To my readers: Now that Ontario is opening back up, I’ve decided to take a short break from reviewing movies, and refocus on reviewing episodic anime series. From time to time, I’ll come back to movies, but not at a consistent rate like the past year.
It all comes down to this, folks. After 14 years of production, loaded with lots of hope and speculation rivaled only by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ longstanding playoff incompetence, it is here that my thoughts on the Rebuild of Evangelion series finally comes to a close. I shall review the final film in the quartet, Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon A Time, the definitive ending of Hideaki Anno’s re-mastered edition of his 1995 magnum opus. Before we begin this review, I’d like to point you to one thing in the title: not only did they change the subtitle from the traditional formula of “You Can (Not)…”, but instead of calling it Evangelion 4.0, they split the number into two parts – presumably to hide the silly Japanese association of the number 4 with death. Ironically enough, this film deals with anything but that, and instead aims to give new life to the franchise as they saw fit. So in that regard, everything will probably be settled here, right? One can only hope so. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive in to the final Evangelion work of our time.
EVANGELION 3.0 + 1.0 – THRICE UPON A TIME
Here is an example of a modern-day anime film that went through development hell. Originally, it was slated for release in late 2015; however, at that same time, Hideaki Anno decided to pull a fast one and switch perspectives to work on the Shin Godzilla movie, which released on July 2016. One would imagine, in an ideal world, after that he would jump right back on this and do everything in his power to finish the series as swiftly as possible. Instead, Anno became tired after the production of Shin Godzilla and decided to hold off this set until a much later date, namely sometime around summer of 2018. However, by that time, only a trailer had come out, and Anno was having trouble about how to develop Shinji’s character to give him closure. He ended up consulting various individuals to get their input on how to resolve this dilemma: such as Shinji’s voice actor, Megumi Ogata, Atsushi Nishigori from Darling in the FranXX fame, and his wife. Days passed, which turned into months, and eventually years – and much ado can be written regarding the various rewrites the script and conceptual details went through.
Eventually, all this work resulted in the two-hour long premiere which you see before you; it stands as the longest of all the individual Rebuild films in the works. It was finally released to much excitement on 8 March 2021, largely in part due to the COVID farce that was ongoing in the previous year. Nevertheless, it broke box office records, grossing over 10 million yen in sales and was the most-viewed film on Amazon Prime on the day of its release. Reception of the film was more positive than Evangelion 3.0, to the point where the folks at Studio Khara decided to surprise fans more with a directors’ cut release on 12 June 2021. Although the film has yet to win any awards, I would hedge my bets on it getting two or three here and there.
After a brief scene recapping the first three films – or you can just read the plot of the first three films here – we start in the city of Paris, France, depopulated thanks to Third Impact, where Mari Illustrious Makinami successfully fights off a series of NERV clones, leading Misato’s crew to successfully stabilize and oxygenate the area from its bloodstained hue. Following this, we cut to Shinji, Asuka, and Rei who are travelling across the desolate landscape of Tokyo-3, where they are picked up by an unsuspecting visitor (who turns out to be Kensuke, Shinji’s old classmate) and taken to a bustling village. Here, Shinji reunites with classmates Toji, now an unlicensed doctor, his wife Hikari and their infant child Tsumabe, who Rei takes a liking to. Despite the group’s attempts to resume communication with Shinji, the latter remains silent, presumably aware of the trauma he has recently gone through from the previous film.
The trio begins to indulge in their new, temporary lives in the village: Rei learns to make a living for herself, while trying to figure out her new identity, and befriends the old townsfolk she works with; Asuka spends her days playing video games and scolding Shinji for his silence; he, on the other hand, continues to mope in self-pity, spending days near the ruins of the old NERV headquarters. Eventually, thanks to Rei’s affection, he sheds his act, and begins to actively reconnect with Kensuke, now a contractor handyman working with Ryoji Kaji Jr, the son of Misato and the deceased Kaji Sr, and Toji, who teach him fishing, gathering supplies, and catches up with them on their relationship with WILLE, and how their lives have been since 14 years ago. Suddenly, Rei begins to lose her life support, since she requires LCL to operate, and spontaneously combusts in Shinji’s arms just as she realizes her love of life. Shinji decides to no longer stay behind and watch the battle as a spectator; thereby he finally mans up and joins Asuka on the road back to the Wunder, ready to defend his friends.
