"The world is about to end."
With 'Evangelion: 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone,' fans got to revisit the show, with a redub, some very much improved visuals, a more taut construction compared to the episodic series, and a few new twists and surprises, some of which were large, though we didn't quite get to see the changes in action, so much as they were teased. The revamp was quite successful, as it did feel like a coherent film, even if fans lost some of the fun eccentricities and nuances of the characters. The bar was set fairly high for 'Evangelion: 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance.'
The bar got obliterated.
The second installment into the four part 'Evangelion' film revision series is a fan's dream come true: all of the best elements were left intact (for the most part, at least), while new content stole the show quite often. While there were many recycled bits in '1.11,' '2.22' is almost completely new, so jam-packed with new scenes, characters, and animation that the show becomes unrecognizable...in a good way.
As Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami, the two pilots for the Japanese Evangelion units, have adapted to their new roles in life, and have become more accepting and familiar with each other, the emergence (and dire need) of more of the gifted children brings new conflict to their lives. Mari Illustrious Makinami brings an air of mystery and rebellion to the mix, while Asuka Langley Shikinami (originally Asuka Langley Soryu), a headstrong European, challenges both Rei and Shinji, as people and in battle. Tokyo-3 is still the target for the attacks of a wide-ranging, amazingly powerful set of beings known as Angels, and the only way to stop them is with the Eva units, as they test the capabilities of the machines and their pilots more and more with each appearance. The allusions and dark secrets behind NERV and SEELE will come to fruition. Destinies are met, and lives changed forever.
I cannot put into words how impressed and awe-struck I am having experienced this second chapter in the 'Evangelion' film series. A literal stunner, particularly for longtime fans, 'You Can (Not) Advance' packs a powerful punch, and does an amazing job making the nearly two hour runtime feel like it has passed by in a minute, leaving you dying to keep the story going. There's so much momentum, and so little wasted time, it's amazing that the story developed as cleanly and clearly as it did.
The film begins with our introduction to Mari, and her Provisional Unit-05, perhaps the crappiest Evangelion in existence, as she battles the corpse of an already defeated Third Angel. As we first meet the spectacled young woman, we see the parallel of her perception of her duty as a pilot, compared to that of the adults she takes orders from, a bit of irony, to be sure, showing that these children aren't just your ordinary whiny brats (well....Shinji is a whiny little brat...). Asuka, Unit-02's pilot, is still a firecracker, a dominating personality extremely overcompensating for her own insecurities. That much hasn't changed. However, we no longer meet the German pilot at sea. This time, she drops into battle, being introduced in a battle against the Seventh Angel, a form shifting acid trip of a beast, that is far from powerful...a fodder Angel.
Misato Katsuragi takes a much smaller role, though the introduction to Ryoji Kaji, her past lover, does open the door in future volumes to give the maternal figure in the series some added depth and screen time. Ritsuko Akagi still gets very little screen time (so little that her eventual twists in the original series may seem odd if they show through here), though the brilliantly scheming Gendo Ikari, Shinji's father, the architect of most of the events in the 'Evangelion' series, begins to let more of his intentions come to light, as he visits the lunar base housing Unit-06 and Kaworu Nagisa. Shinji still struggles with his position, trying to please and impress his cold father, while falling victim to the dominating female presences in his life. The secrets about Rei are briefly teased, as we finally see the more human side of the brooding, almost-silent pilot.
The battles in this revision are far more intense than their previous counterparts. The Tenth Angel (previously known as Zeruel, the Fourteenth Angel) is still perhaps the most ominous and amazing monster in the series, with its portruding razor sharp appendages slicing off Evangelion parts at will. The extreme menace he once posed is amplified tremendously, as it truly does test every single pilot available to their very limits. Sahaquiel, the Eighth Angel (previously the Tenth) is reformed in a brilliant, beautiful manner, that is beyond intriguing, while the Ninth Angel has a similar form as before, but much, much different circumstances, due to the removal of two filler characters from the show.
