Friday, January 21, 2011

Geek Mythology – Evangelion 2.0

Before I get into the meat of this review, first I need to drop a disclaimer.

I am a huge fan of the original nineties anime Neon Genesis Evangelion!

So, when the opportunity to review the second installment of the four-part Evangelion theatrical reboot, landed in my inbox, I scrambled for my inhaler before realizing that I’m not asthmatic.

For those of you who don’t know what Neon Genesis Evangelion is, let me explain:

Before kids in the West sipped Boba drinks, dressed in what can only be described as “Nintendo goth”, and thought it was cool to smile big and throw up peace signs with one hand, they were rather naïve to the cultural phenomenon in Japan; the phenomenon of manga and anime. This started to change in the eighties and nineties. Films like Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic Akira (based on his manga of the same name) and the film works of the master, Hayao Miyazaki, such as Nausicaa of the valley of the wind and Castle in the sky, started to turn heads in the West, culminating in the cultural invasion in the early 2000’s. Even with the continually growing success of Japanese manga and anime in the West, it pales in comparison to the following in its home country. And one of its biggest names is Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was created as a TV series and manga respectively, but it’s the twenty-six episode TV show that spawned a huge, loyal following. Created by Hideaki Anno, the show follows Shinji Ikari, a 14 year-old boy in Neo Tokyo-3, who is thrust into becoming a pilot of a giant mecha called an Eva unit. Along with several other 14 year-old pilots, Shinji Ikari is saddled with the fate of the civilization that remains after Third Impact, an apocalyptic event that wiped out half of humanity. With his Eva unit, Shinji battles against enemies called Angels, while playing a role in plans that are kept secret from him. The show was full of religious themes whilst staying far away from allegory. But, while the main story appeared to be a giant robot story with religious iconography, for me the show was always a clever ruse of large battle sequences that cleverly hid the more philosophical and psychological aspect of adolescences and the trappings of the human mind. The show constantly wars with itself for its identity and makes it seem like wonderfully planned forethought. This is never more present than in the last two episodes of the show where Anno does away with the physical story and, instead allows the last two, pinnacle chapters to play out completely in the mind of young Shinji Ikari, who finds acceptance of himself from this internal evaluation, showing the importance of understanding why you do what you do. Many fans of the show were so outraged by this that Anno went back and made a movie length version of the last two episodes showing the external, physical conclusion to the story, entitled End of Evangelion. To understand how big this kind of a move was, it would be like if the creators of LOST ended the show without showing any of the events on the island. Bloggers would have had a fit! Personally I felt this decision was right, as I was always more interested in Anno’s surreal editing style that came with the characters more private, inner scenes. And making the final, explosive exterior story as a theatrical release allowed Anno to stretch his limited TV budget to a more monetary and time allowing one, creating the best looking and consequently more engrossing and cinematic work, fitting the final installment. At this time Anno also experimented with editing the whole show into a single movie and releasing it as Death and Rebirth.

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