With Hideaki Anno‘s proclamation back in February that the new Rebuild of Evangelion movies would be all things to all people, present a panacea to the ills of a languishing anime industry, and sate old fans while bringing new ones into the fold, curiosity was high as I entered the theater this morning. Would the new Evangelion surpass the original, managing to heave its ponderous bulk above the weight of twelve years of mainstream merchandising – or would the temptation to stick an IV into the goose laying golden eggs prove to be too strong? Signs point to morbidly obese poultry…
Then again, Shipon wants to have a word with you. That’s right, there are two reviews right here in a single post! And they said it couldn’t be done… Note: most spoilers are clearly marked, but peruse at your own risk.
Shingo’s Review: Scene at the Theater
I ordered my ticket for the 10:45 am show at 109 Cinemas Takasaki online earlier this week, got to the theater around ten and was surprised to see the massive crowd already there, with queues at the ticket counter, concessions and theater goods stand. I then remembered it was the first day of the month, meaning special lower price tickets (only 1,000 yen!) and a lot of families were out to take advantage. I picked up my Rei drink cup and popcorn (figure review coming soon) and headed for the theater. By show time the seats were about 3/4 full, with a 75-80% male audience and (mercifully) no kids below junior high age in sight. The geek factor was strong indeed…. Previews for Pretty Cure 5 and a new Appleseed movie were shown, and then the main feature began.
Film Overview (contains light spoilers)
The movie opens with no preamble, showing a postapocalyptic cityscape where a boy waits at a promised time and place, unable to confirm his appointment with destiny due to the phone lines being down. Misato shows up just on time, and we’re launched into what will for the next hour and a half be very much a rehash of the first quarter of the Eva TV series.
Before I continue I should note that I last saw the series about five years ago and haven’t retained much in the way of precise plot recollection. That said, it seemed that what they did was take the first six episodes, shorten all of the long panning cuts, and replace them with other bits of episodes to scrunch the whole thing down into the film’s running time (something over 90 minutes). All of the highlights are there, in a Reader’s Digest condensed version sort of way, but as I was watching I kept finding myself wondering if a first-time viewer would be getting enough out of the experience to understand what made it so absorbing as a TV series.
It takes some effort to remember that the show didn’t immediately sink into gibbering madness, and the first several episodes were much like typical giant robot / kaijuu fare. Still, I can’t help but feel that this film version didn’t provide enough background – mostly characterization, but also basic plot development – to form a basis for what is to come in future “episodes”.
Episode is a key word when it comes to the presentation here. Though there wasn’t an OP there was an eyecatch interstitial, and after the ending credits (featuring Utada Hikaru’s Beautiful World, which I am slowly warming to) there was a next episode preview voiced by Misato, ending with her typical “next time will be service service too!” line.
When I walked into the theater this morning I was fearing Star Wars Episode I. When I left I felt like I’d just seen the Special Edition theatrical rerelease of A New Hope – a fun but irrelevant diversion identical to the original but for the addition of an assortment of questionably utilized CG eye candy. Only in this case the original was a TV series, and if you want to put a TV series on the big screen you need to do something more than just pull the low-budget bits out and reanimate it. There was enough teaser material at the end to make me want to see what happens next – it does seem the second film will begin to diverge significantly from the original TV plot – but viewed as a singular entity, this “film” (if it can be called such) has very little to recommend it.
Overall Score: 2/5 AT Fields
Ramblings In Depth – CONTAINS SPOILERS
In trying to figure out what the best possible outcome of a theatrical Evangelion remake would look like I came to the conclusion that the best I could hope for would be a slick, high budget retelling of the story in a bold new directorial style that leveraged new technologies to present the raw emotional content of the original in a new light. This movie was definitely not that – while it avoided a lot of the super-cheap shots of the TV series it didn’t rise anywhere near the level of End of Eva.
Let me say that again, because I think it bears repeating: cinematically, the film I saw today was a step backward from the earlier Eva movies. From a certain perspective this is understandable as they no doubt want to escalate the pyrotechnics as the series moves forward, and if they blew their load here we’d be left yawning through the fourth movie, but I do wonder why they limited themselves so severely to the original TV source material (plus the aforementioned glitzy but irrelevant CG shots).
The film was competently animated, to be sure. The final third especially seemed to have fallen under the helm of a different artistic director who had a better handle on coloration and cinematography than whoever did the first two thirds; I’ll be curious to see if the staff breakdown across these portions of the movie is ever revealed. Regardless, I feel that the word “commodity” best describes the impetus behind the production of this film. There’s not enough original artistic material there to see it as anything other than a vehicle for further leveraging of the brand, especially in the light of two developments at the end of the film (spoilers ahead):
First, in the final minute of the movie, after Shinji and Rei have defeated Ramiel, Kaworu is introduced waking up from some sort of bizarre moon-coffin at the behest of Seele. He’s apparently moving at their orders, and will become a player from the beginning of the second film. He expresses a desire to meet Shinji.
