Warning: major spoilers ahead! We are now less than a week out from the Japanese release of Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Over the past few weeks we have looked at my personal history with the Evangelion franchise in general and the first film in the Rebuild of Evangelion series, Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, in specific. Today, we take a look at the second film in this series: 2009’s Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance.
On its surface, the Evangelion franchise is about children in giant robots fighting monsters. But what makes Evangelion so popular world-wide is that it is far deeper than that. More than anything, the series is really about a boy, Shinji, growing up. The first movie, Evangelion 1.11, uses Shinji to explore the “hedgehog dilemma” — which simply put is, the closer you are to other people, the easier it is to be hurt by them. By the end of the film, Shinji overcomes both physical and emotional pain to learn that he is not alone in his struggles — be they personal or against the angels.
You Can (Not) Advance, on the other hand, is built around the idea that simply existing isn’t enough. Growing up means finding what you truly care about and then doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals.
After the events of the first film, Shinji finds himself in perhaps the best situation of his young life. He is treated as a hero by those at Nerv, he and his father have begun reconciling; he has a stable and (relatively) normal school life; and he has his first true friend in Rei. He is perfectly content with what he is doing. He has no goals. He simply wishes to continue to do what he is asked.
For the first half of the film, things only get better for him. He helps bring Rei more and more out of her shell, he befriends Asuka despite her attitude towards him, and he even gains what he has been yearning for — the approval of his father.
And then, it all goes downhill when Shinji is helpless to do anything as his Eva attempts to kill Asuka on his father’s orders. He decides to quit — because while he still doesn’t know what he truly wants, he knows it isn’t to murder his friends. But even when faced with the death of everyone he knows, the total devastation of Tokyo-3, and his own imminent death, it’s none of those things which get him back in the cockpit. He pilots the Eva because he has found a goal he would do anything to accomplish: save Rei. Even if the price is to work with his father. Even if the price is to end the world.
Also contributing significantly to this coming-of-age tale is a story twist or two aimed specifically at long-time fans of the series. While You Are (Not) Alone was often frame-for-frame, shot-for-shot the same as the Evangelion TV series, You Can (Not) Advance departs radically from the source material. Sure, the framework is the same: Asuka arrives, the three pilots catch a falling angel, Shinji is forced to fight a friend against his will. But everything else, including the outcomes of the major plot points are subject to change. Simply put, You Can (Not) Advance plays on your expectations, defying them more and more as the film approaches its climax. And while sometimes we hate it when a beloved story is tampered with, at other times, we are able to move past our surprise and embrace the changes because of the improvement in the story that results. This is one of those times.
But even a quality story can be marred by poor directing. Such is not the case with You Can (Not) Advance. The film is wonderfully directed. The re-mastered animation is beautiful and the voice acting top-notch. But by far the highpoint of the directorial decisions is the discordance between the visuals and the music. When Shinji watches in horror as his Eva tears apart Asuka’s — with her still inside, a happy song about being friends plays in the background. Similarly, an elementary school children’s song (sung by Rei’s voice actress Megumi Hayashibara) is sung during the film’s climax as the soundtrack to the apocalypse. Both are very effective as they simultaneously clash with and support the visuals on screen. However, I feel that it would have been even more effective if this device had only been used once in the film. Once is special; twice is inevitably less so.
I have danced around the ending throughout this review, but I can no more as it is one of the best constructed climaxes I have ever seen. The plot, the thematic exploration, Shinji’s strong character development, the toying with-time fans’ foreknowledge, the discordant music, and the beautiful animation all come together in one explosive finale. It is a climax perfectly built to make you — like Misato — cheer Shinji on, even though you know his success will be the end of the world. This is a movie that actually makes you care so much about its characters that the end of the world seems a triumphant victory.
Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance is an excellent movie — especially for those familiar with the series and The End of Evangelion. Those coming straight in from Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, however, may find themselves overwhelmed by the film’s jargon and myriad of yet-to-be-explained concepts. However, even if you don’t get all the ins and outs of the film, it is still highly enjoyable.
Now only one question remains: can the upcoming third film Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo surpass the heights reached by this film? Drop by Kotaku East next week to find out.
Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance was released in Japan on June 27, 2009. It is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray worldwide.
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo will be released in Japanese theatres on November 17, 2012.