By now, it's become par for the course for Neon Genesis Evangelion fans to feel thoroughly discombobulated after watching their favorite Giant-Robots-Fight-the-Rapture anime. The biggest disappointment one could possibly get from watching an Evangelion episode would be not getting that obligatory rush of mind-melting excitement. I, unfortunately, did not get that feeling after watching Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, the conceptually interesting but ultimately rather meek first film in a proposed series of four feature-length films that seek to reboot and reorganize the shambolic plot of the original series. The new Evangelion “Rebuild” film series seeks to do all that and with a much bigger budget, too, which automatically makes it an exciting and probably even necessary reboot of one of anime's most ambitious and exciting series.
I'm very happy to find that, with Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, the “Rebuild” films have gone from just being a mildly intriguing concept to a new full-tilt noodle-scratching entity unto themselves. I now believe in TV series creator and, supervising movie director and screenwriter Hideaki Anno's ambitions, even if shuffling bits of plot around are no longer the film franchise's biggest problem. Now, Anno and co-directors Masuyuki and Kazuya Tsurumaki have to convince me that the pace they're working at isn't inherently detrimental to the content of the “Rebuild” series.
Evangelion 2.0 evolves the original show's central conceit of being alone together with other people in leaps and bounds. The problem with that is: Neon Genesis Evangelion was never a leaps-and-bounds kind of show. Characters always had to be thoroughly steeped in their fears in order for them to persevere in the end. Sad-sack protagonists like Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata), the son of Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki), made staring off into outer space and murmuring to themselves a high art. In Evangelion 2.0, Shinji is still struggling to please his dad while piloting one of a handful of the Evangelion robots that serve as humanity's last line of defense against monstrous “Angel” alien invaders.
When Evangelion 2.0 begins, Shinji, the mopiest and most depressed member of NERV (not an acronym, just the German word for “Nerve”), is still a bit stand-offish with fellow teammate Rei Ayanami (Megumi Hayashibari), a nigh-comatose Evangelion pilot that weirdly enough reminds Shinji of his mother. Evangelion 2.0 destroys that static relationship between Shinji, Rei, and Gendo by introducing Asuka Shinkanami (Yuko Miyamura), a bratty, egomaniacal Evangelion pilot that inadvertently brings everyone together.
This happens through the magic of raging hormones and persistent sexual tension. Censored boobs and not-so-censored butts pop up throughout the film, but true to the show's spirit of alternating hyper-violent fight scenes with catatonic meditations about the importance of love and one's own identity, nothing comes of it. So while monsters attack the Earth, Rei, Asuka, and Shinji learn that they have feelings for each other, feelings that are enacted through innocent desires like the urge to cook for each other. Still, it should be stressed that Anno wants the viewer to see his protagonists' feelings as fundamentally libidinal. A scene where Asuka wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes she can't sleep alone starts with a seemingly wildly inappropriate crotch shot. The rumble between her legs is what makes Asuka try to bond with Shinji in the first place, and it's a feeling that Anno not only respects by not exploiting beyond that, uh, direct image but it's one that he acknowledges as a central manifestation for her feelings of love for Shinji.
The events of Evangelion 2.0 necessarily speed up Shinji and Asuka's relationship (hell, it speeds up everyone's relationships), which is unfortunate because that bond should have the opportunity to grow in its own time. There's a great episode in the original series where the two have to do everything together for a period of time so that when they need to synchronize a new battle maneuver in their Evangelions, they'll be totally locked into each other's headspaces, both emotionally and intellectually. The ability to watch that key romance unfold at its own pace is one of the bigger shortcomings of the “Rebuild” movies.
Similarly, the “Rebuild” films' shorter span of time is generally their biggest impediment. The newly integrated, religious-themed jargon that Gendo uses to talk about the shadowy plans he's hatching behind Shinji's back is even more difficult to parse as its spat at the viewer at a faster, more breakneck pace. The biggest shock of Evangelion 2.0 comes from its final 20 minutes, a conclusion that really doesn't seem like it should arrive at the end of the first half of a proposed series. Events in the “Rebuild” movies are moving forward at a ridiculously fast pace and while it's still impossible to know if that's a bad thing yet, that greater speed makes Evangelion 2.0, as a standalone film, feel both über-important and totally inconsequential.
That having been said, Anno has used Evangelion 2.0 to set the stage for new, apocalyptic changes in the next “Rebuild” feature and they appear to be the kind of changes fans have been waiting on for years. It finally looks like we're going to finally find out what the Evangelions are, why humanity has to die to save the world, and what the hell the end of the world even means. Anno may have hit the fast-forward button on the “Rebuild” films pretty mercilessly with Evangelion 2.0, but now he's got my attention and I really can't wait for Evangelion 3.0.