Reuniting with Sakura and Mari, and finally reconciling with Asuka over the Unit-03 incident in Evangelion 2.0, initially Shinji is kept in containment while the others prepare to approach Gendo and NERV’s forces at Antarctica, the epicenter of the Second Impact, and destroy Unit-13, the trigger for the real Fourth Impact. Though Asuka, Mari, and the rest of the Wunder forces are overwhelmed by NERV’s Evangelion clones, Asuka manages to get close to Unit-13, but fails to incapacitate it, forcing her to transform her Unit-02 into an Angel; thereby falling into Gendo’s trap. Unit-13 absorbs the “angelic” Unit-02, starting the stages of Fourth Impact much to everyone’s horror. Gendo, having already rejected his humanity to become a god-like being, deflects an attempt on his life by Misato and Ritsuko, and merges with the aforementioned unit proclaiming his intent to deify humanity once and for all.
Seeing the chaos unfolding, Shinji decides without hesitation to “get in the robot”, much to the antagonism of the Wunder crew members, aware of the last time he tried to do such. However, Misato, having forgiven Shinji, acquiesces to his request and joins him to stop Fourth Impact. He gets into Unit-01, dueling against his father in Unit-13 across various landscapes and fourth wall boundaries (his school, Tokyo-3, Misato’s apartment, the village, etc) before the former realizes that talking things out, not violence, is the key to a solution. Thus, Gendo joins his son and starts the Human Instrumentality Project, seeking to change the continuity of the world – but ends up telling his whole life story, which includes his isolated early life, desire to seek knowledge, his marriage with Yui, and his enjoyment for life followed by the devastation that came after her death – all which Shinji understands as his inability to move forward. This response stuns Gendo, who becomes aware of Shinji’s maturing.
At that moment, Misato sacrifices her life to hand Shinji the “Spear of Gaius”, while Gendo leaves, ready to repent his ways and leave the fate of the world in his son’s hands. Assisted with Kaworu Nagisa, Shinji proceeds to make amends with the rest of the Evangelion cast members: Asuka regains a normal family life, Kaworu joins Kaji Sr to work on a farm and become best friends, and Rei thanks Shinji for showing her the meaning of life. With that, the world is rewritten; all Evangelions are erased, freeing the souls trapped within them, and everyone is encouraged to find their own happiness in this world. Gendo and Yui assist him by sacrificing their lives as Unit-13 and Unit-01 respectively, and Shinji returns to a restored Earth, with a blue sky and sea with Mari.
Fast forward to several years later; all the characters are on a train station, having grown up – and so does Shinji, now a businessman who has finally found inner peace and stability. And before anyone else points it out: he hooks up with Mari, who joins hands together with him, dashing out of the station ready to live happily ever after. OR DO THEY? Nah I’m just kidding, this is as happy an ending as it gets. (Screw you though I’m still shipping Shinji and Asuka)
WHAT I LIKED
- This film is a massive improvement over Evangelion 3.0 because it actually tried to progress the plot, and dedicated more time to wrapping up loose ends and giving the characters the due treatment they deserved. It also has the distinction of being the only Evangelion with a happy ending; Earth is normal, everyone is happy and in relatively greater peace than before – compare that to the disaster that surrounded everyone in End of Evangelion.
- Toji, Hikari and Kensuke returned to this series and it was great. Not only did the writers finally clear things up as to their lives since the events of the second film, but instead of tossing them aside, they gave them bigger roles and decorated their personalities to become even more likable and brighter despite age. One such example is by treating Shinji and Rei differently than the rest of WILLE or NERV. By humanizing them, recognizing their faults and working on fixing those, something which never really occurred prior, they were essential in contributing to the gradual stability of their lives, mental health and well-being – leading to their well-deserved endings.
- Shinji and Gendo’s moment inside Instrumentality, where they sympathize with each other’s sufferings represented another positive element that was reintroduced to the film: the psychoanalytical sense. I’m glad that they decided to return to the roots of what made the original series the talk of the town, and use this scene as a way to bring everyone’s dramatic story to a close.
