Evangelion 3.0: What the (Actual) Fuck

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First of all, a knee-jerk reaction post this is not. I have intentionally held off on writing a review of the third Evangelion Rebuild film for a while because although it made me angry, frustrated, and a whole lot of other things involving somewhat less polite language, an ill-considered and irrational rant was exactly what I didn’t want. The whole Evangelion franchise has and probably always will be one that provokes strong emotional responses from its viewers, but my aim here is to approach things as reasonably as possible. (For the record, I love the original television anime series. I had no issue whatsoever with the TV version ending when I first watched it, and I still don’t today. The two original Evangelion films – Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion – seem totally unnecessarily and completely inferior by comparison, but I recognise that this is a matter of personal opinion. On the other hand, I did enjoy the first two Rebuild films quite a bit, although nothing will ever replace the series for me.)

So let’s cut to the chase – why did I not like Evangelion 3.0? Or more accurately, why specifically did it piss me off so much?

In one way it’s actually quite simple. The characters. What made me fall in love with Evangelion back when I was in my early teens wasn’t the mecha, or the post-apocalyptic universe, or even the fact that the story was far darker and more sophisticated than any other anime series that I had seen up until that time. It was the characters. The utterly dysfunctional, psychologically screwed yet somehow still loveable characters. You’ve got Shinji, who’s gotten a lot of flak over the years for being ‘emo’ and ‘a pussy’, but who actually seems rather realistic to me given his circumstances. He’s socially withdrawn and has severe abandonment and daddy issues, and he’s also the main character of a shounen series. This might seem passé now, but I assure you that back in the mid-1990s it was actually quite revolutionary. Then there’s Rei, who practically makes Shinji look outgoing by comparison and whose sole human connection for the first chunk of the series is none other than Shinji’s father. Asuka’s intensely angry and fiercely egotistical persona masks some disturbing and deep-seated insecurities resulting from her past (although name a character who doesn’t have some kind of childhood trauma in the show). But it’s not just the main characters who are all kinds of fucked-up. Misato (my personal favourite) is an alcoholic. Ritsuko eases her loneliness with her obsession for cats, but otherwise seems mentally stable until we find out that she’s having sex with Shinji’s father… the same guy with whom Ritsuko’s own mother, now deceased, was also having an affair. The man of the hour himself, Mr. Ikari Gendo, has one monster of a god complex. He’s brilliant and hard-working, but ‘cold and callous’ doesn’t even begin to describe the lengths he’ll go to in order to achieve his goals.

For the most part, Evangelion 1.0 and 2.0 kept these characters true to their original versions. Asuka’s a little less angry and Rei’s a little less icy but on the whole, they’re recognisable as themselves. Enter Evangelion 3.0. What happened to my wonderfully screwed-up cast? Where’s the emotionally crippled yet disturbingly fascinating characters I knew and loved so well?? And what the hell did you do to my Misato!? Oh, the shell of some of these characters is still there – Asuka is still pissed off with the world and Rei is still a near-silent enigma, but I see no depth to them – no real rationale for Asuka’s fury and no particular profoundness behind Rei’s cold demeanor. Meanwhile, Misato has been transformed into a queen bitch even though she’s one of the only people that really makes time for Shinji back in the series/the first two Rebuild films. Ritsuko is basically an echo of the same. And Mari, who you’d think would be utilised a bit more given that her character is brand new as of the Rebuild films, comes across as mostly superfluous since she doesn’t actually get all that much to do.

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Aside from the characters themselves, there’s the other obvious issue of plot. Here’s an extremely brief summation of 3.0 as I saw it. It opens with an unnecessary and rather drawn-out action sequence as Asuka and Mari retrieve Shinji from space. Then Shinji is transported to anti-EVA headquarters, where he is woken up and everybody ignores him and refuses to explain anything. Where is this place, and why is there a new organization called WILLE that opposes NERV? What happened to knock him out for 14 years and why was he floating around unconscious in space for all that time? Where’s Gendo? Where’s Rei? Why does everyone hate his guts now? Why does Asuka look like a pirate? Shinji gets the answers to none of these questions and more, and so for the most part does the viewer. Then some more action-ey stuff happens and Shinji plays the piano with Kaworu a lot before the big climax; Kaworu sacrifices himself for Shinji’s sake, Asuka and Mari stop the Third Impact, and finally they drag Shinji away with Rei in tow. The end.

