Evangelion 2.0 Brings Giant Robot Teen Angst To America

Anime series Evangelion has mesmerised Japanese audiences since the mid-1990s with its story of angsty teens who fight Earth-destroying "angels" from the cockpits of giant robots. With Evangelion 2.0, its blend of teen drama, techno-action, and apocalyptic mysticism hits Stateside.

You don't have to be a giant Evangelion fan to enjoy Evangelion 2.0, showing in dozens of theatres across the US this week. It's the second half of a planned four-movie reboot of the original Evangelion TV series, which for Western audiences will feel like an unexpectedly pleasing combination of Ender's Game and Twilight. Depressed, reluctant hero Shinji is a young teenager whose power-mad scientist father has neglected him in favour of his work with the special forces group NERV. His main NERV project is developing the Evangelions, or Evas, giant biotech robots that bond directly with their pilots' brains. As the series begins, we learn that Shinji and a handful of other teens are the only people who can successfully bond with the Evas and fight off the deadly, mysterious "angels" who are bent on destroying the Earth.

It seems the angels, who take many giant, deadly forms, are responsible for "Impact 2", an event that destroyed most of the Earth. We're not entirely sure what the angels want, but each time they appear they are in trippier and more abstract guises, shooting weird rainbows and gushing oceans of blood. Like Shinji, we're confused about why the angels are enemies and why only certain people can pilot the Evas in the war against the angels.

As Evangelion 2.0 opens, Shinji is now established as a somewhat experienced, though still reluctant, pilot of an Eva unit. He's taken out a few angels, but has yet to win his cruel father's approval. Plus, he's curious about another pilot named Rei, a young woman who has a strange bond with his father and never shows any emotion - even in the face of terrifying danger on the battlefield. Plus there are two new Eva pilots - both cute girls, as it happens - whom he needs to reckon with. And he still hasn't gotten over his father issues.

For American audiences, one of the things that will feel odd and refreshing about Evangelion 2.0 is its weird mix of depressing battle-weariness and sex-comedy romp moments. There's a running gag with Shinji accidentally seeing his female roommates naked, and his crushes on various girls often crop up in the middle of dark scenes about death and having your will sublimated to that of a military machine. In this way, Evangelion 2.0 manages to inject Twilight-style cheese into what is otherwise an intense, disturbing story about being robbed of your innocence in war. In the teaser for the movie below, you can see how odd the tone is - the song is actually in the film, sung by Rei. In fact, there are a number of scenes where extremely sweet songs form the backdrop to awful carnage.

Evangelion also has some breathtaking concept design. The NERV base where the Evas are kept is deep beneath the city of Neo-Tokyo 3, a city that is essentially mobile. Its buildings can all be reconfigured, or sunk underground. Every morning, vast, gorgeous solar panels rise out of the ground to meet the sun, and the train tracks neatly rearrange themselves for the commute. There are several scenes where we simply watch the city in motion, and realise that this urban space is like an Eva - it's city-as-robot, just as Shinji is child-as-robot.

The teen soap opera side of the series is part of what made it so popular in Japan, but it's also popular because being an Eva pilot is such a rich metaphor for growing up. Shinji's father forces him to pilot the Eva, and seems only to value him for what he does when encased in an armour he barely controls. Indeed, sometimes the armour takes on a "dummy pilot" that forces Shinji to watch as his robot body carries out hideous violence against his will. Shinji, always depressed, often wonders if people like him for who he is - the little, geeky Shinji - or only care about the work he can do piloting the Eva.

Growing up is like donning the Eva shell - it makes you stronger, but often the person you really are gets lost. You are controlled by your robot, instead of the other way around. Evangelion 2.0 asks whether it's possible to take on grown-up responsibilities and stay human at the same time. And the answer is as complicated as the mystery of the angels.

You can see Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance by viewing the release schedule here. Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone is out on DVD.


Comments

    If they want this to hit it off with a new generation of teens then they will need to change the ending me thinks, b/c that shizzle is f'd up ;)

      The end of this one is pretty messed up too :)

    .... please do not compare Neon Genesis Evangelion to the piece of garbage twilight.

      I don't know. Sounds appropriate. They're about as stupid as each other.

