Let's Talk About Rebuild of Evangelion

This year, the people at Netflix threw us a bone and a curveball. For the first time in eleven years, the acclaimed anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is now available to stream worldwide. But, there’s a catch – it’s been given a new dub with an all-new cast and a retranslated script. And fans and newcomers aren’t taking the change well. The new dialogue is stiff, and the performances lack the punch and polish of the original dub. To top it all, the music’s been changed in places – all because Netflix didn’t want to pay the extra money for it. I watched the first six episodes and didn’t want to keep going, which is all the more upsetting because I’m a newcomer. However, my first taste of Eva wasn’t to be my last. The next day, I found an alternative in my local second-hand shop. It wasn’t the original dub on DVD, but another version of Eva I’m just as glad to have found. If you’ve been let down by the Netflix version of Eva – and you can’t afford the out-of-print box sets – keep reading. I’m going to tell you about my alternative: Rebuild of Evangelion.

Known in Japan as Evangelion: New Theatrical Edition, Rebuild’s a film series based on the original anime. Hideaki Anno, Eva’s creator, is the films’ chief director and writer; and most of his crew from 1995 returned to make them. The original concept artists, animators, Japanese voice actors, and original composer Shiro Sagisu are all back with some new hands to help them. They all gathered at Anno’s request for one purpose: to remake Eva as he originally intended. In 1995, Anno and his crew were held back by budget cuts, strict deadlines, the limits of hand-drawn animation, and Anno’s own struggles with depression. The series’ production suffered, and it took a much darker turn than Anno had planned – until, at last, it ended on a bleak note with the film End of Evangelion. Since then, it’s been loved and hated even by its own creator. However, he’s not done with it yet. After End’s release in 1997, Anno’s fortunes changed dramatically – he’s now the head of his own studio, Khara (which includes his returning colleagues from the original series), and he’s happily married. He still grapples with depression, but now he has a strong network of friends, family, and fellow filmmakers to support him. And if that wasn’t enough, his career’s been given a boost by none other than the King of Monsters. Anno wrote and directed 2016’s Shin Godzilla, which became the most successful Japanese Godzilla film of all time! With his recent success – and a little help from today’s technology – Anno is ready to recreate Eva as it should’ve been. And he’s making the most of his new resources to do it.

In 2007, Anno proved he meant business with his first Rebuild film: Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone. The film takes viewers back to the series’ beginnings, with Shinji Ikari’s first dealings with the mysterious organisation NERV. Shinji’s estranged father Gendo forces him to pilot the biomechanical Eva Unit-01 to protect Japan from monstrous aliens called Angels. Shinji goes unthanked by both Gendo and the people he protects but finds friends in two of NERV’s members: his guardian Misato Katsuragi and fellow Eva pilot Rei Ayanami. 1.0 follows the events of the series’ first six episodes, but it’s far from a simple rehash. Every scene is reanimated from scratch, blending traditional animation with CGI. Most animated works suffer when they do this, but Eva’s an exception – it benefits from the new technology immensely and uses it to improve on scenes from the anime. Operation Yashima, the climax of episode six, is a fine example. One of the least exciting battles in the original anime is now a stunning, thrilling finale! A few scenes were cut to pick up the pace but, having seen the film and the episodes it covers, I can honestly say it made the right cuts. I saw the episodes on Netflix and didn’t want to go on… but when I saw 1.0, I didn’t want to stop. It was released on DVD as 1.11 – an extended version with improved animation and additional scenes for newcomers – and you can find it online at the average price of £10. If you’re lucky, you may even find it for less (I bought my copy at CeX for £3). I highly recommend 1.0 to fans of the original series because of its fantastic dub. Two actors from the original series' first dub return for the film: Spike Spencer and Allison Keith; the original English voices of Shinji and Misato!

