Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon a Time (2021) by Hideaki Anno

The final instalment in the “Rebuild of Evangelion” tetralogy brings things to a thrilling, poignant, and oftentimes shocking conclusion. This is in effect the third time that this story has been brought to a close. The original 1990’s anime series’ final episodes were criticized at the time for a left-field shift in style, with the use of repetitive visuals and sketchy animation, and, to many viewers, incomprehensible philosophical discussions around a collective consciousness. The manga series ends quite differently, diverging from the anime with more of a bittersweet ending. If you have seen the three preceding films in this series you will know that we are already in a significantly different timeline than either. Although there is a recap of the previous three films at the beginning of this fourth and final installment, it will make little sense if you haven’t seen those films, acting as more of a refresher for fans. This film begins with Mari (Maya Sakamoto) piloting Unit 8 in a spectacular battle with an evolved model of Eva. She is under the direction of Ritsuko Akagi (Yuriko Yamaguchi) as they attempt to restore some of the devastated earth. The film then reunites us with the trio of pilots left stranded at the end of the last film. Shinji (Megumi Ogata), Asuka (Yuko Miyamura), and the new-model Rei (Megumi Hayashibara), are recovered by an outpost of refugees who have formed a primitive communal society. They meet up again with former classmates Toji (Tomokazu Seki) and Kensuke (Tetsuya Iwanaga), who are now 14 years older and working to help the surviving humans. Shinji is still unable to come to terms with his involvement in and responsibility for bringing about the apocalyptic events that killed a large portion of the earth’s population. However, Gendo (Fumihiko Tachiki) and Fuyutsuki (Motomu Yamadera) are continuing with their plan to bring about a final destruction and rebuilding of the universe through Fourth Impact, so he is once again drawn in to help prevent calamity.

“Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon a Time” again sees the art and animation stepped up a notch, with incredibly picturesque backgrounds and detailed post-apocalyptic landscapes. Scale has always been important to the Evangelion series, with Evas towering above diminutive buildings, and here we see that captured perfectly, with Mari’s Eva battle dwarfing the city of Paris that acts as a backdrop for the action. In the refugee camp too we get a sense of the bustle of industrious humans attempting to rebuild their lives. The increased budget from a television show is evidenced here and it does justice to the scope of Anno’s vision for “Evangelion”. It is interesting to note that given this budget, a large part of the film is taken up with simple human interactions, conversations, meals, planting rice, taking a bath, that are given as much import as the mammoth battles for humanity’s survival. This is what Evangelion does best, juxtaposing and comparing the internal mental struggles of its protagonists, and seemingly insignificant moments of everyday life, with the large-scale world-changing events of Angels, Evas and Fourth Impact. The film shifts between dazzling, psychedelic battles, a raucous, almost transcendent experience wherin the viewer is bombarded with light and sound, and quieter, more reflective moments that ponder existentialism and human relations. There are moments to please fans, with the inclusion of particular characters, locations, even penguins, sure to raise a nostalgic smile. But the film also does its best to subvert expectations, giving you everything you could want, but not exactly how you expected it. This is evident in the length of time spent in the refugee camp, away from the familiarity of NERV, Evas, or anything recognizably “Evangelion” (aside from the characters). Of course if you understand the heart of the story, it is these characters and their relationships, so these moments are perfect in moving the story forward, while feeling not much at all like an “Evangelion” film. The film is highly inventive and creative, never content to play it safe. It doesn’t always work, with the CG feeling slightly out of place at times, but the use of sketch drawings, “film-footage”, and the mind-bending finale, shows that Anno is as always interested in providing a unique experience that challenges your preconceptions.

The film offers a stunning conclusion to this saga that should satisfy fans. There is none of the abstraction of the television series, instead we have a straightforward explanation for what happens (as far as Evangelion is ever straightforward). If you can follow what is going on to the end, many questions are answered about Gendo’s actions and almost all of the main characters are given a moment to shine, expressing the core of their feelings and beliefs. Rei’s existential crisis is brought into focus, and she acts as a conduit for us to examine human relations and society. Her questioning of why we shake hands, say ‘thank you’ or ‘hello’, subtly yet powerfully forces the audience to reflect on human interactions and norms. Katsuragi’s relationship with Kaji is referenced in a touching way. Asuka’s traumas are laid bare, as are Shinji’s fears of rejection and helplessness. We also finally have a moment between Shinji and Gendo that brings to closure a tension that has been present from the very first moment between them; that explains their strained relationship and also the difference in their characters. Exceling as both an action spectacular and a heartfelt emotional drama, “Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0” is an exceptional work that brings to an end a series that has meant a lot to so many people.

