"You Can (Not) Advance" (Spoiler-Free) Synopsis: Shinji Ikari's life continues to complicate as new Evangelion pilot Asuka Langley Shikinami, pilot of the EVA Unit 02, arrives in Japan. Asuka stays with Shinji and Misato. Also arriving is a mysterious girl named Mari Illustrious Makinami, who has her own agenda. Again, Shinji has to battle the threat of Angels while trying to understand his father and others. However, Gendo Ikari has his own plans, and a ruthless move on his part causes Shinji to run away yet again. Shinji has to muster the resolve to again pilot his Eva and save everyone.
"You Can (Not) Advance"
(Spoiler-Free) Synopsis: Shinji Ikari's life continues to complicate as new Evangelion pilot Asuka Langley Shikinami, pilot of the EVA Unit 02, arrives in Japan. Asuka stays with Shinji and Misato. Also arriving is a mysterious girl named Mari Illustrious Makinami, who has her own agenda. Again, Shinji has to battle the threat of Angels while trying to understand his father and others. However, Gendo Ikari has his own plans, and a ruthless move on his part causes Shinji to run away yet again. Shinji has to muster the resolve to again pilot his Eva and save everyone.
The second Rebuild of Evangelion movie takes portions of episodes of the mid section of the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series and reworks them. This movie uses a much larger stretch of events from the TV series, so of course a lot is excised or condensed. Some events occur very similarly to their TV series counterparts, while other things are changed almost entirely. However, I don't believe anything was changed simply just to be changed. It seems like there's a new vision for this interation of Evangelion and it starts to take shape in this movie.
The long-awaited debut of Asuka Langley Shikinami is a big part of the movie. While her entire self-value is still centered around her piloting an Evangelion and she's as prideful and stubborn as ever, we see a sort of more loner aspect to her here. Asuka doesn't have an interest in older Kaji or make good friends with class president Hikari. She prefers to stay to herself, and only begins to value the friendship of others after making a sacrifice for the sake of Shinji's relationship with his father, and perhaps in an effort to help Rei out as well.
It's a side of Asuka that wouldn't feel particularly well-earned if it were the TV version of her. She was destined to spiral out of control only to gain her confidence in something that was right in front of her the whole time. In You Can (Not) Advance, the slightly toned down Asuka seems to simply be unable to cope with how to reach out to others, but is probably a bit more honest with herself before it's too late. It's unfortunate that she suffers so greatly for her slight enlightenment.
Now, the question I've come to ask myself is, which iteration of Asuka do I like better? The more outwardy hostile, but energetic Asuka of the TV series, or the somewhat more lonely-seeming and tsundere-leaned Asuka of this movie? To be honest, probably the former. I'm not entirely comfortable seeing Asuka's softer side nearly spelled out for me. However, I still like this Asuka a lot, and want to see where Anno is going with her this time. Asuka was probably my favorite (human) character in Evangelion and maybe these differences between the two versions will ultimately be little more than footnotes by the end of 3.0. I can only judge by what's happened thus far.
One of the big themes in this movie is the relationship between Shinji and his father. Or rather, the lack thereof. In one of the first scenes he spends time with him by his mother's grave, only for it to be cut short and Gendo going off on a helicopter with Rei. Afterwards, Shinji pretends it was a waste of time, but you can tell he wants to get to know his father more, even hoping that when Rei plans a dinner that his father would attend (not knowing that was Rei's plan all along). It's on the very day of this failed dinner that Shinji loses all faith in his relationship with his father, devestated that he would use his hands to cause suffering (and near death) to Asuka. Shinji runs away, coldly dismissed by his father, but eventually returns defiant, shouting to his father that he is the pilot of Eva Unit 01.
I think a key moment is Gendo's car suddenly changing direction just before it's set to pick Shinji up to go to the dinner. We see a clueless Shinji on a curb, not even spotting the car, not knowing about his father coming, then getting the same call his father gets about the incident involving Eva Unit 04. I think that, though this was a little on the nose, it was also a very appropriate moment to show. Things get just so close to going right, but alas, disaster strikes.
It's also worth noting the shot of Nerv agents informing Rei of the incident as her food cooks on the stove, her plans ruined. In that shot you really feel dreadfully bad for the girl.
Rei, by the way, is by and far the most focused of the Eva girls in the movie. In a movie where Asuka seems to stand out the most, it's easily Rei that is the most important. Rei is the one who earnestly likes Shinji and wants him to have a relationship with his father. She practices cooking for him, even to the point of getting hurt, but continuing. She admits to Asuka that she feels warmth around him. It's Rei who Shinji is willing to throw away the entire existence of mankind for, just to see her again, just to save her. Is it because Shinji is in love with Rei? Is it just because there's something he can do to save her? It's really not important. He cares about her. Rei, who was more than willing to sacrifice herself so that Shinji wouldn't have to fight again. Who Shinji is ultimately willing to sacrifice everything else for (though, it's possible that he doesn't quite realize the gravity of his decision in the moment). People who talk about this movie often accuse the new character, Mari, of "stealing Asuka's spotlight", but it's Rei that takes the most attention in the end. I've never been a big Rei fan, but this movie might have made me one.
