And so two years fly by, delivering Evangelion 2.0 to the polarized masses. Is it the final nail in an enduring cultural milestone’s coffin? Could these new films in fact be anime’s equivalent of the Star Wars prequels? Or perhaps even the heralding of a more complete version of a legendary “incomplete” series? Well it depends on what you as a viewer want out of EVA. In most respects it is very much a Summer Blockbuster version of Anno‘s classic, with leans more toward the elastic weirdness of Tsurumaki‘s stylings. This might be the foremost clue for those keeping score with GAINAX over the last several years. And if one is familiar, then it may be more apparent of what type of sequel this is. Continuing off of the previous film which was a streamlined, “pumped” version of the tv series’ first six episodes, 2.0 dares to dash away expectations and offer eye-bursting spectacle instead of pointed human drama. Part Gurren Lagaan/Diebuster, part Michael Bay headache-fest, and part Anno music video, the film is akin to a regrettable trip to the candy store. (To partially quote Dr. Evil – “An Evil Candy Store?” Err..yeah.) One may get the feeling of satisfaction, but is left with merely a promise and a nagging toothache.
Now while my first paragraph may seem to be a little harsh even for me, but it just stands to reason that the anime industry as a whole has been saturated in sameness, and hopeless pandering toward the Akiba market for so long, that many have forgotten, or just plain forsaken the power of ideas. And this line of thinking has fallen into peril with mounting news of dwindling talent and pay. GAINAX (and KHARA) has put their hopes in the resurrection of its greatest tentpole, and delivers a 100 minute blast of energy that works in some visually astonishing, yet disappointingly slight ways. For every new wrinkle the film offers, there’s about four little story crumbs which are left neglected without so much as a blink. There’s simply not enough running time to get viewers to care about anyone, or anything save for already existing fans of the series. The compression is near overwhelming this time, covering an insane amount of story which one would suppose could rival that of a movie version of The Lord Of The Rings, albeit sans charm or emotion. The whole affair feels content to attack the viewer via sheer aesthetic spark, leaving little warmth to the proceedings.
New characters are introduced as well as additional scenes are given to old favorites, which one would assume would gives us fresh new insight into the world of the series. The irony being that I can’t see these films harvesting new fans to the franchise. The events and gags presented are made with a FANS ONLY seal emblazoned, and may leave new viewers in the psychedelic icebox. Sure we get to see the budding of the Shinji/Rei/Asuka love triangle, but do we really need to? I mean, it’s cool to see Asuka be the tsundere queen she’s always been, and we finally get to see Rei become mildly winning, but it all comes off so rushed that it only works as service for its own sake. (the domain of doujinshi and fanfiction has effectively bled over into the mix, which kind of grates) A majority of this installment’s running time is almost completely new material which kept me glued throughout , but what displays never goes beyond the surface level. There IS a definite shift in an all-important plot-point from the latter half of the series which may shock fans, but that’s it….Only the FANS would feel this dread, while newbies will be hard pressed to care one way or another. When witnessing this particular story change, I definitely felt my guts twist for a moment, but it’s easily something that will only work once, without retaining the shellshock inducing jolts of the tv series’ sequence of events.
Most frustrating is the inclusion of the controversial original character Mari Makinami Illustrious, whom for lack of a better way of explaining it…is Asuka’s recklessness transposed into a Meganekko figure with no real character or important role in the story. She’s a new line of resin kit. She just drops in, looks pretty, kicks holy ass, and exits. (However, I will say that her image in Beast-mode makes for one of the film’s more indelible moments.) I had reservations at first about this character upon the announcement of her appearance during the preview at the end of the first film. And over the course of the wait until release, I did my part to apply faith that Anno/Tsurumaki had good reason to include her. But alas, she offers nothing more than a marketing tool in the end, making the rest of the film ring that much more hollow.
Now while it may seem that I’m really giving this movie the business, its just borne out of a deep hope that these films would compliment a series which is so dear to my heart. There is some stunning animation, with some scenes that are particularly stunning to behold (the YAMASHITA- Morning in Tokyo-3 montage comes to mind- This simple, yet sumptuous moment truly brought a lump to my throat.) And the action is unfathomably gorgeous with an aggressive penchant for the surreal. The newly updated versions of the Shito/Angels are unlike any alien enemies ever seen on screen, and come in a myriad of bizarre configurations, adding layers of wonder to the eyes. But as a longtime fan, I need a lot more than mere fan service to keep me going. To see Evangelion turned into nothing more than two-hours of ass-kicking & cute girls kinda hurts a little. What made the series such a phenomenon for me was its grandeur, its honesty, its broken, desperate heart, and much of it jettisons here in favor of noise and color splattered fury. In fact, it seems to go against everything the tv series had been saying for years in regards to fan expectations. Perhaps one should have seen this coming, but to see the number of stalwart talents involved here going all-out for what amounts to little but a panderfest may end up garnering more resentment than praise.
Do I think there’s any hope left for the last two films in this series? Yes. Where 2.0 ends is rife with possibility. I’ll admit to being quite startled by what they decided to do. It asks a huge ” Where to now?”, leaving the original canon in a fiery rubble. And for this, it must be commended on some levels, as there is a potential for unexplored territory. So all may not be ruined. But as for what we’ve lost in the process, it’s going to require a mean kind of feat to earn it all back.
So did I enjoy it? Yes. Albeit, not in any lasting, satisfying manner.
Are we witnessing 1999 deja vu? Not really. But for a crew & creation famous for startling reinvention and delivering a iconic vision in the process, everyone (not merely fans) deserve better than this.