Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone Review

In the world of TV Anime Neon Genesis Evangelion reigns supreme as the peerless Science Fiction series to end all Sci-Fis. Since debuting as both a Manga serial and Anime in 1995 the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise has managed to gross over $1.6 billion if you believe Wikipedia, a staggering amount considering it’s never had the kind of worldwide high-profile mainstream exposure that your Hollywood blockbusters tend to get. Evangelion has earned its money based on the Japanese “otaku” obsession with merchandise but also significantly on the quality of the drama - which is particularly involving thanks to characters with deep psychological complexities - and an increasingly esoteric narrative that became more focussed on character development as GAINAX started to run out of funding to complete the series the way they intended.

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The trials and tribulations of Neon Genesis Evangelion has become one of the iconic Anime stories of the 90s. GAINAX didn’t have much of a budget to start with, but when some of the show’s violent and sexual imagery was deemed too strong for a peak time “family” programme a number of Evangelion’s sponsors pulled out, forcing chief director Hideaki Anno to switch the focus towards psychoanalysing the protagonists and not big creatures pounding on each other. This caused a disparity in tone from the first half of the series to the last that simply alienated viewers, and with barely any money left to complete the final two episodes Anno and his staff were forced to go even more internal, producing a conclusion to the series that was so frustratingly downbeat and anti-climactically confusing that death threats started flooding the studio HQ.

Fortunately by this point the series had proven so popular with viewers, critics and award bodies that it afforded Anno the opportunity to add extra scenes to the VHS releases of the last few episodes, and even remake the final two episodes for the feature film: Death and Rebirth. This new ending to the series was then elaborated on even more with another film entitled The End of Evangelion, in which Anno attempted to finally give fans the definitive conclusion that they were waiting for. Of course, he wasn’t prepared to pander to fans either; so while he did succeed in providing a more satisfying final act, The End of Evangelion provides no easy answers and can be quite daunting to the casual viewer.

And so we come to the Rebuild of Evangelion: a collaboration between GAINAX, Studio Khara and KlockWorx that brings Hideaki Anno back to the Evangelion teat to oversee the production of a tetralogy of films that will re-imagine the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series into a film serial with a more complete and consistent beginning, middle and end – that’s the idea, anyway. The first film in that series: Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone hit Japanese Theatres in 2007 and made its way to home video slightly retitled to Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone, which includes an extra three minutes of footage not found in the theatrical release of 1.0.

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So what is Evanglion 1.11 all about? Well it’s a relatively accurate remake of the first six episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion; which means the setting is 2015, 15yrs after a huge explosion in Antartica known as The 2nd Impact caused a global catastrophe that wiped out half the world’s population and many of the world’s great cities – Tokyo among them. 15 years later and the city called Tokyo-3 is currently in the grip of an attack by a giant creature known as an Angel, which are mysterious invaders that appear to be targeting NERV headquarters. NERV is the UN sanctioned organisation tasked with defending the Earth from Angel attack by using giant attack Mecha known as Evangelion Units. Created by advanced bio-technology the Eva rely on a direct nerve-link to their pilots, so only specifically chosen 14yr old adolescents can pilot them, and to date only three children have been chosen. The third child: Shinji Ikari arrives in Tokyo-3 on the day of the Angel attack, he’s the estranged son of the commander of NERV: Gendo Ikari, and a socially withdrawn child with deep rooted doubts about his own ability to pilot the Eva in battle, but these doubts are going to have to be overcome if he is to reach his predestined potential. Together with the Eva-Units and the help of Lt. Colonel Misato Katsuragi and fellow Eva pilot: Rei Ayanami, Shinji helps defend Tokyo-3 against a series of Angel attacks.

It’s perhaps easier to approach Evangelion with the right expectations if you understand a little about where Hideaki Anno was back in 1995 when production of Neon Genesis started. In 1990 he was one of the creative forces behind the hit series Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, which by some accounts was something of a stressful production for him. He also wrote the film “sequel” that flopped and shortly after (whether as a result of working on Nadia or not) fell into a deep depression for roughly four years, so Evangelion is the brainchild of a melancholy mind that probably sought answers to fundamental questions about life. This rather morose feeling coloured the entire series, and the over-riding theme of Evangelion is the need to overcome internal doubts and anxieties about our own identity and the nature of the world around us - placed within the postmodernistic fictional context of a young boy being forced to fight hostile “alien” creatures.

The secret to Evangelion’s massive popularity in Japan and its long-lasting appeal abroad is not that the show was particularly original, any fan of Mecha shows from the 70s and 80s – particularly those of Yoshiyuki Tomino – can tell you that most of Evangelion’s themes and its rather downbeat nature have all been done before; it was more to do with the level of characterisation that Anno afforded to the main characters. Each one has their own tortured past, and each one is stripped apart layer by layer and thoroughly psychoanalysed as the story progresses. Many of the character’s issues overlap, but Anno has covered a wide enough spectrum of human feeling to strike a deep chord with a large demographic of people out there. In particular Shinji Ikari’s withdrawal from society resonates very deeply with many Japanese anime fans, who make up a large percentage of the hikikomori phenomenon that’s been categorised in recent times.

