The fastest selling Japanese Blu-Ray release of all time? It can only be Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance... and boy does it look fantastic in full-on High Definition.
While Evangelion 1.11 was quite content to be a simple "remaster" of the first half dozen episodes of the classic TV anime, Evangelion 2.22 sets out its stall right from the off that this isn't your Dad's Evangelion, introducing us immediately to Mari, a new pilot complete with her own prototype Eva and a battle against the third Angel which was conspicuous by its absence in the first movie. Come the end of this impressive set piece opening, the Angel is destroyed and with it Unit 05, while Mari escapes to give us an interesting new face who looks set to match Ryoji Kaji when it comes to throwing a cat amongst the NERV pigeons.
No sooner have we caught our breath from that, and regained our composure via Shinji and father visiting his mother's grave, than we find ourselves in the midst of another Angel attack punctuated by the appearance of Unit 02 and one Asuka Langley Shikinami (yes, she's had a name change). Needless to say, Asuka dispatches her opponent with little effort but lots of style, before opening the way for some touches of slapstick comedy - Not a first for the Evangelion franchise, but this time around the attempt to get laughs seems utterly genuine, and perhaps necessarily given the dark tone of things to come.
Indeed, with the seventh Angel despatched, Evangelion 2.22 finds itself with plenty of time to probe and prod its characters and the dynamic between them, which in itself reveals a rather different Asuka to the one we remember - Although outwardly her tsundere service remains intact, she's far quicker to open up and both admit her deficiencies and directly acknowledge her loneliness. Yes, she's still a bundle of contradictions, but on this occasion it feels like she knows it and is almost brazenly unashamed of the fact. Similarly, the Rei of Evangelion 2.22 is a different beast as well, growing and maturing away from the "doll" Asuka sees her as into a more emotional creature - Indeed, Rei's part here and her character within the movie are absolutely instrumental in the story as it unfolds towards its climax.
As you'd probably expect from anything Evangelion, I could easily write a book about its characters and their inter-relationships, so I won't dwell too much on this side of things, but we also delve deeper into the bonds between Misato and Shinji (although not quite to End of Evangelion's extreme) while the links between Shinji, Rei and Asuka are both visually and verbally displayed in a far clearer fashion than they ever were in the TV series.
With all of those dynamics put into place, and with Mari literally dropping out of the sky to make her covert return, all of the pieces are in place to do what Evangelion does best.... Spend an hour or so completely fucking with your head until it hurts. After blowing Unit 04 and another NERV branch sky-high, Unit 03 is shipped to Japan for testing, meaning that Unit 02 goes into stasis and Asuka is assigned as test pilot for the newly arrived Evangelion. Yep, that's right, this time it's Asuka who has the auspicious job of taking Toji Suzuhara's place in Unit 03 as it morphs into an Angel, and Shinji once again quite rightly loses his head as Unit 01's newly installed Dummy Plug system goes beserk, destroying both Angel and (very nearly) Asuka. clearly delights in its misdirection before placing Asuka into Unit 03, doing everything it can to lead you to believe that Toji will be its victim before pulling the rug out from under you just seconds later, although the movie's biggest mistake is perhaps its choice of music as we see Unit 03 destroyed and literally ripped to pieces. Were Studio Khara and Hideaki Anno trying to soften the blow of what we were seeing on screen? It feels like it, but it seems hard to believe when it's put up against the rest of the Evangelion franchise.
Regardless, with Shinji walking out on NERV once again and Asuka quarantined and "damaged" both physically and mentally, we enter the "what the Hell just happened phase" of the film, featuring another deadly Angel, Mari in a "hackable" Unit 02, Rei's suicide mission with an N2 missile, and Shinji's return to save Rei, and perhaps the world.... or is he about to destroy it with his actions? Make sure you keep watching after the credits roll, or you're going to miss something rather important.
To call Evangelion 2.22 an incredible cinematic experience is, quite honestly, a huge understatement - Just like 1.11 before it, this is a simply beautiful film visually (brutally so at times), which shines and impresses in every scene almost without fail. This is matched against a plot that is sharply paced and produced for entertainment value as much as, if not more than, its shock value - Lessons have clearly been learned from past iterations of Evangelion here, and the simplified character development and addition of larger doses of humour are evidence of this. Despite using Pen-Pen (and a straw) as genuinely funny comic relief and wallowing in its moments of balletic action, Evangelion 2.22 doesn't forget the fans however as it equally thrives on delving into incomprehensible pseudo-scientific babble which serves as an excuse to serve up all sorts of insanity before blowing up the world and then changing its mind about doing do. You have to wonder what kind of deranged mind could imagine some of this stuff, but then you realise that you're glad that such minds exist and sit back to enjoy the ride.
In fact, "sit back and enjoy the ride" is probably the best advice I can give to anyone watching You Can (Not) Advance, particularly if (like me) you're a die-hard Evangelion fan. When I first watched 2.0 in the cinema just last weekend, I found myself fretting over the changes in character and the faster development of those characters compared to the longer, more analytical descent into madness and depression of the TV series. Truth be told, I still prefer that original treatment overall in those terms, but upon a second viewing I have a lot more appreciation for the things that Evangelion 2.22 does do better, as it highlights some of those inter-dependencies between characters that the original never really got to grips with properly.
Beyond that, now is simply the time to take a step back and treat the new Evangelion as a completely different work - It's brought us new elements to the Evangelion themselves, a new pilot in Mari who is (thankfully) fascinating far beyond her glasses and chest size, and there's clearly a whole, whole lot more to come in the third movie. As I said at the start, this isn't your Dad's Evangelion, so try not to compare it to the series you remember - Instead, take a deep breath and appreciate the jaw-dropping spectacle that Evangelion 2.22 represents. It seems wrong to refer to a world of such brutality, violence, death and danger as beautiful, but on further consideration perhaps that is what makes Anno's latest vision a beautiful world after all.