In 1995, Hideaki Anno, a struggling animator at Gainax who was going through a bout of severe depression, released Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show which, while on the surface appeared to be another monsters-vs-humans mecha show, quickly became one of the most beloved, and yet fiercely disputed shows in history. With its unconventional characters and themes, the way its plot progressed and its bombastic theatrical ending End of Evangelion in 1997, the series proved successful at grabbing anime fans’ attentions, thus leaving a legacy behind that still continues to this day. The arcane meaning of the series remained poignant and definitive up until 10 years later, when Anno announced that he was going to completely reboot the franchise with the Rebuild of Evangelion series, which would retell the story with largely the same characters, same mecha units, and same circumstances, but with a completely different direction, one which reflected how he “truly wanted it to be”: minus the whole philosophical dialectic and the cheap pastel productions that the former is best known for.
Three long years of waiting have transpired before I could write up this post, but having finally completed the series just a month ago (when the fourth and final film came out), I am now going to introduce my thoughts on each of the films from the Rebuild of Evangelion saga, starting with the first two: Evangelion 1.0 – You Are (Not) Alone and Evangelion 2.0 – You Can (Not) Advance.
EVANGELION 1.0 – YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE / EVANGELION 2.0 – YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE
One of the major events that spurred Anno to revamp the series was detailed in the Japanese anime magazine, Newtype reported that, in late 2006, according to Toshimichi Ohtsuki, Anno watched the original series in its entirety, and delivered an epiphany unto him how truly divisive the series had been amongst fans since its conclusion. Added to the fact that he was not happy with some other fiscal features, namely the budget and time constraints that hampered the original series was faced with, he spurred on the task of retooling all the wrongs that happened, and churn out the “real” Evangelion. With that, the Evangelion franchise returned to the big screen on 1 September 2007 with this film, which saw most of the original animating, production and voice acting staff from the 1997 series lend their talents to its development, and instead of Gainax leading the way with animation, this time it’s Studio Khara, which was founded by Anno himself, which handled this feature.
A heavy amount of promotional marketing was made to introduce the film, with Pizza Hut, one of the sponsors, distributing wallpapers and pizza boxes to let everyone know about the upcoming film. In the days prior to the film’s release, large line-ups trailed theatres where it was to be shown, and its international presence was far and wide, being shown in film festivals at South Korea, Canada, Germany, and Singapore; and purportedly received a standing ovation when it was displayed at Anime Expo of Los Angeles, in 2009. Furthermore, it won several accolades such as the Best Anime of 2008 (with Anno being equally recognized for his directing ability) at the Tokyo International Anime Fair and the Best Theatrical Film award at the Animation Kobe awards that same year.
The second film was, after some production delays, released on 27 June 2009. Unlike the former film which was criticized by some for offering nothing new to the franchise, this one completely changed the story of Evangelion as fans knew it, not just by adding a new character, Mari Makinami, and her pink, British-created Evangelion unit, to the show, but along with some other noticeable plot divergences. Much like its predecessor, it made appearances in film festivals internationally, with locations in Spain, Ireland, Indonesia and Australia being added to the mix, and it arguably received more critical acclaim by those who enjoyed its new story additions, in-show material, and revised character personalities; but it wasn’t heavily marketed by sponsors as much as the first film did, nor did it win any accolades. However, one thing’s for sure: from here on, the franchise’s lore would only begin its evolution to something else totally radical.
I’m not even going to bother rehashing the plot of the first film seeing how it’s a near-exact replication of the original beginning: so I’ll just summarize it in a few sentences. Shinji Ikari, a 14-year old boy in Tokyo-3, is recruited by Misato Katsuragi to join his father Gendo’s military corporation, NERV, and pilot Evangelion Unit-01, against an intergalactic force known as the Angels, and summarily proceeds to get his arse whooped before said unit intervenes in his favor. Along the way, he begins to integrate into his surroundings within the city, moving in with Misato and joining a new school where he meets, and rescues, future friends Toji Suzuhara and Kensuke Aida, and gets to know better fellow pilot Rei Ayanami, and progresses in his duties as a soldier at NERV. That’s basically Evangelion 1.0 in a nutshell.
To be very frank with you, there’s nothing remotely special about the first installment in the Rebuild series, so I highly recommend that, unless if you’ve got time to spare, just skip this movie and watch the first six episodes of the original series instead, since they’ll practically be identical to each other minus the high quality production levels and a few minor details.
