Friday, September 25, 2009

NY Anime Fest ’09: Evangelion 1.0

If Schopenhauer and Freud had collaborated on the Transformers, it might have resembled Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion anime. Despite attracting a cult-like following, the series reportedly became notorious for its philosophical flights of fancy and an abundance of unresolved loose ends. However, a projected trilogy of anime feature films promises to tighten up the storyline while answering persistent questions, beginning with Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (trailer here). Though Evangelion’s run at the Village East just concluded, New Yorkers now have another chance to see it at the 2009 New York Anime Festival.

As the Evangelion “rebuild” opens, mankind is in a precarious position. Having barely survived an event (kept deliberately vague) known as the “Second Impact,” Earth is now plagued by rampaging “angels,” robotic extraterrestrial beings impervious to almost all conventional weaponry. Of course, the citizens of Tokyo-3 never seem to ask why (perhaps having been desensitized by decades of Godzilla attacks).

The only means of combating angels are the Evangelions, enormous armored cyborg-like fighting crafts that can only be piloted by pre-teens, for reasons we should just accept. While there is a long tradition in science fiction of placing the fate of humanity in the hands of children, Evangelion’s Shinji Ikari is a particularly problematic protagonist. Unlike Ender Wiggins, his low sense of self worth and acute father issues threaten to undermine the entire Evangelion (Eva) program, which happens to be managed by Dear Old Dad.

It might sound oddly inappropriate to refer to these agents of cosmic destruction as “angels,” but Anno is just getting started. There is some extremely unsubtle Christ imagery in the film, with a clear promise of more to come in future installments. Parents should also note there is brief partial anime nudity (the technical term for this is “fan service”).

Unlike The Transformers movies, Evangelion has a plot. Still, it is at its best when depicting big hulking robot fight scenes. Graphically, it is several cuts above workaday anime, delivering some very impressive visuals, like the huge retractable fortified city of Tokyo-3. Indeed, the animation is often quite detailed, though it never departs from the stylistic traditions of the genre.

Evangelion is briskly paced, grudgingly doling out exposition on the fly. The action scenes are well constructed and its apocalyptic vision of the future is pretty compelling. Aside from Ikari’s neurosis, which gets old quickly, Evangelion is an entertaining, somewhat idiosyncratic anime film (though probably not the best introduction for genre neophytes). It screens at the NY Anime Fest on Saturday (9/26).