Speaking of Mari, oh Mari. Mari Mari Mari. Mari Illustrious Makinami. Who is she? Where does she come from? What is her agenda? How did she get access to Unit 02 without anybody's notice? How the hell did she know about the Beast mode? Is she even supposed to be there? We know very little about Mari, except that she loves piloting an Eva, she loves the smell of LCL in the morning (and afternoon, evening, the dead of night, whenever), and according to the English dub, swears like a sailor (she doesn't in the Japanese version). She presumably works for a branch of Nerv, she was the test pilot of Eva Unit 05 (which gets scrapped in the opening scene of the movie), and she's played by Maaya Sakamoto in Japanese. Other than that... yeah, she only seems to make a little wave in the narrative, as opposed to the big one in the action. It almost feels like Anno and Studio Khara couldn't completely commit to this new character. Is she supposed to counterbalance Shinji's utter detestation of piloting an Evangelion? Asuka's introverted attitude? Rei's machine-like adherance to orders? Is she supposed to be an eventual rival for Shinji's affections or Asuka's pride? Is she intended to provide the fans with a character who is just really fun and happy? Who knows. She's a question mark throughout the entire movie.
Little touches here and there really make the experience of the movie. For instance, the visit to the aquarium, where the group even brings Pen Pen. We get a good sense of how Asuka feels towards the others and her attitude in general, plus a couple of nice moments for Shinji and Rei. Or the nods to the TV series, like Touji noting that he didn't win anything from the popsicle he ate after it's apparent he won't be sharing his TV fate or Shinji's SDAT switching from track 26 to 27 in the scene right after he meets Mari.
One of the more obvious advantages this film has over the television series is the absolute top-notch visual aspects. In other words, it looks absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous in every single aspect, from character designs, backgrounds, and item art to CGI and animation. This is probably near the pinnacle of what this medium can accomplish, visually. It's absolutely stunning. Nothing looks out of place. Everything you see, no matter how strange, sucks you in. I have a special affinity for the finale's visuals, with Shinji tearing through the wall of the Angel to get to Rei as the Evangelion he pilots becomes a near-god. Also noteworthy is the sequence where Shinji, Rei, and Asuka have to catch the Angel with their Eva units. The movements of the Evangelions just blew me away in that part.
The audio is fantastic, too. Sound effects always seem crisp and timely. Shiro Sagisu has outdone himself again in the area of the soundtrack. Besides pumping up existing Evangelion TV series themes (and I always appreciate the use of "Thanatos" and the "next episode preview" music), he composed atmospheric choral pieces "From the Very Beginning" and "Fate". You also get some neat soundtrack dissonance in the use of soft, gentle songs during the climax of the aforementioned betrayal of Shinji by his father and at the height of the finale, used to great effect in my opinion.
The voice acting on the part of the Japanese track is also absolutely top-notch. Megumi Ogata (Shinji) does some of the best work in her career, certainly in this role, in this movie. Yuko Miyamura's Asuka is as strong as ever, as is Kotono Mitsuishi's Misato. Although Mari herself is little more than an action figure, the impression she does make is almost entirely the work of Maaya Sakamoto, who seems to have had the most fun in the cast. Fumihiko Tachiki's Gendo is as distant and unforgiving as ever, but with maybe a little hint of thawing here and there, which makes when he's back to his usual coldness all the chillier. Megumi Hayashibara's Rei sounds a lot more palpable than usual, but naturally so, without forcing too much emotion in.
Funimation provided the English track for this release, like the last. Tiffany Grant returned to the role of Asuka, which I was pretty dismayed by when I read the news about, as I frankly dislike her performance in the TV series. However, both her and Spike Spencer have made some strides, and now sound a lot less exaggerated. Spencer in particular sounds pretty good in the finale when he's rescuing Rei. I still sense a bit of awkwardness in both of them, and they're certainly inferior to their Japanese counterparts who bring a real humanity to the roles, but they've become okay, at least. The better performances are from John Swasey's Gendo, who sounds almost exactly like the Japanese voice but without sounding like a mere imitation, J Michael Tatum's likable Ryoji Kaji, and Colleen Clinkenbeard's clinical Ritsuko. I'm still on the fence about Trisha Nishimura's Mari. She doesn't have nearly the amount of gravity as Sakamoto's, and for some reason they had her swear a few times, perhaps to compensate for that. Mike McFarland did a competent job directing, but I can't help feel that it might have been a bit better in somebody else's hands. Overall, though, it's a pretty decent dub.
Now, how does it stack up to the television series? Fairly well. For one, it's a lot better looking, it doesn't indulge in constant "Shinji-vision hallucinations". No clip episodes. Pen Pen struts his stuff in front of his subordinate penguins. Every single action sequence is some of the most awesome anime material you could eve see. Fanservice doesn't feel like it's being pointed at. Certain characters seem a little more likable.
However, it's almost a little too safe and comfortable. Almost too palpable, narratively. It's a little too... well, pedestrian, in its approach. Too streamlined. I don't feel the same alienation or terror. The Angels just seem like your average monsterous invaders no matter how pretty they look and the motion of the action sequences seems amped up to compensate for the more conventional direction in those scenes, lending itself to simple titilation instead of a feeling of abject terror on behalf of the characters. It's a double-edge sword. On the one hand, there's a lot less of that unnecessary symbol-wanking. On the other, the movie is just not as effective pyschologically.
It's still a great movie worthy of praise and has me excited for what will come next in this series of movies. Get this movie on DVD or Blu-Ray. Now.
4 out of 5
Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Funimation.