In the second film, two new characters are introduced: the first is everyone’s favorite angry German tsundere redhead, Asuka Langley
Soryu Shikinami. She joins Shinji and Rei as pilots at NERV, classmates at their school, and, in the former’s case, roommates in Misato’s apartment, where they undergo various bonding routines such as visiting an underground aquarium featuring all sorts of sea creatures which were saved in the aftermath of the Second Impact, and fending off an Angel attack (though not in the same quantiative capacity as episodes 9-16). Around the same time, Shinji encounters the second new character: Mari Makinami, an attractive British girl whose in-film appearances are small, but the fan-service levels are plenty, by literally crash-landing into him at his school’s rooftop. Meanwhile, Shinji begins to make strides with Asuka and Rei: with Asuka, he comes to a mutual understanding with her on the motivations behind their piloting of the Evangelion units; but he gets closer with Rei, who in turn offers to do something that no one’s ever done for him: host a dinner party with him, and subsequently help in healing the bond between him and his estranged father. Even he becomes able to understand Misato’s convictions in her ideals, thanks to Ryoji Kaji explaining her personal life and backstory.
Unfortunately, these are merely nothing more than a flame in the wind, as Asuka (not Toji as in episode 17-18) is made to pilot Evangelion Unit-03, which goes berserk thanks to an Angel contamination; knowing the circumstances, Shinji once more is reluctant to defeat it but his unit overrides his control, destroying and injuring Asuka in the process – spurring his resignation from NERV out of guilt and anger for what had transpired. However, he returns in the wake of the next Angel attack, and in a stunning turn of events: he forces his unit to unleash its true Angel form, nearly causes the Third Impact by trying to rescue from the Angel’s clutches an imprisoned Rei and is only stopped by the early arrival of Kaworu Nagisa, who proclaims his intention to save Shinji’s mental state, and show him true happiness.
WHAT I LIKED
- One positive aspect of the story was the slightly greater involvement of Toji and Kensuke with the characters, as opposed to them being sideshow cast members, such as having them go along with Shinji, Asuka and Rei to the aquarium and keeping them largely free from being plot devices – especially Toji, who we know lands as this role in the infamous Unit-03 incident. They were also spared from destruction unlike in the original, which I thought was a sympathetic move on the writers’ part – and by the time the fourth film rolls around, this involvement will take on a bigger scale of importance.
- Whereas the previous series understandably got some flack because of its heightened attention on deconstructing the mecha genre and choosing instead to delve into the characters’ psychlogy, Rebuild somewhat shaves that part away and instead gets heavy with the robot action battles against the Angels; visually speaking, they are awesome and much in-line with the Evangelion spirit. In a way, I will note that this is good because it keeps the story straight and simple to what it’s supposed to be: a linear story of good-versus-evil, with a few twists here and there. It reflects the state of the series prior to the whole 360-turn that happened after episode 16, and has plenty of reminders to that.
- It’s always a charm to see Shinji and Kaji go into discussions with each other. I’ve always seen Kaji as Shinji’s real father figure, and an even bigger man than Gendo will ever be, and I like how he’s more involved with his life than either out-and-about with Misato or rebuffing Asuka’s advances. This series really toned him down and chose to put him on the path as a direct positive influence rather than as just another covert agent or a sleazy lover in the original; this made his character easier to appreciate and sympathize with.
- I applaud the decision of Evangelion 1.0 to end right after the original sixth episode. The following episode, which details the Jet Alone incident, was completely useless and easily forgettable, so there was no point in acknowledging a rehash of that particular scenario.
WHAT I DISLIKED
- The first film chooses to rehash the initial story – Shinji’s arrival, his first battle, rescue of Toji/Kensuke, the connection with Misato, Rei and Gendo, and of course, the battles against the first three Angels from the show. Understandably, given that the first film was 101 minutes long, as opposed to the 144 minutes of content from the first six episodes, some episodes’ content had to be downplayed – notably, the whole Hedgehog’s Dilemma sequence from episode 4 (which explains Shinji’s aversion to human contact), is reduced to a mere footnote. The cheapening of the show’s philosophical elements, and the Rebuild‘s shying away from it, will prove to be the series’ big miss, as I will explain in a later post.
- Asuka’s character turned out to be a lot duller in this version, if anything. I liked the Soryu counterpart’s original personality better – tomboyish, boisterous, loud, proud, and very much extroverted, as opposed to this one’s reserved, shallow, gamer-girl and indifferent look.
- The exclusion of Yoko Takahashi’s Cruel Angel’s Thesis and Megumi Hayashibara’s rendition of Fly Me To The Moon is another thing I have to peg it for. While I wasn’t too bothered with the latter’s removal, the former is one of the most iconic anime songs ever released, capable of getting weebs to sing along to its memorable chorus. Yet Rebuild completely scraps this, and doesn’t even make a move to acknowledge it even as a throwback for the longtime Evangelion fans – not even by a modernized remix or incorporating an orchestral version as a background theme. That’s like if I made a movie based on Super Mario Bros. without the familiar overworld theme – you just can’t do that.
