It's been 12 years since Neon Genesis Evangelion hit Japanese TV screens, causing a revolution in TV anime and becoming one of the most iconic and popular series of all time. Unlike many of its peers, Evangelion's star has never dimmed. Merchandise is still being released, games are still being developed and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's manga spin-off is still ongoing. However, the announcement that the series' original director Hideaki Anno was to oversee a series of new Evangelion anime films was still quite a bit of a surprise.
To be honest I have been a bit wary of the new Evangelion project. Known collectively as Rebuild of Evangelion, the series is to consist of four films which are intended to retell the story in a way more accessible to new fans. But if it ain't broke, why fix it? Neon Genesis Evangelion is hugely popular and I wondered if there was any need to retell the story, especially as this had already been done in earlier films - Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion. But at the end of the day I'm an Evangelion fan and despite my misgivings the opportunity to see the first Rebuild of Evangelion film - Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone - in the cinema in Japan was just too good an opportunity to miss.
The story in this film is a retelling of the
events of roughly the first six episodes of the original TV series. Sullen
14 year-old Shinji Ikari has received a summons from his estranged father and
despite his bitterness and resentment journeys to Tokyo-3 to meet him.
However, any lingering hopes of reconciliation are soon shattered.
Shinji's father Gendo is in charge of Nerv, a secret organisation charged with
defending the earth from huge creatures of unknown origin referred to as Angels.
The last time the Angels appeared they caused untold devastation which changed
the face of the world as we know it, now they are back and the only thing that
stands in their way is Nerv and their monstrous bio-mechanical weapons - the
Evangelions. Shinji has been summoned not to enjoy happy times with his
dad but to pilot an Evangelion against the Angels, a role he reluctantly takes
after finding out that the only other pilot is seriously injured. His
problems are only just beginning though, he is not only thrust immediately into
battle with the Angels but he also has to cope with the coldness of his fellow
pilot Rei Ayanami and the strained relationship with his father. Shinji's
new commander Misato Katsuragi takes him under her wing, but can even her best
efforts make him come out of his shell and take responsibility for defending
As mentioned the Rebuild of Evangelion project is intended to make the series more accessible for a new audience. However, it's also a chance for Gainax to take advantage of today's technology and an increased budget, and it's one they take. Everything looks amazing, with relatively unobtrusive CGI used to back up the more traditional animation. The increased budget is in evidence from the outset, with more depth given to the backgrounds and more colour and sharpness to the visuals throughout. New visual effects
make the battles between the Angels and Evangelions look better than ever. Eva Unit 01's glowing green armour plates, Crystalline Angel Ramiel's shapeshifting form and even the rain of blood that follows an Angel's defeat all combine to make Evangelion 1.0 a feast for the eyes. Whilst great new sound effects, an updated score and sterling performances by the voice cast reprising their original roles makes for an aural experience that matches the visual one.
But it must be said that the
changes, for a large part of the film, are purely cosmetic. It
looks and sounds great and there is some minor reshuffling of events in
the first hour of the film, but for the most part it's a shot-for-shot
remake. It therefore covers pretty much the same ground as both
the series and the Death & Rebirth film. It's only in the
last half hour that the film throws in a few surprises, with some events
that happened a lot later on in the original series making a
surprisingly early appearance. It worried me when I heard about
the Rebuild of Evangelion project aiming to make the series more
accessible for a new audience that there might be an element of dumbing
down, but thankfully this doesn't seem to be the case. Instead of
simplifying things unnecessarily, more background is given early on and
you are shown the reason why the Angels are focusing their attacks on
Nerv - something that doesn't happen until the later episodes of the
original series. Simply by moving a few things around the story
becomes easier to follow, and despite some omitted events (this film
does condense about three hours worth of the original series into an
hour and a half after all) the film flows really well and retains its
For new fans it's another great anime film in the cinema, but what for existing fans? There's very little new material in this film apart from a few nice new visual effects and a bit of a reshuffled timeline. But despite this I thoroughly enjoyed it, seeing Evangelion on the big screen is well worth it, even if you pretty much know what's going to happen for the majority of the film. It's worth noting that the plot does throw up a couple of surprises right at the end too. It's good to see that Gainax have taken the opportunities that a
cinematic film gives them, they have more money to play around with and they are also able to do things that they wouldn't have been able to do on TV. As such the battles between the Evangelions and Angels are more brutal than before, and oddly there's a hell of a lot of product placement, with UCC Coffee and Yebisu Beer being particularly prevalent. This does actually feel a bit jarring to be honest, as you're so used to seeing fake brands in anime but it doesn't detract from the film, in fact it actually gives it an extra sense of realism.
Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone is a very good film for both fans of Evangelion and new fans alike. For those new to the franchise it provides a more focused and easier to follow introduction to it, and for those who know the series inside-out it provides an opportunity to revisit it in a fresh way. The animation, design and sound is awesome, and the creators have retained all of the things that made the original series so good. The action is present and correct, as is the drama and mystery, and if anything they're better than ever. It was also interesting to see how the story started to diverge from that of the series at the end of the film, especially with the surprise appearance of one character who originally turned up an awful lot later. To put it bluntly, I went in to see this film with a few misgivings and came out so desperate to see Evangelion 2.0 it hurt. The series has been treated with respect but given an overhaul that makes it look better than ever. Whilst its shorter running time means that this film doesn't quite have the depth of the original series, it certainly doesn't disgrace itself. Instead it's a superb film that deserves to be seen when it eventually hits UK shores.
Hang around until the end of the credits as a trailer for the next film in the Rebuild of Evangelion series is shown. The trailer is done in the same style as the next episode previews that followed every episode of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, right down to Misato's promise of more fanservice next time. It's a nice touch and the trailer contains enough teasing new footage to really make you want to see the next one, including what looks like a new character.