Two years after taking us back to Shinji’s world, Anno took it in a new direction with Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance. Shinji and Rei are joined in their fight against the Angels by two new pilots: Asuka Langley Shikinami and Mari Makinami. The girls couldn’t be more different – Asuka hates having to team up with Shinji and doesn’t try to hide it, but Mari is nicer… yet keeps her true intentions close to the chest. Meanwhile, Rei plans to bring Shinji and Gendo closer together with a dinner party. Her plans are ruined, though, when the test run of a new Eva unit goes terribly wrong. While 1.0 adapted the series’ first six episodes faithfully, 2.0 took the key events of the next thirteen and made them its own. The result is a film that played on fans’ expectations then subverted them in surprising and shocking ways. It was acclaimed for this and for its new portrayals of Shinji & Co. – one of Anno’s intentions with Rebuild was to rewrite the characters without his own emotions affecting them. His efforts paid off handsomely, but of course, it doesn’t stop them losing it when all hell breaks loose. 2.0 was released on DVD as 2.22 and is now out-of-print, but you can find copies online from £10. And fans will be pleased to know the cast of 1.0's dub return along with another familiar face: the original English Asuka, Tiffany Grant!

In 2012, Anno took Rebuild into brand new territory with Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Fourteen years after his last battle in 2.0, Shinji awakes in a devastated world. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, Rei is nowhere to be seen, and Shinji’s surviving friends have turned against him. Misato is now the head of WILLE – a new organisation bent on destroying NERV – and threatens to kill Shinji if he ever pilots an Eva again. Crushed by their hostility, Shinji escapes from WILLE and returns to NERV’s headquarters, where he finds his father with a new pilot in tow: the mysterious Kaworu Nagisa. Gendo tells Shinji he must pilot a new Eva unit with Kaworu to restore the world – but keeps the boys unaware of his true intentions. When it was released, 3.0 received mixed reviews for its new direction and darker tone. Some considered it even bleaker than 1997’s End of Evangelion. However, there are crucial differences between the two films. When he made the original series, Anno faced hardships at every turn. They drove the series, and End, down a much darker path where there were no happy endings for Shinji & Co.. But, things have changed since then. Anno’s in a better place now than he was twenty-four years ago, and now his characters are too. Although their world is on the edge of collapse, 3.0 leaves Shinji and his friends in a position to do something about it. And their story is far from over. At the time of writing, 3.0 is the only film that hasn’t gone out-of-print. It was released on DVD as 3.33, and you can buy it new for as little as £5.

The final film is being made as we speak. Evangelion 3.0+1.0 (a.k.a. Final) is due to arrive in Japan next June, and it promises to bring Rebuild to an explosive and satisfying finish. There aren’t many details at present, but a post-credit teaser in 3.0 gave us enough to guess where the story is going. Having played into his father’s hands, Shinji has lost the will to live. However, Asuka literally drags him back to WILLE as the war between them and NERV reaches its climax. Misato rallies her remaining forces for a final battle – but whether Shinji will fight alongside her remains to be seen. Although it was announced in 2012, Final has been over seven years in the making. Anno succumbed to depression again after 3.0’s release and almost cancelled the last film. Fortunately, Toho stepped in and offered him the chance to make Shin Godzilla – and the rest is history. Shin Godzilla’s success gave Anno a badly needed morale boost, and now he’s back at work on Final. In fact, the Japanese cast are recording their lines now! Sadly, we in the West will have to wait a while longer. When Final’s released next year, it will be another year or more before we get an English dub. When we do, though, there’s one thing I hope for above all else: a comeback by the cast of the last three films. Studio Khara and the films' English cast don't always get along, but it's widely agreed that their dubs are much better than the recent Netflix dubs. An iconic series like Eva deserves to go out with a bang - and as far as dubs are concerned, there's one cast with the skill, experience, and above all, the passion to see it done. Spike Spencer, Allison Keith & Tiffany Grant became famous for their work on the original series, and they outdid themselves with Rebuild. Let's hope Anno feels the same way and allows them to come back for one last turn.

Have you seen the Rebuild films? Are you eagerly (and patiently) awaiting the last instalment? How do you think they compare to the original series? Leave us your comments or tell us what you think about them on Facebook & Twitter.

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