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012) by Hideaki Anno

The third Evangelion film finds Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata) awakening from a fourteen-year coma following the cataclysmic events of the previous film. Shinji returns to earth to find Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi) in command of a large vessel attempting to protect the remnants of a largely extinct population. Asuka (Yuko Miyamura) returns, though she appears not to have aged (explained away as a side-effect of being an Eva pilot), as does Mari Makinami (Maya Sakamoto); one of Rei Ayanami’s (Megumi Hayashibara) doubles; and Kaworu Nagisa (Akira Ishida) (a character seen only briefly in previous films). The post-apocalyptic earth that Shinji returns to is almost unrecognizable. NERV headquarters are mostly destroyed, Katsuragi and Asuka are working for an organization called WILLE, whose goal is to destroy what is left of NERV. Meanwhile, Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki), along with Rei and Kaworu are working on completing the mysterious Human Instrumentality Project.

We are now in uncharted waters, with the third film in the “Rebuild of Evangelion”, being an entirely new version of events from the anime and manga series’. This film is certainly a more difficult watch in many ways compared with the previous two movies. The plot immediately takes you out of your comfort zone with the premise that fourteen years have passed, and the characters we knew and loved have changed. We feel the isolation and neglect that Shinji feels as we are in a world that is very different to the one both the audience and the characters knew. There is less humour this time around with the sombre post-apocalyptic setting and weighty philosophical and existential concerns consuming the characters. The machinations of NERV and SEELE become a little clearer here, as we discover what they are plotting. The animation blends traditional and computer generated images, utilising rotoscoping and other techniques, but maintaining the hand-drawn/ traditionally animated look. This allows for some epic battle sequences, including an incredible opening sequence in space. There are a number of quiet moments too that succeed in offering a moment of respite and a chance to contemplate what is going on and the portentousness of what is happening to the world. Shiro Sagsu’s score continues to be excellent, with both classical and rock pieces, similar to previous films, with piano music playing a major part in the story, used expertly to acknowledge both the mood and theme of the film.

This film plays on the theme of abandonment and loneliness. We see Shinji at the beginning being told that he is no longer a necessary part of plans. That, along with everything having changed around him, leads both him and the viewer to feel a sort of anger and sadness, that the world seems to have left us behind, going so far as to create an uneasy tension between viewers expectations and what is happening. This feeling is poignantly reflected in the character of Rei too, who we learn is a clone of Yui Ikari, Shinji’s mother, and therefore an expendable part of NERV’s plans. Rei’s sense of self is shattered on learning that she is not the ‘real’ Rei. This film is much more focussed on the philosophy and grand themes of human evolution and deicide than the first two. However, there are some great moments between Shinji and Asuka and Shinji and Kaworu that capture that sense of real teenagers learning about themselves and the world. As before the spectacular set-piece battles are a highlight of the film. “Evangelion 3.0” is quite different from the previous films, building on certain themes and relationships while taking things in a whole new narrative direction. The film ends with a note that it is to be continued, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes from here.

Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009) by Hideaki Anno

In this instalment of the “Rebuild of Evangelion” series we are introduced to a new Eva pilot, the feisty, confident Asuka Langley Shikinami (Yuko Miyamura), who joins Shinji (Megumi Ogata) and Rei (Megumi Hayashibara) in battling the Angels. There are a number of other subplots introduced here, with the return of Ryoji Kaji (Koichi Yamadera), a former friend of Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi) who appears to be involved in some sort of plot with the head of NERV. We also see more of the shadowy SEELE organization, and two more Eva pilots, Kaworu Nagisa (Akira Ishida) and Mari Makinami (Maya Sakamoto).

This time round there is much more going on in the story, with the film asking you to keep track of several plot threads. The film manages to fill its run-time with great character interaction, extreme action scenes with clashing Angels and Evas, and numerous mysteries to keep things interesting. Asuka is a great addition as she adds not only more firepower to NERV, but also another stumbling block for the socially awkward Shinji to tackle. We learn more about Katsuragi in this film, and even something about Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki) that goes some way towards explaining his cool demeanour. The film sees a step up in the level of violence, underscored with a rock inflected soundtrack from Shiro Sagisu as we see the Evas literally tearing Angels apart, and cities awash with blood. As in the first the animation is incredible in evoking a sense of scale. The film’s mix of mechs and metaphysics comes to a head in the final head-spinning moments when the fate of the earth and humanity are brought to a thrilling (almost) conclusion. This second film builds on everything the first did so well, the intriguing interpersonal struggles, the awe-inspiring action, while adding several more layers to everything to create a film that rewards re-watches for details that perhaps only become clearer with greater context from subsequent films.

