Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009) by Hideaki Anno

In this instalment of the “Rebuild of Evangelion” series we are introduced to a new Eva pilot, the feisty, confident Asuka Langley Shikinami (Yuko Miyamura), who joins Shinji (Megumi Ogata) and Rei (Megumi Hayashibara) in battling the Angels. There are a number of other subplots introduced here, with the return of Ryoji Kaji (Koichi Yamadera), a former friend of Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi) who appears to be involved in some sort of plot with the head of NERV. We also see more of the shadowy SEELE organization, and two more Eva pilots, Kaworu Nagisa (Akira Ishida) and Mari Makinami (Maya Sakamoto).

This time round there is much more going on in the story, with the film asking you to keep track of several plot threads. The film manages to fill its run-time with great character interaction, extreme action scenes with clashing Angels and Evas, and numerous mysteries to keep things interesting. Asuka is a great addition as she adds not only more firepower to NERV, but also another stumbling block for the socially awkward Shinji to tackle. We learn more about Katsuragi in this film, and even something about Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki) that goes some way towards explaining his cool demeanour. The film sees a step up in the level of violence, underscored with a rock inflected soundtrack from Shiro Sagisu as we see the Evas literally tearing Angels apart, and cities awash with blood. As in the first the animation is incredible in evoking a sense of scale. The film’s mix of mechs and metaphysics comes to a head in the final head-spinning moments when the fate of the earth and humanity are brought to a thrilling (almost) conclusion. This second film builds on everything the first did so well, the intriguing interpersonal struggles, the awe-inspiring action, while adding several more layers to everything to create a film that rewards re-watches for details that perhaps only become clearer with greater context from subsequent films.

“Evangelion 2.0” deals a lot more with the themes of family, friendship and belonging, as we see the children enjoying themselves, and even a tender scene between Shinji and his father. Asuka represents everything Shinji is not, confident and fiery, but both share a sense of selfishness and repressed fear of rejection. The film sets up various conflicts, between Shinji and Asuka, Shinji and his father, SEELE and Gendo, NERV and the Angels. It is a world in which there is no clear sense of right or wrong. Shinji is again forced to work out what he stands for. The film ends with an awesome, tantalising, bewildering cliff-hanger, that upends everything that has gone before and leaves you desperate to find out what will happen to the characters. An incredible sequel that brings together adrenaline-pumping action in a battle of truly Biblical proportions.

Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007) by Hideaki Anno

The earth is under attack from giant extra-terrestrial beings known as Angels. The only hope for humanity is the secretive organisation NERV who have created huge robots known as Evas to counter these assailants. The robots require a pilot and so Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata), son of NERV commander Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki), is conscripted to command the second of the Evas (the prototype being piloted by a mysterious girl named Rei Ayanami (Megumi Hayashibara)). Shinji is soon thrown into a battle that he does not want to fight, aided by Colonel Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi), and urged on by his school friends, Toji (Tomokazu Seki) and Kensuke (Tetsuya Iwanaga).

This feature film brings together the story of the opening episodes of the popular and influential 90’s anime television series “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, being the beginning of a “Rebuild of Evangelion” project. The film includes new scenes and improved visuals, utilising computer aided artwork to create beautifully detailed animation. The scale of the Evas is emphasised as they rise up from the underground base to stand alongside skyscrapers, or dwarf forests and powerlines. One scene shows the empty shell casings crushing cars as they fall from hundreds of feet. The film features a fresh soundtrack by Shiro Sagisu, who also worked on the series, that moves with the shifting tones of the drama; classical piano pieces, comedic sitcom-esque tunes for the scenes at Katsuragi’s apartment, and triumphant battle music when Shinji is fighting to save the world. The story benefits from being brought together in this way, making it easier to follow the numerous plot threads and see ideas develop without being divided into smaller episodes. Director Hideaki Anno has said that this is an attempt to present the story as he intended it to be. Although there is a lot going on, not only the vast city-sized duels between the Angels and Evas, but also complex interpersonal struggles, the film does a good job of keeping everything moving. “Evangelion 1.0” manages to create an absolutely believable world and introduce us to several concepts (Angels, Evas, LCL fluid, New Tokyo-3) naturally through the dialogue. We are brought into the story in media res and though there are numerous things that are inexplicable at first, it helps to establish a sense that these characters and events are real, that we are simply along for the ride. Only occasionally the film will slip into exposition, but largely the audience is credited with being able to keep up with what is happening. Things move from frenetic action during the battle scenes to more sombre moments as characters come to terms with what is happening in their lives.

The film is packed with mysteries that give it a forward momentum. No sooner have we got our heads around one concept, something else appears. This continues until the film’s final moment which comes completely out of the blue and provides a great hook for the future films in the series.

