by Michelle Villanueva
Neon Genesis Evangelion is arguably the most famous (or infamous) anime series in existence. Countless anime fans have seen it, and theyve pored over its contents to try and understand it all. Evangelion is a Rorshach inkblot test for otaku. Everyone whos seen it has an opinion on it, and the series is so wonderfully inscrutable that even the tiniest detail in it can be twisted to fit far-fetched theories. But for those of you whove been hiding under a rock for the past 10 years and have no idea what Evangelion is (all two of you), heres a very brief overview: In the year 2015, Earth is under attack from alien beings known as Angels. To fight the Angels, mankind creates giant biomechanical constructs called Evas. That really didnt do the series any justice at all, and Death and Rebirth can only be truly enjoyed if youve actually seen the series. So, by all means, watch the TV series before seeing this movie.
Death and Rebirth is a movie in two parts. The first section is Death, which basically recaps the saga from episode1 to episode 24. Rebirth is a reimagining of series events following the end of episode 24. Rebirth actually ends in a cliffhanger, and the story concludes in End of Evangelion. While Death might be viewed as a condensed version of the series, it does provide more clues into the plot and the emotions of the various characters as well.
Death starts out with the moments just prior to Second Impact and gives a slightly more detailed look at what happened in Antarctica than the tantalizing glimpses offered in the series itself. The rest of the saga unfolded from there. Shinji first appears in Death when he enters an empty rehearsal hall. He sits down and begins to play a Bach cello solo, This is an interesting parallel to how he is introduced in the series. Arriving in Tokyo alone, Shinji must call and wait for help to come to him. Throughout the series, Shinji, despite his attempt at making friends by pleasing everyone, is inevitably alone.
Each Eva pilot is introduced in turn (Asuka, Rei, and Kaworu) until by the end of Death, they are a performing string quartet. This framing device is intriguing, as Death explores each character as they walk into the rehearsal hall and sit with Shinji. Expect a lot of rehashing of important scenes from the series. We are reminded of why Asuka wants to be the center of attention, what Rei actually is, and the tragic relationship between Shinji and Kaworu. Since most of Death is made up of footage from the TV series, some of it seems strangely reframed for widescreen. One obvious example is the explosions caused by the Third Angels attacks. In the episode from the series, this resembles a cross. The same scene in Death crops off the top of the cross, so that the explosion looks like a straight line.
Rebirth is a retelling of events after the death of the 17th Angel, Kaworu. At first, the focus in on Shinji. Abandoned by those he thought he trusted, Shinji is alone once again. His self-loathing and desperation is painfully obvious. By the end of the scene (a very famous one in Evangelion fan circles) he proclaims, Im so f***ed up. Yes Shinji, we know. Were just happy that you finally realized that.
The basic plot of Rebirth is as follows: SEELE, the secret corporation that created Nerv, wants to initiate the Human Instrumentality Project by using the Evas. Gendo refuses to kowtow to their demands, so SEELE decides to send in troops to invade Nerv and take the Evas by force. What follows is a bloodbath of epic proportions, with uniformed special forces units running through the corridors of Nerv and shooting at anyone in a khaki uniform. The Eva pilots are scattered, with Asuka placed in Unit 02 for her safety, Shinji hiding in a dark corner waiting to die at the hands of the troops, and Rei taken by Gendo for his own reasons. Rebirth ends with a sudden realization: SEELE has created their own Eva production models, and theyre about to attack Unit 02.
Manga Entertainment really did their best with their release of this movie on DVD. They managed to gather most of the dub cast to reprise their roles, and there are some interesting special features which should please fans. The DVD is a flipper, with versions of the movie on both sides of the disc. The second side (Omega) contains Mokuji Interactive, which, when activated, allows the viewer to access articles from the Magi Archives (actually excerpts from the famed Evangelion Red Cross Book) that pertain to the various scenes from the film. Side Omega also contains audio commentary from Amanda Winn Lee (voice of Rei), Jason C. Lee (voice of Aoba), and Taliesin Jaffe. The commentary gives a fascinating look at the dubbing process, from trying to translate the Japanese dialogue to the problems encountered when remixing the audio to 5.1. The commentary often slips into MST3K territory, but, as Amanda Winn Lee and the others point out, Death and Rebirth was such a depressing movie to work on that they needed levity in order to keep from slitting their own wrists.
Is this a movie worth getting? Heres a Catch-22 for you. You will really get the most out of this film if youve seen the television series first, but if youre seen the series, then Death might bore you. Personally, I havent seen Evangelion in its entirety for quite awhile, so Death was a good refresher course and helped me understand the events in Rebirth. So, Death and Rebirth might be good for the casual fan, but the hard core Eva otaku might want to skip this altogether and pick up End of Evangelion, which includes Rebirth.