Netflix’s Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt Review

A pre-release review of Netflix’s latest attempt at an anime adaptaion

When Netflix announced that it was making a live-action Neon Genesis Evangelion film, fans were immediately outraged. While Eva fans aren’t exactly known for being understanding and reasonable individuals (just ask Hideaki Anno), Hollywood’s track record with anime adaptations is so horrible that the fury felt at least a bit valid this time around.

Movies like Ghost in the Shell and Dragonball Evolution have proved that American studios can drain the life out of any beloved piece of Japanese animation by not trusting that the themes and ideas will resonate with western audiences. Time and time again, executives look at defining entries in the medium and try to solve problems that don’t exist by whittling away at an anime’s concepts, characters, and general identity until the most aggressively generic and soulless action film is all that remains (and also the lead is a white person).

Netflix itself has already had two strikes with Death Note and its live-action Cowboy Bebop series, so naturally, it made sense that people were skeptical of Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt. Still, there was hope that Netflix would have learned something from its previous mistakes. The third time wouldn’t be a charm, but it couldn’t be worse than those other attempts, right?


During the press screening I was at, the individual in front of me slipped on a puddle of spilled soda and took a nasty fall. I’m pretty sure they fractured their skull. As the paramedics hauled this person’s ass out on a stretcher, I couldn’t help but feel a ping of envy. It was possible that they might have suffered irreparable brain damage- or even died- but at least they wouldn’t have to sit through the rest of Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt.

It is just as bad, if not worse than the trailers have led fans to believe. In casting three of the Stranger Things kids as the main trio (I don’t even need to say which actors and actresses, you already know which ones), Netflix has taken whitewashing to a new level. But the main characters aren’t just physically difficult to recognize, because they’ve been drastically altered in every conceivable way.

Shinji Ikari has become “Evan Isaac”, a cocky but awkward teenager whose father, Gregor, works for a secretive organization known as the Networked Extraterrestrial Retaliation Vanguard (NERV has to be an acronym for some reason). You might be wondering why this version of Shinji has a westernized name that sounds nothing like his original name, while Asuka and Rei have become “Ashley” and “Rachel”, which at least makes a little sense (as far as pointless changes go). The reason is… that some studio executive thought it would be clever to have the main character’s name be the beginning of the word “Evangelion”.

Evan doesn’t really act much like Shinji anyways, and you wouldn’t even know that Evan is supposed to be an adaptation of Shinji if he didn’t pilot EVA unit 01 or wear the iconic plugsuit. Of course, the movie treats the plugsuit as something that Evan has to earn, and despite the trailers prominently featuring him in it, he only puts it on for the final battle.

Rachel is probably the most like her anime counterpart of the main three, but that’s not really saying much. She’s a strange, quiet girl who’s a clone of Evan’s mother. At least, she seems to be a clone, until a plot twist where it’s revealed that she is Evan’s biological sister, which feels like a weirdly unnecessary beat. Also, You Can (Not) Adapt depicts Rachel as Evan’s best friend since early childhood- basically a sibling- so it’s weird to have it be a secret that she’s technically his sister because the twist does absolutely nothing to move the story forward or shift the status quo. It’s a revelation that exists for no other reason than to pad out the run time, it seems.


Still, Rachel is a better character than Ashley Langley. Ashley extinguishes all of the fire and intensity that Asuka brought to Neon Genesis Evangelion, as Ashley is a compliant schoolgirl with no personality outside of openly pining after Evan. Evan is nothing like Shinji, but at least when they got rid of all of his defining traits they tried to replace them with… something. Ashley is a nothing character with no agency or opinions. That’s right, they took the best character in the anime and made her the least interesting one in the film. Her drive to grow up too fast because she believes she lost her innocence as a young child by witnessing her mother’s suicide? Gone. Her mother is alive and “loves her very much”, but not too much because god forbid these characters to have genuine connections with one another.

No, every relationship in Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt feels like it’s told to the audience, but it’s never really supported by anything that the characters do. Human connection is such an important theme of the anime that it’s depressing to see it become this artificial… thing poorly processed by the unstoppable content machine. There’s no mistrust, redemption, or sacrifice to shape the way that characters feel about one another. Their bonds are simply labels that we’re asked to accept. “Friendship” is when characters exist around one another and “love” is somehow even less substantial than that.

And then there’s Michelle (this movie’s version of Misato), who’s played by Elizabeth Olsen. She does okay with what she’s given (to be fair, every actor in this film does), but this iteration of the character is quickly gaining an… “eccentric” fanbase, despite the movie not being out yet. Michelle fans are, to put it bluntly, pretty rabid, and especially hostile towards anyone who questions the whitewashing. They get weirdly racist in defense of their favorite girlboss, actually.

