Friday, January 8, 2010

Revist Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone

You know its early in the New Year I want to do something fresh, something different something…

… I just can’t escape it can I?

For those of you who are newer to the blog, I did a feature last year where I went back and revisited the entirety of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Though it had been some years since I had seen the whole thing, I recognized the series as one of the corner stones of my taste. Equal terms impressionistic and expressionistic, personal and played on the grandest canvas imaginable, a complete mess and quite moving, I was gratified to find that Evangelion for all its flaws was still an intriguing work of art. Here's the whole shebang if you're interested.

I was surprised by how gratifying revisiting the show had been. Rather then be sick of it I wondered what would happen when Anno did the same.

Around the time I was starting the series it was announced that Hideaki Anno and Gainix would be retelling the entire thing through four movies, neither a step by step remake nor a complete reinvention this was basically the animated version of what Michael Hanke did with Funny Games. For those of you unfamiliar with the series this is significant because Evangelion in its home stretch gets “Eheheheh Crazy as a Loon!”

Anno has already told the ending of the series twice, and has between the two versions been more or less able to piss off absolutely everyone. Calling the endings he’s cooked up so far controversial is like calling Antichrist controversial it just doesn’t quite capture the passionate emotion (either positive or negative) that people feel about them. There’s a lot of speculation over whether or not Anno’s revisitation of the series means he’s ready to pull together a conclusion that will lean towards sensible, or if he’s just gone completely crazy and plans in the fourth film to just animate sequences from Last Year At Martriband and show them out of order.

Whatever Anno’s endgame is, Evangelion You Are (Not) Alone is an intriguing start. While word from Japan says that the second segment begins to deviate seriously from The series, You Are (Not) Alone finds the differences in the grace notes, with just enough major changes to seriously intrigue.

You Are (Not) Alone retells the original six episodes in a ninety five minute movie (Which really isn’t that much of cut only losing about thirty minutes. The Change in pacing actually works quite well, cutting deadwood and actually significantly extending some parts. Though its by its very nature “episodic” it does feel like an actual movie rather then an epic “Previously on…” ), if you want a detailed plot description read these three articles where I cover it ad nauseam. Otherwise I’m mainly going to be talking about the differences. You Are (Not) Alone is strange to watch for someone who knows the series. Some sequences play out shot for shot the same, others completely different, others some mix of the two (For example the battles between the Angels and The Eva plays out 95% the same right down to the angles and camera movement, but adds some impressively icky Cronenbergian body horror in the details).

The first thing you notice is that Anno has taken the “Apocalypse Right Now” aesthetic even further. Like I said one of the things that made Eva such a unique series was it didn’t take place in a world that was about to end, but one that was ending. From the opening frames You Are (Not) Alone emphasizes this. While in the series it was easy to mistake the world as one on the mend, Anno makes it clear here that in the words of The Doors, “No One here is getting out alive.” The sea is a blood red already looking like LCL, the gleaming world of Tokyo 3 is nearly deserted, worn and overgrown. It works to make NERV’s purpose more understandable (Not to mention having the Geofront bathed in Malickian golden light make a greater impression). While The instrumentality of humanity looked as though it was mainly being done for shits and/or giggles in the series, its more convincing as a necessary step for survival of conciseness here.

Anno has made good use of having a film sized budget here, adding detail to his animation that wasn’t possible ten years ago on TV. When The Angel first appears the powerlines in the background start to whip up and down with his vibrations, when the UN fires it’s missles on the Angel the camera briefly goes out of focus thanks to the heat shimmer. The lighting effects are more subtle, for example when the Eva First launches its Night and only the highlights on it can be seen clearly. The animation on the angel itself is more quizzical, more alien. Most of the animation is frankly beautiful, and more importantly its innovative in the way that made Gainax’s reputation.

Interesting too that Anno keeps the shot of the phantom Rei. Its always been such an odd shot, and Anno keeping it here seems to lend credence to the fact that its important and deliberate, rather then just something Anno forgot about. I feel like the idea that entire movie and show are a flashback as Shinji experiences the next level of human conscience looks more and more to be a correct one.

