Last updated February 11, 2005.

September 10, 2002:

Two quick notes on the Neon Genesis Evangelion:  Death & Rebirth DVD:

(1) The English dub for Evangelion is absolutely brutal. It's not the worst dub ever by any means, but it is stereotypically awful. The voices are all wrong for the characters and the acting is atrocious. The dubbing was bad during the series, and it's bad here.

(2) The commentary track for this movie is astonishingly bad. I am absolutely aghast. I confess that I did not even listen to the whole thing; there just was not any way I was going to sit through two hours of Amanda Winn Lee. Frankly, I am amazed I got as far as I did (about 20 straight minutes, then I started skipping ahead to key scenes). WORST. COMMENTARY. TRACK. EVER.


(It would have been okay with just Taliesin Jaffe's color commentary.)

In other news, Death & Rebirth itself is actually much better than I had heard. There will probably be more on that later.

September 26, 2002:

Before introducing Manga Video's region one DVD of Evangelion:  Death and Rebirth I would like to expand on my earlier remarks by explaining why I believe its dub is horrible and why I absolutely loathe its commentary track.

I generally despise dubs for two major reasons. First, voice acting and casting1 in dubs tend to be very poor. This is true for dubs of live action movies and it is worse for animation (probably due to budgetary constraints and an American tendency to hold the medium to a lower standard). Second, I often find that dubs violate the original work from an artistic standpoint. That is, the actors and directors tend to take creative liberties when recording dubs—ad libbing lines, re-writing dialogue, sometimes cutting or changing entire scenes—they attempt to interject their own creative identity into a work when they should actually be respecting the original corpus.2

The Death and Rebirth dub and commentary track is guilty of both these transgressions. The voice acting is mediocre at best, and Amanda Winn Lee insults the viewer by heaping copious amounts of obsequious praise on her actors' abilities and performances3, then inadvertently qualifying her hyperboles by noting that some of the actors used to dub the television series could not be found to reprise their roles; it certainly does not speak highly of these voice actors if their peers (as Lee puts it) "dropped off the face of the earth."

In addition to having a poor dub, the commentary track compounds existing problems and invites new insults as it competes for the title of WORST. COMMENTARY. TRACK. EVER. Amanda Winn Lee and her cohort Jason C. Lee are positively triumphant as they boast about their violation of the original work. For example, they comment about their decision to replace the following sound effect used for this scene transition:

Direct Quotes:
J.C. Lee:   On the original Japanese soundtrack, that sound was a much less pronounced shot.
A.W. Lee:   It sounded like someone got slapped! [Giggles.]
J.C. Lee:   We weren't happy with that so we put in a great gunshot.
Me:   Jesus H. Christ. You idiots.

The sound effect on the original Japanese soundtrack sounded like a slap because it was a slap! In context, it is absolutely clear that the slap comes as one character strikes another while quarreling. The sound effect is a transition that joins (1) a clip taken from the original television series which itself ended in a very convincing gunshot with (2) a new scene animated for Death and Rebirth. [Edit: Actually, it was animated for a Director's Cut of one of the episodes.] The old clip segues into the new scene by showing the aftermath from this gunshot. [Highlight to read spoilers.] It is obviously a shocked Asuka in denial smacking Shinji in the face after he informs her of Kaji's death. The scene ends with Asuka and Misato weeping. I'm absolutely dumbfounded the morons "improving" the soundtrack for the dub remained completely oblivious.

Asuka reacting to Shinji's news
Asuka in Evangelion:  Death and Rebirth

In addition to displaying a dismaying disregard for the film's original vision, the tone of the commentary track is entirely inappropriate. The participants announce from the outset that their commentary would be lively and jovial to offset the serious and somewhat dark nature of the film. Amanda Winn Lee proudly does the disservice of describing herself as the "bubbly" portion of the commentary. ("Bubbly," of course, was said in an exaggerated, obnoxiously squeaky tone.)

From a thematic standpoint, it's a train wreck. Although the lighthearted nature of their banter would have been appropriate for a comedy (the reader is encouraged to listen to the commentary tracks on the Ghostbusters and Clerks DVDs to hear examples where this approach works), it is entirely out of place on Death and Rebirth. The second half of the Evangelion television series grows increasingly heavy and humorless. It is dark and full of despair. Death and Rebirth intentionally underscores the most depressing elements of the series; it catches Evangelion on its sharp emotional decline just before it hits rock bottom. As such, the juxtaposition of the film's seriousness and the commentary track's whimsical, flippant tone is catastrophically bad. Combined with the specter of the participants' general incompetence and obtuseness, listening to the commentary track is like watching the movie while sitting behind a bunch of irreverent idiots who won't stop talking. I kept expecting A.W. Lee to make a few calls on her cell phone.

