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Neon Genesis Evangelion: Volume 4 (Platinum Collection)
Although I'd hardly call myself a hardcore fanatic, I've seen enough Japanese animation to be familiar with the genre. Of all the various shows and films I've had the pleasure of watching (Akira, Ninja Scroll, Macross, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, etc.), it really amazes me that I'd never really sat down to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, a short-lived series that first premiered in October of 1995 and aired for less than a year. Since its original broadcast, Evangelion has garnered quite a fan following worldwide, and has even spawned a few feature-length films in the process (Death and Rebirth, for example). While it may not feature an earth-shatteringly original concept or plot outline (especially within the boundaries of anime itself), Evangelion is a series that really shines with likeable characters, a strong undercurrent of mystery, and beautiful artwork (hey, just look at the screen captures for proof!).
Based on a Japanese comic book series (or manga), Evangelion tells the story of a young man's place in the world, A.D. 2015. Although this young boy (Shinji) has a practically non-existent relationship with his father (Gendo Ikari), he is called to meet with him while the city of Tokyo-3 is under attack by a strange, massive robotic creature known as an "Angel". Apparently, Shinji seems to be one of the keys to combat these Angels, and is asked (actually, more or less ordered) to pilot a technically advanced robot called an "Evangelion". Obviously, this is all a little much to take in at once, and Shinji seems reluctant to jump into such a deadly and dangerous situation. Eventually he reconsiders, determined to follow this new adventure wherever it may lead him.
Part of what makes Evangelion so compelling is its strong undercurrents of religion, philosophy, and basic human psychology. It's common knowledge among fans of Japanese animation that this isn't kid's stuff, and it doesn't pander to its audience. There's a lot to think about here---especially about your own place in the world---and Evangelion has a much deeper and more stimulating premise than a thousand episodes of Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh!. To make a long story short, it's rightfully deserving of its huge fanbase and a terrific "gateway drug" for future anime addicts.
With that said, the only thing that keeps this show from being perfect is the occasional feeling that we've seen bits and pieces of it before, especially in the forms of anime like the previously-mentioned Akira and Macross. It's by no means a cheap imitation, but several key themes and plot devices won't seem as fresh to anyone but those new to the wonderful world of Japanese animation. Still, the show's action-packed, dramatic sci-fi roots help to create a consistently satisfying series, and the mystery of certain characters and situations do a great job of keeping things interesting. During the show's original run, a total of 26 episodes were created. Apparently, Director Hideki Anno actually suffered a nervous breakdown towards the end of Evangelion (most fans agree that the series got a little confusing in the later episodes), but the show remains a popular favorite of many anime fanatics.
With the original DVD releases of Evangelion on DVD---including the ironically-titled "Perfect Collection"---die-hard anime fans got the standard "anime on DVD" treatment: decent techincal presentations, little to no bonus features and a stiff $30 price tag. These new "Platinum" discs improve the technical presentations, add a few bonus features, but keep the stiff price tag. Earlier entries in the Platinum series have included four or five episodes, but this fourth volume contains only three. Combine that with a slightly smaller amount of bonus features than usual, and we've got a unfortunate trend that'll hopefully be corrected soon. To be fair, though, the three episodes are excellent in their own right, and include "Those Women Longed for the Touch of Others' Lips and Thus Invited Their Kisses", "Splitting of the Breast", and "The Fourth Child". All three episodes include a consistent batch of character drama and lighter moments, although viewers may occasionally yearn for the action/drama balance found in earlier (and future) installments. Despite the slightly "smaller" scale of this three-episode collection---both in plot and actual content---fans can agree that the series' vast scope is largely kept intact. With that said, let's see how this disc stacks up, shall we?
Equally impressive is the robust Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound mix, available in the ever-popular choice of an English dub or the original Japanese (with English subtitles). I chose the original language track for the bulk of the viewing session, but also listened to a bit of the English dub as well (which is a quality effort, but I really don't like the idea of dubbing in general). Both tracks exhibited a great amount of punch, and the overall atmosphere and ambience were terrific. This is easily one of the best 5.1 tracks I've heard for any anime series, perhaps bested only by a few miscellaneous DTS tracks (such as those found on the Akira and Cowboy Bebop Perfect Sessions re-issues). Directional effects and LFE are also excellent, and really pull you into the action from the very first episode! If the remastered video wasn't enough of a reason to double dip, the audio easily puts this one over the top.
Although the animated menus (seen above) aren't flashy or terribly exciting, they're simply designed and make for very smooth navigation. Each of these three episodes has been broken down into the five customary chapters of most anime shows (Opening Credits, Part A, Part B, Closing Credits, and the Trailer for the next episode), and there was no layer change detected during playback. Packaging was also nicely designed, with brief episode descriptions provided on the back of the keepcase and an attractive overall layout. The keepcase also comes packaged in a sharp looking (but sorta flimsy) "Platinum" slipcover with embossed black lettering. Additionally, a nice 12-page character profile booklet is also included for easy reference. As mentioned before, English subtitles are also provided (although for some reason, some of the episodes' opening credits only feature Japanese subtitles).
The extras here are a little thin, even compared to past Platinum volumes. The first (and most interesting) is an Audio Commentary for Episode 15, featuring Tiffany Grant (the English voice of Asuka) and ADR Director Matt Greenfield. Fans have come to expect at least one new commentary for these reissues, and this track keeps the ball rolling as an interesting listen chock full of fun facts. Next up is a rather rough looking Animatic for Episode 15, as well as a 6-minute Interview with Tiffany Grant that basically allows the voice actor to showcase her mammoth collection of Asuka merchandise. Other included regulars are Clean Versions of the opening and closing credits, as well as a handful of Trailers for other ADV releases (including Get Backers, Peacemaker, and Samurai X Reflection: Director's Cut, among others).
All things considered, this is an extremely slim disc for the asking price. With just over an hour's worth of actual Evangelion goodness and only a small handful of bonus features, I'm afraid that most anime fans will likely be stuck in an all-too-familiar situation: paying entirely too much. Still, the show delivers, and the improved technical quality makes it a clear winner over the original release. Whether this improvment (and a few bonus features) is worth $30, though, is entirely up to the reader. Dedicated fans will have no problem justifying the double-dip, but don't say I didn't warn ya.
The anime cash cow has been milked once again, but there's still no argument that Evangelion is one of the genre's best offerings. Although the three included episodes in this fourth Platinum disc favor character development over action, they still help to close out a strong "second act" in the show's 26-episode run. Thankfully, the continued restoration efforts of ADV Films keep this series looking terrific, though the lack of solid bonus features will leave most viewers a little cold. While it's probably the weakest overall volume in the Platinum series, Volume 4 still comes Recommended...especially for those who haven't purchased Evangelion on DVD yet. In the meantime, one hopes that ADV Films will give die-hard fans more bang for the buck in the near future.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.