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Confused? That’s okay, Anno Hideaki quite possibly intended it to be. Honestly, the entire production feels like nothing more than a (very expensive) prank on the audience by our esteemed director. I’m not saying that Evangelion 3.0 doesn’t make any thematic sense, and I’m sure that anyone who wants to analyse the film from an academic standpoint will have a field day. Mountains upon mountains of symbolism and artistic imagery and all that. The TV series has that too, but it also has substance. That’s what 3.0 is really missing for me. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the lack of any explanation as to what the hell is going on in this film is a deliberate choice by Anno, in order to mirror Shinji’s own utter confusion and frustration with the world around him. I’m also aware that Anno’s style tends to be intentionally extreme and confrontational. And maybe it was all inevitable that something like this would happen, given the rumors that Studio Khara discarded all of their previous work midway through production and started over from scratch.

All this might be true, but that doesn’t necessarily make Evangelion 3.0 a good film, and it certainly doesn’t make it an enjoyable one. It’s far from the worst anime film I’ve ever seen – there’s definitely some artistic merit here, and from a purely material perspective, the music is as solid as always and some of the animation and artwork is quite nice. However, it’s also a far cry from the gloriously in-depth and psychologically detailed creation that was the TV series (and to some extent the first two Rebuild films). Evangelion 3.0 has its moments, but on an overall level, I was incredibly disappointed. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever watch it again.

Question of the post: What are your thoughts on Evangelion 3.0, and if you’re a fan of the franchise, do you like the new films better than the TV series and the Death and Rebirth/The End of Evangelion movies? Do you think the franchise still has artistic merit, or has it now merely become a cash cow?

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24 thoughts on “Evangelion 3.0: What the (Actual) Fuck

  1. I didn’t enjoy Eva 3.0, though I was only a casual fan of the other two Rebuild movies anyway. The problem here was a total disconnect with the plight of the characters. In the TV series, they were always recognisably human no matter how much they were put through the wringer. Here, there was none of that, ‘cept for a bit of piano playing from Kaworu and Shinji. (This was probably the best scene in Eva 3.0.) But, yeah. I’m just copying what you’re saying, aren’t I?

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    • I agree, the scene between Kaworu and Shinji (although perhaps a bit drawn out) was probably the best scene of the movie because it did have that connection – it was something familiar and actually made sense in terms of characterisation, given that everyone else is busy shunning Shinji for the duration of this movie. It’s only natural he reach out to Kaworu, the only person who seems to give a damn about his emotional welfare. Other than that, I found most of 3.0 to be alternatively dull and annoying.

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  2. “I’ve heard a lot of people say that the lack of any explanation as to what the hell is going on in this film is a deliberate choice by Anno, in order to mirror Shinji’s own utter confusion and frustration with the world around him.”
    I very much subscribe to this view, and this – coupled with my liking for thematic/symbolic stuff – is probably why I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. Much of the movie seems to me to make much more “sense” when viewed through the thematic, symbolic, archetypical, and abstract than as a standard “narrative”. I hesitate to compare them to the original series until all 4 are out, but at the moment I’d say they’re two different beasts. I get the feeling the movies aren’t meant to be just a retelling of the Eva story, or even a re-imagining, but a different product for a different audience (if that makes sense). One that, like Anno himself, has grown up and changed. I’m also not sure if the rebuilds are also supposed to be seen as completely standalone productions.

    If we’re forced to compare now though, I’d have to say I still love the original TV series to death, far and away more than the rebuild. That said, I watched it as an angsty teen so I’m pretty biased. I also like the D&R/EoE movies better than the Rebuild ones so far. So I guess they’re not my favorite as of now lol, although I would rank them quite highly nonetheless.

    As for the franchise, while much of it is a cash cow, I still think it has artistic merit in spades.