With '2.22,' the larger themes of the Human Instrumentality Project, perhaps the key to the entire anime series, are first mentioned, while some of the more famous bits of imagery (characters, weapons) from the series make their debuts. The entire world is growing more and more troubled as the Angels grow more successful in their attempts to end human existence. At the same time, ironically, the Evangelion pilots and their units slowly lose their humanity, lost in the power at their disposal. The true power of the units are first teased, a surefire fan pleaser, considering the way the changes to the show have been implemented.
The horribly dark themes (which are offset by the most whimsical, awkward soundtrack and score tracks possibly ever) found in this second volume are sickeningly sweet, as we get the nastiest of the nasty from the series this time around, as the themes of love and loss, responsibility, family, and true anger are explored thoroughly. While the destroyed world does have its perks and memories of better times, the destruction constantly levied in the battles facing Tokyo-3 can be taken as a commentary against the extreme industrialization of the world, as man continues to ruin his home. Characters are profoundly deep, even without all the filler, giving them time to breathe and flesh out their pasts and futures, particularly Rei, the character who was possibly the most shallow in the early parts of the series (due to her reserved, subservient, unquestioning nature).
'You (Can) Not Advance' isn't just a revision for sake of showing off new technology. This is a mixture of art and true beauty into a world of chaos, as the brutal mindfuck that is 'Evangelion' is made a bit more accessible to newcomers. Fans will get more out of the movies, to be sure, as many items and references aren't fleshed out, just referenced in passing, and a few events that are mentioned involve entire episodes of the previous incarnation of the series. But there's no denying the beautiful artistic merits found in the imagery and storytelling for this second film. A brilliant, riveting reimagining, '2.22' may be one of the best "sequels" I've had the pleasure of watching. A completely different, faster, stronger, and smarter adaptation of a wonderful series, the brutal and unforgiving second chapter will bring fans to their knees begging to see more.
The Disc: Vital Stats
While 'Evangelion: 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone' is already available stateside through FUNimation, '2.22' is not yet even announced officially in the United States, though a 2011 date has been mentioned. The film is available in three foreign countries, though each release varies dramatically. The Japanese release does not contain any non-Japanese language options, while the German edition adds a German dub and subs. The Hong Kong release of '2.22' adds Cantonese dubs and subs, and "English" subtitles (more on them later), making it the only English-friendly release currently available.
The Hong Kong release can be purchased a few ways. This review is for the movie-only edition, which is housed on a Region A BD25 disc. The packaging is perhaps my favorite for any Blu-ray, as the slide-out case holding the digipak disc holder is simplistic in design (pure orange with a few title mentions), with a wonderful, unique feeling material that is anything but cheap. All of the technical specifications are found on a sticker placed on the plastic bag that wraps the release. The digipak has a slot for a small booklet (that has character, Unit, and Angel bios (all in Cantonese), as well as some production-related material), and a bonus CD-R disc housed in an orange paper sleeve. Sadly, neither my car CD player, Playstation 3, or laptop could play this disc.
There is a disc available that has all of the extra content for the film, available separately, or in a special two-disc package. It is a bit odd seeing special features as a separate, purchasable item, but not being forced to pay for them is a great option, to be sure.
The disc autoplays the film, after some basic pre-menu screens. The movie does not have any subtitle tracks as default playing options, so upon inserting the disc, using the remote (or pop-up menu) to configure a proper viewing experience is necessary.
Be sure to stay tuned after the credits, as an additional, very important (crucial, even) scene, as well as a preview for the next volume (called 'Evangelion: Quickening,' though I'm sure there will be a 3.33 or something similar in there, as well) play at the end of the release. A fun sidenote: the Japanese release of this film broke quite a few sales records in Japan, and absolutely dominated the DVD in market share, even at the exorbitant price that release carries. Take that as a hint. They saw it in theaters, and absolutely adored it.
FUNimation's release of 'Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone' was and is probably the best looking anime release on Blu-ray, despite not being perfect. Neovision's Hong Kong disc isn't quite as good looking, but it's still a winner in the video department, with a 1080p (native HD) AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1.
