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.