Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone
In this retelling of the famous television series, 14 year-old Shinji Ikari is summoned by his father to the city of Neo Tokyo-3 after several years of separation. There, he unwillingly accepts the task of becoming the pilot of a giant robot called an EVA and protecting the world from the enigmatic invaders known as "angels." Even though he repeatedly questions why he has accepted this mission from his estranged and cold father, his doing so helps him to gradually accept himself. The ultimate goal of the angels' attack, however, as well as his father’s true intentions, are yet to be unraveled.
(Adapted from Anime News Network's Synopsis)
“But what was the point?”
This question will, in some form or another, appear whenever the newest remake of a popular franchise decides to invade the box office, and each year I get more and more dismayed at the sheer quantity of vastly inferior retellings that appear on the scene. We have a rare exception in the case of the second incarnation of Neon Genesis Evangelion, however, in that it acts much more like a story given “another chance” to flower and thrive, complete with the personnel (down to the original voice actors) who originally made it as famous as it was. You Are (Not) Alone, the first entry in the series, is a powerful retelling with enough design overhaul and subtle yet effective changes to characters, pace, and atmosphere to improve it but not necessarily make it feel like a different story. As a rabid Evangelion fan myself, watching this felt like flipping through a photo history in which gaps had been filled and colors redone rather than reading an entirely new history, but while one’s opinion of it will probably depend heavily on their attitude towards the original, I think that those who found certain aspects lacking the first time around will be pleasantly surprised.
I must make a warning before I continue any farther. Simply, I doubt that Evangelion 1.0 will make a huge amount of sense to someone who entirely lacks familiarity with the franchise, and the fact that I saw the entire series before I approached this film means that I am in no place to comment on that. I can observe that certain references that a fan of the series might take for granted fly by at rapid pace, and while the film does a good job of establishing its main characters, the secondary figures are treated as if we already know enough about them to not need explanation. It’s as if we’re being pleasantly reintroduced to “old friends” (which is, in fact, the feeling I get from this whole revamp), and if this is your first experience with Evangelion media you will likely come away feeling that something is missing. It is, unfortunately, also very difficult to talk about the film’s strengths and weaknesses without comparing it to the TV series, and the rest of this review will contain some mild spoilers regarding its first quarter. Those who want to experience the series as it originally was are advised to take a look at it and read this review only at their own risk.
On the surface, the most striking thing about Evangelion 1.0 is just how beautiful it looks. Aided by a feature film’s budget, the battles progress from exciting to magnificent, with the Angels displaying striking transformations in contrast to their more static TV counterparts (fans of the third battle in particular will be in for a surprise). I never thought that Evangelion looked ugly, but the budget showed in many places, and here, all of the mistakes have been cleaned up. The animation flows as smoothly as that in a Studio Ghibli movie, while the backgrounds are noticeably more detailed and the colors stunningly and wonderfully vivid. Meanwhile, the series' original composer, Shiro Sagisu, is given the power of budget and a full orchestra to make his themes effectively heard, and the result, which provides sweet adrenaline to the battles, hovers beautifully and mysteriously at the quieter moments, and, at one point, pulls out a haunting cello solo at the movie's loneliest moment, is astounding. The one thing that hasn't changed, however, is the character design, and while I was quite happy to see that Shinji and company were still recognizable, the 90’s-era designs, which I have never minded, do look somewhat more dated in the context of the modernized animation. It’s enough to make one feel that something is off every once in a while, but besides that and a single, anomalous shot in which a satellite photo is clearly being used a background (I suppose that live action footage had to show up somewhere), the second incarnation of Evangelion is both a visual and aural masterpiece.
The world we see here is much better-detailed and more strikingly post-apocalyptic than that seen in the TV series, and this, in my opinion, is a good thing. It’s pretty obvious that something bad has happened to the planet when the first view we get is of an ocean with blood-red water, and from the very start the crooked buildings, overgrown cities, and scarred landscapes give us a much stronger sense of destruction and desolation than we've ever gotten before. There is, additionally, a lot to be said about the benefit of being able to see the people whom the EVA units are protecting rather than merely being left to assume that they are there. In the original, we almost never glimpsed a person who was not a primary character or, failing that, someone who had a speaking role, and the streets of Tokyo 3 frequently felt eerily empty; here, we get effectively-placed shots of people going about their lives in the city, people being caught unawares by warning announcements, and people crowding together in bomb shelters listening to the battles being broadcast on the radio. NERV proclaims itself to be the protector of mankind and the planet Earth, and in this film, you see the humans that it, its machines, and its pilots claim to be defending. There is a concrete sense that there is a world and a population that, although respectively damaged and reduced, are still worth protecting. Although this may seem like a minor change on paper, I was very moved by it.
