Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (director).

Extent

Review refers to the Renewal/Platinum DVD versions with integrated additions from the feature film Death.

Categorization

SF action, drama, horror. Anno’s magnum opus.

Subject

In a fifteen-year prelude to the apocalypse, factions maneuver to control the completion of humanity. Bestial machines with disturbed child pilots protect its keys from surreal and mysterious creatures in near-future Japan, rebuilt following the destruction of Antarctica, which flooded much of the world and wrecked the climate.

Commentary

“Was it not so, O Morquan! King of Japan, whose lofty jet they say at times assumed the semblance of a snow-white cross against the sky?” – Moby-Dick (1851).

Original, jagged and mesmerizing, Neon Genesis Evangelion didn’t spring from a vacuum. Like Space Runaway Ideon (1980), the giant mecha of Evangelion fuse Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) with its superheroic predecessors, as remade in “Giant Robo: The Animation” (1991). Ikari Shinji is a lot less gung-ho and less generic than Ideon’s Cosmo, a lot more like the directors of both shows. The characters are wonderful, brought to life in a perfect storm of Sadamoto’s designs, skilled animators and brilliant actors.

Though it did not spring from a vacuum, Evangelion is complete on a level all its own. On a mere TV animation budget, slashed for adult content, Anno combined what is supposed to be impossible. The show is hilarious and unsettling, a risqué, even pandering comedy with all the abrasive, unfunny earnestness of puberty. It’s got colourful tokusatsu- and kaijū-style battles with implausible happy endings punctuating black ruminations on human relationships in the abstract. It’s a hugely entertaining spectacle and, at the same time, it is absolutely sincere. In one TV series you get the visceral glory of Eva-01 sucker-punching Zeruel through a concrete wall in episode 19, Kaji watering his melons at the emotional apex in episode 21, and Anno using the most basic elements of verisimilitude in the craft of animation (a ground plane) to explain his feelings on self-conceptualization and socialization after abandoning mimesis, in episode 26. This all works better as a whole than I can account for.

It’s art, but it’s barely science fiction. The technobabble is pulled from mythology, psychology and cell biology instead of physics, but it’s still just technobabble. The bakelite is a callback to the history of Gainax, not a piece of worldbuilding. Much of the background is left unexplored in the TV series, merely implying influences comparable to Erich von Däniken or H. P. Lovecraft’s godlike aliens dressed up in Judaeo-Christian emblems for exoticism, similar to their use in Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie (1989) and Anno’s own Nadia (1990) which has embryonic versions of the score by the same composer. Evangelion’s apocalypticism is more haunting, its Angels ever more invasively intimate. It reminds me of the primal and obsessive angst of the early Christians, of Revelation (ca. 95 CE), but not of actual Christian beliefs: It is the intrinsic cataclysm of The Quiet Earth (1985) and the extrinsic, equally permeating cataclysm of Godzilla (1954) and other nuclear cinema, rather than Yahweh’s work.

When the official translations mention Angels, the term is shito (使徒, apostle), not tenshi (天使, angel), apparently because the sh of shito is so close to the palatal fricative h of hito (人, person) that whenever NERV personnel spot a human on their instruments, they have to use the term ningen (人間, human) to disambiguate. In this instance, the borrowing of Christian terminology serves the purpose of foreshadowing the shared nature of humans and other monsters. More material relationships with The Bible (ca. 110 CE) are weak. When Gendō talks about the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, obviously that’s not the real scrolls, just a plot token dipped in a digest of the Kabbalah for added flavour. It’s technobabble and namedropping for atmosphere, not theology. Early English translators of the series didn’t seem to get this and mistakenly interpreted アポプトーシス as “apotheosis”, when it’s actually “apoptosis” with a possible double meaning in mind.

NGE changed the industry and raised awareness of animation among Japanese intellectuals. For example, in a 1996 article, young philosopher-critic Azuma Hiroki praised NGE against a blanket assumption that “anime as a genre is dead”, barren for the preceding decade, due to industry introversion (“autism”), and furthermore, that Anno revived the genre and “brought anime to a final closure” (「アニメ的なもの、アニメ的でないもの」, quotes from the official translation “Animé or Something Like It”; the article is a review in InterCommunication 18, 1996; written before Death). As for flaws, rewatching this on Netflix in 2019, it took me about ten seconds to get over the loss of “Fly Me to the Moon” due to licensing hell. Dan Kanemitsu’s translation is faithful within the constraints of studio mandates and works well enough.

References here: Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997), Love & Pop (1998), Gasaraki (1998), Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden (2001), All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), 24 (2001), RahXephon (2002), One Hour Photo (2002), Kiddy Grade (2002), Gunparade March (2003), Shadow Star Narutaru (2003), Fafner (2004), Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011), Pacific Rim (2013), Stations of the Cross (2014), “Me! Me! Me!” (2014), “Neon Genesis: Impacts” (2015), Stranger Things (2016), SSSS.Gridman (2018), Shanghai Fortress (2019).

