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Rebuild of Evangelion

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.

Comparison image #1

Exhibit A. Someone else put in the effort on the image; I’m just posting it.

Comparison image #2

Exhibit B. Also not made by me.

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.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion. One of the greatest anime of all time. The work that made Anno Hideaki famous. The work that put Gainax on the map. The work that changed anime forever.

It holds a special place in my heart. Not because of those things, or because it is very good – or rather, not only because of those things. Evangelion holds a special place in my heart because it is effectively what made me an anime fan. It wasn’t the first anime I watched – that distinction would go to Astro Boy or Voltron or something else like that that I watched as a small child. Neither was it the first anime I watched knowing it was anime; that would probably be Battle Angel Alita or something else that screened on SBS during my teenage years.

No, it was the first anime that I really obsessed over. In my then 18 years of life, I’d never seen any work of fiction that explored the sorts of things it did or make me wonder what it all really meant as much as it did. I craved information about it (and what it all meant), so I took to the Internet in search of that. The Internet was very different then from what it is now; home broadband was a rarity, the best most had was a 56kbit/s dialup modem. (And I had a crummy 33.6k one…) Blogs, Wikis, social networking, none of these things existed yet. Everything was personal web sites, and I browsed as many of those as I could find that had anything to say about Evangelion. Most of the time, the people who had something to say about Evangelion had something to say about various other anime as well, and a lot of the time I found myself saying “hey this show sounds pretty interesting too,” and I’d go out and find them and watch them. And it kind of snowballed from there. But enough about my history; the long and short of it is that it had an immense impact on the course of my life.

A word of warning; I give away some really major plot points here, but by now the spoiler statute of limitations has to be up on this one. If you somehow haven’t seen the series but still want to be surprised, you have been warned.

It’s a big robot show that sits somewhere between Real Robot and Super Robot genre-wise, and deconstructs it all in a very major way. Our hero, such as he is, is Ikari Shinji, a 14-year-old boy who’s called in to Tokyo-3 by his father to pilot the eponymous big robot, Evangelion, and save the world. He takes the responsibility about as well as you’d expect the average teenager with emotional problems to – very badly. He’s constantly having to tell himself not to run away (and does run away from it all twice), really doesn’t get along with his father, has a lot of trouble making friends, the list goes on.

And the rest of the cast are all at least as screwed up as he is. I could go into details, but it’d take too long, and I’d still really just scratch the surface. Really. But some really serious effort went into each of them and their issues. Creator/director Anno Hideaki had suffered from depression, and it really shows, particularly in Shinji. I’ve mentioned before the importance I place on characters, and this show has truly fascinating characters.

Broadly speaking, the show can be broken up into three parts. The first few episodes are setup; we’re introduced to Shinji, the other pilot Rei, the situation (beings called Angels attack, the organisation called Nerv fights back using the Evangelions), and see some hints that there are other things going on in the background. Then about the time the third pilot, Asuka, makes her appearance, the show settles into a kind of status quo; the fights for the fate of the world happen, we get some deeper insights into the major characters and their motivations (and issues), further hints at things happening in the shadows. All seems to be going fine.

And then it all goes to hell in a major way. There are betrayals, major characters going off the deep end, lives being destroyed, shocking truths coming to light, and through all of this they all still have to deal with the ever-increasing threat posed by the Angels. By the end, Nerv has defeated all 17 of the Angels and saved the world, but at great cost. Tokyo-3 is basically destroyed, just leaving Nerv headquarters which was buried deep underground. Shinji is emotionally broken, his friends having left and having had to personally kill the only person he could open up to when things were at their previous worst. Asuka is catatonic following a series of crushing defeats. Rei (or rather a clone of her, the previous two incarnations having died horribly) is no better off than Shinji, for various reasons.

Now as an aside here, many people complain about Shinji as a protagonist, and how much of a wimp he is. It only really becomes apparent once during the TV series, but the truth is that when really motivated, he is capable of some amazing badassery. At one point, the strongest Angel yet seen attacks, easily defeating Asuka who had a fair arsenal at her disposal, and Rei who attacked with a bomb as destructive as a nuke, and makes its way through Nerv headquarters to its objective. Shinji (just coming back from his second running away from it all) shows up in his Evangelion, puts the Angel on the defensive without any weapons, takes the fight back outside with one arm blown off, and is in the process of ripping its face off when the battery runs out. So he lets depression get the better of him for most of the rest of the series; he’s only human. What humans are capable of and what they do is infinitely more complex than either being a hero or a wimp.

One-armed Evangelion

Things are about to get much worse for him

Something else worth noting is that the show is infamous for some of its cost-cutting techniques in the animation. It is true that they did write a couple of new chapters in the book of tricks in that regard, but they do at least manage to make it work for them in terms of dramatic tension. But the upside to this is that they took what they saved there and put it into better animating the stuff that was important to actually animate, and the artwork on it all is very good.

Anyway. As at episode 24 of the TV series, things are in the aforementioned sorry state. From here, there’s two different endings. The first is the TV series ending, episodes 25 and 26. They’re an almost completely incoherent mess of dialogue, images, half-finished ideas and crude animation, with a vaguely uplifting but confusing end.

The other is the movie ending, End of Evangelion. You know how things were bad at the end of episode 24? Well, they get much worse. Nerv gets attacked again, this time by other humans. The whole thing is pretty complicated, but the short of it is that there’s two different plots to merge all of humanity together into a single being; one being that of Shinji’s father, Gendo, and the other being that of Keel Lorenz, the head of the shadowy group ultimately behind Nerv. Gendo’s got some of the key pieces needed to make it happen, so Keel sends in the army.

Nerv fights back, but is badly outclassed by the army until Asuka comes out of her coma and starts trashing military hardware (and personnel) using her Evangelion, and things start looking up. That is, until Keel’s set of mass-produced Evangelions running on autopilot show up. Asuka puts up a downright heroic fight against them, managing to take them all down before her battery runs out… but they get back up again and tear her to shreds. The aftermath of this is the first thing Shinji sees when he arrives on the scene. Ultimately, humanity is all merged together, but things kind of fall apart and at the end there’s just Shinji and Asuka left, with the corpse of a giant Rei that was the single being humanity merged into.

So why am I so fond of a show that’s so depressing? Well, part of it is that I can relate (a bit too well) to that aspect of the characters, notably Shinji. Part of it is that it does a lot of really imaginative stuff that I’d never seen the likes of before, and haven’t quite seen the likes of since. Then there’s how it’s very well done, even if some aspects of the ending (particularly the TV ending) are what you might charitably call unsatisfying. But really, every once in a while you come across a piece of fiction that its creator really poured their heart and soul into. It might have its flaws, but it really draws you in. It might have any number of fantastic or unrealistic elements, but how it plays out feels natural. Neon Genesis Evangelion is one such work.

And then there’s the Rebuild movies, which re-tell the whole thing from scratch. I’ll be doing another post focusing on that at some point later.