This is going to be a long review.
See, ordinarily I’d describe what was good about a certain show, nitpick about the things I didn’t like, and at the end, give an overall assessment as to whether I thought it was worth watching or not. But, while I intend to do that for Rebuild 2.0, this series has such a legacy that I can’t properly give a review without considering first my impressions of everything that came prior, because Evangelion isn’t simply a random Mecha Anime. It’s the poster child for controversial, fandom/hatedom rivalries, and in this case at least, it feels very inappropriate to analyze it without any prior precedent.
Now first, a confession of my bias: I did not like NGE very much. Oh, it was fun at first: Lots of robot battles, and lots of (what appeared to be, at first) characterization and character development, to give the whole thing a dignified feel to it. We meet the pilots: Shinji, the 14 year old that desperately seeks his father’s approval, at the expense of everything else; Rei, who behaves like a puppet; Asuka, the brash, confident young girl with repressed inferiority complexes… Each character is a paragon of psychological damage, but the series always attempted to maintain a sort of levity to the episodes, presenting the spark of hope that they all would eventually emerge from the carnage better and stronger for their trials, or else crushed by the nihilism of it all.
I don’t begrudge the ultimate direction that the series decided to take, in that regard, but I DO begrudge the obnoxious and half-assed manner in which they did so. First there was the second half of the series, which dove so far into cynicism that the characters stopped being likable. Then there was the series conclusion, which was 2 episodes of nothing but navel-gazing monologues, created for no reason except to… Well, this is a pretty good assessment of what went wrong there.
“BUT!” I hear you cry. “Gainax had budget problems at the end of the series! They couldn’t help it, they ran out of money! That’s why they went with that crappy ending!” And that would be a valid point, except a few years later, the series made them enough money that they actually HAD enough money to make a proper ending. And you know what we got then? End of Evangelion, where Shinji turned into a manically depressed loser who masturbates over unconscious women and makes out with the woman who basically adopted him, even more bloody navel-gazing powered by the improved budget, and just when you think maybe—just MAYBE, there was a point to all of it, Shinji has dream sex with his cloned sister/mom, and then strangles Asuka to death because, I assume, he wants to start masturbating on top of her again. I don’t know. Because it never bloody tells me anything.
Oh, spoiler warning, by the way.
I wanted to like Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it has become clear that it didn’t want me to like it. Everything that went into the system, which I assume the writers/production staff intended to be deeply troubling moral ambiguity, just ended up being pretentious crap, and somewhere down the line, they confused “self immolation” for “Characterization”, and at the end of the day, the only good thing I can say on the behalf of the series was the high production values in the fight scenes, which is undercut rather considerably by the noticeable lack of animation quality everywhere else.
And if you want to know my ultimate opinion? If I had just come off the back of NGe and EoE, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you asked me whether you should watch it or not, I’d say that you’re better off leaving it be.
Fast forward to Rebuild of Evangelion, the “remake” (pay no attention to the quotes for now) built around 4 movies, two of which have already aired, and the second of which is the main subject of my review. Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0 didn’t impress me. It brought to the table a considerably improved animation quality, some much-needed enhancements to the character/mecha designs, and some better pacing to the storyline, but otherwise, it told essentially the exact same story that was told in the first 6 episodes of NGE. On the whole, though, I guess I can’t be too harsh to Rebuild 1.0, since the episodes it spanned aired well before NGE lost its shit, though Rebuild 1.0, on the whole, is nothing more than a glossier cash-in on misplaced public faith.
Well, that’s how it all looked. Everything I said, in the last ten paragraphs, that’s pretty much how I felt on the trailing end of having watching it all.
But then… something funny happened.
“The third child, huh? You never change. I look forward to meeting you, Shinji Ikari.”
-Kaworu Nagisa, Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0
Remember how I said that Rebuild 1.0 comprises roughly the first 6 episodes of the original series? Well, those of you that actually saw NGE, I want you to explain something to me: When did Kaworu actually show up in the original series, and how important was his role?
If the answers are anything but “VERY late in the series, and barely anything at all”, then you weren’t paying attention.
At this point, I’ve actually begun to suspect that he was inserted into the first movie as a way of toying with the audience, to mess with their heads to prime them before Rebuild 2.0 came out.
