Neon Genesis Evangelion is an amazing piece of fiction. It has some of the best-looking animation of the era of it’s creation, a fantastic soundtrack that perfectly matches whatever it is played over and some of the greatest and deepest characters ever conceived. It’s only flaw worth even paying much attention to is the fact that there were so many aspects of the story that could have been changed or improved to increase the amount of drama involved and make character development flow even more smoothly than it already does. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I found out that the second remake movie was going to drastically change some things surrounding the story and world. We could at last get the perfect version of Evangelion: Even better animation, a more accessible story and possibly even a fresh take on the characters. You can also imagine my disappointment, then, when it turned out that Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Redo was not only be a mediocore standalone movie at best but also an insult to the original characters that made the original series so great as well as the catalyst for the destruction of everything I personally loved about the series in the form of 3.33. SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING BUT ANGELIC DAYS
For all of it’s amazing cinematography and voice acting, 2.22’s characters ultimately ends up being so absurdly oversimplified and underdeveloped by the climax that the entire thing gets dragged down to average at best as a result. The first and most obvious causes of this is this is how little sense Rei and Asuka make as characters in this film. In order to explain why, though, I first need to clarify: These characters are, for all intents and purposes, COMPLETELY different characters than the ones displayed in Neon Genesis Evangelion. The universe is different in several fundamental ways, meaning that they are not the same people as in NGE. The characters act in completely different manners, so even if the rebuilds turn out to be a sequel series to End of Evangelion these most likely aren’t the same people as the original series, meaning we can’t use that to fill in the blanks in their characters here. Heck, even Asuka’s last name was changed for what seems to be no reason at all besides distinguishing the differences between the two.
With that in mind, what do we really know about Rei Ayanami? Not much. At the end of 1.11 she’s proven that she’s a capable Eva pilot who holds Gendo in very high regard, but beyond that is incapable of expressing emotion. In NGE, this is expanded on through moments like Rei’s poem in episode 14, and is brought to a legitimate conclusion with her gaining a soul and thus the ability feel emotion by the time that she chooses to allow Shinji to control Third Impact in End of Evangelion. In 2.22, none of that happens. She simply starts falling in love with Shinji for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It’s very clear in 3.33 that the Rei clones don’t have souls, so there is absolutely no way that Rei should be able to feel this emotion in this stage in her character development. And even if she did have a soul, it still would be pretty ridiculous to fall in love with someone just because they made sure that your survived an explosion that they were partially responsible for creating in the first place.
Beyond this, there isn’t anything more to Rei’s character at all. None of what is discussed in Episode 23 or 25 of NGE is ever brought to light, and nothing else about her is explained. The closes the film comes to this is it’s rendition of the famous elevator scene, which just further establishes the fact that she does in fact have emotions without ever having done anything to gain a soul. The Rebuild version of Rei simply lacks all of the depth and realistic development required to make a character believable and compelling to watch overcome challenges and live life.
Worse off than Rei in this regard, however, is Asuka. Asuka has always been criticized for being unlikable and mean to everyone around her, and while these criticisms are absolutely not justified when used to refer to NGE Asuka (for reasons that I will get to when I’m discussing why this film was offensive to fans of the original show), they become completely accurate when used to describe Rebuld Asuka. With the exception of her phone call with Misato, she never expresses grattuede or kindness towards another person. She acts like a jerk to Shinji on the boat, she misunderstands Rei on the elevator and generally speaks as if everyone around her is below her. These actions would be fine if they were justified, but we only get glimpses into Asuka’s surface-level personality in this movie and are thus unable to connect to her and understand these actions.
Also she’s constantly exploited for fanservice in one of this movie’s only two moments of attempted character introspection.
Both of these characters fundamentally suffer from the same issues: We don’t know enough about them to justify their behavor, and if the audience they are the same as they are in NGE a lot of their actions don’t make sense, such as Asuka accepting such a horribly designed Plug Suit and Rei feeling emotion. These characters simply don’t function in a standalone film.
Shinji himself, surprisingly, isn’t horribly butchered in this movie. He’s reasonably kind to Rei given what the two of them had been through at the end of 1.11, and his reaction to being forced to violently destroy Unit 03 with Askua still inside has realistic consequences for his character. He doesn’t get incredibly upset over the fact that he attacked Asuka in particular, but he does attempt to run away from Nerv so he is never forced to try and kill another person again. He even has a train scene, a common symbol throughout the franchise representing his attempts at running away but always ending up right back where he began out of necessity. While most of the dialogue in said train scene was Shinj stating what could easily be inferred by the audience, it at least makes enough sense that it qualifies as legitimate character introspection. It’s not even close to what we got in Episode 26, but it is enough to justify his actions, for the most part.
The only real problem with Shinji in this movie is the fact that he went to such absurd lengths to attempt to get Rei back at the end of the movie. It makes sense that he would want to rescue the only person that had even remotely expressed kindness towards him, but in this case he literally transends humanity and causes THE END OF THE WORLD trying to get her back. This didn’t happen when there was a similar situation with Kawaru in NGE, a person that Shinji was comfortable being told to chose the ultimate fate of humanity by in End of Evangelion, so there is absolutely no reason to be this attatched to Rei. It’s not character-breaking, but it’s still really annoying.
There’s not really much else to say about the characters in this movie, as none of them have any more depth to them. Gendo is an emotionless child abuser, Misato is an annoying exposition machine and Kaji is reduced to – Oh, wait. I forgot. Mari. Continued in part two.