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I only recently got heavily into the whole Manga/Anime scene. Back in the day, all I knew was Akira, but in the last few years of collecting and reviewing DVDs I have come to know and love some excellent titles: Blood – the Last Vampire, Perfect Blue and the fantastic Ghost in the Shell films and series. Somehow I never got around to Neon Genesis Evangelion and now I really regret it. I shall, however, try my best to both explain the basics and also hopefully convince readers of its worth.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion
Film
Beware though, there are some aspects of the following paragraph that may inadvertently give away plot points of the original series (and I do apologise to those fans out there who can pick holes in my summary—please bare in mind that a week ago, I had no idea what Neon Genesis was about)

It is the turn of the Millenium and a research expedition to Antarctica inadvertently results in a massive global cataclysm that causes the Earth to shift upon its axis. Over half of the world’s population is destroyed but there is a greater threat that the post-apocalyptic survivors have to cope with—the Angels. These ‘alien’ beings want to take over the planet and destroy mankind, believing that they cannot live in harmony with humans. Not only do they possess devastating strength and destructive capabilities, but they are also protected by AT-fields, which prevent conventional weapons from being effective against them. So during the fifteen-year lull where the Angels aren’t attacking the planet, a secret organisation called NERV devises a plan to combat them when the return. They find that the only key to destroying the Angels lies in penetrating their protective AT-fields and that the only things that can do this are the Evangelions, giant cybernetic organisms that NERV create using technology derived from the Angels themselves. Controlled by Chief Misato Katsuragi and piloted by several ‘special’ children, the Eva series prove to be a monumental success, but have inherent problems themselves due to the mysterious Angel technology that they utilise. Two girls, —the first child, Rei and the fiery redhead Asuka—and three boys—the oversexed Shinji, hot-headed Touji and prophetic Kaworu—are enlisted to man these bio-engineered creatures, but all of them have tragic histories or dark secrets that put them on the path towards their own destruction.

I have tried to say as little as possible whilst at the same time introducing the main characters and plot concepts—to explain any more would ruin both the series and the film. The trouble is, I am not entirely sure that it is possible to fully understand the first Evangelion movie featured here—Death and Rebirth—with just one viewing. Basically, what this DVD box set provides is a forty-five minute re-cap (Death) of the first twenty-four episodes (about nine hours!) of the original series along with an edited preview of the conclusion (Rebirth). This is followed by the full-length alternate version of the final two episodes, twenty-five and twenty-six, re-edited into a memento-style random order as a movie (The End of Evangelion). What this means is that the only people that are going to fully understand Death are those who have seen the whole series because it is just too much information and too little explanation. Similarly, if you haven’t seen the whole series and don’t understand this re-cap, then neither Rebirth nor The End of Evangelion will make any sense—and I don’t think that they make all that much sense even to avid fans!

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion
If you want to know what basically happens in The End of Evangelion (and it should be noted that Rebirth is merely just an edited preview of The End), then beware, this is another paragraph with spoilers, although it may help cement the understanding of those familiar with it. Following the final confrontation with an Angel, at the end of Death and the twenty-fourth episode, the mysterious SEELE organisation and the Japanese Strategic Self Defence Force (JSSF) storm the NERV headquarters. Their intention is to destroy all personnel—including the special children—and commandeer EVA-01, the only EVA to have merged with a defeated Angel. They desire to bring about a conclusive apocalypse and wipe out most of the surviving world with a cataclysm known as Third Impact. The only people who stand in their way are the children—the reluctant and repressed Shinji and the psychotic Asuka, who has to face off everything that that SEELE and the JSSF can throw at her—including their own home-made Angel-piloted EVAs while Shinji reaches EVA-01.

As a piece of art, both of these movies are beautiful, action-packed and thrilling, with shocking violence, futuristic creations and powerful but crazy children—all part of the staple diet of Japanese Manga. They also contain underage girls in skin-tight outfits (or less) manning giant robot-like creatures that kick the hell out of large, alien beings in the middle of huge destructible cities, further requisite ingredients of Manga. But in spite of all the action and visual attraction, as coherent films, neither Death nor The End of Evangelion make any sense. Don’t be too distraught though—I’m not suggesting for any second that all is lost. What this means is that you have to go and see the whole series first, and then watch these two movies, which offer a recap that you will then understand, along with an alternate, more refined and expansive ending (beware though, the entire series was re-released to include director’s versions of some of the episodes, which are a must have, and explain why those familiar with only the original versions of the series may notice some extra scenes present in Death) You see, the series is much more than just futuristic action, it is a multi-layered affair bathed in religious allegory and symbolic representations—Angels, Crucifixion, Adam, The Three Wise Men and even Longinus—the Roman soldier put the spear in Christ. It’s all here, buried amidst action and violence and prophetic dialogue, and whilst some might shun it as pretentious, if you embrace it, it can be thoroughly rewarding and positively captivating.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion
Video
Both movies are presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, giving them a cinematic feel. This is a re-mastered transfer, but it is still not anamorphic, will be disappointing for fans. It is, however, the best transfer available at the moment and far superior to the original full-screen DVD efforts for the series itself. Re-mastering leaves it with none of the dust, specks or defects that you could expect from a ten-year old anime and the detail is fairly good throughout. That said, you can clearly see the difference in quality of animation between Death and The End of Evangelion—obviously thanks to an augmented budget from better backing for the production of the final movie. Colours are largely rich and vibrant, from the red of the outfit Asuka wears in combat and the crimson of the blood, to the pale blue skies and deep blue oceans. The blacks are also well represented, although some of the darker moments do show signs of fading and non-intrusive grain. Overall it is excellent presentation, and you’ll find it all the more pleasing to come back to after watching the original series.