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The emotions in Evangelion feel real because they are real; Hideaki Anno is very much a Japanese “otaku” who was making a show that spoke directly to that fanbase, and the central message that we cannot completely know what another person is thinking/feeling and therefore any attempt to interact and form bonds with that person will contain inherent emotional risk, is a message that I think rings true for many of us. The problem is that Evangelion is extremely melodramatic, which is very much in keeping with those early Mecha shows that so influenced the people at GAINAX, but this leads to a distinct overstatement of many of the characters’ malaise that’s felt most strongly in the character of Shinji Ikari, who seems to spend most of his time in the series stamping his feet and whining about all the things he’s incapable of doing. The result is that you’re constantly stuck between a state of feeling sympathetic towards Shinji and wondering how he will rise to each challenge, but also wanting to give him a huge slap! In fact, many viewers will probably just feel the latter! I know many people who gave up on Neon Genesis Evangelion purely because Shinji’s character proved too annoying in the early episodes (not that his attitude changes much later on in the series).

So yes, Evangelion is pretentious, and no, it’s not nearly as profound as its most ardent fans would have you believe. It is merely the tale of fractured boys and girls whose paternal/maternal figures failed them and now they’re confronted with the harsh aspects of life and ultimately have to grow up and overcome them. Most of the perceived profundity of the show stems from a rather heavy dose of symbolic wankery (literally, in the case of one infamous scene from The End of Evangelion) - For instance there is extensive use of Judaic and Christian motifs that seem to imply a level of theological subtext that wasn’t really conceived by the GAINAX writers/directors - they did it because to them Western religions were something exotic and cool. Yet they implement these themes brilliantly, creating an extremely compelling mythos that elevated Neon Genesis Evangelion above your standard action Sci-fi shows of the 90s even before you get to the dramatic depth of the character introspection.

And never has that mythos looked so spectacular and tantalising as it does in Evangelion 1.11, which edits the events of six episodes of the series that cover the first three Angel attacks on Tokyo-3 down into a lean mean Action Sci-Fi machine. The futuristic city and NERV headquarters both have a more consistent sense of detail to them, and - while the first of Neon Genesis Evangelion never really had a problem in the action stakes - this extra level of detail combined with the advanced CG enhanced graphics applied to the Eva units and Angels make for much more visually arresting battles. One stylish improvement is the darkly-lit night time fight between Eva-01 and the 4th Angel: Sachiel (Actually the 3rd Angel in the original series) which now is much more darkly lit and relies on the day-glo green lights of the Eva’s armour as our primary visual cue. Also the blue diamond Angel: Ramiel is now a gloriously designed geometric shapeshifter.

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With the tighter edit comes a necessary reduction in the level of character development, but rather than seriously detracting from the story this has some beneficial effect, for now Shinji is given a little less screentime and seems to spend less time moping about feeling sorry for himself, which helps make him seem a little more heroic. There’s a general feeling that Hideaki Anno is easing fans into the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy with Evangelion 1.11 as much of it shot-for-shot matches the opening act of the TV series, only with the narrative a little bit more ruthlessly edited down and the visuals given a new layer of gloss. So, while it’s not quite the Evangelion fans of the series know and love, it is close enough to still be as gripping and vital as ever – and if you’re new to the franchise then you’ll find a fast paced and thoroughly engaging action Sci-fi film that provides a great introduction to the series.

Presentation

Whether you adopt a hardcore purist stance and bemoan Evangelion 1.1 for altering the original look of the Neon Genesis Evangelion series, there’s no denying that 1.1 looks pretty damn great on Blu-ray. Sony made a big fuss about their new Super Bit Mapping for Video (SBMV) technology debuting on their Japanese BD release of Evangelion 1.11, which in simple terms is a way of reducing the amount of banding in animation by allowing for a smoother conversion down to the 8-bit colour depth of BD video. Whether this was applied to the US and UK BD releases is hard to say, but the transfer on this disc definitely exhibits less banding than most Anime productions struck from a 10-bit digital master. Banding is still present though, as is some very mild compression noise in regions of strong colour (mostly reds), including a rather strange artefact where horizontal lines of noise can occasionally be seen in regions of relatively smooth colour. This is a little disappointing considering the AVC encode has a very healthy bit rate that averages out at 35MBps.

The good news is that I doubt you’ll be distracted by these artifacts in motion on a regular LCD/Plasma screen (and unlikely on a large projector set up as well), the even better news is that every other aspect of the image looks absolutely glorious: Contrast and brightness levels are very pleasing and seemingly an improvement over the Japanese BD (judging from screen captures on other sites) and colours are so rich and expressive and tightly defined that you want to frame any screen grab you take. The image is clean as a whistle, pretty much grain-free, and also pleasingly sharp - although there is some very minor Edge Enhancement in a few places.

