In the annals of animé, there are few series as influential, groundbreaking, divisive, and controversial as Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Although it starts out on a fairly straightforward note, with many of the standard tropes of the “big robot” genre, Evangelion becomes increasingly obtuse, ultimately emerging as a blend of intense mecha combat, psychology, apocryphal strands of Christianity and Kabbalism, teenage angst and alienation, and apocalypse that is as confusing as it is arresting.
As a result, the series has attained so much status that it’s virtually impossible for any “serious” animé title with even a smidgen of big robots and “mature” themes to not be labeled “Evangelion-esque” (I’m looking in your general direction, RahXephon).
Evangelion has had a turbulent history, to say the least. The original TV series’ production was marred by production delays and budgetary issues, leading to increased pressure on and within the staff (which resulted in a number of “creative” narrative choices in the final episodes). The series was criticized for its violent and sexual content. Creator/director Hideaki Anno had struggled with depression before the series and, according to some accounts, had a breakdown during the production (which explains the intense psychological deconstruction undergone by the series’ protagonist). And if that weren’t enough, some fans were so irate over the series’ original ending — which was very obtuse and bizarre by any measure — that they sent Anno death threats.
(In return, and probably with a wicked sense of glee, Anno gave those fans looking for a big, climactic, action-filled ending exactly what they were looking for when he remade the series’ ending in Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion. In these two films, and especially End, the original ending’s intensely introspective probing is exchanged for a bloody apocalypse so massive, nearly the entire human race is swept away in the final moments.)
In the ensuing years, Evangelion has become an industry all to itself, with video games, manga, toys, CDs, and other paraphernalia being manufactured along with the animé year after year. And the animé itself has been retooled, re-mastered, and reissued on several occasions.
But now, the biggest retooling so far is finally making its entrance. Rebuild of Evangelion takes the original 26 episodes and revises and condenses them into four full-length movies that will also feature updated visuals, new scenes and characters, and, perhaps most importantly, a new ending.
Suffice to say, otaku around the world are waiting with bated breath, and it’s a safe bet that they’re as equally prepared to hate it as they are to love it. That’s the kind of series Evangelion is, and I don’t think it could be any other way — nor should it be.
Sam Ghormley has seen the project’s first movie — Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone — which was released in Japan on September 1, and overall he liked it:
I saw film #1 a week ago and am quite impressed. Granted there were no subtitles or anything, but I know what they’re saying (or at least enough not to be lost) which leaves me free to dig the eye candy. New techniques that I noticed were a much larger emphasis on lighting in scenes (digital light blooms and the like), a little computer assistance in some technical scenes, a few all out CG sequences (laser cube anyone?), and a great boost to SFX quality.
He then goes on to talk a bit about the rebuild itself:
Is this the right thing to do? My knee jerk reaction says, sure, this is a good idea. Update a great series with new techniques. But come to think of it, maybe not. Why tamper with already completed projects? Shouldn’t they just exist as a product of their time? This is not like a remake of a classic film, but is it really just Lucas style tampering?
I feel the same way. I’m very interested in seeing the Rebuild films. I’ve been a big fan of the series ever since I watched the entire thing in one marathon screening. It’s a captivating title, and its world is so unique that I wouldn’t mind revisiting it again, even in a retooled form. But there is something to be said for leaving a storied, hallowed project as is, warts and all.
And while I’m sure the Rebuild films will be brilliant and cutting edge on many levels, I can’t help but wonder if they’ll pack the same raw, emotional punch of the original, which, in many ways, was Anno’s attempt to come to terms with his own deep troubles. Now so far removed from that time and its struggles, will Evangelion’s themes still possess the same intensity, desperation, and impact?
Reviews like Sam’s do give me hope that the Rebuild project will be something more than a mere attempt to cash in on the Evangelion brand. As does Hideaki Anno’s statement concerning the project, in which he outlines some of his reasons for taking on the project. They include a desire to share, with an audience, the embodiment of image, the diversity of expressions, and the detailed portrayal of emotions that animation offers and a desire to connect today’s exhausted Japanese animation industry to the future.
The whole thing is worth reading, especially if you consider yourself a fan — you can read the full statement here. Anno’s various statements lead me to believe that the man’s coming at this project from the right perspective and with decent motives. This isn’t just a rehash, but a definite reevaluation of the series and its messages and themes.
Time will tell, though. The first movie just started playing in Japan, the second movie is due out sometime in 2008, and the last two movies haven’t even been scheduled yet — which means that it will be quite some time before Rebuild of Evangelion makes its way Stateside (legally, anyways). In the meantime, you can watch the following (English) trailer for the first movie.