Updated to reflect final product 3/24/10.
The Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise was a genuine phenomenon in the latter half of the 1990s, and its popularity continued into the 21st century and carries on to this day. As evidence of this, we are getting the North American release of Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone, a souped-up version of the 1.0 movie, which in itself was a retelling/reboot of the original animated series. It compresses the first six episodes, rewritten and with completely new animation. Yeah, I know, keeping track of all this, you practically need an evolutionary chart and Venn diagram. 1.11 is essentially 1.0 with three minutes of new footage and some tweaked scenes. If you've been reading this and scratching your head and thinking, "Don't I already own this?" then the answer is yes, you kind of do.
I never saw 1.0 and I doubt I ever will now, because I'm sorry to say that Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone isn't very good. That big sound of air rushing out of the room is the collective gasp of Evangelion fandom losing their collective crap over my saying that, but there it is, I'm saying it. I like Neon Genesis, I've read a lot of the manga and seen a good portion of the original anime, but this remake is kind of sucky.
For the uninitiated, here is the basic story: In the future, mankind's existence is being threatened by giant creatures they have dubbed Angels. An organization called Nerv has been working on powerful mecha called Evangelions to combat them. The Eva suits are essentially giant mobile armor, and they are piloted by teenagers. The focus of the story is Shinji Ikari, who is the son of the Evangelion inventor, Gendo Ikari. The epic starts with Shinji, who is estranged from his father, being summoned to Nerv's headquarters in Tokyo-3, a mechanized city. He is taken under the wing of the tough and sexy Misato Katsuragi, and another of the Evangelions is piloted by the mysterious girl Rei. Shinji taking on the Angels and operating his father's tech is a way for him to resolve his issues with the old man and grow into his own. In its way, Neon Genesis is a variation on the boy-and-the-giant-robot anime genre, with a sprinkling of other transforming mech series like Macross.
The main problem with Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone is that I have given you more information in that one paragraph than the movie gives you in its whole first hour. This take on the anime hits the ground running, with Shinji waiting for Misato to pick him up for the first time just as an Angel is attacking. Never mind who anyone is or what is going on. Shinji is immediately loaded into his Eva and sent out to fight. It doesn't make a lick of sense if you've not encountered the story in one of its previous incarnations. Hell, it barely makes sense if you have, not if you really look at it.
Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone jumps so quickly from scene to scene, it's more like watching a highlight reel of the TV series rather than a new experience. Like the movie is one long "Previously On" segment where the editors left off the voiceover that fills in the gaps. I guess they assumed anyone watching was a fan--because, you know, who isn't?--and so no need for pesky exposition or establishing relationships or anything like that. Just wind up these toys and go!
And for some people that won't matter. I am sure there is a whole crowd that just wants to see some cool animation where big robots beat the circuits out of one another. If so, then bully for you, Evangelion: 1.11 is just what you are looking for. The animation is a combination of traditional styles and state-of-the-art digital, and the result is the slickest Evangelion yet. If we're talking about a purely visual revamp, then You Are (Not) Alone succeeds on all counts. The film is colorful, fast-paced, and full of futuristic wonders.
Those watching the movie for more than the robot porn, however, will find Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone sorely lacking. I was bored out of my mind. There's nothing to grasp onto here, everything is rushed, and neither the plot nor its inhabitants offers anything deeper than "get in the mecha, point the mecha, and shoot." Watching the movie is like listening to your favorite song with the fast forward button pressed down. You might recognize the tune, but the special nuance that spoke to you the last time you heard it is lost amongst the squeaky bleeps and bloops.
Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone has a pretty spectacular looking widescreen transfer befitting its state-of-the-art animation. The resolution is sharp, the colors are gorgeous--the whole thing just looks magnificent. Given that the animation is the biggest draw, that's a very good thing.
Both the original Japanese soundtrack and a new English dub have been mixed in 5.1, and again, this is top-notch. There are lots of good effects that add real punch to the fight sequences.
The English subtitles are good, though at times a little flat. Though the original voices are better, the script for the English dub wins in terms of having more personality than the written translation in the subtitles.
At the time of this original review, I had not yet received the final package and thus could not comment on how this 2-disc set is put together. But I can now update to report that the actual product comes in a pretty fantastic cardboard package with foil printing. The foldable interior book has printing on the inside, two plastic trays, and a 20-page booklet explaining the "rebuild" project, a key to the characters and terms, and DVD details. Funimation sure put together a great-looking set.
There are quite a few extras on disc 2. These, I am sorry to say, are nothing but filler. Essentially, you are getting a handful of music videos. The lengthiest is just under 16 minutes long, and it's called "Rebuild of Evangelion: 1.01." It's a montage of digital model building and design work, like a virtual tour of the sets of 1.11. This program is on here twice, once with orchestral music by Shiro Sagisu and once with music by Joseph-Maurice Ravel. There is also a short "Angel of Doom" promotional music video, a collection of clips also set to orchestral music.
There are seven short musical videos under the header "Movie Previews." These are all clips of songs from the soundtrack by pop superstar Utada Hikaru. Four of them are for the song "Fly Me to the Moon" and the other three are "Beautiful World." Yes, seven clips, two songs.
Finally, there are 55-seconds of "News Flashes," text-based commercials announcing the date of the movie release. At less than a minute, it's too long! Who actually watches this kind of thing? "Ooooh, Evangelion: 1.11 is coming....two years ago!"
Trailers for other Funimation releases are included. If there were any trailers for 1.11 other than the music videos, they aren't on this DVD.
Rent It. Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone is like a fans-only release. They should make you show a membership card to get your hands on it so you can't be mad later that you don't know what was going on. Then again, I'm familiar with the story and even I was unsure of what was happening a good portion of the time. This reboot of the 1990s anime series compresses way too much and forgets to leave a trail of bread crumbs for the viewers to follow. Sure, it's got some gorgeous animation and might hit the sweet spot that fans have been waiting to have tickled since the series ended, but looking at it objectively, it's really not a good movie. You know it. Just admit it. Oh, and the extras are lame, too!
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.