When "Shin Seiki Evangelion" (Neon Genesis Evangelion) debuted in October 1995 no one could have predicted how much of an impact it would have on the future of Japanese animation. With its stunning animation style, inventive use of graphic typography, unique mecha designs and complex mythology combining Judeo-ChristianCatholicism and archaic mysticism, "Evangelion" was a breath of fresh air at a time when Japanese anime had stagnated into endless remakes, mediocre animation, endless cliché, recycled story lines and dumb slapstick humor.
Even its writerdirector Anno Hideaki, who had remarked how he had hoped to reinvent the Japanese robot anime genre, never imagined how successful this series would become and how influential it would be on all animation series to come hereafter.
Produced by acclaimed animation studio Gainax in cooperation with legendary Tatsunoko Pro, the studio responsible for beloved animation series such as "Kagaku Ninja Gatchaman" and "Mach Go GoSpeed Racer", the TV series revolved around the life of Ikari Shinji, an angst-ridden, manic-depressive, 14 year old who is forced by a clandestine government organization, led by his estranged and distant father, to pilot a giant bio-mechanical humanoid organism against an advancing horde of powerful extraterrestrial "angels" to prevent the mass extermination of humankind. While the premise itself was not revolutionary and seemed to be recycled from countless other anime series of the past, Anno and Gainax infused this anime with a vibrant and unique creative style that was all their own and it proved to be an instant hit with viewers. Part MTV video, part psychedelic mind-trip and part anime melodrama, "Evangelion" was like nothing viewers have seen before. The mecha designs by Yamashita Ikuto were amazingly complex and detailed and it's cast of characters (designed by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki) were not atypical heroic types but rather tragically flawed, self-destructive and psychologically damaged anti-heroes. It had a particularly strong cast of female characters which was unique at the time and its intriguing and complex storyline seemed more akin to David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" or Chris Carter's "X-Files" than anime.
The 26 episode series concluded in a rather bizarre fashion with an alternate reality segment and a confusing series of cryptic and perplexing scenes which did little to make for a satisfying conclusion or resolution to the series.
The ambiguous ending left many fans unsatisfied and unhappy, so much so that Anno and Gainax decided to completely redo the ending and released a trilogy of films in 1997 to appease the fans. "Death of Evangelion" (which was a compilation of the TV series),"Rebirth of Evangelion" (which was all new footage that occurred after Episode 24 of the series) and "The End of Evangelion" (which was a completely new retelling of the final episode) were well received and garnered much fan accolades particularly with the new footage, however the ending was again criticized as being too dark and nihilistic.
"Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: Jo (Evangelion The New Movie: Preface)" AKA Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone" or simply "Evangelion Rebuild" is the second attempt by Anno and Gainax to reinvent and repackage the TV series for theatrical release. When first announced, I was very doubtful and thought what was the point of retelling the same story yet again. How many different ways could Anno and company tell the same story. It recalled Tomino Yoshiyuki's influential "Gundam" series which spawned countless retelling of the same basic story. Thankfully, these reservations went away as "Evangelion 1.0" is a much more simpler, evenly paced film that is a good introduction to Shinji and the chaotic world that he inhabits.
"Evangelion: 1.0" is largely a compilation of episodes 1-6 of the TV series, remastered and re-edited much the same way as what was done in the recent "Zeta Gundam: A New Translation". Most of the changes occur with the inclusion of new footage and animation, replacing some scenes with newer scenes done in updated CGI and tweaks to some of the story plots. Fans of the show may be quicker to pick up on the changes than those coming into the story for the first time but all can definitely appreciate the streamlined story.
Perhaps the most impressive parts of the film involve the additional footage made specifically for this film. The scenes in which Tokyo-3 rises from its safe harbor underground is very impressive as is a lot of the military hardware scenes and battles sequences. Unit 01's battle with Angels Four through Six are very thrilling and are an improvement from the TV series.
I never did like main character Ikari Shinji (Ogata Megumi) whose whiny, depressive and effeminate character was grating and annoying. He is very similar to "Gundam's" Amuro Ray but unlike Amuro his reasons for piloting Unit 01 aren't always particularly noble. The women of "Evangelion" are definitely the strong ones as each of the other three principals are vastly more interesting and entertaining. Katsuragi Misato (Mitsuishi Kotono) is both strong and commanding yet supportive and sisterly when need be. Rei Ayanami (Hayashibara Megumi) is certainly the fan favorite as her character is not only visually alluring but whose quiet and mysterious personality is very attractive. Fans of hotblooded firebrand Asuka Langley Soryu (Miyamura Yuko) will unfortunately have to wait until the next movie to see her debut.
The movie unfortunately ends far too quickly and at a point just when things start to become interesting. Like the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of films, "Evangelion" will perhaps be best appreciated as a complete whole rather than individually. However as the first of four, it is a grand start to what hopefully will be a great series of entertaining and exciting movies. Whether Anno and Gainax can succeed and finally deliver a satisfying resolution and ending to the series (third time is a charm?) is anyone's guess. Here's hoping that substance wins over style this time around.
Review by jmaruyama from the Internet Movie Database.