Review–Rebuild of Evangelion 01: You Are Not Alone (Or Are You, Mr. Anno?)

In which Michael fails to talk objectively and fairly about this refreshed version of the anime which started his fandom, and which gave him his first anime crush hero: Hideaki Anno, who is still the writer and director.

Update: Hinano has compiled a very useful visual guide to the graphical changes in this version compared to the TV show here. When seen side by side, the differences are astonishing.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, recently hailed by The Atlantic Monthly as “the most influential Japanese cultural product of the last decade” (comparable only to Star Wars here), is still the first word in what one might call “postmodern” anime. My eighteen-year-old self was bedazzled by its brutality, its psychological acuity, its raw depression, and–yes–its epic endings. It was an anime made to be picked apart, even when one discovers that there is not necessarily much to dig, especially regarding the religious symbolism. Nevertheless, some time ago on my personal blog, I attempted a massive statement and apologia for why Evangelion is still an excellent show, despite its well-known and fully acknowledged flaws. Its storytelling is slipshod. The characters become histrionic to operatic proportions at times. The muck often has the stench of self-indulgence, as personal therapy for Anno. And yet, what it gets right, it gets right so well, and is so bold in its vision, anime was still permanently altered in its wake. I remember fans debating fiercely about whether the endings in particular were worth anything, whether its deliberate obsfucation and fractured storytelling was deliberate or simply inept. Anno was just a second-rate writer, it was claimed.

It appears that Anno has taken some lessons about storytelling to heart these past 13 years, if this movie is any indication. Which may mean that the detractors had a point.

The movie has “second draft” qualities that are immediately apparent to anyone familiar with the show. Foreshadowing of later plot elements, such as SEELE, the Instrumentality Project, Lilith, and Kaoru now appear much earlier and much more clearly–clear to the point, in my opinion, of near-obviousness. The “made up as they went along” nature of the original is gone entirely. The directness extends to the emotional and psychological elements; Shinji’s famous train ride dialogues now appear in what are the equivalents of episodes 1-6 of the TV show, with very bald statements of his emotional problem: “I don’t get praised for piloting Eva. I hate it. Why do I have to do it?” If this movie has a serious flaw, it is that this is simply told, thrown at the viewer, as if it were not already clear from Shinji’s attitude and actions.

Mind you, this represents at most 10% of the dialogue in question. 90% of the dialogue is, in fact, word for word identical with the TV script of episodes 1-6, minus filler scenes. So is 90% of the footage, with the biggest differences shown in CGI backgrounds, incidental mechanical details and dialogue, and in the final battle with the Cube Angel (which now shape shifts in rather nifty ways). The first 20 minutes of the show is almost exactly the same as the original episode 1 to its very end.

What differences there are, however, are telling of Anno’s newer approach. Gone is, for instance, the use of flashback to tell the story of Shinji’s first battle. It is now told linearly. The beast-like nature of the Eva is much, much more obvious and brutal in that battle, as well. There is no more flashing text a la Godard, either. Shinji himself comes off as subtly different, too; he is still the same self-loathing, needy boy but receives a very different kind of encouragement which he takes to heart much earlier–“you are not alone,” which dovetails beautifully into the existing plotline of episodes 5-6 (the Rei story, which was the first glimmer I had that his show was something different). Is this what marriage has done to Hideaki Anno?

What hasn’t changed, of course, are the infamous “pillow shots” of power lines, train tracks, roads, and other urban scenery. Nearly all the original show’s iconic shots are preserved, and watching this movie really reminded me of just how many iconic shots there were–of how incredibly stark and compelling the original was visually. Anno is still one of a kind.

In terms of voice acting–these are the same seiyuu, all around. It’s notable that Kotono Mitsuishi, the voice of Misato, sounds distinctly older now in playing that role than she did in the original series and movies. Megumi Hayashibara, however, slips back into Rei very comfortable, as does Megumi Ogata as Shinji (though, again, with a somewhat deeper tone than before). What differences there are, however, are relatively subtle and minor; they are simply apparent to someone who has watched the original multiple times and has learned the timbre of the original’s voices.

