Evangelion 1.1: You Are (Not) Alone

Nobody would call me an Evangelion apologist. Sure, the 1995 TV series is considered a classic by many; despite its relative youth, it has influenced countless anime since. The mishmash of psychologically intense battles, pseudo-Christian symbolism, and deeply confused characters took the world brought up on Gundam by storm. But the show also had significant problems created by a certain schizophrenia about itself. The first third appears to be an update on the Aim For The Ace/Gunbuster pattern well established in the anime canon. The middle third becomes a solid action show with unique characters all beasting on each other, whereas all hell breaks loose as the train crashes into the station. Of the three parts, the first part nearly defeated me three times. After hearing the massive raves for the program, I was stunned at how...well, unstunned I was. It wasn't just uninteresting; it was dull. Did the show get better? Yeah. I did appreciate it eventually, but after wading through that opening muddle enough times, I was never sold on the whole.

When I heard about the new four-film Evangelion reboot, known collectively as the Rebuild of Evangelion, I wasn't stoked. Nevertheless the first film, Evangelion 1.1: You Are (Not) Alone, went into my Netflix queue as a responsible anime reviewer. It arrived and sat on the ledge of my entertainment center for a couple weeks. Then I watched it...and suddenly, a strangely familiar but impressively different Evangelion rolled out before me...one I loved. If this is the new Eva, then I'm in.

The basic plot hasn't changed at all. Our lead character, Shinji, is still the most reluctant of heroes, brought in to pilot a machine he doesn't understand which was built by a father he doesn't know. Gigantic monstrosities known as Angels are attacking to get ahold of an ancient being known as Lilith -- and if they do so, the world is over. No pressure! As his fears threaten to overwhelm him, the mysterious pilot Rei and the sweetly tough Misato grow on him. But around every turn is another Angel to be fought and another moment of terror for our cast.

The storyline was never really a problem, though the TV series felt like "the Angel of the week show" during its opening salvo. Here, everything's streamlined. Fans will love that the epic battles are lovingly re-created and re-animated, making memories of those events even more impressive. The visuals look spectacular, and they are edited for maximum impact. But beyond that, the dullness outside the battles is all but gone. A few classic moments remain, such as Shinji's initially awkward moments as Misato's new roommate, but the glacial pacing of the opening has disappeared. And while some will complain that the characters are not as psychologically scarred and complex, I believe the personalities are not only more likable but more believable. Mega-fans who have watched the original countless times and faithfully upgraded their DVD sets may think, "This again?" But for those of us who never bought into the hype, this not only works but sizzles. The excellent dub found on the US DVD release only increases the wow factor.

There are a couple of minor issues to quibble about. First is the slavish devotion to the original even when it is out of date. Seriously, Shinji still listens to a Walkman? People are still using landline phones? Given the setting, it would have been appropriate to update these bits, especially since they may present a barrier to newcomers. Second is the question I can't answer: has too much been left out from the series? I mean, this thing makes perfect sense to me now, far more than the TV program ever did. But is that because I've already experienced the original? I hope to show the film to my wife soon and see if it's an issue or not. I also made a very slight tweak to my grade based on the incompleteness of the story. Like, say, The Fellowship Of The Ring, it's difficult to feel fulfilled by this film on its own. It needs whatever sequels are coming. And considering the various endings this series has already had, there's no telling whether the new one will be any good.

One issue that I don't think is a quibble at all -- not for me, anyway -- is that this is no longer first and foremost a wacked pscyhodrama in sci-fi trappings. Evangelion 1.1 is an action film. The psychological elements are in place, but they are not center stage. You can feel they will eventually play a role, but Shinji is not the whiny runt he once was, nor is Misato the masquarading drunkard. Instead, Evangelion 1.1 immerses the audience in epic battles and slows down just long enough to make us realize that these characters have some real issues. This will displease some, but I was enthralled.

Confession time: I sold my Eva stuff. After finding the TV series just OK, Death/Rebirth unnecessary, and End of Evangelion downright miserable, it all went to others. I've had little desire to return to it. With that said, Evangelion 1.1: You Are (Not) Alone has made it onto my must-buy list. Ever since watching it, I've wanted to see it again. If the first critics out of the gate are right and the next film, Evangelion 2.2: You Can (Not) Advance, is superior, it might just blow my mind. And frankly, I think that had Evangelion 1.1 made it into US theaters, it might have actually spawned a significantly bigger audience for anime in this country. It's just that good.

Evangelion 1.1: You Are (Not) Alone -- violence, brief nudity -- A