Indeed, the underlying theme of Evangelion 1.0, that expressed even within its title, is one of human connection and mutual support, an idea that the original series often lingered on but did not always express successfully. For an Evangelion fan, the most gratifying part of seeing this film will be finding the changes that have been made to its much-maligned protagonist: Shinji Ikari. The impaired social interaction, crippling terror, and everything else that made him into such an anti-heroic character are still present, and yet the film successfully and immediately makes him relatable in a way that the TV series just didn’t. He is noticeably more talkative, less grumbly, and, in the opening sequence, more grateful to Misato, and his more active responses make his relationships with her, his father, and his classmates seem much less one-sided and more like those of one who has the ability to function as a full human being. He is, to put it simply, a much more empathetic person. Seemingly minor additions make this film all the more relatable and the sense of mutual support immeasurably more tangible: in this version, it is very clear that the sight of Rei’s pain is what drives Shinji to pilot the EVA, and a seemingly insignifant new scene in which he receives an encouraging message from his friends makes his relationship with them feel all the more important to the story. And indeed, the second biggest joy to me came at the changes made to Rei herself, who, in the series, always seemed ripe for character development and yet never quite got what she was promised. Here, the series knows exactly what to do with her: it is the well-placed shots of her gazing at Shinji indecipherably yet not altogether blankly, a melancholic pre-combat chat between the two of them, and a subtly but beautifully re-worked final scene that give the film its heart. This time around, we know that something big will happen with Shinji and Rei, and we have already started to see it. The new touches are executed in a way that creates a sense of love and support for them and a tangible sense that Shinji is both fighting to protect the human race and fighting to earn respect, and it’s wonderful to watch.
But for all that the improved animation and character development can do, the film cannot escape the fact that its plot is virtually identical to that of the series’ first quarter. Those scenes that do not contain revamped designs are reproduced virtually shot-for-shot, and at times I experienced a fleeting but dizzying sensation of being unable to tell exactly which version I was watching. The pacing is noticeably faster, and certain, psychology-heavy scenes that originally appeared later in the series are carefully interspersed with the more familiar action sequences, and yet it does not hide the fact that the basic framework has not been changed in the slightest. As a result, the film is highly episodic, and while I was, for the most part, impressed by the filmmaking on display, with the aforementioned scenes doing an excellent job of holding things together, it feels the tiniest bit disjointed in places and somewhat inconclusive, although the fact that sequels were planned from the start means makes it hard to complain about that. While I found this to be an incredibly entertaining film, I think that it will work best for someone who liked the series but may have had strong reservations about its characters and pacing. For those who had no problems the first time around, it will basically be a nostalgia trip, and while the ending does throw some pretty big surprises at us, I was, for most of the film's run, able to tell exactly what was about to happen. Ultimately, it comes across as a tightened retelling than a truly riveting deconstruction, with a few, select touches hinting at the possibility for a dramatic change in future installments to come.
If the "point" of Evangelion 1.0 is to fulfill the promise to make its characters into a key part of the drama, then this film does indeed head down the right track, and even considering the fact that my opinion of Neon Genesis Evangelion is virtually indestructible, I love this film and have liked it more every time I have seen it. And yet, my opinion is that it still may be very best for those who were interested but vaguely dissatisfied with the original. I’m not convinced that someone who utterly hated the premise of the TV series will be won over, and conversely, the rabid fans will likely find this to be a case of “preaching to the converted”, although, as said, shameless fanboys like myself will relish hearing its sermon. In truth, there’s a lot to be said for watching an Evangelion that promises to turn into a new type of monster, and that is exactly what this film does: the changes that do occur make it very clear that when we get to the second entry, we will be in for surprises. And for any and all Evangelion fans out there, another opportunity to watch Angels be destroyed by giant robots has been given to you. I’d very highly recommend taking it.
I have tottered between four and five stars, and yet I cannot deny that I enjoyed this film tremendously and felt deeply moved by it. Those who do not enjoy mecha on principle, as well as those whose opinion of the original may be more reserved than mine, may safely remove one star. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: The humans in the movie suffer relatively little physical harm, as most of the violence that occurs involves the Angels being dismembered. These dismemberments, however, occur with an unsettling amount of blood. Indeed, the sheer amount of violence, however non-gratuitous it may be, makes this film inappropriate for young children, as does the small but noticeable amount of nudity.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone © 2007 khara
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