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 He’s socially withdrawn and has severe abandonment and daddy issues, and he’s also the main character of a shounen series.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.
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.
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?