Neon Genesis Evangelion: You Are [Not] Alone

11 December, 2008

*SPOILERS*

Thanks to a friend, I ended up seeing You Are [Not] Alone a couple of nights ago. It’s a good title, huh? It seems this may be an invention for the English-language release, as the Wikipedia page translates the original Japanese title as “Evangelion New Theatrical Version: The Beginning”.

I haven’t yet had a chance to revisit my DVDs of the previous releases, so I can only give a vague impression of what was different and what was the same. Others elsewhere may have posted more comprehensive comparisons, but this is for my own satisfaction, and, besides, will hopefully lack the adolescent pseudo-intellectual posturing that too often accompanies mention of NGE.

First, some have said that there are a few new shots added for the new film. Technically, I think it’s all new – to consistently match the high quality required by a modern cinema release, all cuts would have been newly generated and digitally edited and composited. So, in a way, the interesting question is: which shots did the director decide not to change? A detailed comparison will have to wait for a DVD release of the film, and a more patient reviewer than myself!

Generally, the film matched the look of the series closely. Explosions and other effects had the benefit of digital technology and big cinema sound, making the fights a lot more impressive than they had previously been. I noticed the use of a rainbow effect several times, and there was also a rainbow effect used on the text of the end credits, so it seems this will be a consistent motif through the new version.

New scenes: when Shinji runs away, there was a shot of him sleeping on the street, wrapped in cardboard, which I didn’t remember from the series. There was a shot of Rei’s blood on Shinji’s hand which I didn’t remember, though possibly it stood out this time because of its parallel with another “body fluid on hand” shot from End of Evangelion. A shot of Misato talking with blond whatsername on the escalator had an impressive CG structure scrolling behind them. In fact, the shots of subterranean transport were generally very detailed and atmospheric. The scene where Shinji opens Rei’s pod seemed more emotionally detailed than I remembered from previous; it seemed like both Rei and Shinji genuinely opened up, and a connection was formed. Hopefully this means the characters and relationships will be more realistic and developed than in previous versions.

A significant problem from the first version still persists: Shinji’s first fight with an angel still goes unexplained. Shinji is screaming, his EVA is disconnected from NERV operations, and then the EVA goes apeshit and kills the angel. What part Shinji played in that victory is never discussed or even referred to. Did he black out? Did he “merge” with his EVA? It’s bizarrely skipped over as though it’s not important, which is a shame, because I thought it was one point which could really benefit from revision.

I should mention here that I am not a huge fan of this series, nor of Hideaki Anno. Anno gets too much credit for NGE, which of course was created by a team, not by one man, but as Anno was already an iconic name, it was seen as entirely his creation. Doubtless he did have an important influence, but not always for the good. We can see his characteristic touches in the series His & Her Circumstances. The first half of this series is characterised by ever-lengthening episode recaps, long monologues, and animation more limited than any I’ve seen – most on-screen movement was in the huge reems of words scrolled upon the screen during the endless monologues. Anno was removed from the series halfway through, and, after an episode-and-a-half of recap to cover the transition period, the series continued in a much more conventional, and more watchable vein. This series is still often listed as one of Anno’s accomplishments, but the story and character elements that really save the show were carried across from the manga, and survived despite, not because of, Anno’s direction.

This talk of extremely limited animation, long monologues, and screens covered with text, will of course remind us of the controversial final episodes (25 and 26) of the original NGE series. The popularly accepted story is that Anno wanted to do something less obscure and more action-based for the finale, but was stymied by budget constraints. This is obviously untrue: (1) His & Her Circumstances was in the same style from the very beginning, and visual quality improved after he was taken off the project; (2) Shinji is constantly listening to tracks 25 and 26 on his tape player, supposedly a pointer to the final two episodes. They were obviously intended to be something other than a big physical conflict; (3) It would have been entirely possible to produce an acceptable action-based finale, by a combination of re-used shots, limited animation, visual effects, and hard work. The philosophical pontifications and pretentious symbolism of the finale episode were Anno’s choice, not something he was forced into. As far as his career goes, he made the right choice, as viewers were so mystified and intrigued that they were prepared to pay for another ending which made (only slightly) more sense, and now another version, which hopefully will explain the ending that was supposed to explain the previous ending.

Which is to slight what are NGE’s most interesting properties, its characters. Adolescents of all ages converge on the internet to discuss the virtues and foibles of Shinji, Asuka, and Rei. Part of the long-lasting appeal is that they are “unsolvable” characters; their personalities are rigid and unchanging, which is an intriguing conundrum, as we instinctively know that people do change, and do have more than one aspect to their personalities. My special peeve here is fans who praise Asuka as the best potential romantic partner for Shinji. If we judge these characters as real people, then, from what I know of people, Asuka and Shinji actually basically hate each other, mitigated in his case by burgeoning lust, and in Asuka’s by her desire to subjugate Shinji to her will. Yes, relationships like that happen in real life, but it’s hardly something fans should wish upon characters they are supposed to care about. As for Shinji and Rei, Rei is a clone of Shinji’s mother, so, er, no (shudder).

I should just mention two more points. The musical soundtrack was excellent, and I think my favourite parts of it were those that did not refer to the series music. I’m seriously contemplating getting the soundtrack CD when it comes out. Also, Pen-Pen the penguin is back. He wasn’t really used much in the original, and basically disappeared from the second half of the series, so I’m hoping he’ll have more of a role to play this time.

UPDATE 15/12/08:

I’ve gone back and watched the first half of the original TV series, and must say I am now even more impressed with the achievement of the film, in paring down the story, clarifying the emotions (especially when Shinji opens Rei’s pod), and improving the visuals. What I call the “blue diamond” angel is greatly improved, with its shifting CG-assisted geometry, and sudden crystalline growth when wounded.

I noticed a rainbow effect in the TV series, when Shinji ends up on top of Rei in her apartment – I wonder if there were other rainbows I missed?

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