Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anime review: End of Evangelion

The finale episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion left a sour taste with many fans. Due to the high praise that the series as a whole received after its initial television airing, creator Hideaki Anno and his team decided to go ahead and give the series an alternate ending. The result was End of Evangelion, a film that looked leaps and bounds beyond the original series, though the story caused quite a bit of controversy among fans and the anime community as a whole.

When the film begins, the characters are largely the same as they were in the original series, save for a few exceptions. Misato has grown stronger since Kaji’s death and has become more forward with the pilots and NERV staff members. Asuka is still performing at incredibly low standards since her loss against the fifteenth angel. Over time, however, the old Asuka resurfaces and plays an arguably larger role than in the original series. Shinji is actually rather different from when the series concluded, as he has reverted back to his ways of cowardice and hatred towards everyone else. This could be taken in various ways, depending on how viewers understand the show’s ending in regards to End of Evangelion. The largest difference, however, is Gendo, who manages to show some compassion in the second portion of the film, as he reveals his own insecurities.

The first half of the film focuses largely on battle sequences between NERV and SEELE. This makes for more aesthetically pleasing entertainment, but doesn’t get very deep or thought-provoking as far as the story is concerned. A good portion of the second half takes place in Shinji’s mind, and as such focuses on his life – past, present, and future – as well as his perception of those he has formed and broken relationships with over the course of the series.

The story of End of Evangelion takes plenty of twists and turns, as SEELE tries every card up their sleeve to try and stop Gendo from unleashing his own plans with the Human Instrumentality Project. A minor complaint that I have is that Anno never explains even in the vaguest sense what Gendo intended to do that would cause SEELE to go to so much trouble to try and stop him. In the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga, this part of the story is quite explicitly stated and makes the atmosphere even more tense. However, there are a significant number of differences between the manga and the anime, and as such perhaps Anno did this deliberately to keep the stories seperate.

The one aspect that End of Evangelion is lacking from its parent series is the psychological analysis of the characters. Save for a conversation between Rei and Shinji near the end of the film, this aspect is largely absent due to time. The mental breakdown of Shinji and Asuka, however, is more prominent than in the show. Asuka goes no-holds barred in her attempts to destroy all nine mass-production EVAs before EVA Unit 02’s internal power supply runs out. Shinji essentially loses his sanity in its entirety at the midway point, only regaining his logical thinking near the conclusion of the film. The psychological studies of the characters are present, but in a much different light.

The animation has greatly improved since the original series aired. Anno and his team utilized a shaky-camera style during some of the battle sequences to immerse viewers more in the film. The soundtrack builds off the series’ original score, using some interesting variations of already familiar songs. “Hajimari e no Tōhi” and, though some viewers may find songs such as “Tanin no Kanshō” and “Itsuwari no, Saisei” to be repetitive and annoying. Though “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” is absent from the film, two vocal pieces are included. “Komm süsser Tod” plays during the film’s most climactic scene, and love it or hate it, it will inevitably get stuck in your head with its upbeat choir sound. “Thanatos – If I Can’t Be Yours” plays at the midway point, during the end credits for the first half of the film’s two-episode structure. It’s a bit of an odd choice in my opinion, as the break isn’t necessary and doesn’t exactly add anything to the film. However, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb and the film keeps rolling along shortly thereafter.

For me, End of Evangelion encompasses everything that made Neon Genesis Evangleion great. The EVA battles are superb, the animation flawless (since Anno had an improved budget for the conclusion film), constant Biblical references, and psychological issues up the wazoo. While the film can never replace what the original series accomplished, it serves as an excellent add-on, and is the better ending to the series, in my opinion. It may be one of the darkest-themed anime to date, as well as one of the most confusing, but End of Evangelion deserves credit for bringing an epic conclusion to an epic series.

My Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

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