Wednesday, February 20, 2013

(Belated) Animated Tuesday: You Are (Not) Alone in Thinking This Movie Was Long Overdue

Today I watched the film Evangelion 1.0: You are (Not) Alone.

You may have heard of the obscenely popular mid-nineties anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.  It was incredibly influential in shaping the giant robot genre as we know it and it is one of the most well known examples of genre deconstruction.  It had distinct imagery, memorable characters and dialogue ("I mustn't run away; I mustn't run away."), intriguing direction, and a director who was plagued by fatigue and depression, causing the show to culminate in an incredibly disappointing finale that was then replaced by an infamously gruesome and disturbing film.  It also had a really, really great theme song that haunts karaoke parlors to this day.  If you want my full feelings on the show, this review by JesuOtaku is one of the very few reviews of anything which I fully and emphatically agree with.  Basically, I think it had an enjoyable first half with lots of potential and then devolved into a pseudo-philosophical mess with pacing issues over the course of the second half.

This film is part one of a four part series to "Rebuild" (and hopefully reconstruct) the story of Evangelion.  Which is to say it's a reboot of the franchise.  I will never escape reboots, will I?  In this case, though, it is a sorely needed restoration of a series that shows its flaws more and more as time goes on. 

This movie retells the first several episodes of the series with updated animation, improved pacing, and minor story tweaking.  It also feels like a retelling of the first several episodes and the structure and pacing don't do anything to hide this.  This movie feels nothing like a movie; make of that what you will. 

The Rebuild Evangelion project has been called "Evangelion of its meds" by many (all of whom seem to be quoting some unnamed Mysterious Reviewer X) but this first film doesn't get far enough into or change enough about the story to reflect that.  On the other hand, it does tweak just enough to vastly improve one major element: the main character.  Let's talk about Shinji Ikari.
  • Shinji's character design and facial expression are subtly tweaked from the original so that he looks less like an innocent, young, gender ambiguous waif and more like a weak, troubled fourteen-year-old.  It took me a while to notice it, but through changing minor details in his hair, eyes, and facial structure (and major details in his facial expressions) he no longer comes off as a wide-eyed innocent and this helps to contribute to my next bullet point...
  • This film is fully aware of how much Shinji sucks.  He is a whiny, unstable brat.  He was always a whiny, unstable brat, but the TV series didn't seem quite aware of this, at least at the beginning.  This movie makes no bones about it, though, and it is wonderfully refreshing to hear characters say it and to see Shinji portrayed as such.  Somehow the acknowledgement of his loser nature and his cowardice (not in wanting to run away but in his inability to make his own decisions) manages to make him less annoying and more sympathetic. 
  • The streamlined pacing of this film allows for more robots and less Shinji being whiny.  There's definitely enough Shinji time to get the gist of his whiny-ness, but the film seems to cut out some of the more redundant whiny internal monologuing and whatnot.  And  I am grateful.
  • That scene at the end where they noticeably change the pacing of the overall series.  Okay, this has nothing overtly to do with Shinji, but I like that they put this in the first film and can't wait to see how it impacts Shinji's characterization.
It's been a while since I last saw the show and when I saw this beginning episodes I was busy looking forward to the episode where Shinji and Asuka go through intense dance training for our blue blood-red planet Earth humanity (more properly known as The Best Episode), but from what I remember, I would definitely recommend watching this film to someone interested in the story that made such an impact (Impact! Get it?) on anime and popular culture.  This film has me really looking forward to the second film, In Which They Make Obviously Changes.  The only problem was the lack of fantastic theme song  mentioned earlier, but at least there's a nice Hikaru Utada song at the end.

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