Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Evangelion 2.22 Review and preamble

It's no secret to anyone that I love Evangelion. For me, it is the single most important piece of fiction that I have ever encountered in my entire life. And I know this gets thrown around a lot, but it literally changed my life. Needlesstosay, the idea of going back and "rebuilding" the Evangelion series is not a subject I take lightly.

Now I realize there are a lot of Evangelion haters out there, and there are also a lot of snobs who say it is the greatest anime ever created. Hopefully I don't come off as the later (Critic will disagree). But my love for the series is a very personal thing.

I am sure there are a lot of bandwagon Evangelion fans, who got into it because it was popular, and I'm not here to say, "I loved it first!". Neither of those things matter to me. What I want to convey is that I had no preconceived notion of what Eva was when I watched it. I didn't know it was supposed to be this "revolutionary" anime or "DEEP", I took it completely at face value.

I was working at Blockbuster at the time, and we had a measly anime section and one VHS of Evangelion, that actually took place in the middle of the series (Episode 11 to be precise: the Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still). I watched that episode, immediately fell in love with the characters and their dynamic together. So then I went out and found another video store who had all of the episodes in order, and proceeded to watch the series in full.

That was the moment I switched from a casual, Toonami, anime fan, into a full blown anime otaku.

I hate when people insult Shinji Ikari. It is always like a personal insult. At the time I watched Eva, I was Shinji. I was insecure, always depressed, severely introverted, and awkward around people in general. I also hate when people call Shinji whiny. He is a fourteen year old kid, that gets treated by shit by his worthless father, and then has everyone expecting him to save their ass every second of every day. He has the right to bitch. And to be fair it is only at the beginning and at the end that he sits and hugs his knees all the time, and rightfully so in my opinion. He isn't a reluctant hero like those in so many other anime, who don't want to fight because they hate the idea of war, or whatever bullshit reason. He is a normal insecure teenage kid who is sick of feeling used. Who hasn't felt that in their lifetime. I wonder if most people who insult Shinji's personality would be so inclined to look back on themselves at the same awkward age and tell their previous selves how much they suck.

But I digress.

The other part of Evangelion that people have a problem with are the last two episodes of the television series. Yes, I agree that Gainax probably blew their budget early and had to use minimum animation for the final two episodes. But, that does not mean they are bad. For me, those last two episodes were the moment my life completely changed.

Evangelion, was heavily inspired by psychology and philosophy. The entire idea of Instrumentality is based on the whole mind/body problem, one of the most heavily debated ideas in philosophy. Anno and crew wanted to show psychological thought through animation and have a character come to terms with his own failings and accept them through internal thought alone, and use animation tricks to convey this. The idea of their being multiple versions of yourself that exist, in the way you view yourself is completely different then the way your friends see you, and your family sees you, was a mind bending thought to me. If you spend all your time worrying about how others see you, then you will never be happy. About the same time Shinji came to the realization that he had to live for himself, I came to the same realization, and boom, like that I was a different person.

I changed who I was completely. I was more open, and stopped feeling sorry for myself, I was more outgoing (though I still retain a some of my shyness around a lot of new people), and honestly I haven't felt an ounce of depression since that time in my life. Of course I owe a large part of this to my wife, whom I met around that time. But I can guarantee I wouldn't even be with her if I hadn't gotten over my own shit, and I owe a lot of that to Evangelion.

I know it seems silly to say my life was changed by a television show, but that is the truth of it. A lot of people have life changing experiences from books they read or movies, and no one says anything against that. So I don't mind saying that about an anime. Gainax incorporated very real psychology into their mech show and I credit that aspect of Evangelion for helping me change. It's not the giant robots fighting Angels or any of the pseudo religious stuff that opened my eyes, it was the substance put behind that.

End of Evangelion gave me the closure I needed for the show that those last two episodes, I admit, did not provide. I was happy Shinji came out of it alright, but I needed to know what happened to everyone else. End of Eva is the ending most people need. If you aren't in the same mindset as I was when watching the last two episodes of Evangelion, then you will hate those episodes. I understand that. End of Evangelion is for everyone else. It impacted me in a different way then the TV show did, and I will always say it is the best movie ever made.

So what does all this rambling have to do with Evangelion 2.22, the second part of the "Rebuild of Evangelion". Well I want to point out that I am a very different person then I was when I watched the original. I'm happy with life now, I'm more social, etc. I'm no longer Shinji Ikari. My emotional investment shouldn't be the same as it used to be. This should just be something I can sit back and enjoy, and any problems I have with it I can just say, "At least I still have the originals."

