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Monday, February 6, 2012

You Can (Not) Advance

Not the poster for a normal film

In 1997 Hideaki Anno was really depressed, like had serious issues, and he put them all on display in his magnum opus, Neon Genesis Evangelion. The ending, the last two episodes, are considered an enormous fuck you to his fans and deciphering just what was meant by them is a place only the priests of the Great Old Ones go. The movies he released afterwards didn't help a bit, and made a confusing ending into a downer ending, which really doesn't help anything. Then we flash forward ten years, Anno is happily married and through counseling amongst other things has gotten over his depression, and seeks to remake the series that made him so famous, this time without the angst.

This led to the first film, a fairly standard anime remake, featuring mostly the same enemies and situations and characters, albeit with more badass and higher production values. That was You Are (Not) Alone, this is not that film. This is the film that goes batshit insane midway through and gets worse for the rest of the film, and brings about the end of the world only halfway through the quadrilogy. This is the film that brought soundtrack dissonance to a perfect art, even more so than the original series. It is also the film about true love and the destruction that it can bring, and in that sense it is a tragic romance, like Romeo and Juliet, but with giant robots.

The film begins with surprisingly passable English, excluding the voice-work from one of the main characters, which sounds more garbled than a whale song. We see the destruction of the notably absent third angel, essentially giant robots from outer space that seek to annihilate humanity through a variety of means. We are also introduced to the blood knight Mari, who destroys the angel at the cost of her own Eva, which in all likelihood cost billions if not trillions of dollars, real good job. Now there are a lot of Christian references and imagery throughout the film, including the now famous cross explosions, but even with all the discussion of God and what humanity is building, essentially trying to create a new God, it doesn't dwell on these issues with any real depth.
Crosses are still cool right?
There are any number of reasons for this, primarily that no one in the series can really agree on what they're trying to do, given that everyone is trying to run Xanatos Gambits (TvTropes if you don't get the reference) but mostly they seem to fail, because they rely everything going according to plan, and it just never does. There's also the fact that when you make a film like this you really have to concentrate on one major idea or ideal otherwise it tends to get cluttered and confused, and then you get a clusterfuck of philosophy like the ending of the series and no one wants that. So for the film Anno went with the idea of love, one so simple and so complex that it works perfectly for an anime which deconstructs that which it seeks to emulate.

So in the film we have Shinji, our protagonist who's only real goal in life is to actually have his father appreciate him. He has fallen in love with Rei, who is his father's weird daughter/wife/genetic experiment thing and may actually have elements of his mother's soul in her, it's not entirely clear how close the films follow the series. The new German girl introduced as well, Asuka, has a crush that she will never admit on Shinji, and they grow close throughout the film, until he is forced to near fatally wound her, which kind of changes the nature of any relationship. In terms of parental love, well it's essentially non-existent or abusive in Shinji's case. Now all the characters suffer some sort of psychological dysfunction, though none so much as the original, in that they might be able to function in a normal society, instead of going fetal position in the corner at the thought of people.

So love is the thing which causes the end of the world. Quick summation of plot up until the end, there are angels, and this one angel is a bad motherfucker, exploding pretty much all the defenses and waltzing on through to the base of the base, which contains Adam, the basis for all Angels, and if they were to contact in all likelihood it would be the end of the world. First he tanks a huge amount of damage from a 'beast' mode Eva unit 02, which is basically a werewolf form of a giant robot. Which is approximately as terrifying as it sounds. And yet, it doesn't work, it rips and tears and just about dies for it, then Rei runs in with a fucking nuke mine and shoves it in at point blank with an enormous rocket attached.

The Rainbow shield is far too powerful
 So everyone has just about given up hope, with two robots down and the angel heading right towards Armageddon, but then Shinji comes to save the day, not for the world, not for his father, but for Rei. His first action which is truly unique to him is his attempt to save the only person he may have ever loved. In the series he actually had to kill the only person who ever loved him. He does this by breaking through human limitations and basically saying fuck you physics, defying all previous badass attempts by himself and others by shrugging off attacks which had previously lacerated. He then reaches through time and space to retrieve Rei, who had been eaten by the angel previously, finally earning his happy ending.

But I mentioned something about the world ending before didn't I? Yes well it turns out that transcending mortal limits means ascending to godhood, or something very much like that, resulting in an explosion or something that will wipe out all life on earth. Real nice kid, ending the world and all that, but as previously stated he doesn't care what happens, to the world or anybody, he just wants Rei back, which is quite a nice sentiment, but then it leads to the natural logic that the power of love brings about the end of the world, which is a bit of a different matter from some other works, say Harry Potter. So what kind of theme are we going for here Anno? Does true love lead to disaster? You'd think with his wife and kids he'd have something different to say, but with just this film it certainly looks like it.

Then the kicker happens. The only character who ever said I love you to Shinji in the original series descends down from the moon and impales him with some sort of lance, preventing the immediate end of the world, though quite possibly also killing him and Rei. The ending is bittersweet in many ways, and that is in part due to the fact that it is only half-way done, with a third entry likely coming out this year. In the end it is a good entry in a series of films, but as a standalone does not work at all in terms of resolution, and not in the Sopranos way of no resolution.

Gory, but less so than much of the scene.
It is a better ending than traditional Gainax bullshit, but it's still pretty up there in terms of normal endings. As for the rest of the film well, it is incredibly violent, especially when Unit 01 attacks unit 03, there are organs the size of large buildings flying off, not to mention enough gore to cover most of Tokyo, quite literally.It forms a rainbow at one point. The image to the right is just as 01 truly finishes off 03, though not before he takes a huge bite out of the pod that Asuka resides in, seemingly determining her fate. The worst part though is that Shinji has to sit there, unable to control it, unable to stop it, forced to watch as what was once his slowly destroys one of his best friends. 

On the happy scale, the film starts off practically idyllic, with Gendo even agreeing to see his son, Shinji, for dinner. Actively working towards a happy relationship? Impossible! No, there are attempts at friendship, parental relationships, and even love, then they all get squashed in one scene, that one just above there, with the giant robot head that goes boom. It is Evangelion, so a happy ending couldn't really be assumed, but it can be hoped for, and you never know, maybe Shinji will actually find happiness this time, instead of suicidal manic depression resulting in a deep regression into fantasy. 

The end result is a film that is decent watching on its own, with good action scenes, a good budget so quality animation, and semi-likable characters, but without context from the previous film, and even from seeing the original series it really loses something, which is a problem. Another problem is the ending is simply a set-up for a sequel, which just kind of pisses me off, because damn it if you are unsure of when or even if there will be a conclusion don't set up for one. I'd say see it, but preferably get some context first, because the plot will mean little to nothing without it.

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