“Evangelion 2.0” deals a lot more with the themes of family, friendship and belonging, as we see the children enjoying themselves, and even a tender scene between Shinji and his father. Asuka represents everything Shinji is not, confident and fiery, but both share a sense of selfishness and repressed fear of rejection. The film sets up various conflicts, between Shinji and Asuka, Shinji and his father, SEELE and Gendo, NERV and the Angels. It is a world in which there is no clear sense of right or wrong. Shinji is again forced to work out what he stands for. The film ends with an awesome, tantalising, bewildering cliff-hanger, that upends everything that has gone before and leaves you desperate to find out what will happen to the characters. An incredible sequel that brings together adrenaline-pumping action in a battle of truly Biblical proportions.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)

In the year 2015, a group of teenagers are called upon to save the world from a predicted apocalypse known as Third Impact. “Evangelion” throws us straight into the action with a decimated Tokyo under attack from a huge flying alien called an Angel. Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata) is picked up by Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi) and whisked away to NERV headquarters, where he meets his estranged father Gendo (Fumihiko Tachiki). Shinji his told that he must pilot a giant humanoid robot and fight the Angel to protect humanity. Along with two other pilots, the mysterious Rei Ayanami (Megumi Hayashibara) and the fiery Asuka Langley Soryu (Yuko Miyamura), Shinji is tasked with bringing down the Angels who continue to attack the NERV. The reason for these persistent attacks becomes apparent later as NERV and the shadowy Seele organisation begin discussing plans for the Human Instrumentality Project.

Writer and director Hideaki Anno will forever be remembered for this series, which changed the expectations for what anime could be. “Neon Genesis Evangelion” brings together incredible action with a story that is driven by its characters. While the impressive battles between Angels and Evas provide excitement and ramp up the tension, the real draw is the interpersonal relationships; Shinji must navigate a complex emotional environment, dealing with his father’s rejection, and the burden placed on him by Misato and others at NERV. As the show progresses the line between the external struggle against the Angels and Shinji’s internal angst becomes increasingly blurred. Shinji’s greatest enemy is his own sense of impotence and crushing anxiety, about being unable to live up to expectations and connect with others. The show alludes to Christian theology, but in a way that doesn’t require much foreknowledge of it. The supercomputers are named for the Magi, Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior; there are the Angels, mentions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Spear of Longinus, Adam as a progenitor of human life, and numerous shots of crucifixes. However, at heart the show is deeply rooted in mankind’s war to overcome the darker aspects of its own nature; to understand why we feel pain and help us accept our own mortality and inadequacy.

Every major character in “Evangelion” is given an interesting back story, full of mystery and tragedy, often interconnected to the others. A parental death, unrequited love, and themes of hurt stemming from human interaction are prominent themes. Most of the characters are suffering because of the actions of others, or their inability to deal with their own situation or accept it. Gendo Ikari is a prime example of the sort of grey character the show excels at. A terrible father, we later come to learn of his own tragedy, and his absolute belief in what he is doing to protect humanity and force its evolution to what he believes is a more perfect state. While he may not be likeable, by the end of the series we at least understand better why he behaves as he does. Misato Katsuragi is another fantastic example, perfectly encapsulating the idea that people wear masks depending on their situation; her heavy drinking, raucous, childlike persona at home is entirely absent when in the role of commander at NERV. Characters like Akagi (Yuriko Yamaguchi), whose backstory is only revealed late in the series, also offer an incredible depth to the drama, in creating a believable world full of well realised characters. “Evangelion” is heavily influenced by anime and films that have gone before, both kaiju and war films in particular, and features the knockabout comedy of sitcom style shows alongside the serious ‘command centre’ moments. In drawing on these elements the show appears on the surface to be only an incredibly well done animation, with all the elements (quirky characters, robot-alien battles, high-school heroes) that typify this genre. But the story it is trying to tell, one of universal and timeless significance is what sets it apart, taking in psychology, philosophy and theology in a bold narrative that tackles major questions about humanity’s future.

The ending of Evangelion received much criticism when it was first broadcast. The final two episodes seem to be a departure from what has gone before. They take place inside Shinji’s head as the Human Instrumentality Project is underway, and deal with a concept that is incredibly difficult to portray. However, if you have followed the essential themes of the show, these final two episodes are a powerful denouement as we see Shinji deal with the central dilemma he has been facing since the first episode. In short, the Human Instrumentality Project intends to merge all human conscience into a single entity. This is a concept that is hard to conceptualize and even harder to depict. While stories about the show running out of budget may be to blame for what we get in these final two episodes, they should not be shrugged off as a failure or in any way a poor end to the show. In fact, they offer something that very few anime ever attempt. If the show is about discovering what is in other people’s hearts, then this finale delivers exactly that for our protagonist. All boundaries are brought down, there is no shame, no fear, no anxiety, no prospect of suffering or war. It is a utopian vision… in a way. Shinji comes to realise that the only person he has control over is himself; and that he has the power to change his entire world by deciding how he engages with it.