By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone” (a film adapted from the Japanese science fiction anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”) is set in the not-too-distant future, in a city called Tokyo-3. The buildings shimmer in a heat wave. The streets are suspiciously empty. A huge spray suddely sprouts out over the water.
Hideaki Anno, the creator of the film, doesn’t show us what’s in the water right away. He builds tension by cutting back to the buildings and the streets. Eventually, the animation settles on Shinji Ikari (voiced in English by Spike Spencer), a 14-year-old boy who just arrived in Tokyo-3 and trying to use a pay phone. An enormous creature, referred to as an ‘angel’ moves in from the water to crush the city.
Tokyo-3 fends off attacks from the angels with giant robots called Evangelions, or Evas for short. Hideaki Anno drew on earlier robot anime to create his series. “Tetsujin 28-go” (“Gigantor” in English) popularized the notion of a boy and a robot having adventures together. “Mazinger Z” (“TranZor Z”) introduced the concept of a robot piloted by a young person. “Mobile Suit Gundam” took the piloted-robot concept to new commercial heights, spawning numerous sequels and spin-offs.
Anno takes inspiration from those series but incorporates key concepts of his own. He struggled with clinical depression before creating “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and many of his characters display psychological difficulties.
Shinji, for example, isn’t very happy. He finds his father, Gendo Ikari (voiced by John Swasey), running a secret government agency called Nerv. Gendo expects Shinji to pilot an Eva. The father doesn’t explain what’s going on. He spends no time with his son and refuses to even touch him.
Captain Misato Katsuragi (voiced by Allison Keith) supervises Shinji and installs him in her apartment. On the job, Captain Katsuragi stands straight and doesn’t blink as she issues difficult orders. However, away from the command center, she drinks, gorges herself on instant noodles, and flirts with her considerably younger new roommate. In a rare moment of self-introspection, she wonders to herself whether Shinji can sense the fear behind her wildness. Her capacity for self-deception is almost perfect, but not quite.
Anno took advantage of a higher budget to elaborately re-configure certain “Evangelion” sequences for the big screen. As an entire complex of huge skyscrapers rises into the sky from underground bunkers, 3D CGI technology shows the space between the buildings. Combat and heavy machinery sequences also benefit from this technology.
The film and the series also incorporate religious imagery into the visuals. The Christian cross flares onscreen on more than one occasion. Its various contexts suggest multiple meanings. At one point, a character struggles to free another character from a cockpit hatch. The rescuer suffers burns on his hands reminiscent of Christ’s wounds upon the cross.
The movie ends only partway through the series’ over-arching narrative. Many crucial points remain unexplained. Gendo keeps his secrets. Shinji struggles with his self-image and his reluctance to fight. The last scene of the film does not take place on Earth, although the character we see will soon visit Kenji and the others. Enjoy this fascinating saga and get ready for the next installment. ♦
“Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone” plays July 3–July 9 at the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 N.E. 50th Street in Seattle’s University District. For prices and showtimes, call 206-523-3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.