By Jason S. Yadao
Today’s profile: Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone
Rated: PG-13 (action violence, brief nudity)
Now playing at: Consolidated Kahala 8 (through Thursday)
The title of this film may be Evangelion 1.0, the first part of the Rebuild of Evangelion project, but what this film really amounts to is Neon Genesis Evangelion Version 2.0a — Gainax’s bigger, prettier, lavishly lush upgraded version of a TV series that aired in Japan between 1995 and 1996. Much changed between that time and when Evangelion 1.0 was released in 2007: Back then, Eva was an unknown commodity and Gainax struggled through financial difficulties to finish the series. Now, Gainax is probably swimming in cash from countless otaku who likely sent Hideaki Anno death threats over the TV series’ ending at first, then promptly turned around and bought into two movies, three manga series, a whole host of dating sims and more Rei/Asuka swag than two fictional female characters oughta have. (I mean, come on, Rei and Asuka mermaid figures? Really?)
The story, largely adapted from the first six episodes of the series, remains the same: Shinji Ikari is recruited by his father, Gendo, as the pilot of Evangelion Unit-01 to fight off invading Angels intent on setting off the Third Impact and destroying what remains of mankind. Shinji suffers from some serious abandonment and self-confidence issues (and if you wanted to slap him after the way he acted in the TV series, you’ll want to slap him even more after seeing him in the movie), but he also can go into a berserker rage when backed into a corner (read: whenever there’s a dramatic moment that needs extra emphasis and big explosions). Along the way, he meets the first group of characters in what has become a memorable cast: his commander/caretaker Misato; NERV head scientist Ritsuko Akagi; Rei, the silent, enigmatic fellow Eva pilot; and two classmates, Toji and Kensuke. Watching this unfold, though, one gets the sense that without a background in the way the Evangelion universe operates, this can all be very confusing (terms like NERV, SEELE, LCL fluid, Third Impact and Second Child get thrown around without much context).
The experience gained by the Eva production staff over the years certainly shows; everything looks more polished and smoothly animated than the TV series. Tokyo-3’s transformation appears more impressive, and the shape-shifting presence of the Angel Ramiel more menacing, now that both are enhanced with CG animation. Yet it all plays out like one super-sized episode of the TV series, complete with an eyecatch in the middle and another cute touch at the end (all I can say for those of you who haven’t seen it yet is to stick around past the end credits). And just seeing most of the main players in action again (Misato! Shinji! Ritsuko! Rei! Gendo!) thrills this veteran anime watcher to no end.
At some points, though, the film borders almost on self-parody, what with all the times crosses appear in scenes and the internal dialogues characters have that just scream, “HI THERE! I’M HAVING AN INTROSPECTIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL MOMENT HERE! THIS SCENE WILL VERY LIKELY BE IMPORTANT AS THESE MOVIES PLAY OUT!” The balance between light-hearted moments and drama has shifted to where — aside from the introduction of Misato’s apartment and her pet penguin Pen-Pen — serious gritty drama is pretty much all that’s left. That apartment scene, along with an earlier scene where Misato and Shinji are shopping for supplies, has in turn become an exercise in spotting gratuitous product placements, with Frito-Lay, Pizza Hut, UCC Coffee and Kirin beer all getting some screen time. (And when shopping for those items in Tokyo-3, please visit Lawson, the Japanese convenience store chain of choice as you bide your time between world-annihilating Impacts.) Don’t expect any resolution, either; Gainax knows they’re stretching out the story to four movies, so the story just bides its time right up to the “To be continued” card. (Three Angels do attack over the course of the film, though.)
Finally, a note to Funimation: The voice cast is great and all, but would it have killed you to add some on-screen translations of the Japanese text? (To be fair, this is a screener copy I watched, and this issue may have been fixed in the theatrical release. Still, it is a bit frustrating.)
Overall rating (out of four stars): ** 1/2. It’s difficult to judge the success or failure of the Rebuild of Evangelion project based on 25 percent of it, so I won’t try to do that yet. It’s an intriguing start, though, and I’m looking forward to see how the other films tweak the canon further. Fans will like it because, well, it’s Evangelion, what’s not to like? Anyone new to the franchise might want to wait for the film to come out on DVD, though, and use the time in between to watch the original series.