Monday, July 07, 2008

A second chance to make a first impression: Evangelion:1.0--You Are (Not) Alone

In 1995, the bad boys of Japanese animation, Gainax, created nothing short of a phenomenon with the TV series Shin Seiki Evangelion, literally "New World of Evangelion." Gainax's preferred English rendition of the title was the one ADV Home Video gave it: Neon Genesis Evangelion. It was very unlikely hit material: a near-future science fiction series set 14 years after "Second Impact," a cataclysm which is first portrayed as being identical to the comet or meteor strike that killed the dinosaurs ("First Impact") but which is later revealed to be the first encounter with the supernatural pan-dimensional beings called "angels" who seem to be bent on the destruction of humanity. The "angels" have been attacking humanity's last stand on Earth: the fortress city Tokyo 3.

The only effective weapon humanity has against the "angels" are psionically-controlled Mecha called the Evangelions. Only a small group of children born on the day of Second Impact can control these Mechs. The first is Ayanami Rei: a bizarre, almost zombie-like girl with red eyes and blue hair. She is obedient to Ikari Gendou, the Evangelion Project leader, in almost a robotic way. Ikari's own son, Ikari Shinji, is the second child who can control the robots. Rei and Shinji are joined by Asuka Langley, a half-German, half Japanese girl, and towards the end of the series a mystery boy, Nagisa Kaoru.

As the story unwinds, things get more and more complicated. What are the "angels?" What is the real nature of the Evangelions? And what is Instrumentality, the shadowy goal that Ikari Gendou is working toward? The full meaning of what the series actually means is still under debate 12 1/2 years after the series' premiere in Japan. It can be argued, however, that Neon Genesis Evangelion is a key moment in Japanese pop culture. Since NGE, anime has experimented with deeper, more psychological themes. NGE proved that the Anime audience was ready for heady fare. And it appealed not only to higher interests, but to the traditional Anime fans as well. The popularity of Rei and Asuka toys, pinups and whatnot bespeak the Gainax knack for attracting the attentions of red-blooded Otaku males. There is action galore. Plenty of room for stuff blowing up real good.

While we all wait for the NGE live action movie which is not likely to happen until WETA Workshop cuts the seemingly doomed ADV loose and goes looking for deeper-pocketed and less dysfunctional production partners, Gainax has not slept on the laurels of its greatest achievement. Evangelion: 1.0 is the first of four "Rebuild of Evangelion" movies, which will recapitulate the story of the series plus the movies made because creator Anno Hideaki was not entirely satisfied with the last two episodes of the series. However, they are not just remaking the series beat for beat as the older Evangelion: Death and Rebirth movie did. They are going back and tightening the narrative, and also improving the battle sequences that are at the heart of the first part of the story. The "angels" are fiercer and more dangerous looking. Tokyo 3 inspires more awe. Unlike George Lucas, who did his CGI defacements of his original movies because he could, there is actual rhyme and reason for the enhancements.

The final battle of the movie, against an "angel" made of what can only be described as "living glass," is way more impressive than what you see in the original TV series. In 1995, CGI was very limited and was out of the hands of all but a few with the deepest of pockets. Now CGI is available to people with off the shelf computers. The original version of the "angel" was a solid polyhedron of gleaming blue glass. Now the "angel" changes shape, morphing into geometric forms and shapes. It's more dangerous and formidable looking.

It is time for a major Hollywood production company to step up and help Gainax get this movie in US theatres. An art-house subtitled release, followed by an English dub with a bit of star power behind it, would be great. You would have to have a brief crawl in the beginning explaining what Second Impact was and what the "angels" were, because NGE is so popular in Japan there was no need for a lot of exposition up front. Everyone knew the mythology. America might need a little bit more hand-holding before unleashing the attack of the Third Angel. However, I think it's time for the rest of the Sci-Fi loving American audience to find out what the Japanese (and American Otaku) already know.

Labels: , , , ,