Blu-ray edition reviewed by Robert Hood
Giant robots (known as mecha) and giant monsters (known as daikaiju): two of the most iconic elements of Japanese fantasy cinema. Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone mingles the two to surprising and indeed complex effect.
When Neon Genesis Evangelion came on the scene back in 1995/1996, it proved to be a massive success, both as a 26-episode TV series written and directed by Hideaki Anno and as a “supporting” manga by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. A remarkable work that profoundly influenced anime as a genre, it became compulsive viewing for many — as well as a lifetime obsession for Hideaki Anno, its primary creator. It has since been built upon, extended, re-worked … and yet never completely finished. Anno (in conjunction with others) has taken several shots at the ending, which, in the original series, was so metaphysical and abstract as to be well-nigh impenetrable — fascinating and suggestive without a doubt, and giving rise to interesting speculation, but slightly unsatisfying as well, with animation that was reduced to a series of static and surreal images by budgetary restraints. The show’s subsequent popularity allowed its creator to re-edit the penultimate episodes into Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and then to re-do the ending in a less narratively opaque manner in Neon Genesis Evangelion: Re-Birth, and again, later, as The End of Evangelion – an alternate view of how the events played out. Yet still Anno’s ambition for the franchise remained incomplete.
In 2006 Gainax (the show’s production company) announced the coming of an animated film series referred to as Rebuild of Evangelion. It would be a four-film remake of the anime series, intended to finally fulfill Anno’s ambition for it — something he could not realise with the meagre budget and technology of the time. The animation would be upgraded according to modern technological advances and the story edited into a more cinematic narrative structure. The first two of these films have been completed: Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Jo; 2007) and Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance (aka Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha; 2009). Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone achieved the distinction of being 4th highest grossing anime film at the Japanese box office during 2007, and then went to DVD and further success, though the latter version was subsequently tweaked after complaints about overly dark scenes and various technical glitches. This led Anno to release Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, which has now arrived on Blu-ray, with colour-correction, contrast fixes and the insertion of new footage. It would be easy to describe the result as a masterpiece if the original show itself hadn’t already appropriated that status.
In essence the story of Shinji Ikari is that of a boy, his father and a “squad” of hybrid robots — classic Japanese mecha — though that description nowhere near does it justice. It’s what Anno has done to the standard tropes of the mecha subgenre that makes the franchise so distinctive. Metaphysical nuancing, psychoanalytic examination of human relationships, political intrigue and narrative complexities abound, as a group of teenagers — born in the aftermath of the near-apocalyptic “Second Impact” (part of a complex back-story that only gradually reveals itself) — are revealed to be the only ones capable of piloting huge humanoid mechanisms, Evangelions or Evas, ostensibly built by the mysterious para-military organization NERV to fight a string of monstrous creatures known as “Angels”. These “Angels” arrive one after the other — bizarre in appearance and apparently malicious in intent, threatening a devastating “Third Impact” and the destruction of humanity. The narrative uses this framework to weave a complex set of themes that range from personal issues of depression and alienation to the nature of existence itself.
The Blu-ray of Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone is a wonder to behold. Rich in colour and detail, it has a powerful soundscape, flowing animation and stunning imagery – a mingling of traditional cel-animation and CGI that works beautifully. It comes with the original Japanese soundtrack (featuring excellent voice actors whose interpretation of the characters is definitive), clear and readable English subtitles, and an English-language dub option. Some decent extras (including the 1.0 version) and a 20-page booklet complete the package.
Despite being criticized as a “dumbing-down” of the first six episodes of the series, Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone remains a complex, metaphorically rich work that plays well in its own right. Dramatically it is more coherent than the original, though some depth may be lost through the tightening of events and the loss of story detail. Nevertheless this remake is a stunning upgrade of the earlier material. Visually it is rich and dynamic; narratively it remains exciting, intellectually challenging and emotionally involving. Though much is left unanswered by the end of this first film, it should be obvious even to the uninitiated that there are many aspects of the plot and the mysteries surrounding NERV, the Evas, the Angels, the teenage pilots and the connections between them left to be unraveled, and that subsequent films are likely to be doing just that. It isn’t a matter of there being no answers (as those who have seen the original Neon Genesis Evangelion would realize); simply that gaining those answers is the whole point of the series. In fact, the “re-build” should not be seen as replacing the original show, but as part of an ongoing dialogue between Anno and his vision – and a rebuild that can be easily appreciated by those unfamiliar with Neon Genesis Evangelion and its developmental history. One way or another, this is a must for anyone interested in anime or indeed in involving, intelligent SF/fantasy cinema.
Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone is available in Australia on Blu-ray (and on standard DVD) through Madman Entertainment.