- It was clever how at the end the film decides to callback the problems that plagued the last two episodes of Evangelion, by showing Shinji regressing from full color animation to the storyboard version – a way of saying “Remember when we used to troll you guys like this? Not anymore suckers!”
- Conclusively speaking, I’m happy for everyone in the story. Shinji’s finally found his way in life, as did the other main characters; and to see him like that instead of how he’s choking out Asuka before, that’s more than enough to warm my heart. There is one question though worth investigating: given how Shinji wiped out the Evangelion units from history, does that mean that Second Impact and all never happened? That’s a theory that might be fun to mull on.
WHAT I DISLIKED
- For obvious reasons, I don’t approve of the pairing between Shinji and Mari at the end. Some might say that Mari’s hookup was because she was the healthiest of all the girls in the show, or that it paralleled Anno and his wife’s relationship, but sorry, I’m still sticking to the on-and-off tension that existed between Shinji and Asuka in the original series rather than take the new one out for a spin.
- One thing I wish they could have expanded upon in this story is how Gendo becomes a godlike trans-human figure. In the film it somewhat explains that he fused together with an item known as the Key of Nebuchadnezzar – but they don’t really bother to prologue what it is, how he got it, and what overall purpose does it have to the story. Ditto for the spears of Cassius and Gaius and their use.
- During the part Misato reminiscences about the actual Third Impact event, with Ryoji Kaji Sr.’s sacrifice and how it messed up a good chunk of humanity, I hated how they just glossed over the event and left little to no backstory about it. That’s the problem with having such a long timeskip. It’s a lazy way of advancing plot elements to get the story where it is now, and leaves little room to explain loose ends – for example, the whole bit with Kaji Jr, how Toji, Hikari and Kensuke were able to survive the disaster, and the specifics of it. A slight improvement would have been if they introduced this event at the start of Evangelion 3.0 so that the viewers could be slightly less confused at what happened since then.
- Speaking of Ryoji Kaji Jr, it was poor how they introduce him to the story, but then leave him in the dust for the remainder of the movie. For one thing, why did the directors feel the need to add this useless cameo, and what purpose would he have served other than plot fodder for Misato’s intentions? It would have been cool to see him in action in the later stages of the film, but once again, Anno be praised and his will be done!
- Visually, the film overloads way too much on the CGI, like with the Paris battle scene and Additional Impact; the latter with its disturbingly realistic giant Rei head. Those who wish to Google search it, abandon all hope first before you do. Not to mention as well, the battle scenes were very nauseating, especially the first part of the final bout, involving Asuka and her Unit-02, Mari with Unit-08, and a bunch of NERV machines.
Let’s start with the positive aspects of the character, and that’s seen through Shinji, his now grown-up classmates, and Gendo. Seeing Toji, Hikari and Kensuke wiser beyond their years, starting families and learning the value of hard work was charming, and a stark, upbeat contrast to their goofy childhood selves. Toji, now a diligent doctor bent on saving lives, is a far cry from the class clown; Kensuke is less of a geek and bulks up to be braver and skilled; and Hikari calms down and embraces life fully rather than being the rigid, strict class representative from school. Their appearance meant something – it wasn’t just some useless throwback just for the sake of it, and it really showed through Shinji’s character which, by the way, is something worth applauding especially with how much it was mulled upon during production.
You can see how all the elements of their help molded Shinji to change, take responsibility, not run away, and expunge the demons plaguing his conscience. Can you ever imagine him saying as he did to Kaworu, “I’m not going to cry anymore – that doesn’t solve anything”? Or him confronting his father with words rather than raw emotion, shutting him down and telling him for who he really is? Moreover, we even see him come to terms verbally with Asuka, someone who scared him for her uncouth personality, without even flinching or caring what she thought of him. Truth be told, Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 managed to give him the shining moment that he truly deserved all this time. In like manner, Gendo’s character is more developed with how he explains his backstory, allowing the viewer and characters to understand his sorrows, and clears up why reuniting with Yui was of top priority in his life, instead of making him a stock villain that just wanted to destroy humanity. In atoning for his faults by sacrificing himself to give his son the life that he never had, he redeems himself and sends a message to his son not to repeat his sins.
