Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Director’s Cut

Verdict: if you’ve already got the series on DVD, consider renting them, but don’t bother wasting your money to buy these two discs.

Lots of spoilers ahead. Duh.

Edit (May 31, 2004): Added paragraph about episode 25 previews.

For those who don’t know, Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime that on the surface looks like yet another giant-fighting-robot show but is really about the director’s prolonged fight against depression. (Yes, that’s an oversimplification; deal with it.) During its original production, it ran out of time and over budget, leaving the last six episodes a bit of a rush job and resulting in its infamous controvertial ending. The so-called “Director’s Cut” is a re-done version of the last six episodes of the series, adding more footage and replacing others, in an effort both to add some scenes left on the cutting-room floor due to schedule and budget constrants and to improve consistency with the movie that half-replaces, half-supplements the last two episodes. (Take a look at this old site to see what sort of footage we’re talking about.) The “Director’s Cut” version of the episodes for years were only available in Japan because the company that picked up the international distribution rights only licensed the broadcast versions of the episodes. Until earlier this year, when the two “Director’s Cut” discs were released in the US, sold separately.

So that explains what these two discs are. The question then is, for fans of the series, are they worth it? Well, let’s look at what the differences between the Director’s Cut discs and the two discs with the broadcast versions of the last six episodes are:

The most obvious difference is the aforementioned new material. Time-wise, you’re not getting a whole lot. At most there’s two or three additional minutes in each of the first four of the episodes. If you’ve seen Death & Rebirth, you’ve already seen the most significant of the material, plot-consistency-wise: a glimpse of the Second Impact, the regeneration of Lilith’s lower body after the removal of the Lance of Longinus, a shot of Adam embedded in Gendo’s hand, etc. Other prominent additions include an extended introspection-style sequence during the Fifteenth Angel’s psychic attack on Asuka, a scene where Asuka tries to woo Kaji while en route to Japan, an extended version of the fight against the Sixteenth Angel (i.e., the scene where Rei dies), and a scene where Kaworu conferences with Seele over what he’s supposed to do (added, no doubt, to clarify the connection between the two). The rest of the new footage is brief additions to existing scenes or reanimations of existing scenes, particularly the depiction of the Eva graveyard and the dummy plug (Rei clone) production tank.

If you’re counting minutes, the vast majority of the new footage is on the first of the two discs. Not really surprising, since the redone versions of the last two epsides is End of Evangelion, after all; as a result, the last two episodes have no added or redone footage whatsoever. That certainly makes the second of the two discs feel like a rip-off; the only reason I can see for releasing the last six redone episodes on two discs instead of redone episodes 21-24 on one disc are to directly “replace” the previous releases and, naturally, to sell two discs instead of just one to fans of the series.

So how’s the quality of these precious few minutes that you’re buying? Most of the added footage does help the narrative to flow a little smoother or to redo rough spots in the original versions of the episodes. Which isn’t to say I particularly cared for all of the changes. The fight sequence where Rei dies was certainly rushed though in the original version, and while the redone version better shows just what’s going on (e.g., why self-destructing Unit 00 killed the Angel), it goes a bit overboard, especially with Unit 00 morphing into an End-of-Evangelion-like glowing giant Rei before the explosion. The conference between Kaworu and Seele also felt weird, with Kaworu standing at the seashore when suddenly the twelve Seele monoliths appear around him. In all the other scenes where you see Seele it’s always in some sort of shadowy teleconferencing-type room, so this appearance, while explaining one of the previously fuzzy plot points, doesn’t seem to fit. I get the feeling that the creators of the scene realized this, having Misato, watching the encounter from a distance, point out that she just sees Kaworu talking to himself, implying that the conference is taking place telepathically or something. Um, OK.

What else do we get on the Director’s Cut discs? All six episodes have been completely retranslated. I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison with the original versions of the episodes (“I have a life, thank you,” he said as he considered working on Memorial Day), but the English translation generally seems smoother than it did originally. At least, some particularly awkward dialogue previously flowed much better this time around. The opening song is also retranslated; the new lyrics are largely just as inscrutable as they were before. I also want to say that the subtitles were easier to read than before, but that may also just be a function of my new TV.