Interestingly enough one of the biggest differences in tone is that the expressionistic elements have been toned down. I wrote about how surprised I was by how arch Shinji’s first meeting with his Father was, in the TV show. And while the emotional beats are still hit, its staged more like a real argument and less like an expressionistic hell scape this time. Rei’s subsequent appearance is also less abstractly pieta like and more real world (The fetishization that has always haunted the character though seems to have gotten worse if anything). A similar toning down is done on Shinji’s lone walk through the city. Again it makes it wholly more realistic. Shinji runs away he doesn’t “runaway”.

While I doubt this will mean a decrease in Eva’s trademark stream of conscienceness style (It in fact briefly introduces one such sequence after the first battle some fourteen “episodes” before the series does), it’s a significant difference and an important one.

This kind of downplaying extends to the characters are well, and in my opinion some really interesting fine tuning has been done both individually, and subtly deepening and complicating the relationships between characters. Shinji still has all the angst he’s ever had, but he’s less incessant and sullen about expressing it. His endearingly sheepish and vulnerable qualities have been emphasized as well, and he’s even a bit of a smart ass from time to time. Gendo is still cold and demanding, but now seems more like a character as opposed to just being a symbol for cold demanding Fathers. Unlike his TV Show counterpart he never seems to be making people suffer for the sport of it, he always has at least a nominal reason (The man even projects something other then absolute certainty for once which was kind of shocking). Misato plays more like her character in the rest of the show rather then the fan servicy giggle bomb she started out as (And the movie mercifully cuts the bizarre “Up Skirt” joke that the TV show introduced us to NERV with) the culminative affect is that all these people seem just a little bit realer, a little less like symbols. Not to mention cutting a lot of the “We’ve been here before” feeling that I complained about in the concurrent episodes.

The film’s fine tuning extends to the plot. Like I said you hardly even notice the missing twelve minutes. If anything the movie seems to fit MORE in thanks to some judicious edits. Gone for example is the bizarre “Council of Five Snide Guys” (Give Anno Credit for Recognizing a narrative Dead end when he sees one) SEELE just goes ahead and immediately shows up in its true form (And an offhand comment here adds a truly interesting wrinkle to the whole thing, as does a small new conversation between Fukuyuski and Gendo that’s queasy in its implication and hints at the bold new direction the films might take.) The “Human” Nature of The Eva’s and Lillith's role are also revealed early (And with everyone knowing it Lilith this time).

The film’s philosophy has subtly changed as well. The title You Are (Not) Alone originally seemed to be a pat, almost cute, but its actually very apt. While at this point in the show Anno had already changed Tokyo 3 into a deserted extenstion of the characters. Anno goes out of his way to show the people still inhabiting it every opportunity he gets. Loneliness seems no longer to be Anno’s summation of the human condition, but rather at least partially, self imposed. The film’s imagery often shows the characters separated from eachothe rin the frame by obstacles. But they’re always man made artificial obstacles. Eva has a reputation for having a rather adolescent philosophy, well against all odds it seems to have matured.

The film climaxes with, the battle with the third angel. And its is particularly improved. The tone’s much grimmer (The attack on Shinji is even nastier) The animation and design on the angel which takes some unexpected turns is impressive and detailed (The damage appears before the ray is visible) There’s a real apocalyptic feel to the whole sequence and it’s truly compelling even if you know how the damn thing is going to end.

The film’s flaws are minor ones. For example like I said the animation is more detailed, but occasionally to its detriment. During the launch sequence we get to see all of the graphs and bars and measurements in excruciating detail. Alright Anno I can understand that you’re very excited that your imaginary measurements are CGI now, but do we really have to see them all? Another detrimental change, the recorded sounds of The Beserker Eva I know it’s supposed to make it sound more feral and out of control instead it makes The Eva sound like a very pissed off Grover).

But like I said these are just details. On the whole and against all odds You Are (Not) Alone seems to be worth the time and effort put into it. Hopefully the rest of the series will be as well.

No comments: