While still a brain-bender for auds not up to speed with this long-running Japanese anime about teenagers defending the world from machines of mass destruction, “Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance” stands more chance of attracting new followers than 2007 predecessor “Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone.” Just as visually exciting, and with greater substance in its philosophical concerns and religious references, “2.0” grossed a heavenly $40 million in its June domestic release — almost triple the take of “1.0.” Success in proven “Evangelion”-friendly regional markets is assured, with handsome DVD and merchandising dividends to follow just about everywhere.
Starting life as the 1995 TV series “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” the story was wrapped up the first time around in the 1997 feature “Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion.” Following generally negative fan feedback to that film, creator Hideaki Anno is now retelling the whole saga with significant plot expansion and the promise of a retooled conclusion. Two further chapters are planned.
Setting is “Tokyo 3,” an outpost in a future world devastated by “Second Impact.” Attacked by alien mecha-behemoths known as Angels, what’s left of Earth is defended by giant “Eva” robots piloted by high school students. Selected for duty by NERV, a top-secret military organization, the children are linked to their Evas by a design feature that channels the spirits of deceased family members into the machine’s circuitry.
That concept is just one small layer in an elaborate network of metaphysical, philosophical and religious currents swirling around motherless lead pilot Shinji (voiced by Megumi Ogata), the troubled son of emotionally distant NERV scientist Gendo Ikari. Rebelling against his pre-destined path, Shinji is brought back into the fold by teacher/mother figure Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi) and fellow pilot Rei (Megumi Hayashibara), a lonely girl Shinji has become fond of.
Characters are much more developed in this installment, but spectacular Eva-vs.-Angel clashes and heavy-duty ruminations on the future of humankind remain the order of the day. Borrowing from the Old Testament without preaching any religious line, Anno’s script turns much of the discussion at NERV headquarters over to matters such as unlocking secrets in the Dead Sea Scrolls, finding the “Key of Nebuchadnezzar” and creating the ultimate Eva Mark VI machine that can serve the purpose of “a real god.”
Some of this talk is strictly for anime geeks, but the complex internal mythology driving “Evangelion” has a number of “Da Vinci Code”-like hooks that could inspire newbies to check out the backstory.
Co-directed by Anno, Masayuki and Kazuya Tsurumaki, the pic remains true to the overall aesthetic of a series that’s now 14 years old. Mechanical designer Ikuto Yamashita is at the top of his game, adding subtle new touches to the humanoid look of existing Eva units and creating Angels with memorable morphing and shape-shifting capabilities. Other technical work is outstanding. A one-minute trailer for “Evangelion 3.0: Quickening” follows the end credits.