But I watched this movie three days ago, and for the life of me I CAN'T stop thinking about it. I can't stop reading impressions, or posting on forums about what it all means. I am back in Evangelion fever.

It's not quite the same though, like I said, I don't identify with Shinji like I once did, and in these new movies he is mostly dealing with his issues with his father, which I never related to in the original as well. But it is like watching an old friend deal with problems and hoping he comes out of it as unscathed as possible.

The differences in 2.22 aren't as much as I thought there would be. There are quite a few scenes that are lifted directly from the original, just reanimated. And I'm glad they didn't deviate as much as I thought they would. The major change happen about 3/4ths of the way through when a character different from the tv show, pilot's Eva-03. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It had to be that character, as it wouldn't have worked with any other. If you saw the original series, you almost felt safe going into that battle because you knew what was going to happen. By putting someone else in that situation, the movie basically says, "All bets are off." I can no longer feel safe watching Rebuild.

The scene where Shinji watches helplessly as his Eva-01 destroys Eva-03 never really effected me in the original series. Not like it was supposed to. Here in 2.22 it did, in the biggest way possible. It's a shock I'm still reeling from.

There is a new character introduced in this film, one that has garnered a slight amount of criticism: Mari Illustrious Makinami. My only fear going into 2.22 was that Mari would overshadow Asuka. This did not happen at all. In fact, Mari is only in three short scenes, and by God I want to see more of her. She is the most peppy character of the Evangelion cast, and someone the series has needed since the beginning. She is slightly erratic, free spirited, and is a touch eccentric. By the end of the movie her motivations are never stated, and her purpose seems non existent, and she is being called the "fan service" character. I disagree with this. I have full faith in the creative team and it is quite clear she will provide an important role later on. All she had to do in this film was win people over, and as far as I'm concerned she did just that.

Now, as for my favorite Evangelion character: Asuka. As I mentioned before, I was slightly apprehensive about how she would be treated with Mari being introduced, and with the Rei/Shinji dynamic being the main "romantic relationship" (if it can be called that) in Rebuild. This might be slightly controversial to say, but this is Asuka's movie. As far as film conventions go, she is given a powerful introduction, and then the viewer clearly sees her struggles, and out of all the characters in Evangelion, despite having two movies to come to some kind of realization, Asuka is the only one who got over her own shit. It's something we never see in the original series until End of Evangelion (and almost with the same result now that I think about it), but she voiced her feelings to other people and became a better person from it. Of course, this is Eva and nothing can ever be that simple.

Rei has vastly improved in my opinion as well. I already liked her more in Rebuild 1.11, but she really shines in 2.22. She also stops just floating around and takes a proactive role trying to get Shinji and his father on speaking terms. I don't think anyone ever tried to do that before, and good for her for trying. Again, things can never be that simple, and as you can imagine things don't really work out. But as a whole Rei is a lot more lovable in Rebuild. She shows personality and feelings of a human being, and has motivation for change and for helping others. She is still very quiet compared to Asuka, Misato, and Mari, so she does still tend to be hard to notice in a crowd, but it is because she is so different from the other boisterous women that it makes her stand out. A double edged sword I suppose.

If people think Mari is pandering to a certain audience, then I wonder what they think about a certain scene between Kaji and Shinji. Maybe it's because I hate how Yaoi and Boys Love is given such a free pass when it comes to degrading stereotypes, but this scene stands out like a sore thumb. Personally it ruined the character of Kaji for me, where before he was a cool loner outsider, now he is just a pervert. Not that there is anything wrong with being gay. But he says he doesn't care what sex someone is, and apparently doesn't care about age since Shinji is 14. Kaji says he is kidding about the whole thing, but it is still weird and out of place. At least save that stuff for when Kaoru shows up since it fits his character.

The final scene is powerful and gave me the same kind of chills that End of Evangelion gave me, and as a whole, the entire Rebuild series makes me feeling like I'm watching a really long cut of End of Evangelion. It is the unexpected and the fear of what will happen that drives my interest. It's a different experience that I felt then when I watched the original series, but it is still a feeling I like.

No matter what, the original series will always be the best in my opinion because of what it meant to me, but these new movies are just as good in their own respect. I'm already sad that it is coming to a conclusion, but at the same time I can't wait to see what tricks they pull for the grand finale.