Detail levels are amazing, again, possibly even more impressive, due to the amount of new animation found within. There are a few moments with human characters being CG that look absolutely horrible and out of place (no, they're never in shots with traditionally animated characters, just a few brief moments), but they're the exception. The film reminds me of 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Complete First Season,' in the way it is somewhat like a moving painting at times, and that's a huge compliment. The CG (outside of those random people) is absolutely phenomenal, blending wonderfully with traditional elements, bringing some serious depth and power when needed. Computer sequences (the graphics on displays for support teams) are absolutely phenomenal, jaw droppingly gorgeous, due to the amount of color and vibrancy on display, on top of the most minute of details, without any problems whatsoever. AT fields, a mainstay of this show, are equally awesome, looking like an ever-moving oil slick, so wonderfully iridescent. Blood reds, they're absolutely perfect. Disgustingly so.
The problem with the disc is banding. It can be pretty distracting in a few moments, like an early shot with the Provisional Unit-05, in its first (and only) appearance in the film, as Mari sings, going in to battle a reanimated Angel. The first appearance of Gendo has some ugly bands in his skin, while Shinji has a few problematic moments randomly. Skies can be affected by this issue, as well, but not as bad as other elements. There is a small smattering of artifacting, that I could blame on possible disc cramming (two 6.1 lossless tracks, plus two lossy tracks on a two hour film), while intense whites bleed (I know, this could be an aesthetic choice). Still, I love this disc. I can only hope that FUNimation tops this effort, and gives what I'd consider their first five star video score.
'Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance' is an absolutely amazing disc in the audio department, perhaps one of the best sounding discs on the format, period, but it's almost all for nothing when random mistranslations and a few horrible accents ruin things.
This import disc has dual Japanese lossless options, defaulting to a Dolby TrueHD 6.1 mix, while a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track is available, as well. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track in Japanese, and a Cantonese dub with a similar mix. No English audio, but with subtitles, it's all good. Having given the film two viewings, once in each 6.1 mix, I can say there isn't that much difference between tracks, but, I do believe the DTS mix is the winner, and as such, this section of the review is based on that.
Prepare for an earthquake. An earthquake full of awesome. An unmitigated whirlwind of activity in all channels, that doesn't relent. Dialogue comes through clearly in the front channels, including some perfect sounding screams, never drowned out by any element. The only drowning here happens to the score (which perfectly reprises the tone and irony of the original tracks), as it can, at times, fade to oblivion beneath other elements, but it seems almost intentional when this happens. Bass levels, my lordy lord. Room rattling, capable of knocking books or movies off their shelves, with perfect timing and never a misfire. When the Angels attack, prepare for some rumble! Range is completely uninhibited, with some amazingly high pitched shrieks, with beautiful clarity throughout. Motion effects are in full effect, and volume bumps are natural and give the film a great presence (though adjusting volume is never necessary, as there are times when the film needs to sound absolutely insanely loud). In short, this is one disc that allows consumers who've plopped down the green for a high end system to truly flex their muscles.
The lack of special features on this release isn't that much of a disappointment. Any interview wouldn't have English subtitles, so that would have been more frustrating than anything. The pile found on our domestic release of the first film in this series was so pitiful that really, the CD-R that doubles as a beverage coaster and little booklet at least aren't a waste of time.
In two viewings, I went from wanting to give this film a perfect score, to a possible 6 out of 5. It's that damn good. 'Evangelion' fans should not hesitate any further on this series if they have or had even a single iota of doubt. 'You Can (Not) Advance' takes a huge chunk of episodes, condenses them, and still manages to add some amazing new bits to the story, twisting and turning it in ways we could only imagine years ago. It's absolutely amazing to think we're only halfway through the story! This series is a winner, for sure, and with only two volumes to go, we all have to hope that they finally find a way to give fans the climax they've been begging for. One that makes sense.
This Hong Kong import isn't exactly cheap, but it's the only release on the market that is English friendly (as the Japanese and German discs have no English options whatsoever), and with no domestic release in sight, fans may find themselves giving in and ponying up the dough for this import. It's worth it. It's so very worth it. If FUNimation can put this release on a BD50 and find a way to eliminate the banding and artifacting found in this release, while maintaining the audio excellence, it would be a candidate for release of the year. Hint, Hint, FUNimation. Fans, import it. My best blind buy of the year.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.