Whereas these were the positives, some negative parts included the treatment of WILLE crewmates, such as Asuka, who turns out to be a stock clone of the version that disappeared in the second film and void of personality – thereby repudiating any likability on her end; Sakura, who proved to be more useless than her brother or during the previous film; Rei whose soul-searching journey is stalled abruptly in the end of the first half, and Mari who never gets anything other than a cheerful personality – not the kind of thing you’d expect from someone who’s supposed to be a main character in Evangelion.
By far this film has the best soundtrack of them all. The music had a more triumphant feeling to it, as opposed to the doom-and-gloom one of the previous film. Tracks like the glorious Additional Impact theme, What If?, Hand of Fate by Hazel Fernandes for depicting the villagers’ lives, Voyager – Hizuke no Nai Bohyou by Megumi Hayashibara (shown below) when Shinji rewrites his happy ending, and One Last Kiss by Utada Hikaru are such examples of this in play.
However, the things that especially drive this home is the inclusion of Christian motets in various parts of the film: for example, modern pieces like Misato’s farewell anthem The Path, which commends her soul to God in her final moments, and classical ones like Jesus, Joy Of Man’s Desiring by Johann Sebastian Bach in the beginning montage, to the (strangely-included) Christmas hymn Joy To The World and my personal favorite, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 18th-century setting of the Roman Catholic Eucharistic hymn, Ave Verum Corpus. Musically speaking it’s a nice collection that successfully surpasses End of Evangelion‘s, and enhanced the film’s quality. Unfortunately as a consequence, if I ever hear the latter piece sung at High Mass, I’ll have to block out images from this movie and combat it with thoughts on the Real Presence of Christ.
Favorite character: I’m beginning to find Kensuke Aida more to my liking, especially in the fourth film with his happy-go-lucky worldview and hard-working mentality amidst the ruins. He’s also a very good people person, being able to recognize Shinji in his troubled state and working to help him out of it. Come to think of it, he’d make for a good spiritual director.
Favorite scene: Again, honorary spot goes to Shinji and Kaworu’s segment during Instrumentality because of Mozart, but the part that got to me the most was the entire segment in the village – starting from Kensuke’s pickup to Asuka knocking Shinji out en route to Wunder. Nice as it was to see Toji, Kensuke, and head-canon Traditionalist Catholic housewife Hikari in the fray once more, and to take a break from the mind-boggling action and visuals of the previous film, I loved how this scene reinvigorated the characters’ perspectives and gave them a new purpose on fighting: not for selfish reasons like validation or personal glory, but for the temporal salvation of others around them.
Favorite quote: I don’t care how the film ends, I will use this quote to justify Shinji/Asuka pertinently:
Asuka: …With all that said and done, do you know why I wanted to clobber you?
Shinji: It was because of me, I was indecisive when you were inside Unit-03. Neither did I choose to help you or to kill you. The responsibility was too much for me to bear. I’m sorry.
Asuka: Damn, that was deep. I guess I’ll let you know my side of the story then. That boxed lunch you made, it was pretty tasty I have to admit. Part of me took a liking to you back then. Sadly, those days are gone and I’ve grown up before you did. That’s all.Irrefutable evidence that Asuka had something going for Shinji in the original series
Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 – Thrice Upon A Time finishes the quartet rather finely and ties up the characters’ arcs coherently. Though it’s miles ahead of the third film in terms of story, more could have been done better in terms of its battle visuals, the lore expansion, and production plans. Part of me wants to say also that it has the feel of a badly-patched fan-fiction given the U-turn in direction it took from the original story, but I’ll give it credit that they did try to establish something different than the downer conclusion that most are familiar with.
And so ends the 14-year long saga of Rebuild of Evangelion, and with that, the curtains fall on Anno’s work Evangelion, forever. When I started watching it exactly 4 years ago, I was enthralled by the characters, the apocalyptic lore, the psychological aspects embedded, and of course, the numerous fan-fictions of the romantic and alternative history kinds for it. It was a brilliant journey, full of intrigue and the occasional hilarious pushbacks. In contrast, Rebuild of Evangelion, in spite of its happy ending and action-oriented focus, was just exhausting to watch. It watered down the powerful impact of the original’s story, and transformed it nothing more into a generic mecha show with tons of fanservice and little substance. What’s worse, the fights were just boring and dragged on for too long with no appeal to them. In its totality, Rebuild of Evangelion, is not that great as it seems – so just stick to the original.