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DIRECTED BY: Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Hideaki Anno
FEATURING: Voice actors
PLOT: Tokyo-3 is under assault by mysterious robot-like creatures known as “Angels”; two teenagers pilot the mechanical Evangelions that are the only things that can defeat the invaders and save humanity, while simultaneously dealing with pop quizzes and high school bullies.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: How do you assess the weirdness of anime, a fantastical genre in which underage nude sexpots with powder blue hair and blood red eyes don’t raise an eyebrow? An average anime is pretty damn weird to the uninitiated, but like other specialized subgenres (such as the kung fu film) anime follows its own conventions. Once the seasoned viewer internalizes those rules, the resulting films don’t look quite so strange. That means that, to be considered as a candidate for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time, an anime needs to be weird even by Japanimation’s exalted standards of oddness. By reimagining stock giant robots as avenging angels in a mystical scenario worthy of a pop-art Book of Revelations, but embedding the messianic tale within the ordinary travails of an extremely wimpy high school freshman, Evangelion 1.11 nearly vaults over this raised weirdness bar. The hurdle this particular film can’t quite overcome, however, is the fact that it’s incomplete, only part I of a planned “rebuild” series of four movies—and that there’s already a previous entry in the franchise it’s remaking that reputedly blows 1.11 away with its bizarreness.
COMMENTS: Forget the plentiful, and plenty spectacular, duels between giant robots. (Obsessive fans of the series may stress to you that neither the Angels nor the Evas are technically giant robots, but don’t be fooled: if it looks like a giant robot, clatters like a giant robot, and shoots death rays from its fingertips, it’s a giant robot). Set aside the fantastic visions like the giant mutating cube that drops a diamond drill bit into downtown Tokyo-3. Even overlook portentous (pretentious?) lines of dialogue like, “The Apocrypha of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been passed into the Book of Law; the Time of the Covenant is close at hand” that make you wonder what other cool facts concerning the giant robot invasions of the end times you missed while dozing through Sunday school. That stuff’s all in there and it’s set to satisfy the sci-fi geek inside all of us, but the weirdest thing about Evangelion 1.1: You Are (Not) Alone is that there’s absolutely no one in this movie that acts anything like an actual person would. Half the world’s population has been decimated by previous disasters and Tokyo-3 is one of the last surviving outposts of humanity, but there’s no sense of imminent peril or devotion to end-of-times debauchery. Tokyo-3′s citizens aren’t much concerned about the species’ imminent extinction: Algebra classes and swim meets go on as usual for the city’s middle schoolers, relocation out of the war zone is just something housewives chat about casually while they’re waiting in line to purchase groceries, and disruption of cell phone coverage is a major pain in the butt. The reluctant hero, adolescent Shinji, is still tormented by bullies despite being one of only two people in the world capable of piloting the Evas, and thus mankind’s only hope of salvation. (If I were a 14-year old Freshman who held the world’s fate in my hands, I would not be attending Social Studies at 8 in the morning, and I would make sure I had a couple of burly Marine bodyguards beat up any bullies who so much as looked cross-eyed at me). The movie’s weirdest character is Misato, a sexy NERV lieutenant commander who functions alternatively as 1) a fantasy sex object for Shinji (she originally meets him by sending him a postcard of her posed in cutoff jeans and a tank top with an arrow pointing to her cleavage and the legend “focus attention here”); 2) a highly competent field general; 3) Shinji’s confessor; 4) the film’s only comic relief; and 5) the mouthpiece who explains the details of the story’s history and setting to the viewer. The movie’s weirdest scene has nothing to do with giant floating rotating cubes whose surfaces shear off and recombine in bursts of color, but rather occurs when Misato invites Shinji to stay at her apartment: she chugs a beer, immediately lunges over the table at him in a spurt of unmotivated fury, then tells him to take a bath but doesn’t warn him about the warm-water penguin with the punk hairdo who lives in her bathroom. The flightless bird wanders into the living room and settles down with a newspaper, and is never seen or heard from again. The animation is pretty and colorful, with a wide variety of color schemes including stylized monochrome and duotone sketches and glowing gossamer drawings lit by suffused sunlight. Rather than being fully animated, the non-battle scene images are often stills over which the camera glides fluidly; they’re so lovely you won’t miss the motion. One of the major downsides is that diffident Shinji is a whiny protagonist with an eternal battle cry of “why me?” (His unlikeability is exacerbated by voice acting that makes him sound like Sesame Street’s Elmo simultaneously going through puberty and an emo phase; his high-pitched sniveling is precisely calibrated to drive adults up the wall). Evangelion 1.11 is also confusing as hell, in a way that appears to result from sloppiness rather than complexity; in the story’s defense, it is a condensation of the first six episodes of a TV series that took about twice the time to tell its tale. Anime fans will likely eat it up (though those especially fannish of the original series will inevitably find fault); the general viewer is likely to find Evangelion pretty, but too baffling in story and thin in character development to make them crave the three sequels.
The Evangelion series comes with a backstory that’s almost as difficult to unravel as the plot of You Are (Not) Alone. (Those interested in the whole story are encouraged to consult Ard Vijn’s series primer in his Twitch review of the film’s Blu-ray release). The tale began as the Japanese TV series “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” which developed a cult following but climaxed with a baffling, inconclusive final episode that spawned a reaction analogous to the fan-enraging series finale of the BBC’s “The Prisoner.” This led to the series being redone, and two new film versions were released to cinemas: the second, The End of Evangelion (1997), is a surreal “alternate ending” to the TV series featuring a psychedelic apocalypse (this is the version of the Evangelion story that has a shot to make it onto the List). A decade later, in 2007, Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone was released as the first episode of a planned four-movie “rebuild” (trendy jargon for “reboot,” which is itself a euphemism for the more accurate “remake”). A second film, Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance has been completed, but in the meantime the studio also re-tweaked the animation of the first film and released the result as Evangelion 1.01. Further improvements resulted in this release, Evangelion 1.11, which hopefully marks the end of the tinkering.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…mighty perplexing nerd kibble, its highfalutin’ philosophical and psychological banter way too outlandish to seriously engage. Yet as a visceral experience, it’s entrancing…”–Aaron Hillis, The Village Voice (1.0 version)