Second, in the preview for the second film we see a brief shot of a new female character whose design is so individualistic that I’m sure she’s one of the rumored “new characters” to play a significant role in the story.
So, commodification. In the former case, I believe the earlier introduction of Kaworu isn’t much more than a ploy to attract a greater fujoshi audience to the franchise. I don’t think his earlier entrance will necessarily be a bad thing, but in light of recent Gundam casting decisions it looks like a suspiciously similar move to court the female fanbase. In the second case, a new heroine (she looked to be roughly Shinji’s age) means a new product branch, and if Rei and Asuka are any indication the simple introduction of a new girl could mean millions of dollars in goods sales over the next decade.
Is money the only goal of the Evangelion renewal project? I doubt it (Rei on a beverage lid notwithstanding). With Anno willing to be credited as the project’s architect I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and believe that there is some artistic vision he has that will play out over the course of the next three episodes. After this first installment, though, I have the feeling it won’t be until the final two (the “all original” ending episode in particular) that things will become really interesting. It may be that freedom from the constraints of the series will allow the production team room to expand their horizons beyond the first episode’s conservative interpretation of the series, and that we’ll ultimately be shown something on par with Death and Rebirth / End of Eva in terms of artistic brilliance.
An Alternate Take: Shipon Weighs In
Evangelion holds a special meaning for me. My first experience with ‘proper’ anime in the pre-digital fansubbing days was in watching NTSC fansubs of shows like Evangelion, later watching the (shudder) ADV dub on Australia’s SBS channel. That said I wasn’t about to have my vision skewed by rose (or LCL) colored glasses so I went into the 2pm screening of Evangelion 1.0 : You are (not) alone at Sendai’s Forum Cinemas forewarned in the knowledge that this, the first installment of 4 new Evangelion movies, was only recapping the first 6 episodes of the TV series.
The line was long, the theatre packed. Forum had added extra fold-up chairs in the aisles to accommodate the fanboys (and a fair number of fangirls) on release day.
The opening of the movie plays out pretty much like the beginning of the series as well as Death + Rebirth. The movie moves along the first Angel, Shinji’s encounter with his father, Rei, Touji, the second Angel, his infamous “Oh I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. And I’m groping your breast,” scene with Rei and the third Angel. It finishes with Shinji’s rescue of Rei from her severely damaged Eva & a very brief scene with Kaworu talking to a faceless SEELE 01.
The part of Anno Hideaki’s letter to audiences about new animation technology being available is evident – there’s a nice blend of 2D & 3D animation that rivals some of Gonzo’s work (I still feel that Gonzo have hit the nail on the head with their compositing the two) and the lighting effects and compositing of reflections along with the modelling of the Evangelion units and the Angels are executing very well.
The scene in which Misato shows Shinji Tokyo-3 ‘growing’ in the twilight earns the admission price alone (and I paid extra to get the commemorative 3D advance ticket!). I’m looking forward to seeing what the end of the world looks like with these new techniques, although that’s a few movies away yet.
Plus, you get to see Rei’s nipple when she’s changing into her plug-suit before going off to fight the third Angel.
One of my biggest suppressed giggle fits resulted from the rampant product placements, particularly in the scene where Misato welcomes Shinji to his new (her) apartment. Instead of seeing an apartment piled high with trash and a fridge filled with ‘Ebisu’ beer, there’s a fridge filled with Yebisu & Kirin beer, a pantry stocked with Doritos, piles of Pizza Hut boxes and mounds of UCC Coffee & Milk cans everywhere. UCC Coffee have had their Evangelion Coffee Cans promotion running as have Doritos (normal Doritos in an Evangelion emblazoned packet), so it’s nice to see that the Japanese animation industry has followed suit with its live-action industry in whoring themselves to anyone with a buck.
There’s even piles of UCC cans in the NERV bunker where they plan their attack on the third Angel.
Finally the sound and music – new recordings made in Abbey Road of old Evangelion soundtrack favourites as well as some new material. New arrangements abound – Ritsuko’s theme is now performed by piano vs the original acoustic guitar. The sound design is top notch with a new roar for Evangelion Unit 01 – much more biomechanical sounding than animal. The Angels also have new signature sounds, which to this trained ear (mail me for my extensive academic qualifications in this area – no kidding) appear to be trained-singers with plentiful signal-processing and effects added. Quite unexpected but a nice touch.
Overall, I like this update/re-imagining/revision/re-version or whatever-the hell-you-want-to-call-it of Evangelion. I was pleased, satisfied and am looking forward to the next three installments.