Each disc also contains the original versions of the episodes, presumably with the improved translation. I didn’t watch them, but I don’t see why they would keep the old translations on them.

One neat thing about the second disc is how, at the end of episode 24, there are two teasers for episode 25. The first is the preview found on the original discs. The second one, however, is a preview for the original plans for episode 25 — i.e., the first half of End of Evangelion. (Organizing the movie into episodes 25′ and 26′ wasn’t just a framing device, after all.) It’s in the same sketchy “we don’t have any footage of the next episode drawn yet” style, but you can certainly see things like Unit 02 fighting the mass-produced Eva units. I personally love how these sketches are “animated” by literally putting a small piece of paper with the next image on top of the old one. It’s only a 15-second preview, but its presence suggests that the decision to abandon the original plans for the last two episodes still hadn’t yet been made while episode 24 was under production (why else would they have made a preview for it?).

The special features on the discs aren’t anything to write home about. The main extra features are previews of the live-action-movie adaptation of Evangelion that’s in the works. (Don’t hold your breath waiting for it; as far as I can tell it’s still in the pile-of-concept-art stage.) The first disc has an uninteresting interview with two people at Weta (the company doing the concept art designs; you may have heard of them from their special-effects work on the Lord of the Rings movies) interleaved with concept art. The second disc has, well, mostly the same concept art and no interview whatsoever. Once again, the second disc underwhelms. I can’t see these special features standing the test of time, whether or not the movie ever actually gets made; besides, thanks to the Internet, it’s not hard to look at the concept art anyway.

The rest of the special features aren’t too exciting either. There’s creditless versions of the opening and closing sequences. Oh boy. You also get advertisements previews for other DVDs the company sells. Whee. Well, to be fair, I suppose it’s still more special features than the original discs had.

Anything else? Well, the menus on the original discs felt a little shaky, so I guess that’s fixed. And, um, the cover art’s different. Oh, the white-text-on-black-background screens (which show up quite a bit in the last two episodes) are a little truer to the originals. Instead of entirely replacing them with English text, the Director’s Cut discs subtitle the original Japanese text. If you’re of the “change the original as little as possible when translating” ideology, this is a small improvement, but not all that big a deal, especially if you can’t read Japanese.

So, the big question: should you bother? If don’t already have the series on DVD and are looking to get it, I don’t see any reason not to go with the Director’s Cut discs instead of the old discs 7 and 8 of the original release, since even if you don’t like the added footage you can watch the original versions of the episodes. On the other hand, apparently this summer there’s going to be yet another rerelease of the series on DVD, this time with remastered episodes and commentary by the translators, and it’ll apparently include the Director’s Cut versions of the last episodes too. If that’s the case (I don’t know for sure; I just found about this so-called Platinum release now when trying to look up the prices on the Director’s Cut discs), you could well be better off not buying anything now and waiting for that to come out. (I suppose the moral here is, never think that Gainax isn’t going to keep trying to milk Evangelion for all it’s worth.) Looks sort of like a play from the Lord of the Rings playbook: release the DVD, then a few months later release a better version with more features and a higher price. Give us all your money, fanboys!

If, like me, you already have the series on DVD, I really can’t see any compelling reason to shell out $40+ for what amounts to a few more minutes’ worth of footage and a moderately better translation. The second disc especially looks like a rip-off, with wimpy extra features and two of its three episodes entirely unchanged (except for the translation). If you’re a fan of the series it’s probably worth a rental, just to see the added scenes and redone animation; you get a better feel for it than you do just reading about the differences. I’ve got no regrets from renting it, but I’d almost certainly feel cheated out of my money by the second disc if I had bought them.

If you’ve never seen the series, I can’t see why you’d want to jump into it starting at episode 21, so the Director’s Cut certainly isn’t for you (at least, not yet). And if you don’t like the series, well, you probably didn’t even bother reading this far anyway.

Comments are closed.