Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion was a show that started out as your typical tropey mecha anime. It featured a young boy, Shinji Ikari, summoned to a post-apocalyptic Tokyo-3 by his estranged father to pilot a giant humanoid robot known as an Evangelion, to fight beings known as “angels” for the survival of humanity. That 90’s shonen adventure series over its 26 episodes, became a worldwide phenomenon and a pandora’s box of mysteries thanks to its memorable characters, its realistic exploration of humanity served up against a backdrop of Christian mythology and mysticism. Seas of blood, artifacts with names like the Lance of Longinus, the rich world of Evangelion teased its audience with a conspiracy that reached the heavens and had Shinji’s father Gendo Ikari looking to annihilate the remnants of humanity by invoking the Third Impact. The second Impact was a man triggered event that was responsible for the seas flooding the world, killing the majority of the human race and the Third would annihilate the leftover population to force an evolution beyond physical beings into a spirtual singular conscious.
While some simply boiled the show down to the premise of a mecha anime, the father son conflict or a love triangle between Shinji and the two other female pilots Aska and Rei, in reality those were red herrings. For those that looked beyond the surface, the show was deeply personal for Anno who was at the time struggling with a rather deep depression. At the core the show’s Third Impact, which equates to the annihilation of the human race is a rather poignant metaphor for suicide and Shinji’s choice – to either abide by his father, who wishes to bring upon the Third Impact to be with Shinji’s dead mother Yui or choose life and find a reason to live. Coupled with themes of depression, loneliness, love, lust and loss are what elevates what would have been simply a giant robot show into one boy’s existential struggle to find a reason to exist and a way to belong. I personally feel like that while Anno had a firm grasp on Shinji’s point of view, his father is not quite as developed in that inital series, and that could be because he had yet to grow older to see the world through Gendo’s eyes.
But the show famously ran out of budget in its final episodes and rather than giving the audience the grandiose battle we were building to, instead we were treated to something much more intimate. Title cards, unfinished animatics and static images abstractly portrayed this climactic war for the fate of humanity between father and son that took place in the mind of its protagonist. Leaning heavily into the cerebral, the rather experimental last two episodes enraged fans to the tune of death threats pointed at its director and had Anno calling for a redo of the finale in two theatrical films. But while we got to see the events from outside of Shinji’s head in those films, the bigger questions of the Third Impact and the implications of the mythology were vague at best. This was something that haunted the director throughout his career, that is until in 2005 when it was announced he would be reimagining the series as four feature length films which were plagued by delays, with the last film that was just released on 4K UHD by GKids being originally slated for a 2008 release, only to be released theatrically in 2022.
A big component of that delay on the last film, where Anno has committed to answering these questions was not only Shin Godzilla, but much like Shinji the director hit a massive depression yet again. NHK produced a rather candid and engrossing documentary following Anno throughout the production of the fourth Evangelion film that’s a must watch and available to stream online. The director can be seen dodging the documentary crew, having manic episodes, skipping work due to depression and struggling with ending this thing that has only gotten bigger since its run in the 90s. It’s this fear and reverence for the property and its legacy that drives Anno’s depression and anxiety. With the first three films garnering critical and fan praise by tweaking and reimagining the original television series, Anno recognized how this final film which would stray the most from the outline of the original series into uncharted waters, would either make this a career milestone sealing the legacy of Eva as one of the greatest animated franchises of all time. Or make this decade plus project all for naught. It’s that weight of legacy he carries, that is something I think is lost on most American creators who are fine with letting go of their IPs and their legacies for a quick buck or to simply avoid the challenge of getting themselves out of a corner.
This film was easily one of my most anticipated a few years ago, when it finally hit theaters at the tail end of COVID it somehow managed to be EVERYTHING I wanted it to be.
