Sunday, February 1, 2015

Film Review: End of Evangelion

End of Evangelion
  • Publisher: Toei (JPN), Manga Entertainment (NA) 
  • Production Companies: Kadokawa Shoten, TV Tokyo, Sega Corporation, Production I.G, Movic, Starchild, Gainax 
  • Genre: Science-fiction 
  • Release: 19 July 1997 (JPN) 
  • Directors: Katsuya Tsurumaki (Episode 25'), Hideaki Anno (Episode 26') 
  • Producer: Matsuhisa Ishikawa 
  • Writer: Hideaki Anno 
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Neon Genesis Evangelion. And at the risk of spoiling that review, I thought it was quite good -- up until the final two episodes, that is, which left all its twisted plot threads hanging in favour of a whole mess of amateur philosophising. Apparently things got so bad in that regard, that the powers concerned had to make not one, but two feature films to follow it up with. The first, Death and Rebirth, is essentially a recap of the series. But the second one, 1997's End of Evangelion... hoo boy, let's just say it's the one everybody talks about.

We open on Shinji Ikari (EN: Spike Spencer, JP: Megumi Obata) standing at the hospital bedside of Asuka Langley Soryu (EN: Tiffany Grant, JP: Yuko Miyamura). She's been comatose since the end of the original series, having... had a little run-in with the plot. He shakes her in a vain effort to wake her, when he accidentally slips off her gown and... Well, this franchise's reputation being what it is, you probably know what happens next. And if you don't know, well, I shan't say it because I take my self-inforced PG rating very seriously, but suffice it to say, Shinji is dead right when he says, "I'm so [verb]ed up."

"Oh my gosh... Asuka has... boobs!  WHY DID NO ONE WARN ME!?"
Meanwhile, the secret organisation SEELE, from whom spawned the less-secret organisation NERV, is having a little discussion. You see, they've got this grand master plan to trigger something called the Human Instrumentality project. You'd be forgiven for not knowing what it is at this point, even if you've watched the original series, which was less than explanatory on that front. But anyway, SEELE has decided that this whole NERV thing isn't working out, so they decided to cut their losses -- the hard way. First they try to hack NERV's computer network in an abridged, yet otherwise shot-for-shot, remake of one of the episodes. And when that doesn't work, they send an army in to invade the place.

All the while, we get a running commentary from the officers of NERV's command centre. You may have noticed that their voice-actors have changed in the English dub, and not for the better. This does not extend to the entire cast, thankfully; the main characters (Shinji, Misato, Rei, Asuka, etc.) share the same actors for both the original series and EoE, and their performances are just as strong as before, if not better. But everyone else is just phoning it in. There may be a reason for this: ADV Films, who licenced and dubbed the original series for North America, balked at the prospect of taking on the films in addition, so instead Manga Entertainment picked them up. That they were able to bring back as many of ADV's actors as they did is a blessing, don't get me wrong, but on all other accounts, the dub kinda sucks.

During the ordeal, Misato Katsuragi (EN: Allison Keith, JP: Kotono Mitsuishi) has her moment of glory when she rescues Shinji from some SEELE troops who have him at gunpoint. I didn't have the time to bring it up in my review of the original series, but Misato-chan is one of my favourite characters from the Evangelion franchise. During the series, she pulls double-duty as a ranking officer at NERV, and as Shinji and Asuka's legal guardian. In the early episodes, before the show's infamous depression has a chance to set in, she drives some comedic scenes with her hard-drinking, lazy, and lusty personality -- in a cute way, of course. But that's just at the home. On the clock, she's the one who concocts all the plans to take down all the Angels who show up to tear humanity a new one. And considering how close the Angels get to doing so, Misato deserves heaps of credit.

Back to EoE, Asuka has somehow awaken and is dispatched with her Eva unit to distract the enemy forces. Which she does. And how is she rewarded? By SEELE unleashing their newest weapon: a series of mass-produced Eva units. She does great against them too, in an intense fight scene which unfortunately they have to keep cutting back and forth from. But then, a wild Lance of Longinus appears and impales Asuka's Eva, giving the others the chance to tear it up like vultures on some carrion. And thus, Asuka Langley Soryu is killed off. And there was much rejoicing... not. Shinji, meanwhile, is in his own Eva unit as he watches the carnage unfold. To put it lightly, he is not amused.

