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EVANGELION & The Art of the Anime Remake - - OTAKU COMING HOME

Everything Old Is New Again (Part 1). Love ‘em or hate ‘em, remakes are a part of anime culture and always have been, but what’s the best approach for presenting a beloved series a second time? Nick’s back again to examine “The Art of the Remake.”

Remake. It’s almost a dirty word in American pop culture. Hollywood continually revisits old favorites - - sometimes just a few years after the original - - and tries to make them into something more. More current? More accessible? More profitable? Nah, just more. Other areas of entertainment are just as guilty, from comics to video games. Repackage, rerelease, repeat. Sometimes they work. Usually they don’t.

Somehow, anime manages to buck this. More often than not, the remakes are at least good, if not downright great. But what is it that makes an anime remake work where other types so frequently fail? Stick with me for the next few articles and we'll examine the most recent remakes coming out of Japan, trying to understand just what it is that makes them different.

It also happens that most of the original versions of the shows we’ll be talking about were favorites of mine growing up...

...Which probably means I’m getting old.

Say it to my face, AARP!
Say it to my face, AARP!

If we’re going to make sense of this rather unlikely success anime has with remakes, we’ll first have to sort the data into sensible categories. To my mind, there are three classifications. I’m pretty sure most anime shows/movies we’d consider remakes can be classified like this...

  1. The “Reimagined” Remake
  2. The “Manga” Remake
  3. The “We Don’t Know Yet” Remake (as in, not enough information out there yet)

This week we’re going to focus on the “Reimagined” Remake. These are current shows or films that take a pre-existing animated series or movie and recreate it by purposely deviating from the original animated release. They do this by presenting entirely new story elements, plot twists, characters, and/or changing the perspective of the viewer.

Welcome back, Hitokiri Batousai.
Welcome back, Hitokiri Batousai.

Title: RUROUNI KENSHIN: SHIN KYOTO-HEN (New Kyoto Arc)

Mission Statement: Retell the fan-favorite "Kyoto Arc" of RUROUNI KENSHIN from the perspective of a different character.

Release Type: Two OVAs with a limited theatrical run in Japan prior to DVD/Blu-ray release

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t actually gotten to sit down and watch these yet so our first example may fall a bit limp. However, I’m willing to put my credibility on the line here and assume these are pretty awesome - - sight unseen - - just by virtue of the information available.

We’re talking about what was already the coolest storyline in the original show. We’re gorgeously reanimating it. And by presenting it from Makimachi Misao’s point of view, we’re cutting out a ton of material, making this a very lean and focussed “Kyoto’s Greatest Hits.”

RUROUNI KENSHIN: SHIN KYOTO HEN isn’t something meant to replace the old, or even to stand without it, I’d wager. This “reimagined” version acts as a complementary piece that seems intent to celebrate the original. That’s worth my money any day.

If you told 14-year-old Nick that there'd be a KENSHIN live-action - - and it'd be awesome - -he'd probably have pissed himself and passed out.
If you told 14-year-old Nick that there'd be a KENSHIN live-action - - and it'd be awesome - -he'd probably have pissed himself and passed out.

It’s been a big year for RUROUNI KENSHIN, with a blockbuster live-action adaptation coming out just after these OVAs wrapped up. We won’t get into it since we’re focussing on anime remakes. But two well-reviewed remakes in one year? Not bad for a series that ended more than 10 years ago.

Now, if they’d only animate the "Revenge" Arc. Someday... Someday...

Just when you thought it was safe to lower your AT Field...
Just when you thought it was safe to lower your AT Field...

Title: REBUILD OF EVANGELION 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, FINAL

Mission Statement: Hideaki Anno realized he wasn’t done messing with your brain.

Release Type: Theatrical (wide in Japan, limited in the U.S.) followed by DVD/Blu-ray

I’ve been waiting for three articles to say something about my beloved EVANGELION and now, finally, I have a platform. I’ve been in love with this series since I first got my hands on (poorly) subtitled bootlegs from my old Chinatown haunt. The original TV series, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, warped my young mind in ways that I’m sure are illegal in some states. My wife and I braved torrential rain to get to EVANGELION WORLD at Fuji-Q Highland on our honeymoon just so I could hang out with the life-sized replica of Unit-01.

So yeah, I have a personal stake in the REBUILD OF EVANGELION films. Lucky for me, they haven’t disappointed. I’m trying to keep things spoiler-free here, so please forgive any ambiguities. We can get into the nuts and bolts of EVA in another article (if you guys are down for it).

Yeah, they asked me to stay in Japan and pilot this puppy... but I had stuff to do back home.
Yeah, they asked me to stay in Japan and pilot this puppy... but I had stuff to do back home.

What REBUILD OF EVANGELION has set itself on doing is taking your expectations and subverting them. As a fan of the series, you think you know what happens. You know who dies, when it happens, what the central mysteries are and how they have (or haven’t) been explained. So the films take great pleasure in holding these things out in front of you, leading you one way, and then breaking in a different direction. Not just for the sake of toying with your emotions, of course, but in the service of what is clearly becoming a very different story with exciting new characters, events, and twists. Very little in these films has felt like rehash after the first few sequences of 1.0, and it’s especially fresh once you hit 2.0.

Despite the changes, what remains at the core is familiar to long time fans. Characters may make different choices, but they do so as a result of new events leading them down a different path and in line with who you know them to be. This isn’t grafting new events onto an old frame to try and spice it up; it’s creating something new and fueling it with the essence of the original.

Sound hokey? Maybe. But, it’s true.

Just a hint of what's new here...
Just a hint of what's new here...