Daniel Radcliffe and Jennifer Lawerence are decent as Kevin (Ryoji Kaji) and Rita (Ritsuko Akagi) and have good chemistry with Olsen, but again, it’s very difficult to overlook how the studio went out of their way to not get any Japanese actors. Also, a lot of the casting choices feel very random even if you somehow overlook the whitewashing issue. It feels like Radcliffe got a part in this solely because he was rumored to have been cast as Shinji in Hollywood’s previous attempt at an adaptation of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and someone thought that would be an interesting tidbit for You Can (Not) Adapt’s IMDB trivia page.

Perhaps the oddest casting choice is Jeff Goldblum as Gregor Isaac (originally Gendo Ikari), Evan’s father. As mentioned before, this reimagining of Gendo Ikari is supposed to be a loving dad rather than a cold, ruthless bastard. However, Goldblum delivers his lines with the same odd, uncomfortable mouth noises that are a part of his regular performances, and he accidentally comes across as creepier than the original Gendo.

When Evan confronts Gregor about secretly using alien technology in his designs for the Evangelion Units, Gregor gives his son this weird shoulder rub while consoling him. It’s meant to be a heartfelt moment, but it just sort of makes you cringe and wonder what the hell is happening. Not that the scene really matters, though, because the two immediately hug it out and never speak of Gregor’s deception again. As I said earlier, this movie doesn’t seem interested in any sort of conflict between its characters or genuine human emotion.

While Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt doesn’t care about how its characters feel, it is very, very interested in explaining its mythology to you. You can tell that the higher-ups at Netflix were afraid of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s lore being ambiguous and open to interpretation, so they overcompensated by having a ton of exposition about the nature of the angels and where they come from. The movie repeatedly tells you that the angels are not actual divine beings, but aliens looking to exterminate life on Earth because of a prophecy. It’s all just the most generic sci-fi bullshit you’ve ever seen.

It also feels like Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt doubles down on the “alien invasion” aspect to minimize controversy around anything that could be perceived as “religious”. Everything about Adam and Lilith is scrubbed away, and the Spear of Longinus becomes the “Spear of Fate”. The spear is the big MacGuffin driving the plot, as the angels are trying to locate and penetrate N.E.R.V.’s base beneath Area 51 to get it. The angels seek to use the Spear of Fate to eliminate all living things so that they can remake the world or something. They’re basically trying to cause the Third Impact, but for boring reasons that are derivative of a dozen other blockbusters.

The kids pilot the Evangelion units not because they have some kind of special connection to them, but because their parents are part of N.E.R.V.’s Evangelion Program and they know that the safest place to put their children during an alien attack is in these giant robots. While the Eva Units are made from technology used by the aliens, the movie never suggests that they are these horrifying living things whose free will is shackled by humans, like they are in the anime. In fact, all of the trauma that comes with piloting the Evas is gone, and even Evan actually enjoys doing it. In his first battle, Evan kicks an angel in the fucking crotch, and notes “that just happened” when he accidentally rips its arms off as it pleads for mercy in an alien language.

The worst part of Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt isn’t even the movie itself, but the things it heralds. The post-credits scene shows the Emperor of the Angels looking out at Earth from the Moon and announcing that he has a secret weapon before the camera cuts to Kaworu (played by that other Stranger Things kid) standing beside him. This isn’t just a tease for a sequel, but a threat that there’s absolutely more to come. In fact, Netflix recently announced that You Can (Not) Adapt is only the first installment in an Evangelion trilogy and that they’re already at work creating spin-off movies and series to create a cinematic universe, like Universal Studios’ wildly successful Dark Universe.

There are even talks of a Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water live-action series that will connect to Evangelion, like how Neon Genesis Evangelion was originally conceived as a follow-up to the other Gainax anime. However, the big difference between then and now is that the two are being mashed together to generate more creatively-bankrupt “content”, like beasts of burden forced to breed with one another. I dread it all with every fiber of my being, especially the miniseries that just got announced while I was writing this paragraph. It will apparently explore the origins of Pen Pen, who is a tuxedo-wearing human assassin in the Netflix movie rather than a penguin. Evangelion: You Can (Not) Adapt seems embarrassed by its source material, and as a result, the movie is constantly at odds with its own existence. Every second of the adaptation reminds you that there’s a much better version of this story you should watch instead.

By Quinn Hesters

Quinn is a vat-grown living advertisement created by the LEGO Company to promote their products. When he's not being the flesh-and-blood equivalent of a billboard, he's raving about the X-Men on Twitter.

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