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    • I still have a lot of respect for Evangelion as a franchise, and I’m perfectly willing to accept the view that the Rebuild movies, including 3.0, have artistic merit, even though (obviously) I didn’t enjoy this last one at all. That’s the main problem for me though – I get that Evangelion 3.0 makes thematic sense, and I understand that the story may well be intended to be more abstract and symbolical than narratively straight-forward. I think that it’s very possible to have both things though – hence my great love of the TV series – and while it’s well and fine for me to appreciate the abstract, if I don’t enjoy a film from an entertainment perspective then it’s not really worth it for me.
      You’re right though, I also believe it’s possible for something to be a cash cow while still retaining its artistic merit.

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      • I definitely agree that having both things is the way to go, and it’s probably one of the reasons why I still adore the TV series, regardless of any sentimental bias. And I agree with you 100% – if a film isn’t entertaining then I don’t think it’s worth it. My cop out is that thematic stuff is legitimately engaging and entertaining for me, but the movie was essentially a giant mindfuck so I can totally understand where everyone else who didn’t enjoy it is coming from.

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  3. I enjoyed Evangelion 3.0… kind of. I was thoroughly confused for quite a lot, especially the beginning, but then again I expect not to understand everything when I watch Evangelion. For some reason, even though I don’t get everyithing, I still like it.
    In the movie, I was happy with how Shinji was handled, but was disappointed with how little we saw of Asuka, Misato and co. (Asuka was my favourite character so I was sad she wasn’t featured much). And Rei’s characterisation went backwards. Unfortunately I struggle to convey specifics about what I like and dislike about anime so I’ll leave it at that.
    So overall while I still enjoyed it, Evangelion 3.0 was my least favourite of the reboot movies. If Hideaki Anno clears things up in the last movie, I’ll be happy. If not…

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    • I likewise expect to be at least a little confused whenever I go into something like Evangelion, but there’s confusing and then there’s ‘this makes no goddamn sense’. 3.0 is the latter, I think. While I have a healthy respect for the abstract and for symbolic/thematic meaning (I did and still do love the Evangelion TV series after all), I have to draw the line somewhere. At the end of the day, if a movie fails to entertain me then no matter how much artistic merit it has, there’s a real issue with storytelling.
      I honestly don’t know if I’ll watch the fourth and final Rebuild film or not. I suspect I will because if nothing else, I dislike leaving things unfinished. I won’t go in expecting to enjoy it though – that way I won’t be disappointed, and if I do end up liking it then it’ll be a happy surprise.

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  4. I understood more or less nothing of 3.0, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as 2.0, but it was still quite a wild, theoretically mind raping ride, with pianos as a side dish. There was literally no character development, aesthetics were all over the roof, that Yamaha piano is gorgeously animated, awesome battles, nice piano, everyone has changed(Which is somewhat contradictory to ‘no character development’, but you know what I mean), how did Kaworu preserve that piano for so long, and Gendo is still as Gendo as ever. As a setup to 4.0, You Can (Not) Redo does the job perfectly, but as a movie itself and as a narrative, it doesn’t quite work as well. However, in all, 3.0 does not lower my opinion of the entire franchise in any way at all, and I’m still glad to be an Eva fan.

    4.0 better be a 4-hour long version of episodes 25 and 26 from the TV series that somehow explains everything…

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    • I think it;s far too soon to tell whether 3.0 is a good setup to 4.0 or not – especially given Anno’s tendency to give his viewers the middle finger. And from a purely logical angle, it’s difficult to know what to predict when you’re given a movie in which not a single frame of the trailer made it in.I don;t think anyone knows what 4.0 will be like, or if it will have anything to do with 3.0 at all.

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    • Yeah, I really do love the series, although I know plenty of people who think it’s one of the most overrrated anime titles to date.
      I don’t know what the worst anime TV series I’ve ever watched is, although back in May I made a post on 5 of the most hilariously terrible shows to have come out over the past several years. As for anime movies, I watched a lot of crap back in my teenage years… including Yu-Gi-Oh: Pyramid of Light. Even the name still makes me cringe.

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  5. I really, really need to re-watch the original series I have good memories of watching it the first time, and although I am yet to see 3.0, I am now filled with a sense of dread. Maybe Anno’s setting it up for a remake? Gotta milk this franchise for all its worth after all.

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    • A remake of the TV series, in TV format? I can imagine that would really divide the fandom – Evangelion is such a classic now that I imagine a lot of fans would hate even the thought of a remake. You never know the Anno though. Whatever else the man may be, predictable certainly isn’t it.