I remember thinking as I watched this that this would make fine introduction to Eva for a newcomer who hasn’t been exposed to a franchise, a much better one than the TV show in a way. The graphics are significantly upgraded. The emotional core is fully intact, and the dark weirdness of the show clearer and evident from the start. Of course, it will take a while until the rewritten saga is completed and from the “next episode preview” we are treated to, it appears that some very significant changes are coming: Eva 05? Eva 04? New pilots? Well, at least it promises fan service, like it did in the old days, a promise they are likely to keep–there are nipples in this version, for one, not to mention much more copious amounts of blood.

Watching this movie is like watching an upgraded version of your memories. You know exactly what scenes and happenings are supposed to occur, and they appear all the more vividly and completely than you remember. The characters are substantially the same, and yet have somewhat different nuances, like you’re discovering new facets of people you knew before. The same emotional chords are plucked once more, like in the rescue of Rei by Shinji at the end, and yet, even though you know exactly how it was to play out, this version is varied enough to feel like it’s earning it again for the first time. What are you supposed to feel in situations like this? Shock? Laughter? Tears?

“Why don’t you try smiling?” he asks. And I did. Make me smile again, Mr. Anno.

Final grades and ratings to be assigned upon the conclusion of the Rebuild saga, when it will be clearer just how different and/or worthwhile it has been.

6 thoughts on “Review–Rebuild of Evangelion 01: You Are Not Alone (Or Are You, Mr. Anno?)”

  1. Interesting suggestion that this might make a better introduction to Eva. After a little thought, I have to disagree: because it’s told in a friendlier way, the movie doesn’t have the sheer wtf factor of the original show. People might think this was, y’know, just a movie.

  2. Damn, and I just finished watching it!
    Man, for some minutes I thought, hey! Nothing changed! Until some subtle differences began to pile up until real differences showed, just like you said – clearer and quicker taken to heart encouragements, clear asshole-dad, Kaoru already there, a new meganeko pilot???
    But damn, this is clearly much friendlier and to me, less hurtful and emotionally impactful, kind of like how the Gundam original Movies for me and many, kind of lessen the emotional impact of the Gundam original show.
    but yeah, nice cube angel with changes.
    What nipples? I didn’t see Rei’s nipples!!???Wherewherewhere???
    It’s nice to hear the same seiyuus, but yeah, everyone sounds older, except…How does Megumi-sama keep hers??? Amazing.

  3. Yeah, ok, Anno’s a genius. I haven’t seen “You Are Not Alone” yet but despite its flaws Eva is unique.

    But please, storytellers and manga artists, no more “imitation Shinjis.” I’ve had enough of characters like Shinkorou in Kure-nai, the male lead of School Days, or the wuss with the high-pitched voice in EF. Be imaginative and create your own characters. One Shinji is enough. A thousand “Shinjis” is too much.

  4. @IKnight: well, the “wtf” factor is either a turn on or a turn off for a lot of people. I think more than even the brainy psychodrama is the haphazardness of the original which is a liability for a lot of “ordinary” viewers, especially those new to anime. Who knows, however, how Anno will redo the latter half of the story, which is where all that stuff piles up anyway.

    @Ray: look at the infamous “Shinji falls on top of Rei” scene again. :)

    @Zhong: honestly, I agree. Though honestly too, Shinji was a primary reason I got into Eva, and anime in general. But wimpy protagonists who angst a lot has definitely become a cliche and an easy ploy for sympathy that really no longer works unless there is something more to the character.

  5. Shinji was still a unique character due to the cast and his circumstances. The ‘clones’ are kind of redundant because, for the most part, they don’t really have… ANYTHING about them that makes them special. I mean Makoto from School Days is an utter loser with not even the tiniest FRACTION of character development that Shinji goes through : d

    So while I don’t discourage that formula, I don’t particularly like it either when the character in question is horrendously empty and clueless like Makoto.

    *stab! who knew!?* *done ranting*

    I agree with the ‘friendlier’ approach actually, its almost clever too, because this is the first of the four after all. In this sense, it was a very well-paced and a consistent movie for possibly whats to come.

    oh and banzai/huzzah for the rei scene : d

    EDIT:

    oh and I also like the fact that this is technically NOT a Gainax production, even if the staff is probably ex-gainax and whatnot. Even if Gainax is stil making lots of money off this, but at least its a new start! …so says less cynical version of me!

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