The strength of “Evangelion” is in its fantastic characters, who are relatable through their foibles. Shinji displays many anxieties and fears that are relatable, such as an unwillingness to put himself into danger and feelings of inadequacy. His relationship with his absentee father, who calls him back only because he needs him as a pilot is tough to watch, but creates a strong sense of empathy for him as we will him to find happiness. The character of Katsuragi, a hard-working and hard-drinking employee of NERV, is endlessly entertaining, both an incredible military commander, but also with a sense of fun. “Evangelion”, as the name perhaps implies, is a series that leans heavily on biblical allegory and references to Christian theology. The struggle of humanity against the angels can be seen as a struggle to liberate people from a dangerous ideology, or in a Nietzschean sense to exceed their current limitations. Characters not only face an external enemy, but an internal one and there is an argument that these may be one and the same. The appearance of Angel 4 at the time Shinji arrives on the scene suggests that the angel’s behaviour is in some way linked to that of the protagonists. “Evangelion” is a series that has so much to enjoy, whether it is the giant mech battles, the emotional and psychological complexity of the characters, or the philosophical ideas concerning the future of mankind. An absolute must-see for fans of thought-provoking science-fiction and beautifully scripted stories.

Three-foot Ball & Souls (2017) by Yoshio Kato

Four individuals learn about one another’s lives when they gather to commit joint suicide. Happa (Kanji Tsuda) has created a 3-foot sphere packed with fireworks with which to carry out their plans. He is joined in a small shed by a young man named Baby Doll (Minehiro Kinomoto), each of them having chosen an alias on the online forum where they met. The two men are subsequently joined by Tsubasa (Shinobu Tsuji), and finally by high-schooler Tsukiko (Honoka Murakami). However, Tsukiko’s arrival makes the others uneasy, feeling she is too young to commit suicide. They attempt to talk her out of it. Through their conversations with each other we learn what led them to this point.

There is a major twist in this film that completely changes both the tone, and perhaps even the genre. If you want to avoid spoilers, then I suggest you check out the film before reading further. The majority of the story is focussed on these four individuals in a single location, relying on an excellent script with everything from black comedy to heart-wrenchingly emotional moments. By treating the subject of suicide somewhat lightly, the more emotional scenes pack more of a punch, the darkness of their individual struggles made more poignant by the lighthearted banter they engage in. The characterisation of the four protagonists is well-done, fleshing out particular archetypes through solid writing an excellent performances. Happa is a typical goofy father, making inappropriate jokes and trying to keep people’s spirits up. Baby Doll/Takamura is a downtrodden, nervous, young man, suffering work-related stress. Tsubasa’s story is perhaps one of the most tragic, and Honoko Murakami brings real passion to the role of Tsukiko’s shy schoolgirl dealing with bullying. As mentioned previously, the film begins as a low-key drama, simple setting, small cast, but following the first explosion, when the characters are transported back to relive the same events over, it strays into science-fiction. It is an interesting way of having the characters truly battle with the morality or necessity of suicide, in a way that would not be possible if they simply succeeded in their first attempt.

The subject of suicide is never an easy one. The film allows us to see some of the reasons why people are driven to suicide and to sympathise with the protagonists. Through seeing things from the perspective of others they are able to better understand their situation and discover a different path. The final message, that people can solve issues such as anxiety and depression through talking out their problems, may seem quaint, but is nevertheless important. A unique film with a determined focus on its theme and characters, that delivers a number of surprises and some excellent performances.

HELLO WORLD (2019) by Tomohiko Ito

Naomi Katagaki (Takumi Kitamura) is a shy, bookish high-schooler who is assigned to the school’s library team, alongside other students including Ruri Ichigyo (Minami Hamabe). Ruri is also quiet and it seems that the two would make a good couple if either was confident enough to make the first move. The Kyoto of 2027, when the film is set, is part of a large scale project by the government to record the city for a vast historical record. Naomi is forced into action when he meets a future version of himself who explains to him that Naomi’s reality is in fact a version of Kyoto stored in a computer system known as Alltale. This future Naomi (Tori Matsuzaka), explains that it is imperative that he establishes a romantic relationship with Ruri and protects her from a tragedy that is to occur in the near future. With his future self’s help, Naomi sets about doing this, also being given a powerful tool to manipulate the simulated world around him; but things to not go smoothly when the system begins to reject the changes that they are causing to the historical record.

Based on a screenplay by Mado Nozaki and directed by Tomohiko Ito, “HELLO WORLD” switches up the highschool romance formula with elements of time-travel and science-fiction. Naomi is a familiarly sympathetic awkward teen, who struggles to confess his feelings to Ruri, who later transforms into something more akin to a superhero along with world-changing powers. It is an interesting dynamic, drawing together the two genres of high-school romance and superhero action. The film pulls several narrative twists throughout that keep things interesting and break with tradition, reveals about the true nature of the world and character motivations.

