(Credit: Sadako’s Movie Shack)
If you know anything about anime, you know that one of its cornerstones is the mecha genre. This genre divides itself into two categories: Super Robot–which is big crazy action ala Gigantor–and Real Robot–which uses giant robots and child soldiers as weighty metaphors, usually to comment on the futility of war or some such like the various Gundam series.
Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, a feature film remake and consolidating of the first six episodes of the legendary anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, fits rather easily into the Real Robot side of things. But it’s not a metaphor for the cruelty of war; rather, it’s one for, well….I don’t really know to be honest.
I have yet to watch the show (which is considered one of the cornerstones of modern anime) but from what I understand, all sorts of things have been attributed to this show from serving as a psychoanalysis of its creator and writer/director Hidekai Anno to a commentary on religion to all manner of stuff. The film–which aired here in America on the Toonami block last weekend–carries this over too, being presented in such a way that it supports many interpretations and can balance them all in a smart fashion.
Let’s get to the plot: Shinji Akari (Spike Spencer), an insecure teenager, is sent for by his estranged–to put it mildly–father Gendo (John Swasey) and is told to meet Lt. Col. Misato Katsuragi (Allison Keith) in a part of the city of Tokyo-3. Unfortunately, Shinji can’t call her to let her know he’s arrived due to a state of emergency being declared over the forces of the UN battling a mysterious being known as an Angel.
Misato shows up, saves Shinji as they are caught in a ginormous explosion and takes him to the underground area GeoFront and the secret headquarters of NERV, a security organization that fights the Angels using the weapons and forces of the UN but also has a secret weapon in the giant mecha known as Evangelion. Shinji, as Gendo explains, has been brought to NERV simply because he needs to pilot the unit EVA-01 as the only other pilot they have, another teenager named Rei Ayanami (Brina Palencia), is critically injured. After some convincing–read: he sees the horribly injured Rei wheeled right out in front of him as she attempts to get up and pilot the thing–Shinji agrees to do it and enters a life of living with Misato, piloting the EVA and fighting these strange Angel creatures.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it AIN’T and that’s what makes it hard to summarize. As you might have gathered so far, or if you’re familiar with the show at all, you know that this is a dense, dense show, full of depth and richness…but it’s also confusing at the outset. Indeed, I found the first third of the movie–particularly the first fifteen minutes–rather difficult to understand and confusing to watch. But once the movie settles in and starts ratcheting up the plot and action, things get very interesting.
The animation here–basically a crisper redo of the show but with added scenes and newer CG added–is gorgeous. This is by Gainax, the production company best known for off-the-wall stuff like FLCL and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. This is the most straightforward, serious thing I’ve ever seen from them and technically, they pull it off very well. My only complaint is that sometimes the lighting is very dark and dim. I had to rewind some crucial scenes multiple times just to figure out what was going on and that’s never a good thing.
Story-wise, this felt a bit rushed. Like I said, those first fifteen minutes are a drag and just sort of catapult you right into the setup with exposition and whathaveyou revealed later on; that can be a good thing, but here, it makes the first bit–particularly for a newcomer like me–odd to sit through and very head-scratching.
The English cast, working from a dub script by Funimation (the Disney of anime in that they own the North American rights to just about everything) and directed by Mike McFarland, is rather terrific. The bulk of them starred in the dub of the television series and here, they sound like they’re fitting back comfortably in their roles; Shinji Akari is the role that made Spencer famous and he shows why with an angsty performance that is whiny at times but still compelling, Keith is both funny and commanding as Misato and Swasey, who has the unenviable task of bringing to life Gendo, the biggest a**hole I have ever seen in fiction, pretty much does just that. The only new addition here is Brina Palencia as Rei (replacing Amanda Winn-Lee from the series) and, although she doesn’t speak too much, she portrays the tortured aspect of this girl very well.
So, as a new viewer, did I like it? Well, yes; by and large, I can see why this franchise is so beloved. But it is also very dense, even when squished into a movie; I had to go on Wikipedia afterwards to make sure I understood the plot. But aside from that, I found this film cerebral, engaging and fascinating. If symbolism and cryptic metaphors as laid out by robots fighting stuff is your thing, then check it out.
One last thing: I know it says Evangelion 1.0 on the poster and yes, that’s the film’s original title. But it was released with some updates on DVD and Blu-Ray as 1.11 and that’s the title Toonami aired it under, so that’s how I put it.