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ADV Films

If you’ve paid any attention to anime in the past several years, you know about Neon Genesis Evangelion, the epic space opera that spans some 24 episodes and three films. And calling it a space opera is probably a bit too simple – it pushes the limits of melodrama. An interesting aesthetic and compelling story are the strengths, but the plodding pace makes NGE a series that won’t be enjoyed by everyone.

In the year 2015, humanity has been driven into hiding because of a threat known only as the Angels. The Angels are a mystery in the beginning. We know that something happened in Antarctica regarding the discovery of the Angels, who are some kind of alien bio-mechanical giant. Following the catastrophe in Antarctica, the polar ice caps melted and humanity was put on the run. Now, the Angels have returned, and mankind’s only hope of defense is NERV, a secret government project.

NERV has created the Evangelions, or Eva. These bio-mechanical mecha are incredible weapons (and they look way cool). The only downside is that in order to drive them the pilot must bond with the Eva, and for some reason only young pilots, like around age 14, can drive them. Further complicating the issue, there are only four kids in the world who fit the profile, and they must be found so NERV can mount a significant defense.

The series revolves around Shinji, a seriously emotional boy. Shinji’s father is the head of NERV and left his son years earlier to work on the secret project. Now that Shinji has reunited with his father, he realizes what a strange and scary man he is. Shinji lives with and spends most of his time with Misato, his spunky captain. Along with a huge cast of supporting characters, Shinji and Misato struggle through the saga of defending Earth from the Angels.

And it is a struggle. Shinji clearly states that he does not want to pilot the Eva, and a lot of time is devoted to Shinji’s emotional delimmas, ranging from his qualms with fighting for NERV to his troubled paternal relationship, his attraction to another Eva pilot, Rei, and his relationship with Misato, which waivers from mother figure to attractive roommate. In spite of a huge number of supportive friends and co-workers, Shinji manages to stay angst-ridden and somber to the bitter end. What is even more frustrating at times is the fact that Shinji doesn’t realize how good he is at piloting the Eva, and that frustration is compounded by the fact that Shinji is constantly, through his inaction or apathy or emotional distress, causing all kinds of trouble. Make no mistake, I think any living, breathing person watching Neon Genesis Evangelion will be really annoyed with Shinji at some point in time.

The focus on Shinji and his constant troubles is compounded by a very slow paced cinemagraphic approach. This series is not afraid to stop and smell the flowers, sometimes for what seems like hours. Not only are unique angles and effects used cinematically, but still shots are cut in with reckless abandon. While the pacing definitely feels slow in places, in other places it is just perfect. Some shots are very beautiful, and the visual style underscores the emotional goals of the series.

The DVD, which sports four episodes of the series, is very nice for fans of the series for all the standard reasons, but it is also unexceptional for the same reasons. While the transfer looks nice and the language options are always welcome, there is very little in the way of additional material here. Brief character bios and some trailers is about it. A series like Neon Genesis Evangelion creates the most rabid kind of fanbase, and it is sad that we don’t see that being fed by interviews, commentary, a making-of documentary, or at least a timeline of the series. It is a complicated story, too, so some charting or summaries of the plot would be welcome. As all the fan sites dedicated to NGE prove, there are a whole lot of extra things you could do with this series, but you won’t find them on the DVD. Although with eight volumes in the series, perhaps we’ll get some goodies on the last disc.

There will never be quite enough action in Neon Genesis Evangelion, but the quality of animation and the intriguing story makes it easy to understand why so many fans cherish this series. If it rubs you the right way, you might just fall in love with NGE. If not, you will probably really dislike it. This is definitely a rent it and see kind of title, but very much worth checking out.

Shawn Rider   (01/17/2002)


Ups: Great story; really excellent animation; innovative cinematography.

Downs: No real extras; quite slow and melodramatic.

Platform: DVD