I would like to absolve the color commentator, Taliesin Jaffe, from the brunt of the above accusations. I found many of his comments rather insightful. It was apparent that he actually put a lot of thought into the film and respected its artistic intentions. The rest of the commentary track, however, is pretty much useless. I wish to God there was an option to mute Amanda Winn Lee and Jason C. Lee from the commentary.

Dubbing and commentary track aside, Evangelion:  Death and Rebirth is far better than I had heard.

The ending of the Neon Genesis Evangelion television series is controversial, largely because many fans find its final two episodes unfulfilling. Additionally, the entire second half of the series sharply contrasts with the first half. The show quickly abandons its humorous elements and what little optimism that exists. In response to the heated controversy, two films were created as a kind of "second ending" to the series.

Death and Rebirth represents two thirds of this second ending. That is, Death and Rebirth is comprised of two parts:   Death is a clip-show summarizing the series from episodes 1-24. There is some new material and a few of the older scenes were also re-animated at a higher quality. Rebirth consists of entirely new material and is considered Episode 25' (i.e., Episode 25-prime). It ends on a rather nasty cliffhanger.

Rei from a re-animated scene
Rei from a re-animated scene

A second film, End of Evangelion also represents two thirds of the series' second ending. The first half of End of Evangelion is identical to Rebirth, Episode 25'. The second half of End of Evangelion consists of new material and is considered Episode 26' (i.e., Episode 26-prime).

One quick note:   Episodes 25' and 26' are often referred to as the alternate endings meant to replace the original Episodes 25 and 26. I don't believe this is necessarily the case. The content is not mutually exclusive. One can easily interpret 25 and 26 as the "internal" ending while 25' and 26' are the "external" events occurring concurrently.4

Getting back to Death and Rebirth, I've often heard that this is the Evangelion movie that sucks. Having seen both Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion, I don't believe this statement is true. Although Death is essentially an hour-long clip-show, it is also incredibly well done. Furthermore, Rebirth represents the good half of End of Evangelion. 26' essentially tried to convey the same content as 26 except with flashier visuals (and one admittedly impressive mecha melee).

Ultimately, I don't think 25' and 26' really needed to be made. For one thing, 25' and 26' mostly serve to make the viewer hate Ikari Shinji. The original Episodes 25 and 26 tried to make us like him. (This will probably be explored in greater detail if I ever get around to reviewing End of Evangelion, hopefully requiring less than 100,000 words.)

No Eva fan should forego Death and Rebirth. Heck, it's worth it for its beautiful end credits (presented in the middle between Death and Rebirth) alone.


Footnote 1
For example, what in tarnation did they do to poor Ibuki Maya? I'm sorry; sweet, sweet Maya may be a lesbianr1, but she's not a dyke.

Footnote 2
For example, consider the controversy regarding Hideo Nomo's translator when Nomo first joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unbeknownst to Nomo, his translator had taken it upon himself to "punch up" the interviews and post-game comments by interjecting more colorful and enthusiastic remarks. This practice ignores the whole purpose of having a translator. The translator, and a dub, should serve to simply address the language barrier, not transform or hijack someone else's original work. The violation is no less obscene than an arrogant high school drama teacher re-writing Shakespeare to "improve" it. Even in theater, where contrasting interpretations are encouraged, the original text cannot be re-written—only cut for length. With film, any differing interpretations should be found only in the impressions of the audience, not in the "vision" of some hack.

Footnote 3
Despite Amanda Winn Lee's claims to the contrary, Evangelion really does have a tragically poor English dub. Discriminating viewers who wish to hear some English dubbing and voice acting that actually are good should sample Cowboy Bebop, Disney's English dubs of Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, and the voice acting performed for the WB's Batman and Superman Adventures.

Footnote 4
My suggestion for someone viewing Evangelion for the first time is to watch Episodes 1-24 in sequence. Then Death & Rebirth, then Episode 25, then End of Evangelion, and finally Episode 26. (All in the original Japanese, of course.)

End notes:

End note 1:
[Highlight to read spoilers.] I believe it is debatable whether or not Maya is actually a lesbian. Signs suggesting lesbianism include (1) her boyishly short hair, and (2) her vision in End of Evangelion where she sees Akagi Ritsuko as Rei comes for her. However, (a) by itself, the hair doesn't mean anything, (b) she openly admires her senpai—seeing her in the final moments is not necessarily indicative of any sexual attraction. Finally (and most convincingly, in my opinion), (c) Kaji hits on her fairly confidently, and I trust his GAYDAR isn't completely out of whack.