*OVERVIEW and EPISODE REVIEWS:
Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) starts out simple enough. A story about a boy named Shinji Ikari coming to a futuristic city and using giant robot-like Evas (Unit-01 himself) to fend off the invading enemies called Angels. Along the way he meets a mysterious girl and pilot of Unit-00, Rei Ayanami, the fiery pilot of Unit-02 Asuka Langley Soryu, Director of Nerv Operations Misato Katsuragi, the brilliant scientist, Ritsuko Akagi and his estranged father and Nerv's Commander, Gendo Ikari. There's also an intriguing cast of minor characters including friends from his school, Toji and Kensuke and Nerv's Vice Commander Fuyutsuki. But it ends in a completely different place than where it began, with so much filling its creamy center that it's hard to know what to cover in a review.
Yes, it indeed starts out simple enough: Through the first 8 episodes you probably couldn't distinguish NGE from any other giant robot anime ever made. These episodes, while entertaining, are as straight forward as anime gets. Then, slowly but surely from episodes 9-13, the characters are given to more detailing. We get to know them better as more of their stories and histories are revealed. A beautiful example of this is in episode 9 when Asuka falls down, asleep, next to Shinji, who is then tempted to kiss her before something makes him stop. The story is expanded upon as more secrets are revealed, which leads to more questions.
But then, during episode 14, which starts out as a boring "recap", half way through we get the first glimpse of what this series is really about. After the title card we hear the voice of Rei, giving a surreal and beautiful monologue with similar images following on the screen. This bit is practically visual/audio poetry working together, and gives the first hints of what's to come. The psychological and philosophical leanings of this episode would start to become more prominent throughout the series.
Episode 15 is really where the gears shift. The story has slowly built our interest in the characters and the many secrets up to this point, with as much humor and light heartedness as seriousness. In 15 though things takes a more mature, complex, and somber turn - with the end being the catalyst for the brilliant episodes to come. Indeed, episodes 16 and 18 are two of the most dramatic works of fiction I've ever experienced, with 17 being the calm interlude between them.
But then 19 comes along and trumps them all. If I could describe the chills I had when watching that episode for the first time... simply put, I don't think dramatic storytelling gets any better. Episode 20 is one of the deepest and complex, further diving into the psychology and symbolism behind the show. 21's back stories are woven so intricately you forget that you're watching an anime as the breadth given to the characters are incredible. 21's finale also serves as one of the most emotional in the series.
22 is one of the most disturbing episodes, diving into the psychology of Asuka this time in a way that will leave you feeling a bit shocked. 23 does what 22 did for Asuka and applies it to Rei. It also has the biggest, most stunning revelation in the series at the end of the episode, as one of Nerv's big secrets is revealed. These episodes also bring much of the "bigger" picture between Nerv, Seele, and the secrets behind the Angels and 2nd Impact into focus, which leads to the climax. That climax hits with episode 24, with the introduction of the last angel Kaworu. While one of the most perplexing episodes (due to its cryptic plot and dialogue), its magnificent finale - played out appropriately to Beethoven's final movement of his monumental 9th Symphony - serves as an outstanding closure to the main series before the final two episodes.
The final two episodes completely forego the story that's been building up, and focuses instead on the psychology and philosophy behind the show and its characters. These two episodes are brilliant in their own right. Episode 26 in particular, with its deconstructing of the meanings of reality and freedom, and examining of so many psychological hot points in the show (one's self worth, for instance) is an artistic high point in anime. They are not completely un-story related though, as the "melding of minds" in these episodes are a major plot element. But this works out great for the director Hideaki Anno who probably loved being able to get many of these feelings out through this series and these two episodes in particular.
For those wanting a closure to the story of NGE, "The End of Evangelion" is the grand finale to end all grand finales. While it won't answer everything in a nice, neat way (this is not a show that hands you answers on a silver platter), it provides an astonishingly powerful and poignant conclusion to the story and to the NGE series. I can understand the frustration of fans after watching the series and then the final two "series" episodes, thinking this was the end. In reality, the movie was MEANT to be the conclusion, but because of budget and time problems it couldn't be completed in time. The "series" finale will still stand on their own as the alternate take, but they're an essential alternate take as this is an anime whose meanings stretch far beyond the mecha-sci-fi, boy-saves-world genre. But the film sets a new standard in the art of closing a series on the perfect note.
While the layers of psychology, philosophy, and symbolism would crush most shows under their own weight and seeming pretentiousness, Anno handles them with adeptness and acute direction. He skillfully weaves them into the story to the point where everything makes complete sense in relation to the characters and storyline. In fact, if you really take time to analyze the story, the characters, and the relationship between the dialogue and visuals with the psychological, philosophical, and symbolic meanings, you'll see this series does indeed have more depth than almost all others that have attempted to tackle similar subjects. In fact, this is a series which almost has to be viewed several times, as there are recurring motifs (both visually and in the dialogue) which link important thematic elements strung throughout. And if you're not watching carefully, you'll miss them the first and maybe even second time around.
I think the reason these ideas become so important is very simple, and that's because of the characters. Anno doesn't just create a random bunch of soulless, mindless, anime characters. He creates characters that everyone can relate to on some level. Because these characters have such range and depth, we begin to really care about them and their struggles. In the end their struggles become our own and they literally become mirrors of our own psychological profiles and problems. We begin to grieve as we watch them deal with such (self) destructive behavior caused by their circumstances and consequential frames of mind. It's because of this that the viewer actually cares about the more portentous moments, no matter how grandiose they become. I think it's very important for those out there to understand that all the elaborate complexities of NGE wouldn't matter without the characters that carry the weight and meaning of it all.
NGE is a show of extremes. Ranging from scenes of palpable, viseral power that inspire shock and awe, to the most quietly surene, surreal, and beautifully touching moments. These scenes are woven together as fine and eloquently as the Beethoven Symphony they play in episode 24 itself. And like that symphony, even though the parts are outstanding, the whole is much greater than the sum.
I believe this is a work of resounding artistic depth. I'd go as far as to say it's one of the absolute greatest pieces of fiction ever made in any medium. This may sound like hyperbole, but there have been few - if any - fictional works that have effected me both emotionally and psychologically like NGE has. If you put in the time and effort to actively watch this series, it will reward as many repeat viewings as you care to give it, as new layers and meanings will be uncovered each time. And I think that is, if nothing else, the first sign of a work of artistic genius.
The Platinum Edition is far and away better than the Perfect Collection. The remastered visuals and audio are extraordinary. It doesn't get better than watching the big explosions in 5.1 Surround Sound! The remastered visuals are equally as striking. The reduced frame shake and jitter is a phenomenal improvement from the previous edition. It seems like they almost went back and re-animated parts of the show, making almost every scene look more vivid, life-like and alive. The Subtitled translations is another thing worth noting, as these translations are, by and large, more accurate. Even though I now hate the English translation of the song doesn't match the melody (always found it funny why it did on the Perfect Collection), this is a more accurate translation. The packaging is the only disappointment. The box is nothing special, the DVD cases themselves contain no booklets or notes, and there's no extras on the DVDs. But you get what you pay for as the price is a bargain. If you want all the other stuff you have to buy the Platinum Collection 1+Box and the rest of the collection separately.