Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rebuild of Evangelion 01: You Are (Not) Alone

Oh Evangelion, how we have missed you. It's so hard to remember how much of an impact this little series has left on the world of Japanese cartoons with robots sometimes... well, when ADV is not releasing another 3 or 4 season packs every few months.

A lot has changed in the world of otaku and anime since Eva cashed a blank check for cash money back in the 90s. The anime business in America is in a downturn, even with more airtime than ever on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, Anime Network On Demand, and Funimation's Anime Channel. Evangelion's original American distributor, ADV Films, appears to be in the death throes, canceling future titles and discontinuing old ones as they coyly deflect requests for information like a violin player on the Titanic. All talks of a Weta-influenced Evangelion live action movie seem to have dried up, especially since ADV were the only ones really talking about it.

So what's Hideo Anno to do? He only made one of the most influential animes of all time during a period of extreme physical and mental exhaustion, leaving a body of work that's uneven and downright masochistic at times.

Well, you post a press release saying you're curing all of anime by remaking that same body of work. It's the only way to be sure.

And with that we get Rebuild of Evangelion. It's kind of like End of Evangelion, only it exists as a separate entity along with the original anime so they can eventually sell 3 complete series DVD boxsets. But is the entire project funded just to get even more money from a cash cow that's been practically milked dry for over a decade now?

Yes. And no. Much like Evangelion pretends to be, the answer is not obvious. What the first movie in a series of four that the Rebuild of Evangelion brings provides is an almost shot for shot remake of the original first 6 episodes. There's some fat cut, some new scenes added, and if you are a fan of hearing Japanese voice actors count backwards from 10, you are in for some fan service indeed.

If you watched the original Evangelion and liked it, warts and all, you will continue to enjoy it in movie form. Everything you could want is there: religious symbolism thrown about without any real meaning, cool robot fights, fan service, gravitas literally shoved down your throat every 7 minutes; fans of Evangelion know what they want. Like a loyal drug dealer, Anno and Rebuild of Evangelion dole it out in large, finely cut rows. The new CGI battles fill in the holes left by the original anime's budget, making the fights more visceral and entertaining down to the last 500 gallons of angel blood being carelessly splayed all over Tokyo-3. The fan service seems to have been heightened, too, as lonely Rei otaku can now take a gander at actual Second Child nipple.

While that might be enough of a selling point for roughly 99.9% of Evangelion's enduring fans, the stuff they cut out and adding in the first movie might actually enhance the narrative overall when it is all said and done. After the first battle of the anime in episodes 1 and 2 gets you interested and looking forward to more robot-on-alien? fighting, the original episodes 3 and 4 were almost like a cold shower daring you to stop caring. Shinji's continued "I'm quitting... no I'm not" act got old, like an ex-girlfriend threatening to leave you if you don't take out the trash. Luckily almost all of that has been cut in favor of a 3 minute montage of Shinji going to the red light district of Tokyo-3 then returning. The narrative is better off for it even if it leaves the door open for Shinji being annoying ten-fold in the future.

Also, unlike the original story, the first movie actually gives us a glimpse of the second angel, Lilith. Right away this sets the tone that there's more going on here than just giant robots and angst, though how this plays out over the next movie will be telling. In the anime, the next 6 or 7 episodes divulged wildly from the angst to the point of becoming an almost manic comedy with the introduction of Asuka. Will all the comedy that the red haired German brings be left on the cutting room floor with that huge chunk of Shinji's whining?

The preview at the end of the movie promises a lot for another 90 minute dose of retelling: we might actually get to see Eva-04 before it blows up due to shoddy American craftsmanship, the fourth child floats down from the moon in a storyline almost torn from's seedier Evangelion posts, things blow up, Eva-05 comes and goes, Asuka debuts, and more. Could it be too much or are they just giving us a 5 minute synopsis of episodes 7 through 13 and getting to the weirder stuff?

Only Anno knows. And sometimes even that can't be trusted.