You Are (Not) George Lucas

[Editor’s note: You knew this was coming eventually. Deal with it.]

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, the first movie in a four-part “Rebuild” remake of Neon Genesis Evangelion, was recently released on DVD in Japan. And while no distributors have apparently bought the rights to print money release it in the U.S. yet, a little thing like that’s not going to stop me from reviewing it.

As with any remake of something, there’s the question of how closely it will follow the original. Something has to be different about the remake, or else what’s the point of making it? (The answer: shamelessly cashing in.) There’s the opportunity to improve on the original and trim the filler. But there’s also the trap of losing what made the original good, and deviating from what fans liked about the original will lead them to declare that the remake sucks.

In other words, a good remake needs to stick to the original, but do something different, but not too different. And in this case, keep in mind that anime fandom is more, well, fanatical, than a survivor of the Kirk-Picard flamewars wearing a “Han Shot First” T-shirt. Squared. We’re talking about fans that sent the director death threats over how the series ended. Screw up the remake, and you can imagine how they’ll react.

So, does 1.0 pull it off?

Yes.

Blood Rainbow
When it’s raining angel blood, you do (not) want to know what’s in the pot at the end of the rainbow.

The first half of the movie roughly corresponds with the first four episodes of the series. Well, “roughly” might not be the right word, since most of the scenes are virtually lifted directly from it. They’re redrawn and reanimated everything in much higher quality, granted, but the scenes in the movie reproduce the originals almost shot-by-shot.

Of course, squeezing four 25-minute episodes into about 50 minutes of movie means that the scenes that aren’t copied from the series pretty much get left out entirely. Given that the episodes in question didn’t have much filler to begin with, the pacing of the movie ends up being way too fast, rushing from one major plot point to another. Shinji‘s relationship with his classmates, for example, is cut to the bare minimum: he gets punched; he rescues them during battle; they apologize. That’s it. If you haven’t seen the series, you’ll wind up wondering why you should even care. Likewise, Shinji running away — the bulk of episode 4 — gets reduced to a few minutes on screen.

As a result, the first half gives you prettier graphics but poorer storytelling.

Once the movie gets to episode 5′s material, however, the pacing slows to something more manageable and the movie starts realizing its potential. The basic plot of episodes 5 and 6 is mostly unchanged, but the scenes start unfolding differently, so it no longer comes across as something you’ve already seen, but rather as a different take on the same story.

The first engagement with the fifth sixth angel, Ramiel, illustrates this dramatically. In the series, Unit 01 deploys, immediately gets the bejeezus lasered out of it, and is promptly (after an end-of-episode cliffhanger) lowered back underground. In the movie, the fight is much more elaborate. Ramiel is no longer merely an animation-budget-saving regular octohedron, but now shapeshifts before each attack like a cross between an evil Rubik’s cube and the Windows flower box screensaver. Now instead of having Unit 01 retreat immediately, NERV raises a blast shield to block the laser, and Ramiel responds by firing a quad laser to melt through the shield. With the launcher melted by the blast, NERV rescues Unit 01 by blowing the supports and lowering the entire city block until Unit 01 is out of sight.

Just about all the scenes building up to the sniping mission at the climax of the movie are similarly “epic’d up” and made more elaborate, which ends up working quite well. The core of the plot stays unchanged, which is good; there weren’t any problems with episode 6 story-wise, but seeing its events rendered on more than a shoestring budget is appreciated.

But given how closely the storyline follows the series, it’s particular interesting to note the ways in which it explicitly diverges from the series, and speculate how they’ll play out over the next three movies. [Spoilers ahead.]

First, as I noted in passing, the angel that attacks the city in the opening scene, Sachiel, is now designated the fourth angel, rather than the third; the other angels that appear in the movie have their enumeration similarly adjusted. (Now I get to look up their names so as to refer to them unambiguously. Yay.) So what’s the third angel going to turn out to be? Hmmmmm.

Then there’s an added scene where Shinji is stuck between mope and angst (i.e., being Shinji) before the final battle against Ramiel. As part of a pep talk, Misato takes him down to Terminal Central Dogma, shows him Lilith, and tells him that NERV is defending it because if an angel reaches it, that will cause Third Impact and wipe out mankind. In the series, everything involving Lilith is a very closely guarded secret; Misato only discovers it when Kaji shows it to her in the second half of the series (and he only found out about it by snooping around being a triple agent), and even then they mistakenly think it’s Adam. The fact that in the movie Misato apparently knows all about it already is interesting to say the least.

