At NERV’s Euro Base, the dissected and carefully-studied Third Angel attempts a break-out, forcing Mari, an enthusiastic new pilot, to use the makeshift Eva Unit-05 to do battle. Back in Japan, Shinji and his father meet at his mother’s grave, but building a relationship between father and son is not so simple when neither really knows how to act around the other. On the return to NERV HQ the Seventh Angel arrives, but so does Captain Asuka Langley Shikinami, the Second Child, and her Eva Unit-02, to deal with that problem. Shinji quickly discovers that the temperamental Asuka is moving in with him and Misato and that her issues with relating to other people are just as serious as his and Rei’s. The three pilots get their first chance to work together against the Eighth Angel, and an outing to an oceanographic institute allows them to build on their opportunities to socialize and gradually break out of their shells. Shinji also meets and befriends NERV Tokyo branch newcomer Kaji (a past associate of Misato and Ritsuko), Rei becomes dissatisfied enough with the passionless life she leads to try to get more actively involved socially, and even loner Asuka finds herself talking seriously to someone (Misato) for the first time. Shinji’s brief encounter with the mysterious Mari signals a turning point which places a major roadblock in the path of all of them advancing, however, as the Ninth Angel comes in a devastatingly unexpected form and the Tenth Angel strikes when NERV is at its most vulnerable.
The second Evangelion movie was subtitled “Break” partly as a reference to a traditional Japanese technique used in drama and the martial arts. The name could not be more apt, because while the movie does reinterpret certain scenes from episodes 8-19 of the TV series, most of them happen in at least partly different ways which meaningfully change the thrust of the story; something as simple as Rei preventing Asuka from slapping her in the famous elevator scene carries weight because of what it implies about the different direction Rei will go this time. This version of Asuka is distinct from the get-go, too, as she is less bratty and more aggressively antisocial than the first one. She may have initially seemed to be the most socially adjusted Eva pilot in the TV series, but here she makes no pretenses about liking anyone – not even Kaji, whom she hopelessly mooned over in the TV series but doesn’t give a second thought here – and seems motivated as much by establishing herself in a future career path in NERV as she is by her personal pride. She is quicker to show her vulnerabilities here, too.
The other part of the “Break” is, of course, the new content. While the general thrust of the story remains similar to the TV series, there are some entirely new events and scenes here (the stuff on the moon, Rei’s planned dinner party), but none of those are as bold an addition as the new pilot. Mari’s liveliness and enthusiasm cuts such a sharp contrast to the established Eva pilots that her addition feels incongruous, but that is likely the point: she is intended to shake up the status quo and show that one does not have to be socially maladjusted to pilot an Eva. Though she plays an important role in two of the movies’ big fight scenes, she does not get enough screen time here for viewers to figure out much about her motives or purpose, but she is the breath of fresh air that the franchise needs and helps restore the sense of mystery inherent in the original series. On a more minor note, Toji’s sister, whom we heard mention of but never saw in the original series, gets a momentary appearance here.
The other big story here is the visual upgrade, which varies between being merely very good and utterly spectacular. Like Evangelion 1.11, this movie takes advantage of CG animation in everything ranging from modeling Eva movements to depicting trains to animating crowds moving in the backgrounds. Occasionally this looks a little stiff (especially the crowd movement scenes), but the rest of the time it provides a distinct upgrade. Character renderings and animation, while improved, are not always completely refined, but this was also a minor issue in the first movie. Backgrounds and scenes of clouds moving in the sky look great, however, and the Angel design and action scene upgrades are nothing short of astounding. The TV series is justly famous for reimagining how mecha move and fight, and now director Hideaki Anno has the budget and technical tools to truly exploit the distinctive Eva way of combat. AT Fields get used for dramatic offensive and defensive purposes, Evas awaken or go into Beast Mode, Angels change shape or grow extra arms when two are not enough, and the infamous Dummy System take on a creepy new form. Collateral destruction happens on a more massive and carefully-detailed level, too. Not one shred of the original series’ renowned intensity is lost in the upgrade; in fact, these are some of the most intense mecha battles ever done in animation, with graphic content in some battles strong enough that it could make some viewers queasy. Fan service gets a decided upgrade, too, as we get to see a lot more of Asuka (she gets her own version of Shinji’s nude scene from episode 2 of the TV series) and see her generally wearing skimpier clothing around the apartment. Late scenes also include some defined nudity, much like what was seen in End of Evangelion. While the religious symbolism this time is mostly restricted to the cross-shaped blasts and some naming conventions, less obvious examples of it are still there if one looks carefully; the oceanographic institute’s layout distinctly (and certainly not coincidentally) resembles the Kabbalan Tree of Life, for instance.