The end.

+ Performances of the returning cast members are as strong as ever.
+ Better, and more consistent, animation quality.
+ Say what you want about the ending, at least it's artistically daring.

- The replacement actors are pretty dang bad.
- The incomprehensible ending.

Acting (English): 3 MP Evas out of 5
Acting (Japanese): 5 MP Evas out of 5
Writing: 3 MP Evas out of 5
Animation: 4 MP Evas out of 5
Visual Design: 5 MP Evas out of 5
The Call: 75% (B-)

Not really. See, this film is divided into two acts, essentially replacing the final two episodes of the series. They have their own episode numbers and titles ("25': Love is Destructive" and "26': One More Final: I Need You"), and the credits start at the end of the first act, as if ending the movie half-way (and on quite a tragic note, at that). Of the two acts, only the second was directed by Hideaki Anno. And... well, it shows. To start off, Shinji's father Gendo (EN: Tristan MacAvery, JP: Fumihiko Tachiki) is holding a little ritual to initiate Third Impact -- you know, that thing they've been trying to avoid this whole series -- and with it, Instrumentality. Which he does by pushing his arm into the body of his naked clone daughter, Rei Ayanami (EN: Amanda Winn-Lee, JP: Megumi Hayashibara). But when that doesn't work, she instead fuses with Lilith, an Angel captured by NERV before the series started. In doing so, she grows to gigantic proportions (still nude), Shinji's Eva gets trapped and sorta-crucified by the MP Evas, and then... well... stuff happens.

You may have noticed that this movie, and Neon Genesis Evangelion on the whole,
uses lots of random religious imagery, like the cross and the Tree of Life above.
Whether or not this means anything is your choice, 'cause it's beyond me. OTL
If you're familiar with the original series, then chances are you know about its many scenes wherein Shinji and company contemplate the meaning of their existence, and existence in general to various degrees, all set to barely-animated images. Well, guess what -- just when you thought you were out of the woods, they did it again. Anno-sama has totally relapsed in that regard. I'm not saying these scenes don't have merit. Like many shots from the original series, they are creatively arranged, and unlike many shots from the original series, they have some actual resources put into them. But I don't know, the moment Shinji starts whining about how the world would be been better off without him, I just tune out. And that does a true disservice to the story they were trying to tell, or at least the story we expected from them.

In the interest of constructive criticism, here's a tip I picked up from an episode of Zero Punctuation, of all places: "Is this the most exciting part of the character's life? If not, why aren't we witnessing it?" I guess the viewer of EoE is left disappointed because what's going on outside of Shinji's head is far more interesting than inside. The time spent with his internal monologue could have been better spent setting up what happens outside of Shinji's head. Like, there's this one scene where a bunch of Rei clones show up and hug everyone left alive in NERV's base until they explode into an orange liquid (which by the way, is what Instrumentality entails). It would've been nice to see how the Rei clones got there instead of being dropped into that scene in medias res. But hey, that never stopped Call of Duty from pulling that on us!

But there is a point to all this. ...Sort of. With the human race assimilated into pools of Tang, it's up to Shinji to decide whether he likes it this way, or if humanity should be put back the way it was. He starts out the second act inclined towards the former, but throughout these moments of contemplation, shifts his stance towards the latter. Shinji's will be done, Instrumentality is undone and humanity is restored back to its former state, more or less. Yeah, the oceans are red now, there's a giant half of a head laying around, and the only humans we see about are Shinji and Asuka, but you know, close enough. And that's it. Not even a credits sequence to go out on, because we already got that out of the way. You are now free to turn off your TV.

You maniacs!  You blew it up!
I do hope I was instrumental (no pun intended) in helping you understand this movie. But having written all these past words, I think it was otherwise pointless reviewing End of Evangelion. Whatever praises and criticisms I wheeled out for it are mostly the same as what I did for the original series. I liked it most when it was an over-the-top giant-robot show, and I liked it least when it retreated into bouts of navelgazing at the expense of the outside plot. And it's not like those scenes don't have a right to be there, after all, I applaud the daring more often than not. But if you're going to pull that junk on us, could you at least have a point to it all? At the end of it all, my verdict is this: Better to have watched this film and gone, "what the [verb]", than to have not watched it all.

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