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production mecha moving picture series

Adaptation:

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)

Creators

Sadamoto Yoshiyuki (writer-artist).

Extent

Read in 2019.

Categorization

Though it is an adaptation of the TV series into sequential art, the first chapter of the adaptation was published before the series began airing and was made by the same artist who designed the characters for TV.

Commentary

In the early volumes, there are scenes where Sadamoto thoughtfully adds details that improve the story without taking away from its other (non-story) attractions. For example, in the last chapter of volume 2, Misato reveals that she took in Pen-Pen because he was an experimental animal who would have been put down without her intervention; this is a passable reason for her to have a weird pet, and a parallel with Shinji, hence a good reason to mention this background detail. In the same chapter, the NERV agents who escort Shinji to the train follow him onto the platform and care about whether he’s really leaving, whereas in the TV series, they are inexplicably absent from the platform (in every shot). Shinji’s former teacher, a notable omission from the TV series, is replaced with an older couple (an aunt and uncle with their own kid) who appear on the page (for the first time) in chapter 16 and receive a little bit of characterization still later.

Near the end, Fuyutsuki spells out more of the deep background than was shown in the first animated versions, including the dual seeding of the Earth and what Instrumentality actually entails. However, even here, who sent the seeds is unclear, and the gigantic project of building and running NERV without spilling its secrets is just as mysterious as on TV. There is a little more talk of a god being responsible, rather than the aliens supposedly planned in early scripts, but the god is not named or characterized. Many minor lacunae, such as how Aida and Suzuhara got into Unit 01’s entry plug in combat, remain off screen.

Some of Sadamoto’s changes are more invasive. Asuka gets an early win on her own, actually demonstrating her superior intelligence, talent and training, which is an improvement, but then she loses her battle against the EVA Series. Tōji is the focus of volume 6, adding a welcome depth of detail to his tragedy, including a scene where he personally tells Shinji about being selected; this, too, is an improvement simply on the grounds of believability. Thought bubbles provide an additional psychological interiority to Shinji, showing him to be just as depressed as he appears to be in the TV series, but also more forward, more petulant and markedly more judgemental. His body language is amped up compared to the TV version, putting his emotions closer to the surface. Sadamoto strips his solitary wanderings in episode 4 down to the single scene of encountering Aida on a meadow, pulling out a lot of the emotional impact. On that train platform at the end of volume 2 (which corresponds to the end of episode 4), Misato actually gives Shinji a hug instead of merely repeating the ritual phrases for returning home, and—in a continuation of the scene into the next volume—Shinji laughs out loud with Aida and Suzuhara. In general, the characters are a little warmer, and the blood-curdling screams fewer.

More obvious changes include: Kaworu is less of an ethereal ideal and more of a realistic teenage weirdo, present through a lot more of the narrative. The second Rei develops a love of Shinji, including holding his hand by a romantic gazebo in a moment of happiness. Shinji never masturbates over Asuka in the hospital, nor does he express a corresponding depravity by other means. Gendo is the one who rescues Shinji from the troops, thus actually helping his son, and explaining his own motives at greater length. Instead of quickly rematerializing on a beach with a despondent Asuka, Shinji appears to have been reincarnated—again with Asuka—into a very similar civilization, rebuilt after what may be tens of thousands of years: The EVA Series has been fossilized standing up and is still standing in this future world. The reincarnated teenagers have no memory of their previous unhappy lives, a situation resembling the “school sitcom” alternate universe of the TV series, and not an improvement.

There is no equivalent to Anno’s live-action rebuttal to his irate fans. Sadamoto’s version is the more conventional and genre-bound, on every level. Though the art is beautiful, the artist does not find his medium’s strengths in quite the same way Gainax found the strengths of moving pictures. Still, Sadamoto is a surprisingly competent writer. In volumes 4 and 5, in particular, he adds comedic scenes that work just as well as the original’s. At other times, including the final battles, he sticks too close to the original keyframes. At its heights, the work is moving, but the truly jarring emotional power is not there.

fiction Japanese production mecha sequential art series

Compilation:

Death & Rebirth (1997) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (director), Tzurumaki Kazuya (director).

Categorization

Animated feature film released to theatres after the controversial ending of the original series. The first half, named Death, is a summary of the TV series (episodes 1-24) with some additional footage, directed by “Masayuki”. The second half, Rebirth, is itself only the first half of an alternate ending, directed by Tsurumaki.

Subject

This added the catastrophic birth of the Giant of Light, among other things.

Commentary

Death is artful, but incoherent. It’s just a refresher, inadequate as a summary for those who never saw the original series. This film is therefore obsolete. The only significant footage that hasn’t been recycled is of preparations for a recital, which does not fit into the canonical plot anywhere, despite Shinji himself playing the cello in the original. The additions to the main plot have been worked into Renewal and The End of Evangelion (1997), while the purpose of a summary faster than the TV series is served by the first installments of Rebuild.