Heavily utilising computer-aided design and animation techniques, these stylistic choices pay off later in the film with truly incredible moments when Naomi’s reality begins to break apart around him. The use of computer animation also allows for a striking contrast between rainbow coloured elements and hyper-realistic backgrounds that gives the film a unique feel and helps further the sense of a world that is at once tactile and believable yet prone to collapsing into a the maelstrom of a corrupted computer system. The visualisation of computer program elements, a mix of authoritarian police officers and folkloric animal spirits further demonstrates the film’s creative blending of genres and styles. It is a testament to the strength of the protagonists that with such a chaotic backdrop of collapsing realities, not to mention the very nature of their own existence, that the central relationship between Naomi and Ruri manages to hold our attention and inspire sympathy for their situation.

“HELLO WORLD” is a curious film as it juggles several plots at the same time. Naomi’s relationship with Ruri, his attempt to become the hero of his own story, win the beautiful maiden and save her and the world from its impending doom, is a familiar journey for young male protagonists. Through his spiritual and emotional guide, the older version of himself, he learns to be confident and finally manages to transcend even his ‘all-knowing’ mentor to become able to direct his own destiny. The other theme the film tackles is the nature of reality and questions around fate, free will and the purpose of our personal struggles. Naomi takes the knowledge that he is part of a computer program surprisingly calmly, considering he is being told that he is not living in the real world, only a simulation. Everything around him is essentially pre-recorded and therefore predestined. This new understanding of the world around him gives him great power, allowing him to manipulate the events and people around them as his future self directs him to. It also challenges the audience to consider if it would be possible to alter this ‘reality’, something the computer program attempts to counter as it would jeopardize the stability of the system. More interestingly than these free will versus determinism questions, is the focus on Naomi’s own psychology. He continues to fight for Ruri, whom at first he is even reticent to talk to, despite learning that in fact this world he is in is not the true reality. It is an interesting dilemma and highlights the idea that humans can only interact with the world subjectively. To Naomi, his experience is all that matters; there is no point fighting for anything other than his own desires, even those of his future self. “HELLO WORLD” is a film that weaves a psychological science-fiction narrative through a romantic high-school melodrama, creating a story that toys with your mind as much as your emotions.

The End of Evangelion (1997) by Hideaki Anno

“The End of Evangelion” is not a standalone film, rather it is the conclusion to the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” anime series. Many fans were dissatisfied with the ending to the series, feeling that it did not deliver on the promises of what had gone before. I discussed this in my review of the series. Writer and Director Hideaki Anno and assistant director Kazuya Tsurumaki defended that ending, but also delivered this film, which covers some of the same ground as the original two episodes of the series but also gives more of the action that was a key part of the show. It is best to consider this as a companion piece to the final two episodes of the series. In fact this film is even divided into ‘Episode 25’ and ‘Episode 26’, essentially giving the same story from a second perspective. It begins with NERV having just defeated the final Angel, Kaworu Nagisa, and sees Seele order an all out attack on NERV HQ, realising too late that Gendo Ikari intends to trigger the Human Instrumentality Project with the Eva and bring about the end of humanity as we know it.

We do see several scenes that are hinted at in the end of the series, such as the fates of various characters, Akagi, Katsuragi, Gendo, Shinji, Asuka and Rei. It also does not shy away from plumbing the psychological depths of Shinji Ikari. After all, Shinji’s story has been the focus of much of the series, and it is his fate that is tied inextricably to the future of humanity. It is great to see Asuka fighting the winged Evas, and NERV HQ being assaulted, giving us a great action sequence to balance the more abstract philosophical art, something that was perhaps missing from the end of the series, which seemed to jump suddenly from Kaworu’s death to the Instrumentality Project. If nothing else it is a more traditional send off for the characters than appearing only in Shinji’s psyche. The film also takes the correct decision in showing the apocalyptic events that follow Shinji’s ascent to the heavens. There are moments and sequences that are hard to follow or understand and that is exactly as it should be. Nobody knows what would happen if humanity did harness the power of a god and attempt to rewrite its future so this is as good a representation as any. The stunning imagery of a giant spirit, the black egg, the fluorescent crucifixes, is something that defies complete exegesis, offering itself up to any number of interpretations. The film also draws together many of the themes of the show, including the mother-child relationships, the fear of death, the fate of humanity, the terror of humankinds violent nature, and the inability of people to ever truly understand one another.

This film should be watched after the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” series. It offers an incredible ending while staying true to the themes of the show.