This supposedly final piece of Neon Genesis Evangelion media comes after a tumultuous development process. The original Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series and its essential follow-up film End of Evangelion are legendary at this point. It’s rare such an artful story reaches and impacts so many people, even recently in 2019 where its addition to Netflix’s streaming library gained it further new disciples. It’s hard to really sum up how I feel about the original show and End of Evangelion without going overboard and gushing with praise. It’s one of those things that you hear is THAT good and it really is THAT good. Among many other things, it was a piece of media that captured senses of loneliness, depression and anxiety, really dove into the topics in an artful fashion and ended up with two finales, both of which are extremely powerful. The tone of End of Evangelion is unlike much else I have experienced, the biblical scale and extraordinary visuals, make it arguably one of the best films of our generation.
In 2007 creator Hideaki Anno started a new project titled “The Rebuild of Evangelion”, which would be a series of four films retelling the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. Anno had always been a volatile artist and with the first entry in the series it led to a lot of questions as to why he would feel the need to retell the story, especially if it was sticking so close to the original. The first film in the series, Evangelion: 1.0, condensed the first 6 episodes of the show into a theatrical release, but didn’t really prove that there was any reason for its existence when the original show was still the superior way to experience those 6 episodes of content. 2009 saw the release of Evangelion: 2.0, which started diverting the plotline away from the original series and into something new, with a killer cliffhanger ending. Then in 2012 comes Evangelion: 3.0 which is pretty much a new thing, plot-wise it has branched off from the original series to explore a new path for its universe and characters. What Evangelion: 3.0 does, however, isn’t totally convincing. A lot of the assured scripting and restraint that makes Neon Genesis Evangelion so powerful was absent from that film, despite it still offering an intriguing new branch of storytelling and a lot of striking imagery.
The wait for this fourth and final entry in the “rebuild” has been long. In the nine years, Hideaki Anno fell into depression himself and couldn’t bring himself to work on the film. Instead working under legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki, on his film The Wind Rises and developing the 2016 Japanese Godzilla reboot, Shin Godzilla - which was a film that felt fresh and had many parallels to Evangelion in its portrayal of unfathomable destruction and chaos. Anno’s return to working on this film was still uneasy as he felt he no longer related to the franchise’s lead character Shinji, but the film resumed production with help of other long standing talent behind the franchise. After an already unprecedented delay, a global pandemic also didn’t help, but here we are in 2021 with closure to the rebuild of Evangelion.
Evangelion : 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time
Director: Hideaki Anno
Writer: Hideaki Anno
Starring: Megumi Ogata, Yuko Miyamura, Megumi Hayashibara
Genre: Anime, Sci-Fi
Released in 2021
So here it is, what will very likely be Hideaki Anno’s final entry into the Neon Genesis Evangelion saga. It certainly feels that way, as this rebuild saga ends up a strange sequel to the series designed to deliver the closure that I’m not 100% sure we needed, but it feels like Anno is reckoning with Evangelion and firmly closing that chapter of his life and career, in a celebratory fashion.
We start off the film with an exciting action sequence taking place in a ruined Paris. It’s not all that important, but gets your pulse going and has some inventive visuals as usual. Following that there’s a particularly striking visual of the world being drenched in red as it approaches its end, contrasted with the liveable zones where humans are able to survive being colourful and lush, despite some degradation. After the opening we’re treated to a film of two fairly distinct halves. Firstly is a more subdued character focused hangout.
It’s interesting to explore the idea of the world moving on without Shinji, as he regresses into himself and can’t accept the new world he’s inhabiting after all his friends are now 14 years older than him after his absence between the events of 2.0 and 3.0. This is the sort of thing I was disappointed that 3.0 didn’t really explore, so I was glad to see it here instead.
It’s very pretty and has some moving moments in its first half. Also across the entire film the backgrounds are gorgeous and the soundtrack is great. This leads into the second half of the film which starts to become an analogue to End of Evangelion while also being a sequel to not only the previous rebuild movies, but also the original series and End of Evangelion. Confusing! Starting off there’s some more of the action scenes that were in 3.0 which are high-concept, but hard to follow and make out what’s going on. At least it looks like a crazy acid trip to make up for how incomprehensible it feels.
After this it starts to get nuts, visuals from End of Evangelion are replicated with weird uncanny CGI which feels a bit odd and I’m not sure it works. However, how the events of End of Evangelion are twisted into something new is quite effective. Shinji gets to have a real conversation with his father, which has never happened before. The dream-like flow of this scene and affirming scripting makes this an engaging piece to center the finale around. A lot of the semantics of this part of the film are convoluted, but the general hopeful inclination makes this a cathartic finisher.
I'm still not sure what the rebuild series' new character, Mari’s deal is, especially given her role in the ending here. But generally this leaves the franchise closed on a life-affirming note. Arguably the closure given could be passed off as fan-service and despite the attempts to tie this film (and the previous rebuild movies) back into the original works, it’s still ultimately unnecessary and I would consider it a separate non-essential sequel. But it’s mostly a joy and I’m glad despite a rocky road, the rebuilds ended up something worthwhile and exciting.