Grace Carmack, agitated spice merchant by day, agitated live performance gremlin by night, syncs up with their bio-machine for Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, finding it a pillar of the mecha genre while still bemoaning how it disrupts and distorts the TV series.
My first exposure to the Evangelion universe was a week-long initiation including the 26-episode original series (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and the three movies in the tetralogy (Rebuild of Evangelion) that had been released. 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone is the first movie of the tetralogy and is effectively a retelling of the first six episodes of the series. I do not recommend watching all of Evangelion in one week, but I can’t undo my decisions and here we are. What I remember most about my first viewing was a genuine excitement. This universe is compelling and dark and silly and loaded with symbolism. I would stay up for hours trying to wrap my head around the religious overtones. What I did not know then is that I would have to know more and care less before I could do that.
Overall, I would say that 1.0 is a clean and sophisticated remake. Like its predecessor, it walks the thin line between blunt dramatic action and tender stillness. One example of this is the image after Shamshel (Angel 5) explodes into a fountain of blood only to bring on a cleansing rain and reveal a full rainbow. In the forefront, Eva 1 stands impaled by Shamshel’s tentacles. Inside Eva 1, teenage pilot Shinji weeps after his successful attack.
Being made over a decade after the original series, 1.0 benefits from developed animation, including the use of CGI. Tokyo-3, the backdrop of most of the scenes, is designed with more detail. Illuminated windows can be seen, complex skies unfold overhead, all the while the Angels and Evas brawl in the streets.
The soundtrack, composed by Shirō Sagisu, emerges as a graceful navigator between scenes. It is equal parts dramatic, unnerving, melodic, and romantic. It feels as though the music of 1.0 is the spirit of surviving the apocalypse.
While I think the essence of Evangelion survives in this film, there are definitely disturbances to its overall success. 1.0 lives in a weird place between the series and the other films. The other movies in the tetralogy do not follow the plot of the series the way that 1.0 does. In this way, the movie often feels like a recap that you watch before the thing you love gets deconstructed before your very eyes. It also means that so much of the character development from the series gets lost. Shinji, for instance, is chronically depressed, broken by his solitude, and traumatized beyond belief to be piloting a massive parasympathetic war machine. The movie touches on this but doesn’t spend nearly as much time allowing him to bloom as a personality. The movie doesn’t account for the character’s interpersonal relationships, which should be as important to the plot as the war giants. The Eva universe is full of Freudian sexual confusion, hormonal teenage agitation, and complex manifestations of grief. This gets lost in 1.0.
Kabbalah is an integral part of 1.0 and all other work in the TV and movie series but is also somehow washed out in 1.0. Kabbalah is, loosely, an ancient Jewish spiritual wisdom passed on through oration and deals with the relationship between the essence of an eternal g-d and the mortal world. Fitting for a world facing the constant threat of annihilation.
Lillith’s reveal is also distorted in the film. Lillith, the 2nd Angel and the source of human life on Earth, is kept safely crucified in the sub-levels of the NERV base. While the movie uses Lillith as a way of encouraging teenage Shinji to keep piloting his death robot to save Tokyo-3, her original purpose in the Eva universe was different. So different, in fact, that she’s originally mistaken for Adam Kadmon and revealed much later in the series as these characters start tangibly approaching the Human Instrumentality Project. (That subject is for another day.) This matters because so much of the subtext was developed out of Kabbalistic imagery and figures. When a world is this confusing and in-depth, it helps to have some expositional landmarks to follow. Lillith was supposed to be one of those and she seems to have been tossed aside in the film.
The biggest loss in the film is the clear relationship between war and grief. It matters that these battle monsters need young spirits to compel them. It matters that all of the adults in this universe are callous to the emotional fragility of the pilots whose participation in this robowar is essential to human survival. It matters that Shinji can’t cope with what is happening and is more concerned with whether his NERV overlord dad expresses love for him before the world ends. The movie’s focus on the action leaves these details to fall a bit flat.
Would these criticisms be so bothersome if there weren’t a whole world to compare them to? Maybe not. Was the plot ever straightforward enough for all of it to make sense outside of its relation to the larger work? Definitely not. Evangelion is not an entity that anyone can ever really be prepared for and, yet, the movie leaves something to be desired.
Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, seated where it is among the other parts of the series, is a pillar of the mecha genre and is absolutely a work of art. It’s exciting to be rewatching these movies at a time when the television series is now readily streamable on Netflix (with some minor changes) and the final movie is set to release next year. The timing seems appropriate. The world does feel like it’s in a catastrophic uproar. The Eva universe is equal parts fantastical relief from the chaos and also strangely optimistic about the human capacity to go on despite the impossible monsters we face.
Watching it 10 years after the release has changed my opinion some. It’s just as much of a hallucinogenic fever dream as I remember it to be but with a lot more nuance than I could have known then. Also, a lot more shortcomings. It has come down its weird pedestal in my mind but is still something to be revered. I would encourage anyone to check this movie out but maybe only after you watch the TV series. Oh, and don’t do it all in a week. And maybe not if you aren’t like at least 15. View it with a bit of mysticism, but also don’t think too much into that. I don’t think it will disappoint you.
— Grace Carmack