      Yeah, I don't know why a comparison to Twilight was even brought up here. Sure, there is a tiny bit of Twilight's character drama in the plot, but so is every other character driven story involving teenagers. Not to mention that most people watching this film are not watching it for this aspect at all (giant robot battles ftw!). Also, considering Eva came out long before Twilight, I don't see how one could consider using it as the benchmark for films that have aspects of its quality (if that makes sense).

      This, once more. Aside from involving teenagers there's really nothing in common.
      Hell, the Ender's Game comparison is equally absurd.

      Also, you could hardly call this a "soap opera". Evangelion is more along the lines of an action-thriller, bordering on pure horror at times.

    Squeee
    So excited by this...

    I've already watched this and awaiting 3.0 to be complete!

      Like wise !!
      1.0 was great to see, with the few extra shots/scenes spliced into the moving.

      2.0 (2.2 Bluray Title) is TOTALLY different !! I look forward to number 3 and to finally see the true ending in 4 that they envisioned prior to their budget running out.

    Already been shown in Australian theatres last year. Hope Funi/Madman have a bluray release coming soon..

      It's pretty cool that we got it here in Aus way before the US. This was so good (and disturbing, it was quite a few years ago but I don't remember the dummy plug scene being so... intense...) and the divergence from the original plot was quite interesting.

      How can you possibly compare brilliance like Eva to utter tripe like Twilight though?! Sure there's a LOT of teen angst but it's not anything like "Oh my I must support my sparkly pretty pretty vampire." It's more along the lines of "Oh shit I'm the last line of defense for humanity's survival and I'm being seriously messed up by the gigantic horrors I have to defeat! Especially since I feel the pain of the giant robot I'm piloting."

        +1. Totally.

    I'm looking forward to 3 and 4, for similar reasons to Tali. There was a lot of broken, fragmented and unfinished plot, enough to do anyone's head in.
    Now with Rebuild, they've chucked in at least one new pilot, changed some very important plot points (SPOILER ALERT: The pilot of unit 3!?), and God only knows what they have planned for the rest of the series...

    Evangelion takes place in a cyclical universe. Shinji's own mother is Lilith. Asuka is her own father. I'm making things up! Just like Anno!

    +3 You can't compare one of the greatest Sci fi animes ever to sparkling effing vampires. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on 3.0 and 4.0 when they're released. Really enjoyed 1 and 2.

    Just watched the series and End of Evagelion movie on the weekend... I swear that movie is the trippiest thing ever!
    Eveytime I watch it, I spend the next few days in a complete daze, trying to sort out everything that happened in it.
    Total mind bender!

    1.0 was a bit of a meh for me. They'd dumbed it down. Walked away feeling that I'd been cheated. Maybe my expectations were too high?

      I thought pretty much the same. 1.0 is more or less a straight copy of the episodes it took from.

      2.0 takes the story in a completely different direction and is easily one of the most amazing pieces of anime I've ever seen. Believe me, 2.0 doesn't disappoint.

    " It’s the second half of a planned four-movie reboot"- nope, otherwise there'd be 8 halves

    "It’s the second half of a planned four-movie reboot"

    Sure, that makes sense... Or at least, it would if the writer was talking about the third and fourth movies. The sad thing is that the whole article is not much better than that. I'm a huge Eva fan so I'm cool with seeing it promoted on an only-slightly-anime-related website, but this is kind of rubbish.

    I know the Eva crew Angst a lot in the original, but it's really on the backfoot here. Shinji, Rei and Asuka regularly try to improve their lives now.

    So don't compare it to tripe like Twilight where every freaking page and line has something to do with Bella's precious Edward. Edward never did anything close to the awesomeness Shinji pulls at the end of the movie.

    Aw, be nice - I haven't seen her name pop up much here on Kotaku, so I'm sure Annalee Newitz is still new-to-itz.

    *takes a bow*
    *is promptly shot by Kotaku staff*

    Nice to see someone who hasn't watched the original series, watching these movie remakes.

    There are a few mistakes though, '2nd Impact' as opposed to 'Impact2' and the song is actually sung by Utada Hikaru and not Rei's voice actress.

    This is the only Anime series I've ever really gotten into.

    Got the big awesome boxset in the metallic silver packaging back in the day...also managed to pick up Death/Rebirth and End of Evangelion in sweet 2 pack.

    Im gonna have to get these on Blu-Ray now. Only heard about them a couple months ago. Seriously loved this show.

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