlike many (most?) Eva fans, I hated End of Evangelion. But I actually remember liking Death and Rebirth. Also, that summary movie contained terrific commentary from the ADV Films people.

  4. Just a headsup, Nerv is attempting to prevent Third Impact. Second Impact is the event that happened 15 years ago. (Your article has a mistake with this.)

    Great and interesting analysis, though! 🙂

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