It All Comes Tumbling Down; Why You Should Watch Rebuild of Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is arguably the most polarizing anime ever broadcast. Originally on the air in 1995, Eva (aka Shin Seiki Evangelion; lit., ‘New Gospel Evangelion’), has been debated among anime fans for nearly two decades. Eva’s enigmatic mystic symbolism, drawing from Christianity, Qabbalistic Judaism and Gnosticism, its mystery-shrouded plot that doesn’t easily furnish answers and its characters’ motivations, often obscured by their massive loads of psychological trauma, have left deep marks into anime.
Since Evangelion, we’ve seen everything from a trend of giant robots looking less like the militaristic Gundams and more like sleek biomechanical demons, to the unfortunate rise of moe – a trope where a helpless, endearing girl needs a dude to take care of her, protect her, and teach her how to looooooove (in a hilariously painful twist, Rei Ayanami was supposed to be disturbing in her detached, cold manner, instead she became the prototypical moe chick). Love it or hate it (or both, which is a rare feat I’ve seen Evangelion achieve more than any other anime), Eva is one of the most influential and well-known anime ever created.
Now Gainax is revisiting Hideaki Anno’s depression-spawned brainchild in a series of four movies called Rebuild of Evangelion. In 2007, the first of the four Rebuild movies was released; Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone. Less than 2 years later, 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance came out, which led to a painful three year wait for 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo. How do you remake something so influential, debated and iconic as Evangelion? And more importantly, does it suck?
I’ve loved Eva for a long time. I first saw the entire series when I was 13 and it was the first series that I really got heavily involved in that wasn’t Sailor Moon; just to give you an idea of my age and where the anime fandom was at the time (and not to remind you of Sailor Moon fanfiction that may or may not exist). Rebuild of Evangelion worried me, especially since the first pitch I read for it was ‘Eva without the confusing mind-fuckery!’ This, of course, would upset any purist who would (and has) argued that the confusing mind-fuckery is an integral part of the Evangelion experience. If you aren’t feeling like maybe you took something from a bad batch, you aren’t really experiencing Evangelion.
After having seen all three (Evangelion: Final, the last movie, still has a TBA release date) movies multiple times, I’m happy to report that even from a purist’s viewpoint, Rebuild is really worth watching. Even if you aren’t that into Evangelion, I strongly recommend watching The Rebuild of Evangelion.
The Rebuild movies are absolutely gorgeous. I’m a big sucker for atmosphere and detail, and these movies deliver unlike any anime I’ve ever seen. If I was rich, the first thing I would do is buy a movie theater and force them to play nothing but Rebuild of Evangelion, so I could bask in the gorgeous visuals while I did whatever rich people do – smoke cigars made
out of money and drink the tears of the 99% or whatever. The original series ran over budget about halfway through, since Gainax sunk so much money into animating Eva units. This led to some interesting quirks such as Gendo Ikari’s iconic pose, long, tension filled elevator sequences where characters refused to acknowledge each other (and refused to be animated) and one of my favorite scenes in the entire series; a painfully long and still deliberation set to The Ode to Joy over a character’s fate. Rebuild preserves that tension and iconic delivery in most cases while also providing the most beautiful mecha fights and creative monster designs that money can buy. If you really hate Evangelion, watch Rebuild muted just so you can check out this amazing animation.
The characters are not exactly the characters that you might remember from the original series. With the events of 26 episodes and two movies (Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion) being compressed into 4 motion pictures, Anno has made the plot more dynamic and fast-paced (in most cases – more on this in next week’s review of 3.33). The biggest improvement here is excelled character development that doesn’t necessarily follow the character progression from the original series and might actually catch you by surprise. I like being taken by surprise by Eva characters – there’s only so many times you can listen to Shinji moan “I mustn’t run away!” before even the most obsessive fangirl is going to roll her eyes and practice that old Spike Spencer (Shinji’s American voice actor) shrill whine not that I have ever done that.
The plot diverges from the original series and it’s not what anybody was expecting. This story diverges in both minor and drastic degrees which makes watching them very fun even for the Eva purist. The first movie, 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone, keeps nearest to the series’s plot but even there we get teased with far more background information than we got by that point in the series, even if it doesn’t make a ton of sense right away (since when is there stuff on the moon? holy shit that guy showed up early! Why are there 4 Adams now?). It just gets more wildly divergent from there, capping with a huge change in 3.33 that makes me eagerly await Evangelion: Final.
The plot, especially for the first two movies, has been called more ‘accessible’ than the original series. I never found the original series inaccessible, so I’ll translate this to mean that not nearly as much of the movies take place in people’s mind as the original series, which is certainly true. Those who found Eva’s original plot too heavy on the mind-fuckery will probably really appreciate this.
These are only a couple of the reasons why Rebuild of Evangelion is really worth checking out. These movies are far more than just a remake of a popular anime; these movies are an excellent creator getting to revisit his landmark work with a clear head, more money and some excellent industry talent (Studio Khara and KlockWorx are in partnership with Gainax for Rebuild). The more stream-lined plot and gorgeous animation is a great draw for those who may not have liked or seen the original series, where the character development and new mysteries of Evangelion are excellent motivation for old fans to come back. And don’t worry, there’s certainly enough depth to these mysteries. I’ll leave you with my absolutely favorite fan-theory, a theory that makes me feel like I’m 13 and watching End of Evangelion at 2am again (spoiler warning):