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  7. Ah, well. Multiple posts at this point may’ve already revealed my feelings on the subject, but I’m rather fond of 3.0. While it is intensely narratively frustrating (and rather badly written, given that the whole thing falls apart if anyone explains a single thing to Shinji), I was pretty okay with it. The thing about TV Eva, to me, is that it was ultimately an ensemble story with Shinji as point man (hence why I personally find 25/26 upsetting – it abandons a richly developed cast fto give closure to a character who’s NOT the sole focus, and then doesn’t do it well. As someone who spent the teenage years being Shinji Ikari, the recovery I wanted so badly for him was related as something hollow and flat, solved in two lines after 26 episodes of trauma. But I digress). Rebuild is Shinji’s story. It’s much more focused by means of the constraints of film narrative, and Shinji becomes front and center with the other characters as secondary coloring. Do I wish that the film would’ve shown us how WILLE broke away from NERV, Asuka going through the trauma of finding she’d never age (and forming, it would seem, a bond of sorts with Mari), and what made Misato so bitter (I suspect a dead Kaji, and guilt over encouraging Shinji toward the event that caused 3rd impact)? You bet. But it made enough sense to me in the abstract, implicated way that’s pretty much Eva’s bread and butter. As you acknowledged, in thematic story telling it carries itself fairly well.
    At the end of things, 3.0 felt like a deeply raw, personal story of Shinji’s suffering, effectively told through the tight focus that’s kept on him. While I liked the first two films, 1.0 felt like a dolled up remake while 2.0 was a gorgeous series of action set pieces broken up by exposition and awkward 14-year-old fanservice. I liked that 3.0 truly transitioned into something new. I like what it implied could come. I’ve never been so happy to see so much Kaworu. Not to diminish those who didn’t like it – the writing’s a BIG hurtle to get over, and while Anno’s always had a tendency to ignore his worldbuilding for the sake of focus on intimate character detail it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. But for me, it was enough. No Eva fan’s ever happy for long, though. So I’m sure Anno will pull something gutwrenching in 4.0.

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    • Fair enough. Personally, I don’t agree that the final couple of episodes of the Evangelion TV series was either hollow or flat – to me, it was actually an excellent conclusion to a show that felt like it was all about Shinji, and as such tied off the pyschological story remarkably well. But I know that plenty of people would disagree with me there, and the numerous conversations I’ve had with friends and fellow fans over the years has convinced me that there isn’t any one right or wrong interpretation.
      “No Eva fan’s ever happy for long, though.”
      Truer words have never been spoken. 😄 I’ll watch 4.0 when it comes out, and attempt to disregard any expectations whatsoever – not because I think it’ll be crap, but because Anno and his motives (and/or sanity) just feels that unpredictable.

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  8. About your first question, I enjoyed the original TV series and movies a lot, and that’s what brought me to really want to watch the Rebuild of Evangelion done in CG. I liked the first two of the Rebuild movies, they basically just summarized the initial events of TV series, but it was great to see them newly animated. The third movie lost me both interest and plot wise. Overall I preferred the original. Whether I think the show still has artistic merit or not, I’d have to say it lost a lot of that in the third movie. One of the major things that attracted me to Evangelion beyond the awesome mecha, basket case characters and just the edgy tension of the series was the philosophy. The Human Instrumentality Project and other concepts such as the ‘porcupine effect’, ‘the anti-terror field’ and the Tree of Life tie ins, completely awed me and I had to know what they were about. This whole aspect has thinned out completely in the third movie. In a weird way it felt like the movie itself was like a ‘filler’ episode in a regular anime series, and that they’ll be back on track in the next one (hopefully). I think if they don’t deal with the concepts I mentioned above well in the last movie it’ll be plain sad. I guess my answer to your second question is riding on the last movie…how will they really ‘end’ Evangelion? Thanks again for a really engrossing article!

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    • I honestly can’t decide whether the philosophy of the show that you mention is thinned out in the third Rebuild movie or if it was used to such an extent that it managed to white-wash itself out. At the moment I think I’m leaning towards the latter, but either way it just didn’t appeal to me. I think I’ll probably still watch the fourth and final Rebuild movie though – if only out of morbid curiosity.