See, while Rebuild 1.0 was essentially being guided by NGE and never straying far from the themes and plot that drove the series, Rebuild 2.0 went off the rails completely. Suddenly the whiny, narcissistic tone that NGE reveled in was not only turned around in Rebuild 2.0, but the movie even goes so far as to mock those themes for being immature and meaningless. Nowhere is this clearer than when the new character Mari has her last encounter with Shinji before the movie closes, when she, while piloting a broken and busted up Eva, finds him hiding in a warehouse:
Mari: “You sure picked a good time to sit on your ass.”
Shinji: “Yeah, well… I decided I’m not going to pilot the Eva anymore.”
Mari: “Wow, that sounds like a big struggle for you. Don’t you have anything better to whine about?“
Oh sure: the broad strokes of Rebuild 2.0 play out the same as they did in NGE (for the record, the plot spans a much larger set of episodes, covering from Asuka showing up, all the way to Eva-01 going god-mode, which goes roughly from episode 7 to 22), however condensed they might be. But gone is (most of) the whining. Gone is (most of) the pointless cynicism, devoted to nothing more than rehashing that “nobody needs me, why should I even care” bullshit that made the original series so grating.
And I have to say:
I. Fucking. Loved it.
Not only is Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0 better than Rebuild 1.0; Not only is Rebuild 2.0 better than NGE; Not only is Rebuild 2.0 better than the stupifying End of Evangelion that I’m told I’m supposed to think is some kind of work of art… Merely saying all of that doesn’t do justice to Rebuild 2.0. This movie is better than a lot of things. In fact, I don’t feel ambiguity about declaring that Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0 may be one of the best anime movies I’ve ever watched.
Forget, for a second, that it fixed so many flaws in the original series’ plot that the new take on Evangelion feels like a breath of fresh air, as well as an entirely new story. What this movie has done, and what I didn’t even think was possible, was to make me give a shit about what happens to Shinji. Discussing what he does could constitute pretty heavy spoilers (and this time around, I actually care about whether this story gets spoiled or not), but never once, since I began watching this series, did I ever think that he would display enough character development to actually grow and mature from the problems he faces.
Maturity is the key word here. If NGE was adolescent bitching, then Rebuild is the same kid, but having had 10 years to grow older and wiser and look back on their old self with disdain and embarrassment. Every problem that the characters faced from NGE is still here, but this time around, instead of getting swallowed up in depression and self-loathing, they stare it down.
Now, those things alone would have gotten me to revise my opinion on the franchise, and suggest that, while NGe might still be crap, this new series might actually be worth checking out. But that’s not all this movie brought to the table.
Along with the newly reformed themes and character arcs, Rebuild 2.0 presents some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in a long time; indeed, I don’t think a single scene has ever moved me as much as the scene from….Eh, well, A…. certain…. series about a 16 year old god that I really have been talking about too much (you know the one). Regardless, there was more than one scene from this movie that left me unnerved, but in a good way. And I dare anyone who watches this movie to earnestly make it through the scene that plays “Tsubasa wo Kudasai” across the events unfolding (you’ll know which one it is) without getting goosebumps.
I’ve seen this movie almost a dozen times now, and I’m still trying to figure out its faults. Okay, fine, the English dub takes a few liberties with the language barriers, but let’s be honest, it would have been really weird for Mari to request that the handlers speak Japanese, only for them to then continue speaking English. Sure, okay: that plot twist at the end of the credits is almost certainly going to make the wait for Rebuild 3.0 unbearable, but riddle-me-this: what exactly is so bad about an ending that makes you crave finding out what happens next?
But what am I supposed to say? The voice acting is great. The plot is complex without being confusing. The Thematic Overture is finally taking on a semblance of maturity. The characters are all interesting, and they finally have character arcs to follow. The soundtrack, while composed many times with familiar BGM, also produces hauntingly fitting tracks for the movie’s most brutal moments. Shinji finally learns to find something he cares about. Asuka and Rei finally begin to grow and mature as people. Misato finally learns a constructive way to handle her grief over her father’s passing.
Guys…. I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to tell you other than “This movie is fucking brilliant, and you should go see it right the hell now.” And don’t let the prospects of watching Rebuild 1.0 bother you: like I said, the episodes it spans come from before NGE went nuts, so it’s still decent material. And for the payoff here, it’s definitely worth it. I really hope that Rebuild 3.0 can top this, because I’m willing to give the Evangelion franchise a new change to dazzle me, and I don’t want to find out that this faith was misplaced.