I had a low opinion of the Evangelion franchise before going into this recent 'Rebuild of Evangelion'remake quadrilogy that takes the original anime TV series and revamps and updates it for more modern audiences. Now I have the highest praise for the much hyped franchise, as the first movie in this series, 'You are (not) alone' was a really superb new take on the early goings of the series, but was a tad light on new material for the most part. This second film, subtitled 'You can (not) advance', is a truly phenomenal piece of work that takes the remakes off in an entirely new direction from the original series and features more new story content and material than old this time around, creating something that puts a superb, and in my opinion far superior new slant on the original characters and is a movie that manages to both move and shock in equal measure.
Picking up soon after the first film's climax. 2.22 begins as Eva pilots Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami (Who have started to grow closer following the first film's events) are thrown for a loop by the arrival of manic new Eva pilot Asuka Shikanami (Yes, she's had a name change for the remakes) whose bottomless arrogance and open disdain for her comrades causes friction at NERV HQ. But as the EVA pilots live and fight together they begin to find common ground, and as the Angel attacks continue to escalate, a new EVA pilot named Maya arrives in Tokyo 3 under mysterious circumstances, Rei struggles with her growing romantic feelings for Shinji and just when there appears to be a bit of happiness to be found for our protagonists within their horrible, violence filled existences... tragedy strikes... and continues to strike right on through to a truly epic climax that takes established EVA lore to dizzying new heights and provides a truly exciting ride in getting there.
Eva 2.22 is a truly superb movie in what it accomplishes. Not only does it manage to successfully capture the essence of it's source material perfectly, but it simultaneously presents the story in a new and interesting way that is easy to follow without being dumbed down and not falling back on endless scenes of symbolism filled introspection and vague hints about what's actually going on. That's right folks, Evangelion is now ACCESSIBLE. Not only is the story easier to follow, but the characterisation has seen a massive improvement into the bargain. Where in the original series characters like Asuka, Rei, Shinji and most especially Gendo Ikari came off as deeply unsympathetic or even downright unlikeable much if not all of the time for various reasons, in these new movies there is a notable difference in the portrayal of every character. For example, Rei's portrayal in the TV series was that of an emotionless 'doll' with a zealous loyalty to Gendo that led her to follow his will without question, showing a clear disinterest in anything or anyone else around her, even slapping Shinji on at least one occasion for not going along with what Gendo wants. Yet in this movie, she shows genuinely humanity, such as her growing fondness for Shinji leading her to attempt to build bridges between him and Gendo (His dad) through various means and displays of actual friendship between her and Asuka at times makes for a very different experience from the cold, isolated portrayal of each character in the original show, with the running theme being how they were all trapped within their own emotional prisons now feeling like far less of an anchor to the characterisation and overall story. To some this may sound like the remake "dumbs down" the characters and plot significantly, but if that's what it takes to make the story more fun and accessible I say dumb it down good and proper Gainax!
The film of course looks fantastic, with clean, crisp visuals, detailed animation and impressive CGI on occasion as well. There's no faulting the amount of attention given to making this some good eye candy. Voice work is as superb as ever from the veteran Japanese cast and the soundtrack is yet another triumph from the always excellent Saigo Shirasu. Though I gotta say I'm not such a huge fan of his penchant for using cheery, upbeat music for truly horrifying scenes.
If there was one primary complaint I could make about the movie, it's that Gainax maybe didn't need to fall back so heavily on the boob fixation they have been famed for in the past when the first movie was (Mostly) free of such wanton lechery. I might have seen the cute side of such things a few years ago, but I think I've gotten a little too old now to be amused by "gags" about a 14 year old girl having to wear a skin tight see-through uniform to pilot her giant robot. It just feels a bit like it cheapens a story that is otherwise pretty serious about itself aside from SOME light humour scenes occasionally tossed in. Basically, there's a time and a place for more smutty humour, and this sure as hell ain't no Carry On film.
On the whole though, a fantastic movie and easily the best thing yet produced with the 'Evangelion' name attached to it. Yes, it won't please everyone and may very well polarise "purists" of the original story, but this is so much more fun and accessible than what came before it that I could now genuinely recommend Eva to non hardcore anime types. True, it still bears many hallmarks and tropes of it's preceding works and of anime in general that hinder more than help it, but despite that it IS still a fantastic watch. Highly recommended.