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  10. What the fuck happened in 3.0?!
    Thats whole movie was TRASH! and I am a die hard fan of Evangelion, but I could not stand ANYTHING SO MUCH NEW THINGS AND NOT ENOUGH TIME!
    Some questions I have that I hope someone can answer for me. The questions I ask or in order of the movie.
    1.Why is shinji and Unit 1 floating in space inside a box? Who put him there?
    2.Okay, Asuka has an eye patch…. Why?
    3.So shinji was in space, Orbiting around the planet (earth?) that Misato and the Anti Nerv base was on?
    4.Their objective was to launch up in space and get shinji and Unit 1. why?
    5. Okay so they got shinji and Unti 1. They take him to the control room just so he can ask questions knowing full well that they are not going to talk to him. Oh and he has a necklace that can kill him.
    6. So they are getting attacked by…… something zero details that I am familiar with, and they tell shinji that hes not going to do anything because they are using unit 1 as an energy source for the ship.
    6.05. So their plan was to take unit 1 and use it for a fuel source all along, and Shinji just came as a package deal?
    7. They know how to use unit one as a power source? how long did they have to set that up?
    8. The ship flies and everything goes smoothly, although everyone dis agreed with Misatos plan she still went with it.
    9. Misato comes to shinji just so she cant answers his questions again. WHY CANT SHE TALK TO HIM? WHY KEEP HIM IN THE DARK AFTER SAVING HIM?!
    10. Asuka has super strength?
    11. 14 years later and Eva Pilots don’t age….. Because? Are they Imortal?
    12.Rei and shinji has telepathy?
    13. No one saw the huge Eva until it was already on the main ship?! How did they last 14 years?!
    14.Rei is trying to steal shinji and you still won’t tell him answer?! I can see why he left.
    15.The WHOLE FUCKIGN NERV PLACE IS DESTROYED and Shinji is not losing his shit????
    16.Shinji tries to talk to Rei but shes colder than EVER, all that warming up in two movies. WHY?
    17.Shinji just takes shit the way it is, not questioning ANYTHING! “where the people? What happened? “Rei, why are you being so, robot like?” The FUCK SHINJI OPEN YOUR EYES!
    18.So Piano man, who is he? is he human?
    19. Unit 13…. YOU DO KNOW YOU SKIPPED A SHIT TON OF UNITS RIGHT? Who was the other pilots?
    20.Wait Wait Wait….. Who the fuck put shinji and unit 1 in a box, in space?! Because BOTH SIDES NEEDS HIM?! WHY THE FUCK DID THEY WAIT 14 YEARS FOR SAVING HIM?! Thats whole intro was pointless! Is he useless or not?!
    21.VERY LONG, VERY BORING MIDDLE OF MOVE, The dude is still not questioning anything around him…..
    22. Wait, Two Reis????? Wait???? Rei???
    23.They play Piano together…ANd he picks it up way too fast, what is he the avatar of instruments?
    24. He wants the truth? Okay, He blew up everything and strange things started eating people?
    25.The white hair guy does not need suit? Okay he’s not human?
    26.White hair guy can just remove shinji’s necklace? WITH EASE….. and puts in on himself?
    27.So new unit 13 Eva needs two pilots in it so it can move better?
    29.Rei has a scythe? Why not a gun? Is this not the future?
    30.Okay so there is two lances/spears in unit 6…. what’s unit 6? WHy is the lances so damn important?
    31. you need two souls to take out spears?
    Well im tired, I got much more to say but….. I dont even know if anything will answer this… so yea…

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    • I wouldn’t quite say the entire movie was ‘trash’, but believe me, I understand your frustration. Unfortunately, I’m unable to answer any of these questions, and have no idea if they’ll be answered in the fourth and final Rebuild movie either. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see – no doubt there are plenty of theories out there, though.

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    • It wouldn’t be so bad if the rebuild was a 20+ episode series so it can all be explained but I can’t see how the last rebuild movie can explain everything (or give you enough clues to base assumptions on) in around 2 hours time. I think Anno has painted himself into a corner.

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      • Agreed. And I can’t see how the fourth and final movie (if and when it ever comes out, that is), can be anything but a train wreck after the events in 3.0 – unless of course Anno chooses to go the whole “man, that sure was a crazy dream wasn’t it?” route.

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