The musical choices used for this movie are also particularly interesting. Shiro Sagisu, who has directed the music for all of the Evangelion content (and is probably equally well-known for Bleach), outright borrows or revamps several themes from the TV series but also crafts an eclectic collection of new ones. Some scenes have electric guitar twang, while others have gentle piano numbers or lightly jazzy trumpet-based numbers. Two combat scenes gets heavily dramatic music set to Latin-sounding vocals, but the peak moments of the most gruesome one are set to a gentle, vocalized children’s song which, paradoxically, makes the scenes all the more horrific and the series’ climactic moment, with all its intensity, is backed by an equally gentle-sounding anthem; both of the latter two are sung by Rei seiyuu Megumi Hayashibara backed by a children’s chorus. That all of this works is almost as amazing as some of the choices made. The closing theme “Beautiful World,” by top Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada, is also a winner.
The biggest story on the dub front is that longtime anime veteran Tiffany Grant does, indeed, reprise her iconic performance as Asuka, and she adapts well to the tweaks in her character in this version (if sometimes reluctantly, as she laments in the audio commentary that she did not get to infuse any German into the role this time). Amongst other new roles, J. Michael Tatum makes an acceptable replacement for Aaron Krohn as Kaji and Trina Nishimura is a good fit for Mari in what was apparently a highly-desired role. Casting and performances on minor roles continues to be solid and Spike Spencer does an admirable job handling the challenging vocal straining required of Shinji in certain late scenes. The writing in this movies shades Shinji more away from his traditionally whiny nature and Spike is right on the money with that, too. The English script uses a bit more swearing than any previous Evangelion production but never sacrifices direct meaning or nuance in its revisions and, thankfully, keeps certain terminology the same as it was in the TV series dub even though the subtitles translates some of them differently.
Funimation’s production of the Blu-Ray release is an impressive technical achievement. The sound mixing, which uses Dolby TrueHD for both dub tracks, gives the movie a wonderfully full-bodied sound with lots of attention to minor details. The video is in full 1080p using a MPEG-4 AVC codec, which produces one of the highest-grade picture qualities likely to be found amongst anime Blu-Ray releases; it is good enough, in fact, to bring out some minor artistic flaws which might not otherwise have been readily noticeable. The single disk comes packed with Extras, including an assortment of Japanese promos and commercials, an alternate version of the song used in the climactic scene, a quartet of deleted scenes voiced and animated at the storyboard level (and all of them were wisely deleted and/or worked into other scenes), and “Rebuild of Evangelion 2.02,” a 22-minute feature which follow the artistic development of various scenes through various layers of production. It also has an English commentary featuring ADR Director Mike McFarland talking, in 10-15 minute segments, with all of the principle cast members and one of the sound engineers – and yes, that does include a rare commentary appearance by Spike Spencer. It covers, in total, the first hour and a half of the movie before defaulting to the English dub for the rest and is probably most interesting for comparing the varying level of VA familiarity with the title and its hard-core fandom. Also included in the bright orange case is a 16 page booklet which features nice renditions of Asuka and Mari, assorted production and design notes, a glossary of both content and production terminology, and brief character, Eva, and Angel blurbs. Those pre-ordering from Right Stuf also apparently got a NERV car window sticker as an added bonus.
Evangelion 2.22 is one of the rare anime movies that is as much an event as it is a movie. It is a glorious and exciting redefinition of the original series which strikes new ground without sacrificing the depth, drama, intensity, or humor which helped make the TV series the enduring classic that it is. At times it feels like it is rushing things a little, and certainly those who have not seen the TV series will not get quite as much out of it, but it delivers wonderfully on everything that it is supposed to do. The final post-credits scene and Next Movie preview will only drive fans into a frenzy over the all-new content of the as-yet-unscheduled third movie, and as anime franchises go, that’s never a Bad Thing.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A-
Music : A
+ Glorious and intense action sequences, exciting new developments, inventive visual upgrades, quality Blu-Ray production.
− Sometimes rushes things a little, minor artistic bugs.