So now that I’ve reviewed the original Evangelion, I can review the remake; the Rebuild of Evangelion series of movies. Now most of the time when something gets remade, I’m one of the first people to roll my eyes and complain about the producers milking something for every cent (or yen, as the case may be) it’s worth, and how it’s almost never for the better. But sometimes… sometimes, it is. A word of warning, I’m mentioning a hell of a lot of major spoilers here, as well as some wild speculation.
It is still Anno Hideaki at the reins, so that’s a pretty significant point in its favour. He can command a greater budget than they original had, which certainly can’t hurt the animation – as noted in my review of the TV series, they made the absolute best of what they had, but were still limited. Plus advances in animation technology and techniques offer even more possibilities. But what about those things that I say are what really matters, characters and story? Well, read on.
First we’ll go with story. In the first movie, things play out mostly the same way they do in the TV series. There are differences; some very subtle and minor, some more significant. The most notable difference is right at the end, where we see Kaworu (aka Tabris, the last Angel from the TV series) awakening on the moon and muttering to himself. More on the significance of that later.
In the second movie, things start off quite differently, with the appearance of a new character, Mari, her (short-lived) Evangelion, and an Angel battle that never occurred in the TV series. Things get somewhat back to familiar territory with Asuka’s arrival, though with some key differences there – for example, she doesn’t rope Shinji into helping defeat the Angel attacking her Eva; she does it solo. A few Angel battles get skipped over, and a couple are familiar but play out differently.
Before I get any further, I need to talk about the world of Rebuild of Evangelion. As we’re only partway through the series, much is uncertain, so a lot of what I’m about to say is speculation. Based on some hints in the first two movies, there is a theory that Rebuild isn’t just a re-telling of the Evangelion TV series, but a sequel to it too. If this is the case, it is likely that the Second Impact event in the Rebuild world was actually the Third Impact event in the original one, and the world was rebuilt, guided by Shinji. If that’s the case, it would follow that it’s a better world for Shinji and the people he cares about – and it is, but in small ways.
Some differences that support this theory: Rei shows more personality early on, and is even shown to be proactive about interpersonal relationships. Asuka doesn’t seem to be pursuing the doomed crush she had on Kaji in the TV series, and gets along better with Shinji. Shinji isn’t kept in the dark as much; he’s shown the dead Angel in Nerv’s basement much sooner – and for that matter, it’s more widely known that it’s Lillith and not Adam – and is told the identity of Eva Unit 03’s test pilot before the activation test happens. His friend Touji’s little sister recovers from her injuries, and Touji himself doesn’t become a pilot and get mangled (though there is a bit of a downside to that last one). Asuka isn’t the one to be dealt the crushing defeat by the Angel that trashes Nerv. Heck, even the more lighthearted bits get a bit more romantic comedy-like; complete with borrowing background music from His and Her Circumstances, the romantic comedy that Gainax and Anno made after Evangelion.
Even the newcomer Mari fits into this theory. It’s been observed that she appears to be a collection of character traits that also appear in the other members of the main cast. I speculate that she’s some kind of by-product of humanity having previously been merged into one being; bits of other people stuck together and given human form. This probably explains why she’s so screwed up and everyone else is slightly less screwed up than before; she’s the more screwed up bits of them rolled together. Not to mention she has some abilities a bit beyond the “normal” Evangelion pilot – different from what Kaworu displayed, but abilities beyond nonetheless.
Or maybe Anno’s just thrown in entire schools of red herrings. Either possibility is easily plausible.
So what has the Rebuild done for the art and animation? Improved it greatly; everything looks much better than it did before. The Angels, though, deserve special mention here. They’re much more complex, and very clearly 3D CGI, as opposed to the hand-sketched digitally painted everything else. Usually, when you get a mix of traditional and CGI like this, the effect is a bit jarring; the CGI always looks ever so slightly out of place. It is the case here, but it works for it and strikes me as being deliberate; it serves to show just how alien the Angels are in appearance, how out of place they really are in the world. Oh, and the other thing it’s done for it? Added blood. Lots more blood. The bodies of the Angels, once killed, basically transmute into blood. I’m not sure yet if that’s supposed to mean something, or if Anno’s just doing it for the sake of how it looks.
Another thing of note is that there are scenes showing Tokyo-3 as a living, breathing city that people really live in – something that we never really got the feeling of in the TV series, though it was said that people were living there. So they’ve gotten better at the old writing adage of “show, don’t tell.”
So far, it’s striking a good balance between the familiar path of the TV series story and things being changed. And not just that, but starting with smaller differences early on and building up to larger ones. And the changes mostly don’t feel like change for the sake of change, but changes with some point behind them… even if we haven’t figured out what the point is yet. And I’m seriously impatient to see more, so it’s clearly doing something right.
So in conclusion, if you’ve seen the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, it’s well worth seeing the Rebuild. If you’ve been living under a rock on Mars for a decade or two and haven’t seen the TV series, it’s also well worth seeing the Rebuild.