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production moving picture

Remake:

The End of Evangelion (1997) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (director).

Categorization

Theatrical feature animation, with moments of other media. It’s not a complete remake: This film is both Rebirth and the sequel to Rebirth, forming an alternative or complementary plotline with regard to the last two episodes of the TV series. The film incorporates elements of live action, including pictures of real death threats to Anno and footage from a screening of Death & Rebirth.

Subject

Based on the original scripts for the end of the TV series, executed with a full cinematic budget.

Commentary

Furious genius. The title The End of Evangelion is an invention for the foreign market, just as Neon Genesis Evangelion itself is a studio-mandated corruption of the original title, Shin Seiki Evangerion (Gospel of the New Century).

References here: Death & Rebirth (1997), “Anime Tencho” (2002), SSSS.Gridman (2018).

animation fiction Gainax Japanese production moving picture

Remake:

Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (supervising director).

Extent

Seen in 2013.

Categorization

First in a series of four feature films, named Rebuild of Evangelion, telling an increasingly original version of the entire story. Produced at a new studio, Khara, but again directed by Anno Hideaki.

Subject

Quite compressed, but all of the original Angel fights are included covering up to episode 6 of the TV series. Of the various changes, the largest is Misato showing Shinji what he is fighting for by revealing Terminal Dogma and Lilith, information Misato herself was not privy to by this stage in the TV series.

Commentary

The Rebuild films are more visceral, mainly as a result of the higher budget. It’s put to good use. The great visual beauty of Diebuster (2004) is added to an intelligently polished narrative. My only serious complaint is that the Fifth Angel, and improbable civilian involvement in that fight, should have gotten a more substantial revision, akin to the now brilliantly impressive Sixth Angel. Silly prehensile CG kaijuu ribs don’t cut it. Even the Sixth Angel is still slightly flawed: Its drill looks better than it did on TV, but the twisting of the material is inconsistent with its hyperdimensional contortions, which leaves all other surfaces flat in 3D.

Actually showing the collective human effort of the war against the Angels makes a great addition, especially the various huge crews working to execute Operation Yashima. The comparative nakedness of SEELE in this version, working without their committee disguise, makes it seem as if they’ve taken control of society to a much greater degree, ever since Second Impact. That event is barely even mentioned, perhaps for fear of too much exposition boring the audience. On the other hand, Gendō plainly states that each Angel is complete unto itself as an alternative humanity. Gendō’s villainy is a little bit sharpened even in this first outing of the remake, so much so that he might have arranged the otherwise mysterious disappearance of Rei’s entire medical crew during the Fourth Angel’s attack.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

Sequel:

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (supervising director).

Extent

Seen in 2013.

Categorization

Veering toward action blockbuster with much stronger apocalyptic elements than the first film.

Subject

The plot corresponds roughly to episodes 8–12, 18–19 and some material up to episode 23 of the TV series, with more new stuff.

Among numerous changes, Asuka takes the place of the original Eva-03 pilot, a new pilot character who enjoys the work is introduced, and Asuka and Rei have a romantic rivalry over Shinji.

Commentary

A lot more sloppy than the first film, or the TV series, but there is still great attention to detail. I love the ecological angle, with a long visit to a special water purification facility protecting some oceanic wildlife from the broken oceans. The injection of moe is unfortunate.

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture

Sequel:

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012) IMDb

Creators

Anno Hideaki (supervising director).

Extent

Seen in 2014.

Categorization

A turn back from action toward introspection, but retaining the heightened apocalyptic elements.

Subject

Shinji materializes out of the LCL into a world where his heroic decision to rescue his fellow pilot was pointless and makes him a pariah.

The plot touches episode 24 of the TV series but is almost orthogonal to the original. There is more overt human-on-human conflict, which is an elaboration upon the concept of the human attack on NERV in End (humanity being the 18th Angel in that continuity).

Commentary

The time skip is great, except the use of “Eva no jubaku”. I love the fact that the world appears to have moved on during the skip, including a continuation of Third Impact and—likely—several Evas that we do not see. It’s Diebuster again. This all feeds beautifully into the anti-heroism of the piece.

Reviewing the US Blu-Ray, Zac Bertschy interpreted the most significant dramatic movement of the film to be the realistically failed expectation that one person’s sincere love—Kaworu’s—can cure the self-loathing of another: Shinji. This is indeed a good centerpiece, but 3.0 is again more sloppy than the previous film. I am especially disappointed to see the ecological aspect of the apocalypse completely lost, along with the idea of NERV needing workers.

I appreciate the introduction of the Wunder, a nonsensical homage to the tradition represented by the White Base, the Solo Ship and the Macross, dating back to the Yamato. The scene of Wunder’s first battle is scored with tongue in cheek. Much of the other new stuff is unexciting, though it has the potential to be cleared up by the long delayed final entry.

References here: “Until You Come to Me” (2014), “Confidential: Evangelion: Another Impact” (2015), “Cassette Girl” (2015).

animation fiction Japanese production moving picture