Remakes, reboots–whatever you call them, they’re our subject in this series of reviews. The Rebuild of Evangelion series is a tetralogy of four theatrical releases that tell the story of Shinji Ikari all over again. In the last volume of (I’m) Not a Fanboy, I reviewed the entire Neon Genesis Evangelion series, and am thus likely not ideal to review these movies. I know all this stuff inside and out; when I see these movies, it’s with the eye of a fan, not a critic. I could tell you which episodes are being adapted for the screen, what scenes they’ve left out, what scenes have been shuffled around in the series chronology. And as a fan, I have the unique opportunity to answer the question: is Rebuild really necessary?
The story starts, as all canon Evangelion works do, with Shinji (Spike Spencer) alone in Tokyo-3, waiting for Misato (Alison Keith-Shipp) to pick him up and take him to NERV. Shinji is a lonely, wounded boy–not possessed of great courage, spark or will. Part of the essence of Shinji as a character is his melancholy. He wonders not what he can do for the world but why the world has thanked him for saving them. He doesn’t care for other people, he just wants to be left alone. Yet, fate–or more specifically, his bastard of a father, Gendo (John Swasey)–has chosen him to be the saviour of humanity and pilot of Evangelion Unit-01. Surrounded by interesting people in NERV and his daily life, You Are (Not) Alone chronicles Shinji’s introduction to Tokyo-3 life, from settling in with a new guardian to trying to make friends at school to saving the world from imminent apocalypse.
This movie is an adaptation of the first six episodes of the TV series and serves less as an independent entity than as a translation of those 144 minutes of television into 100 minutes of movie. The characters are still emotionally distant and bruised, but now it seems that there is more capability for forgiveness and caring between them. Some sight gags are used again–the toothpicks make a return appearance–and some dialogue seems arbitrarily different from the television dub. Even in this first installment, old-time fans will be able to see the streamlining of plot as Seele and the Human Instrumentality Project Committee Board of Trustees Association are lumped into one set of ten Sound-Only monoliths. Redundant scenes are chopped and character traits are transferred to make more sense.
Chief Director Anno said in a letter that accompanies my copy of the film: “Naturally, we will make it accessible to those who do not already know Evangelion”. Is this true? Yes, to a certain extent. Any introduction will be accessible to people who are not familiar with the ins and outs of fandom for a fifteen year old television series. Characters are established well, in much the same way as they were in the series. It goes to show that the introductory arc was indeed so perfect that it didn’t even need to be touched up for release as a movie. This should be perfectly open to anyone who hasn’t seen the series. The animation is superb, the pacing and direction are fantastic, the sound deserves special mention for evoking the true horror of alien monsters from beyond our realm of comprehension. There is no reason why people who have never seen the series should not be able to get into this film.
Yet, I’ve said before and I’ll say now: Rebuild of Evangelion is thoroughly for the fans. There are far too many fandom nods and acknowledgments for me to believe that this movie is entirely meant for a new audience. Old fans will recognize a familiar face at the end of the movie, sitting in a setting all too familiar. Fans will have to ask important questions about the colour of the sea and the surface of the moon. Is this a bad thing? No. Is this definitely a thing? Yes. Most definitely yes.
Runaway character in this picture is Rei Ayanami (Brina Palencia). This is as it should be as the introductory arc has always been devoted to her quiet, stoic mecha pilot. Rei has always been fascinating as a character, but it’s in this version of events that she’s finally demonstrating some basic humanity. You see, Rei is a girl who is often mistaken for not possessing feelings. It isn’t that she doesn’t have any–it is that she does not know what they are. She doesn’t know what to do in certain situations, she can’t govern how she feels about things at will. Her reactions to everything are the main source of fascination in You Are (Not) Alone. The voice work Ms. Palencia provides is far more human than other interpretations of her character or characters like her have been. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a different thing, and sometimes it’s nice to have differences.
The English dub, as produced by Funimation (I believe) is superb. Sure, there are all the hallmarks of a foreign language film being translated into another tongue–syllables being jammed together in too little space, oddly punctuated sentences–but, as Miyazaki says, dubs are always to be preferred for aiding immersion. Not only does this dub not hamper immersion, it helps it along. I’ve always been a bit rough on Spike Spencer for sounding like a forty-year-old man voicing a teenager, but he does a much more believable job here. Alison Keith-Shipp also sounds more mature and focused, like a true Army Major–a refreshing development from the last fifteen years.
But, overall, is Rebuild necessary? I say yes. As Hideaki Anno said in the same letter I cited earlier: “I do think, why revive a title that is over 10 years old now? I also feel that Eva is already old. But in these 12 years, there has been no newer anime than Eva.” Evangelion does something far more than the typical mecha series at every level of its production. From writing to animation, Evangelion has always remained a cut above and a step beyond every competitor it has ever had. Rebuild of Evangelion is not only necessary, it’s vital to a new generation of anime fandom. It means that they can come of age with the realization that anime is more than physical or mental. It can also be intensely spiritual. THREE AND A HALF STARS