REBUILD OF EVANGELION 3.0 is due out in Japanese theaters in November, with FINAL supposedly not far behind. Will it leave behind as many questions as the TV series and first movies did? Who knows, but it’s still been one hell of an unpredictable ride, and for a remake, that’s a pretty cool accomplishment.

Three of the most messed up 14-year-olds you've ever known - - and one you barely know yet. (Don't worry. I'm sure she's crazy, too).
Three of the most messed up 14-year-olds you've ever known - - and one you barely know yet. (Don't worry. I'm sure she's crazy, too).

So what makes The “Reimagined” Remake stand up? It seems like it’s a masterful balance between respect for what made the original special and fearlessness about deviating from it when the occasion's right. We’re not talking about just adding harsher language, more explosions, or doing a shot-by-shot replica of something that came before. It’s a fine line that I think we see walked by Japanese creators with unrivaled success.

And that, I think, is our answer: the “Reimagined Remake” is the art of taking something well-loved and reinterpreting it,with care and love for the source, without falling prey to reverence.

What do you guys think about “reimagined” remakes? Do you prefer adaptations to stick close to the original or would you rather see it reinterpreted? Any favorites? Keep the conversation going until next week’s article!

Next week on OTAKU COMING HOME: Part 2 - The “Manga” Remake.

On previous weeks of OTAKU COMING HOME...

Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at http://www.NickTapalansky.com/blog and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.

Petiewon Sept. 24, 2012 at 2:52 p.m.
Nice article, looking forward to the other parts!
 
This might be in the spoilers that you alluded to, but have you heard the theory that Rebuild is a sequel rather than a remake? It's actually pretty interesting. (Thumbnail is a bit small, needs to be opened in another tab)
NickTapalansky staff on Sept. 24, 2012 at 5:10 p.m.

Keep an eye out, everyone. It's pretty likely that this comment thread is going to wind up rife with spoilers, but don't worry: if I'm replying to you I'll keep my reply on topic to whatever you were talking about (also, if needed, I'll reply to people separately so you can skip to my reply and not risk spoilers; I know I hate running into them accidentally myself, so I'm gonna try not to let it happen to you!).

@Petiew:

Yeah, that's something. I've seen the evidence (blood on the moon, red oceans, Kaworu's mention of "this time," and so on), but don't think I subscribe to it. It seems like some of this stuff is getting explained away as the REBUILD series continues--the red oceans, last seen in The End of Evangelion film, are explained as a byproduct of the Second Impact in the current continuity, for instance. From what I could tell over on the Eva Geeks forums, the sequel theory almost seemed born out of the argument that the REBUILD films had to be "cannon" to be considered legitimate, which is a silly thing in and of itself.

What I like is that this is a remake, and one that it's actually posing new questions, scenarios, and even the sequel theory. That's pretty cool, and a rare quality in remakes. It's generating thought in viewers, just like the original series, and it's a (mostly) new conversation that's resulting.

I'm definitely someone who, when it comes to Hollywood, rolls my eyes at remakes. I don't care if it's one of my favorites it's, very likely, too close in DNA to something I've already seen and loved. The "reimagined" remake offers me something new, without the intent to emulate the old, and it's probably my favorite type of remake.

sickVisionz moderator on Sept. 24, 2012 at 6:31 p.m.

If it's a series I've already seen, I prefer a re-imagining. I have a really hard time rewatching anime because unless it's a fight scene or something that's based on spectacle, seeing how the story plays out is what I enjoy the most. Once I know exactly how that happens, a major part of what I enjoy is gone and can never be recaptured. A straight up remake is the total opposite of what I'd want, which is why I was lukewarm on the first Eva Rebuild but loved the second one.

Having said that, if I haven't seen the original series then I'm cool with a remake.

NickTapalansky staff on Sept. 24, 2012 at 7:05 p.m.

@sickVisionz:

Yeah, I agree. I'd like to see a new take on the material rather than scene-by-scene remakes (ala the Vince Vaughan PSYCHO film) or reiterations of the same information already presented (ala most remakes).

I have to be honest, the first REBUILD actually did enough to impress me change wise that I was hooked; the changes were pretty subtle, but I think they grow a bit as the whole project comes together. Seeing Shinji stand up to Misato before Operation: Yashima was a big character moment that showed a splinter from the TV series, just as an example. These earlier deviations in character interactions set the stage for 2.0, I think. Judging it as an individual film, yeah, it has the appearance of a straight remake. But as a series of films, I think the small changes in 1.0 started paying dividends in 2.0 which, in turn, is going to make for a ridiculously awesome 3.0 and final.

Totally agree on 2.0 though. That movie was just bananas for people new to the series and fans. I love that flick with all my geeky heart. It took almost every expectation based on the TV series and chucked it out the window, after teasing you with it first (the Toji/Asuka switch comes to mind here).

Speaking of remakes to like without seeing the original series, I'm looking forward to the CYBORG 009 remake coming to Japan in October. I know next to nothing about the manga or three (!!) previous TV shows, to I'm excited to dive into it uninitiated. I'll actually be talking about that (and the general excitement around not knowing what to expect from a remake and how they draw in new fans too) in the last article in this little series.

Eyzon Sept. 27, 2012 at 12:31 a.m.

I still need to watch those new Evangelion flicks... I'll wait and a bit and watch them all in a row, back to back, at some point..

NickTapalansky staff on Sept. 27, 2012 at 7:58 a.m.

@Eyz:

I envy your patience! I've been rabid about them since the first trailer hit in September '07. I was also super bummed that 3.0 hits Japanese theaters just ONE WEEK after we get back from Tokyo.

...

Sure, I don't speak Japanese. But I would've pieced it together... Sorta...

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