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On the audio front we have a choice between the original Japanese or a newly recorded/translated English dub that are both presented in DolbyTrueHD 6.1. While the Japanese track is only 16-bit it certainly sounds extremely lively during the action sequences, with every speaker given lots to do by a pleasantly enveloping remix. Audio dynamics are very good and dialogue is clean and smooth throughout, but if I had to gripe about this track I would say that bass could do with being tightened up somewhat. In comparison to other recently remastered/remixed Sci-Fi classics on Blu-ray (Akira, Ghost in the Shell) then Evangelion 1.11 is certainly found lacking slightly, not that this means you’re not getting a good sonic presentation in any way.

In comparison the newly produced English dub is 24-bit and provides more aggressive, weighty bass levels which mean in general the audio sounds less reserved and ballsier when the action kicks in. As for the dub; I’ve never liked the old English dub for Neon Genesis Evangelion and so would have been happy to see an all new cast hired for this one. Saying that though the old cast do a slightly better job on this film than they did before so how attached you were the old dub and its translation will decide how you react to this new one.

Optional English subtitles are provided, with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.

Extras

If you’ve bought the single-disc edition the you’ve got very little extra material to go on, present on the Blu-ray disc is:

Rebuild of Evangelion 1.01: Shiro Sagisu Version (15m:47s, 1080i)
This is basically a long montage showing rough footage of how the film’s various CG work was built up. Shiro Sagisu’s score for the film plays over the feature.

Rebuild of Evangelion 1.01: Joseph-Maurice Ravel Version Version (15m:47s, 1080i)
Rather pointlessly this is exactly the same video footage as in the Shiro Sagisu version, only this time it’s accompanied by the music of French legend: Joseph-Maurice Ravel.

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Angel of Doom Promotional Music Video (02m:20s, 1080i)
Shiro Sagisu’s track: Angel of Doom from the Evangelion 1.0 OST is played over footage from the film.

News Flashes (00m:55s)
Pretty straightforward this one, just a few TV Spots that played on Japanese TV in 2007. They’re not particularly interesting.

Movie Previews: Beautiful World Version 2 (01m:36s, 1080i)
Much like the Promotional Music Video this is footage from the film accompanied by music, in this case the film’s Theme Song: Beautiful World by Hikaru Utada.

Movie Previews: Beautiful World Version 2 (01m:36s, 1080i)
Exact same footage from the film set to the exact same song. The only difference is the title cards at the end of the preview say something different.

Movie Previews: Beautiful World Version 2 (01m:36s, 1080i)
Again this is the same music video for Beautiful World with slightly different title cards at the end.

Note: All extras that require subtitles come with removable English subs.

HMV Exclusive 2-Disc Collector’s Edition

HMV will be exclusively selling a 2-Disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set of Evangelion 1.11 that comes with snazzier packaging, a booklet with comments from the filmmakers on the new rebuild (both pictured below), and an extra DVD containing the Evangelion 1.01 edit that was shown theatrically in Japan. Apparently the only difference between the Theatrical (1.01) and Home Video releases (1.11) is that 1.11 had roughly three minutes of footage added to it, which doesn’t really make its presence felt much when you compare the two edits. 1.11 was also struck direct from the Digital master and therefore looks more vibrant than the 35mm 1.01. As such, this is little more that a mild curio for hardcore fans as the truth is if you’ve got a good HD copy of Evangelion 1.11 there is no need to be owning Evangelion 1.01.

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If you are interested in that 2nd disc though, you’ll find Evangelion 1.01 presented on a R2 DVD-5 with an anamorphic 1.85:1 PAL transfer that is overly dark and overly compressed but otherwise provides a solid presentation of the film. Audio comes in the form of Japanese and English DD5.1 tracks, which much like the transfer offer a decent audio experience. Optional English subtitles are provided for the feature, but no extra material is included on the disc.

I’ve provided some comparison grabs between the 1.11 BD, 1.01 DVD, and the R1US Neon Genesis Evangelion DVD (1.11 and 1.01 screenshots have been resized to match the R1US DVD caps):

NGE R1US DVDEvangelion 1.11 BDUKEvangelion 1.01 R2UK DVD

Overall

Neon Genesis Evangelion is rightly hailed as one of the most thought provoking and trend-setting Anime shows of the last 20 years, and with Evangelion Hideaki Anno isn’t attempting to reinvent the wheel, but simply give it a brand new set of tyres that will hopefully enable the franchise to run at top speed for another couple of decades. If you’re new to the series then you simply discover a fast paced and action packed Science Fiction with intriguingly complex characters and a very mysterious story. Animation always has a tendency to look great on Blu-ray and Evangelion 1.11 is certainly among the best looking titles on the medium, while the presentation isn’t quite up there with the likes of Pixar’s efforts on BD, it’s certainly one of the most impressive looking Anime titles in HD. Sadly the same cannot be said about the rather flimsy extra features, but if you go for the 2-Disc Collector’s Edition you will get the theatrical edit of the film on a separate DVD-5 disc.

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Film
8 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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