Audio
Death and Rebirth are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Death is largely remixed or re-dubbed, making Rebirth a more superior effort. Nevertheless, I found some of the score from Death more rousing—in particular the main theme played during most of the EVA battles—although both parts contain some excellent classical representation. The dialogue is clear (and fans of the English-dubbed version of the original series will appreciate that most of the cast return for these movies) and always highly directional—prevalent in whichever speaker is most appropriate. The surround coverage is excellent in respect of the effects, and the EVA growls and pilot screams are particularly penetrating. There is only a little bass, but it is enough to get to you just when you need it. Death and Rebirth also have alternate tracks: both English and Japanese Dolby 2.0 efforts that are nothing special. It should be noted that the subtitling is so poorly done that it is always out of synch with the speech itself, normally at least a sentence ahead of the soundtrack. This would not normally be a problem, but unfortunately some of the on-screen writing needs subtitles for translation—most importantly the flash images that separate Death into sections—which means that you have to switch the titles on and off regularly, which can get irritating. The titles also flash on and off the screen so quickly that you seldom get the chance to read them! For The End of Evangelion we get a whole bunch of audio tracks. At the top end, there are two DTS 6.1 tracks—one in English and one in Japanese. These are largely excellent, with every positive count from the first movie being matched and augmented here on the second. It’s only a shame that, in my opinion, the score to the second movie isn’t as good as the first. Still, if you want brilliant audio, and a ridiculous number of audio options, you have come to the right place—the secondary tracks are Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and Japanese and there are even tertiary tracks in both languages, recorded in Stereo 2.0. I don’t think that there are any more options that they could think of to include!

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion
Extras
The extras are located on the second and third discs. In fact the sole purpose of the second disc is for the extras—even though it carries a duplicate of the movie from the first disc—Death and Rebirth—on it, this is purely for the sake of providing an audio commentary. I guess that they just could not fit everything on one disc, but it seems a little strange and irritating to have to swap and change discs for the sake of a commentary. Anyway, the Commentary is with Amanda Winn Lee—the scriptwriter, English language director and voice of Rei Ayanami, her husband Jason Lee—co-producer and voice actor, and voice actor and fan Taliesin Jaffe. They joke about the sheer number of logos at the beginning of the movie (there are quite a few!) and the difficulty they had in translating some of the dialogue, offering some background into the script and characters and the English cast. Obviously many of the comments are related to the dialogue—because they are all voice actors—but there are a few technical bits dropped in: talking about the 5.1 mix, the scenes that were reinstated into the Director’s Cut and the biblical symbolism behind the whole production. They joke about having to do the Eva growls themselves and provide information that is not only scene-specific but also very revelatory. It’s a nice, chirpy commentary and Amanda’s girlie voice is particularly agreeable to listen to.

The Mokuji Interactive Feature gives you access to Eva-related terms, character descriptions, and other valuable information while watching the film by using your remote to select the pop-ups that appear onscreen while it is playing. The message is quite glaring, so you won’t miss it when the pop-up appears, and the topics are split into different sections: Central Dogma, The E Project, Personnel Files and Heaven’s Messengers. Within these sections, many different characters and aspects are discussed, from the Eva pilots to the different Angels. If it were not for all the material on offer here, frankly I would have had absolutely no idea what was going on during the movies. The Extensive Photo Gallery does exactly what it says—provides you with a whole bunch of pictures from and about the production. Then there are Trailers for both these movies and other Manga releases available. And that’s just on the second disc. The third disc has another audio commentary, with the same people. This time they talk about how these extra/alternate episodes flesh out some of the many characters which were neglected in the original episodes, and explain more about the mysterious SELEE. They comment on the fact that the original director had received death threats after he finished the series abruptly, and so did this almost as revenge for all the hate mail—giving the fans everything they wanted and then turning it on its head and twisting the ending. It is a perfectly nice commentary, again quite revelatory and informative, although if you do not understand the movies in the first place, neither commentary will bring any light to your dilemma. Finally on disc three you get trailers for both of these Evangelion movies.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion
Overall
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a must-have series for all Manga fans, but if you are new to Manga then I highly recommend you give it a shot to get yourself started. Everybody who loves The Matrix should understand some of the futuristic animation that paved the way for films like it—great animation like Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion. In some ways, this release is a little superfluous—if you haven't seen the entire series then you should get that first, and if you do, then you don’t really need this. The question is really whether you have The End of Evangelion. If so, then this is not worth your time or money. If you don’t, then it is worth picking up just so you get the best version available and so you can have the rather defunct Death and Rebirth for the sake of re-capping or completeness. Technically it is excellent and the extras are pretty solid too, but I cannot stress how much it is worth investing in the whole series first—it will make so much more sense.


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