Most of the characters retain their original personalities, and are thus fairly recognizable. For those who grew up with the 26 episodes of awesome, the characters will be easy to identify and make sense of with and in the first film, this is made very evident and to a certain extent fools you to believing that you’re about to see a high-definition, more-or-less similar outcome to before. Shinji still protrudes the essence of the same wimpy, troubled boy of the “Get in the robot” jokes; Rei keeps her quiet, obedient, and yet curious personality; Misato remains as both the mother figure for Shinji and an action girl; Gendo exudes his mysterious, cold nature and Toji, Hikari and Kensuke aren’t that different from what I remember in the original series. However, the second film deigns to change all that, on the level of cast, premise and impact. Asuka, despite her rough exterior, is shown to be more introverted as opposed to the previous incarnation, and less affluent on her mommy issues; Mari’s appearance is a fresh addition to the story, but unfortunately there’s not much at this point that exudes from her in terms of personality – other than she really likes LCL, might have a fling of interest for Shinji, and appears to be the only sane Evangelion character in recent memory – and that’s saying a lot considering the original Shinji, Asuka and Misato’s personal issues.
Everyone is aware that Shinji’s character is very back-and-forth in his principles. One day, he’ll whimper about how worthless he is, another day he’ll become macho gusto for a few seconds only to revert to the initial state of moping. Rei’s role as a background character was both admitted by Anno and very much well-known, and Asuka gets a lot of backstory built up after episode 22. However, Rebuild completely flips the script and adds character development and more focus on the first two – Shinji gets more involved with connecting to others, as evidenced by his obvious attempts to communicate his feelings to others, be it his spending time with Rei, or making progress with the normally stoic Asuka (try this with Soryu, and he’d probably get kicked in the face). Rei gets a huge personality boost and begins to show empathy towards others, and Misato, who is known to be lecherous, surprisingly tones down on that side of hers, with the films choosing to relay her strong-willed leadership as captain at NERV. Heck, even Pen-Pen is shown to have a more active role here, in talking to his penguin brethren and chasing after Toji for food! This premise of character is a very good addition to the series, and in retrospect, one can see how it fits well with how the series ended for everyone.
Shiro Sagisu’s original soundtrack makes plenty of appearances here – such as his war-like Decisive Battle, the light-hearted Hedgehog’s Dilemma, Misato’s quirky theme, or the goofy, country-themed Asuka Strikes, but the first two films are also ripe with new orchestral renditions. The good thing is that they preserve the atmosphere of the original soundtracks, while making sure that the music list is more diverse than what the previous generation could offer. That being said, this also leads to three vocal tracks – there’s Utada Hikaru’s Beautiful World; in addition to that there’s also Kyou no Hi wa Sayounara, a Japanese graduation song about friendship ironically played during the battle against a possessed Unit-03, and the famous Tsubasa Wo Kudasai, which played during the final moments of Evangelion 2.0. Beautiful World makes sense to listen to as a way to close the curtains after a riveting climax, and although for the latter two, the context can be quite off-putting to their respective scenes, they’re still a good inclusion of songs to forever associate with this franchise, and add to what’s already a pretty sizeable repertoire of music.
Favorite scene: By far the final scene, where Shinji nearly causes Third Impact by reaching out for Rei, coupled with Megumi Hayashibara (the voice actor of Rei) singing the popular childrens’ song Tsubasa Wo Kudasai, beats everything else that the first film has to offer, and itself is the visual and plot-based climax of the second film. The performance, delivery, and the interaction of the characters is something that I can’t see myself criticizing or requesting improvements on, and serves as a great gateway to a new Evangelion universe – it’s at this point that nothing will ever be the same as longtime fans like me remembered it.
Favorite quote: Asuka and Rei’s elevator exchange is retained in this film (including that infamous still), but at an earlier pace (episode 18-19ish instead of episode 22) and with different results. Rei doesn’t get slapped by an irritated Asuka, leaving her to rant about how she hates everything; rather, she blocks it, and causes the latter to internally revoke her assignment of her as a doll, which only progresses her character more. The following exchange then happens, and has always stuck to me ever since I first saw it:
Asuka: Hey, just let me ask you a question! What do you think about that boy… Baka-Shinji… well?
Rei: I honestly don’t know.
Asuka: Damn you Japanese – always so reserved. If you’ve got something on your mind just say it already!
Rei: It’s the truth. But being with Shinji makes me feel warm and content. I want him to be happy and share that joy with Commander Ikari. That’s all I ask for.
Asuka: Really now… *walks away, and begins an internal dialogue* That stupid girl has no idea what she’s talking about. It’s like she doesn’t even realize she loves him!Asuka and Rei’s revised elevator exchange
From my point of view, the first film is a bit of a dud because it’s basically rehashing the start of the series without adding anything new, and taking away the parts that deepened the characters and their struggles. The second film, on the other hand, is more lively, action-packed, full of life, and easily marked as the best part of the whole quintet. However, both are significant in the sense that they’re the closest that it will come to resembling the original 1995 anime, with familiar scenes and situations. Be sure to cherish this pair, because after the next two bombard you with generic mecha tropes and a whole set of incidental changes to the story elements, thus stripping away the franchise’s main essence, you will most certainly (not) forget the days when Evangelion felt like Evangelion.
SCORE – EVANGELION 1.0: 5.5/10
SCORE – EVANGELION 2.0: 8.5/10