Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jul 9th 2009
Evangelion: 1.0.1 You Are [Not] Alone
The year is 2015. One by one, mysterious beings known as Angels are descending upon Earth and threatening to destroy humanity. Only one weapon is capable of stopping them: a type of giant robot known as Evangelion. It takes a special breed of pilot to control these robots, however, and timid 15-year-old Shinji Ikari is in for the shock of his life when he is called in as the newest pilot of "Eva." Making things more awkward is the fact that his estranged father is the director of NERV, the special U.N. agency in charge of the Evangelion program. As various Angels wreak havoc on Tokyo, Shinji must overcome great odds and even greater fear in order to protect the world from destruction—although the deadliest threat may be the one that lies within the mysterious workings of NERV.
Even Beethoven had to write the overture to Fidelio four times before he was happy with the result. So perhaps we should grant Hideaki Anno the indulgence of taking yet another stab at Evangelion. After all, the original series got sloppy towards the end, the subsequent movies were a desperate attempt to patch things up, and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's manga version continues to languish in unfinished territory. Why not try to remake it from the ground up? And re-record the English dialogue while we're at it? There's just one little problem: Eva 1.0.1's approach doesn't live up to its promise, merely rehashing the first few episodes with minor plot tweaks and some digital-animation polish. A retelling? Sure, you can call it that. But a remake from the ground up? Not so much.
The first layer of reconstruction begins at the story level, with plot points from late in the TV series showing up much sooner. For fans already familiar with the story, this serves as a bit of tantalizing foreshadowing, but newcomers (however unlikely they may be) will probably look on in confusion and wonder why some effeminate gray-haired kid suddenly mutters some ominous lines at the final scene. Aside from that, though, most of the movie is lifted wholesale from the original TV version, from the iconic first episode to the next couple of missions that follow. While this might work as the opening arc of a giant robot series, it's less effective for a cinematic feature, as we get stuck with an overly familiar repeating pattern: Angel shows up, Evangelion jumps into battle, and then everyone engages in angstful hand-wringing afterward. Repeat as needed.
Speaking of angstful hand-wringing, that's another thing that doesn't get much of an overhaul in this remake: the characters. Shinji's still a whiner, Rei's still emotionless, Misato still hides her frailties beneath her brash attitude, Gendo Ikari is still an unfeeling taskmaster, and so on. Those who hated the original Evangelion for its highly dysfunctional characters still won't find anything to like in this version. Nevertheless, the movie's cryptic subtitle—"You Are (Not) Alone"—starts making a lot more sense when looking at troubled relationships between the characters. This is the one special place where Evangelion still outshines its peers—using the trappings of the giant robot genre to explore the darkest corners of the human condition.
All right, so maybe the story aspect isn't as shocking and fresh as people were hoping for. In any case, there's still the next layer of remake to look at: the visuals, which help transport the franchise out of the 90's and into the digital era. Watchful eyes will notice various improvements like more vivid colors, sharper linework, and a greater sense of detail. However, there are also artistic touches that seem like pointless conceits—what's with all the rainbows?—and some of the CGI directing appears to be an exercise in "Hey, look what we can do!" instead of actually enhancing the visuals. Yet the foundation of the series' art and design is still as striking as it ever was: the lanky-yet-monstrous Eva Units, the mystifying Angels, the distinctively dressed characters, and the unforgettable landscapes—no other anime has that trademark combination of humming power lines, underground cities, and seas running red with blood.
After the eye candy comes the soundtrack, which gets a slight upgrade in audio fidelity but otherwise isn't too much of a departure from the original. The music does a good job punctuating the movie's dark, moody moments, and when the time comes for Angel battle, a full orchestra comes roaring in. However, the end credits song by Hikaru Utada doesn't sound like the most fitting thing for a giant robot anime—but hey, everyone was already sick of "Fly Me to the Moon" anyway.
The final layer of remake comes in the form of the English dub, which is a noticeable improvement on the original recording of the TV series. Longtime fans might complain about new actors stepping into some of the roles, but to focus on that is to miss the forest for the trees—the script in general flows much more naturally than in the original dub. Gone are the forced attempts to be funny (besides, Gainax's own outbursts of fanservice and incongruity do the job just fine), and the various voices fill the entire range from Misato's loud extroversion to Rei's deadpan delivery. If there's fault to be found, it's mostly in the torturous character development scenes—come on, Shinji, we know you're terrified and unhappy, just shut up already—and that's more an effect of the original script itself than the actual translation.
The final word on Evangelion 1.0.1, then, is that it provides a new layer of polish on the surface (along with English dialogue) but lies largely unchanged at its core. Serious fans can spend all day taking note of which plot points have been rearranged and which scenes are new and how this retooled story might affect what is to come, but it's still the first few episodes of Evangelion and not much more. For those who enjoy the dark tone and the psychological hand-wringing, that's definitely still there, along with the larger-than-life battle scenes and other striking imagery. Given Hideaki Anno's unique vision, it's clear that Eva is the kind of anime that will never be replicated—unless that replication involves splicing the original into a series of movies.
Overall (dub) : B
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Adds a new layer of visual polish and some plot corrections to an all-time classic.
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