Movie: In the decades that I've been watching anime (or some domestically altered version of it), I rarely come across anything so completely brand new that it doesn't manage to borrow from previous shows but my interest levels perk up when I sense someone has tried to push the envelop on whatever came before it. This really doesn't happen all that frequently but when it does, a lot of buzz is created by fans all over the world. One such series is the famous Neon Genesis Evangelion series that has been released in numerous version in the last ten years it has been out. There is very little that can be said about the show that hasn't been said repeatedly in the past but today's review will be less than a detailed examination of the minutia a slavering fanboy for the series would want so much as an overview for those wanting to explore the better anime available on the market. The review, or course, will be for the Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Complete boxed set which was released about a month ago; a show that probably pushed the envelop of giant robot shows and character development more than any other show in the history of anime.
The show is set in 2015. Earth's population was largely wiped out in the year 2000 by a meteor strike that melted the Antarctic ice cap. All of the cities along the coastlines were swamped and the world went about rebuilding as it always has when things go wrong on a large scale. The primary character for the show initially was a 14 year old boy by the name of Shinji Ikari. He's a timid sort of kid who keeps to himself, the son of a famous scientist that finds more pleasure in his work than in caring for his son. The story started off with some minor exposition about the events leading up to that point in time but Shinji soon finds himself thrust into a world of combat that he was ultimately unprepared for. He finds out that he has been selected as a pilot for a large mechanized robot that is designed for him as a result of his genetic structure. With no training and a tremendous amount of pressure placed on him with no notice, he is put in harms way against a huge alien invader called an "angel". The angel is so powerful that tanks and jets can't scratch it and nuclear explosives hardly clean off the dirt it gathers as it crushes the nearby city. Enter Shinji.
Shinji is so afraid of his predicament that he nearly wets himself but does what he is told because he's too afraid to stand up to those in charge. Apparently, there is another pilot but she doesn't mesh as well with the Evangelion unit (EVA for short) and has sustained many injuries on the battlefield herself. Her name is Rei Ayanami and she seems nearly as withdrawn as Shinji, leading early observers to compare other traits the two share. All seems lost as the angel closes in on Shinji's Eva unit and bashes it to hell but somewhere deep inside the boy comes a rage that ultimately protects him and saves the day. As the series progresses, he is inducted into the organization responsible for protecting the world from the threat of the angels, a group by the name of NERV which not too surprisingly is where his father is a bigwig. In later episodes, another 14 year old named Asuka Langley is outfitted to pilot the EVA's but the details keep pointing to a lot bigger picture going on behind the scenes as the trio are put through the paces of increasingly powerful attacks.
The show was quick to develop a number of plot threads that all intertwined in such a way that you could write several books on the individual episodes but the main points were that the conspiracies all led to a few places and the use of religious icons and prophecies seemed deliberate, even in the early stages of the show. Without spoiling the show for those of you new to join, the replay value on this one is off the charts if you enjoy complex dramas and well written anime shows. Further, in the ten years this one has been out, you can trace almost every anime show using giant robots, psychological thrillers, and hidden cabals within society running things from behind the scenes back to this one. Sure, it builds on shows that came before it but it was more of a revolutionary step in terms of overall complexity and quality than it was a smaller evolutionary step; leading fans to discuss its nuances over and over (note to the purists: I state again that this is an overview and not designed to address the slavering fanboy market).
Of particular interest to note, the show started off as only slightly more convoluted than a typical robot release but quickly became very convoluted as the bible references started becoming more prominent and the characters became more desperate. It's even said that the original director of the series had a mental breakdown due to the show's increasingly taxing storyline but consider that all of it added up to great replay value as a study in human character. Fans of bioengineering will love the plot twists too although the sheer number of newer shows that borrowed so heavily from this one will telegraph the bigger plot twists well ahead of their explanation here. The Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Complete boxed set is unique from the multitude of previous releases for two things though; it provided a boxed set of the remastered version of the series that was finished being released last year and the price was so much nicer than the previous boxed sets that the loss of the extras will likely be offset by the ability of a far larger audience to afford the real deal in a non-bootleg version. We're talking 30 episodes of remastered perfection (26 for the original show and four director cut episodes) for under $50 online; a steal compared to the price of the other versions that have come out in the past. As such, I thought it was worth a rating of Highly Recommended for anyone not caring for the extras and/or wanting to upgrade their older boxed sets. This is great stuff people and still ahead of its time on most levels.
Picture: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Complete was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame it aired with in Japan during the mid 1990's. The anime style itself was somewhat dated from the newest and highest budget stuff of recent years but still holds up remarkably well considering the length of time this one has been out. I did a side by side comparison and the difference between the original releases and the remastered "Platinum" releases are enough that anyone who truly enjoys the show will want to splurge and pick this one up to supplement their collection. The colors were accurate, the DVD mastering top notch, and the anime style well suited to the thematic material offered up in the set. There was a noticeable drop off in quality towards the latter fourth of the series, using stationary scenes increasingly as though the budget dried up but this added some depth to the show too.
Sound: The audio was also updated with the Platinum edition releases and this time, the Japanese track was given the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround treatment. I'd long thought the English dub was superior in terms on music and special effects due in large part to the way that ADV Films made some significant improvements on it from the 2.0 track (as I recall, this was considered a labor of love at the company with only a chosen few allowed the prestige of working on it; based on talent rather than the usual office politics companies are known for). So, while both tracks were improved this time, the Japanese track received the brunt of the improvements this time with some solid separation added, depth of field increased, and dynamic range reworked to squeeze out a cleaner sound than possible previously. Keep in mind though that each track received a thorough scrubbing to make them sound better.
Extras: There were some trailers but this was the one area of sacrifice needed to bring the price down and the number of discs down to a mere six instead of the original seven. I wish I had access to the commentary tracks and other features but the tradeoff was just too significant to pass up.
Final Thoughts: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum Complete is a highlight release for a company already known for doing a great job when they have something solid to work with. The story itself is among the top sellers for a reason, the sheer quality of the show befits a premium release on DVD, but the value of the new set will be likely to get a lot of people off the fence and pick this one up. As ADV Films continues to release improved versions of beloved shows in the value oriented boxed set format, I see a bright future for them although I state again that providing the extras on a separate disc might work well too (to get people to at least rent them or shell out extra dough for them). Good work ADV Films!
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.