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Evangelion: Death & Rebirth
 Christian Nutt  rates it:    

For years fans of the Evangelion saga have been waiting for Manga Entertainment, probably the most notorious studio in the business, to make good their plans to release the concluding chapter of the series -- the film The End of Evangelion. That's still on the horizon as of this writing, but in the meantime they've thrown us the same bone Gainax, the creators of the series, threw Japanese fans way back in 1997 -- the incomplete opus that is Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth.

When Eva ended its broadcast run on TV Tokyo in 1996, things weren't quite the way they should have been. Instead of a triumphant finale to the series, the last two episodes were confusing, abstract, and widely reviled by fans-- and the pattern repeated itself in 1998 when the VHS release concluded in the US. Due to censorship, funding issues, and time constraints, these two final episodes reached viewers without telling the full story in a complete and understandable way, and left many disappointed. They're inventive and unique, to be sure, but the series grinds to a halt to navel-gaze for two episodes right as it's reaching its emotional climax.

At first, series creator and chief director Hideaki Anno was unapologetic. When challenged about the ending at 1996's Anime Expo, where he was a guest of honor, his response-- in English-- was, "Too bad." But it must have been eating him up inside, because he shaved his head (a Japanese symbol of contrition) and got to work on The End of Evangelion. It was promised to be the ending that everyone had been waiting for, and would exceed all expectations-- and ultimately, it was, and it did. But before that could happen, Gainax released a digest film of the series: Death, and a thirty-minute teaser for EoE: Rebirth, to theaters, to make sure fans were salivating for the main event. It worked. But Death and Rebirth, which is little more than a stopgap measure, is of little interest to any but the hardest of the hardcore and those who simply can't wait.

The Death section of the two-part film, which is approximately an hour long, is a nonlinear recap of the events of the television series. Don't get your hopes up, though-- if you haven't actually seen the television show already, this is going to be little more than a confused mishmash of imagery, characters, and events. It's extremely artfully done, but it's basically a refresher course for Eva initiates. It's not even told in chronological order-- since it's character-centric, it follows the events and thoughts that shaped the main characters' attitudes leading up to the series finale, allowing you to slide back into the mentalities of these tortured souls for the start of Rebirth-- and, ultimately, The End of Evangelion.

Rebirth, on the other hand, is a quandary. It's essentially the first thirty minutes of the film, ending on a very nasty cliffhanger, and with little to offer that EoE does not. In fact, the Manga release of this program doesn't even have any differences from EoE-- which simply isn't true of the Japanese releases. It appears as if Manga has actually just cut and pasted the first chunk of EoE in between Rebirth's credits sequences, instead of actually presenting Rebirth on this disc. I was initially suspicious when first watching this disc before I even checked it out, because I'd read that Rebirth features some different animation and music from EoE. This disc struck me as identical. While there isn't much difference between the first chunk of EoE and Rebirth, there is some. I dug around in my closet until I found my taped-off-of-Japanese-TV copy of D&R, which I hadn't touched since 1998, and watched it again. Yes, it was different from what's on this disc. No, this DVD doesn't actually contain Rebirth, as far as I can tell. It's almost splitting hairs, but when you're dealing with something aimed mostly at obsessive fanboys, I can't see why you'd chance it. It's thankful that Rebirth is fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, serving as it does as mainly an extended teaser for EoE; for archival purposes, though, this release is suddenly pretty valueless.

It's not entirely valueless, though. Manga, along with the films, licensed something known in Eva fan circles as the Red Cross Book -- so named for its cover illustration. The RCB was actually the program for the theatrical release of End of Evangelion (in Japan, you can buy programs for movies -- kind of like some concerts and plays have in the U.S.) The RCB was an Eva fanboy's dream come true, and contains copious amounts of canonical information on the series, with a glossary and production information. Perhaps sensing that sales of Death and Rebirth were bound to be lower than the real series finale, Manga packed this disc full of RCB entries and other information. That makes it worth something to Eva fans, although much of the information has been available on the web for years.

Another interesting feature of the DVD is known as "Mokuji Interactive." This basically lets you access bits of the RCB (or "Magi Archives" as Manga has it) as the movie plays. There's also an audio commentary with English voice director (and Ayanami's voice) Amanda Winn Lee, Co-Producer Jason C. Lee, and "anime enthusiast" Taliesin Jaffe. Due to a serious quirk of design, though, this special content isn't quite as convenient as it could be. For some reason the disc is a double-sided one, like many Hollywood releases which allow you to choose between pan and scan or widescreen editions. But what this lets you choose between is the movie with special features -- or the movie without special features!

Evangelion: Death and Rebirth Evangelion: Death and Rebirth Evangelion: Death and Rebirth
The "Alpha" side contains just the film with English or Japanese dialogue and selectable subtitles, and the "Omega" side contains the film with English dialogue or commentary, the Magi Archives, and the Mokuji Interactive. Besides meaning that fans who want to watch the movie subtitled can't enjoy Mokuji Interactive, it means you have to flip the disc if you want to mess around with the special features (or see the spoiler-laden trailer for End of Evangelion-- if you've been waiting a long time to see the film, don't watch this trailer. You'll just get an eyeful of spoilers without understanding a bit of what is going on.) I don't understand why, if the film could fit successfully into a single layer of the DVD (and it does, and looks extremely beautiful, to boot) they didn't just opt for one single-sided, dual-layered disc instead of this awkward idea.

Evangelion: Death and Rebirth Evangelion: Death and Rebirth
Ultimately, Death and Rebirth was merely a way to get people excited for End of Evangelion. It is, consequently, not much more worth buying than a trailer. Hardcore Eva fans-- of which I am one-- will want to add it to their collection for completion's sake; and to be sure, Death is a brilliantly edited and cleverly framed recap of the TV series, complete with some minor additions (although the famous "Director's Cut" footage from the home video release of the TV series in Japan makes very few appearances.) The lack of the inclusion of the real Rebirth and the fact that you can get most of the special information on the disc elsewhere harms the release's value. If you're about to pee yourself out of desire to see EoE, rent this. Hold tight. The real thing will be here soon enough.

Added:  Thursday, October 16, 2003

Related Link:  Manga Entertainment
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