Anime Review: Evangelion 1.01 – You Are (Not) Alone

An event known as “Second Impact” changed the world when a massive explosion in the arctic melted the polar ice caps and flooded over Japan. Fifteen years later, Tokyo-3 has rebuilt itself as a retractable underground city, and a whole new generation of kids has been born and raised in the post-Second Impact era.

Then one random day, a giant monster appears and moves his way towards the city. These monsters, known as “Angels”, have one target in mind. Buried deep underground of Tokyo-3 is Lilith, the Angel at the heart of Second Impact. If Lilith were to make contact with another Angel, Third Impact will occur and all of humanity will be destroyed forever.

The Japanese military are useless against stopping the approaching Angel, so they call on the government agency NERV to take care of the monster. NERV commander Gendo Ikari enlists his estranged 14-year-old son, Shinji, to pilot the giant bio-mechanical robot known as Evangelion. And so suddenly thrust into battle, we begin the epic story of a timid and reluctant teenager who suddenly becomes mankind’s final hope against the Angels and Third Impact.

… but really, do I need to explain the plot to you? Are you the only otaku in the world who has not seen Eva before?

The 1995 anime TV series was a landmark achievement that turned the giant robot genre into a psychological trip that dove deep into the human condition. It blew my mind when I first saw it eight years ago, and it still goes down as my favorite anime series of all time.

However, Eva had the misfortune of being released just before the anime industry shifted from hand drawn animation to digital. This change in technology drastically improved the visual look of anime and made the lines crisper, colors more vibrant, and eliminated the need to recycle old sequences again and again through out a series. Even though it is less than 15 years old, the hand drawn Eva series appears very dated among all the digitally animated shows from the past decade.

So director Hideki Anno set out to create a brand new remake of his anime masterpiece over the course of four theatrical films. Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone is the first of these films, and it retells the first six episodes of the TV show. While the film does not diverge too far from the original just yet at this stage of the series, it still offers enough visual enhancements to make this fanboy nearly blow his load while watching it.

From the very first sequence, veteran fans will immediately notice just how pretty this remake looks. Every scene has been completely redrawn with digital animation and enhanced with 3D computer generated images. The character designs look fresh and revitalized, the animation flows very smoothly, and the background images are lush with colors and crisp details.

It is remarkable how most of the iconic scenes that we have been familiar with from the TV series will look completely different with 15 years worth of technological advances. In one memorable scene in which Shinji is watching the city of Tokyo-3 retract underground, we are treated to an absolutely stunning display of 3D buildings, a photo realistic sky, and a slight lens flare effect on the camera.

But the parts that benefit the most from the visual face lift are the action sequences between the Eva’s and the Angels. I never thought the action sequences were all that impressive in the TV series, but man, they are intense in this remake. And the 3D redesign of the sixth Angel, Ramiel, drew unanimous gasps of, “Oh my God!” and, “Holy shit!” when a theater of Eva fans saw the film in New York City a few months ago. These visuals are really that impressive.

But unfortunately, those cosmetic improvements are all that the fans have to look forward to in this first film. The story, characters, and dialogue are practically identical to the TV series. Sure, there are a few minor changes and a new scene or two added, but for 99% of the movie, you are re-watching the same show from 1995.

But I found there to be a certain nostalgic feeling that comes with this. Yes, you already know what is coming and how the climatic final battle will play out, but there is some fun and reliving those moments again knowing what you know now. And to help your memory out, most of the Japanese and English vocal cast return to give those characters the exact same voice you remember hearing all those years ago.

Okay, so fans of the series will have plenty to look forward to in this remake, but can viewers who have never seen the show before also enjoy it?

Well yes, I believe they can, but it might be tricky.

We often forget just how these first six episodes felt when we first watched the series. The tone changed so dramatically at the point where Asuka enters that we tend to associate the latter half of Eva as the overall impression of the series. But there is a certain naiveté that comes in the pre-Asuka era that new viewers will still find intriguing when seeing this movie.

But that doesn’t come too easily for the newbie. Anno opens the story with Shinji (and the viewer) thrown into the middle of an epic battle. The lack of information is confusing and might turn off a lot of people from the get go. Following the opening, he focuses on establishing Shinji’s flawed personality and fragile mentality amid all this chaos. We examine one-by-one his interactions with his father, his guardian Misato, and his classmates. Compressing all this information into the first half of the movie leads to a pace that is little too fast and choppy for full comprehension and enjoyment.

But it is the second half of this film where the brilliance of Eva finally begins to shine to the newbie. Anno slows down the pace to focus on one mission that Shinji must complete with his peer and female battle partner, Rei Ayanami. Without using much dialogue, the viewer witnesses a massive dynamic relationship form between the two teenagers. They experience love, fear, honor, frustration, lust, jealousy, acceptance… all conveyed with subtle physical expressions and armor-piercing one-liners to each other.

While the post-Asuka episodes tend to revolve around the plight of the other characters in this story, these early episodes fully revolve around Shinji and they really flesh out his character. By the end of the film, the viewer has invested enough time and emotion into the protagonist that they will probably be interested to see what happens next to him.

And so what is next for those new and old Eva fans?

The second film in the series, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance, was released in Japanese theaters last summer. Unlike the first film, this one does differ from the original series and adds a brand new main character to the plot. While there has not been any announcements on when 2.0 will be hitting America yet, local fans can still get a brief glimpse of it in the “Next Episode” preview at the end of the first film. Misato promises there will be plenty of fan service in it. 😉

And American fans should also be aware that FUNimation will be releasing Evangelion 1.11, a very slightly altered version of 1.01, domestically on Blu-ray and DVD this upcoming spring. While the weird versioning system may seem needless and unfair to the fans, FUNi is just merely mirroring how the film was released in Japan earlier this year.

I recommend waiting for the spring 1.11 release only if you have a Blu-ray player and you plan to watch it on an HDTV. The visuals in this movie are just begging to be rendered in 1080p, so that should be the way you view them. But if you are only going to watch it on DVD, then don’t bother waiting and just buy version 1.01 now! The slight alterations are not worth holding out on this fantastic film for one second longer.

* * * * *

The Good: Stunning visual face lift renders iconic scenes and action sequences in an amazing new way. Majority of original voice cast return to reprise their roles. Dynamic character development in second half. Oh, and it’s freaking Evangelion!

The Bad: Story is nearly identical to the first six episodes of the TV series. New viewers may be confused by fast, choppy pacing of the first half of movie.

Final Verdict: Evangelion 1.01: You Are (Not) Alone is everything you remember from the best anime show of the 90’s redone with glorious modern animation technology. It is the ultimate visual feast for any Eva fanboy. Watch it!

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment.

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