Blood on the Moon
SEELE’s space program was funded by cutting the janitorial budget.

Finally (literally), there’s an added scene at the end, immediately following what was the final scene in episode 6, that opens up all kinds of questions. Apparently there’s some kind of secret SEELE base on the moon, where Kaworu (!) and a SEELE monolith make cryptic comments to each other, and we see a Lilith-looking thing in a pit (!) in the middle of a bloody swath across the lunar landscape (!) with Earth and its blood-red oceans (!) hanging in the background.

I mean, in a post-Second-Impact economy, how exactly does an organization, secret or otherwise, manage to construct a lunar base? Especially when that organization had already committed to constructing what are effectively giant fighting robots, and a city that retracts into the ground for them to fight in and only partially destroy with the collateral damage.

Plus, Kaworu’s totally not wearing a helmet. Or, um, anything else. Moving on….

Evangelion Unit 06
Now that the Cylons have an Evangelion, humanity is frakked.

Then there’s the next episode movie preview after the credits, revealing even more surprises. Intermixed with events from the series (Asuka and Unit 02 deploying; Unit 04′s destruction; the fight with the thirteenth whateverth angel, Bardiel) are things without any analogue in the series: Unit 05 deploying, weird ghost-and-halo-looking things bracketed by the text “ADAMS” (!) and “LILIN+?”, Unit 06 descending from the moon (!), and a new pilot. Needless to say, Evangelion 2.0: Division is going to diverge quite a bit from episodes 7 through 18.

(If you’re wondering how quick the pacing the movie would have to be to cover all that, keep in mind that episodes 7 through 13 have a lot of filler and you could safely cut entire episodes without too much damage to the story.)

Here’s my theory: the secret backstory from the series is the cover story used by NERV in the Rebuild continuity. Misato doesn’t actually know the truth about Lilith, because it’s a different truth this time around, thus suckering fans of the original series into thinking they know what’s going on as well. I don’t know what the truth is going to be, but a hint might lie in a comment one of the SEELE monoliths makes to Gendo about needing to fulfill a “contract with Lilith”. Whether that’s literal or metaphorical, I don’t know.

Or, as Gendo said in End of Evangelion, “The truth is, _____________.”

Moon Pit
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot or lookin’ at a thing in a pit.

Another theory: the creature in the pit on the moon is the as-yet-unnamed third angel. Kaworu makes a cryptic comment about “the third again, huh?” while looking at it. Though “the third” could refer to Shinji (the third child), since Kaworu’s next line mentions him while looking up at Earth. If that’s the case, than the thing in the pit would be a naked Unit 06, before its armor/restraints have been put on. But why would SEELE be building Unit 06 on the moon in the first place, unless there were a very good reason for it, such as cloning it from the as-yet-unrevealed third angel, if it’s also there somewhere? We’ve seen Lilith (the second angel) under NERV headquarters, and presumably Adam (the first angel) was in Antarctica and caused the Second Impact, just as in the series.

“Presumably.” But by my first theory, the secret backstory in the movies are different, so Second Impact could’ve had some other cause, since none of the details surrounding it have been mentioned in the movie yet. Hmmmm.

Or, a less out-in-left-field theory would be that Kaworu has been designated the third angel this time around (instead of the seventeenth), but that doesn’t explain what’s on the moon, or why Unit 06 would come from there, or why NERV would know anything about Kaworu to begin with — in the series, SEELE sent him to NERV as a replacement for Asuka, and they didn’t realize he was an angel until he took over Unit 02 and took it down to Terminal Dogma in episode 24, thinking he’d find Adam there.

So, even though the movie closely follows the storyline of the first six episodes, streamlining and possibly simplifying it, there’s just enough changes and added material to launch rampant wild speculation among fans of the series to try to figure out what’s really going on. The director, Hideaki Anno, managed to figure out a way to cater both to newcomers and the existing fanbase, and did so without ruining any of the classic scenes in the first set of episodes in the series.

Well played.