It’s nearly impossible for someone coming into the theatrical Rebuild of Evangelion series as it was called in its final entry to have their bearings, since this particular entry is less about build up and all about pay off. The film immediately grabs you with an action spectacle in the purest sense of the word as Mari takes on essentially an army of military grade Evas from Nerv as they attempt to restore Paris to a habitable state. The film then shifts gears into an introspective character piece giving our Eva Pilots – Rei, Shinji and Asuka time to find some real closure to their journeys in the countryside of Tokyo-3, as they ready for the final battle between NERV and WILLE. WILLE (German for volition the ‘will’) is an organization led by Misato, whose purpose is preventing anymore impacts and destroying NERV. While Shinji grapples with the same daddy issues from the TV series, it’s Rei who steals this section of the film and really comes into her own. It’s just downright charming as Rei is finally freed from the creepy object of desire of Gendo and Shinji and is allowed to experience humanity though working on a farm with a group of survivors.
Anno then switches gears yet again going from introspective character piece to existential spiritual starship battle, as WILLE attempts to prevent the final impact by NERV. While that previous bit was a bit more grounded, this act goes all out metaphysical and metaphorical and feels as grandiose as it should be. We have characters we’ve grown to love battle torn and at their breaking points in a technological and mystical battle for the fate of humanity. The film does a few unexpected things by incorporating the TV series into this story’s cannon as a previous version of this reality that is on essentially a loop, until basically Shinji can get his shit together. Also the conflict between father and son really feels truly resolved, both character and mythology-wise as Gendo finally explains himself in a way that could only be dealt out by being able to see through the older characters eye’s. Anno finally explains the mythos in clear and concise way that feels comprehensive and complete, encapsulating all the breadcrumbs of the series and films.
It’s not easy, but it works and is an extremely satisfying final chapter that only gets better the more you ruminate on its effects on the previous incarnations of the property. It’s dense, wordy and philosophical as you’d expect, but there’s a real heart and soul to this entry that really separates it from the previous incarnations thanks to Rei’s journey which is simply sublime, as she is allowed to explore the mundane joys of humanity. This is the polar opposite to the rather intense deconstruction of self that the series tends to lean on for Shinji, but giving Rei, who is a clone some time to realize what is it to be human imbues the film with a real heart that addresses the human experience that we take for granted, allowing us to be reminded of that before the final battle. It’s that piece along with Anno laying out his mythology once and for all, that truly makes this film and series the masterpiece you’d expect.
GKids was kind enough to send over their 4K UHD set over for this review. Among years worth of trailers meticulously cataloged, you get an intro and brief Q&A to a screening by Anno and his assistant directors moderated by the Japanese voice actor for Shinji Ikari. It’s an all too brief glimpse at Anno as he does his best to contribute to a simple promotional question and answer session to a film in my option that would require a week long lecture series to do the film justice. While every marketing snippet has been collected here, the rather glaring omission of that NHK doc would probably be my only qualm with this set. But given this was a licensed Japanese release, that was probably left out either due to cost or its unflattering look at the director who is seen at one of the lowest points in his career and much like Shinji we see him run away rather than pilot the damn robot and finish the film. The 4K collector’s edition also comes with a poster, art cards and an English language booklet, which features art from the film.
Check out some unboxing pics below:
That aside, this film NEEDS to be seen on 4K UHD.
Given the battle sequences that sometimes have hundreds of characters on screen and Anno’s love of CGI, compression is something to be worried about when watching this film. Take for example the opening Paris battle where Mari is single handedly fighting a literal army of Evas and hundreds of Angels, when I first saw that streaming on Amazon there were points where the digital artifacts turned the image to mashed potatoes on screen. There’s none of that here, every line is immaculately rendered and no matter the movement onscreen or the amount of characters, the image remains clear and stable. An interesting thing I did notice was a lack of HDR, which is a trend on Japanese discs to pass on the HDR grade. While for some it’s a deal breaker, I personally think if you’re trying to replicate the theatrical presentation as closely as possible, you should forgo the HDR since that is a post process for home viewing only.
So after nearly 2 decades of waiting was it worth it? Was it everything I wanted it to be?
Most definitely, yes.
Evangelion:3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon A Time is a fitting conclusion to the series that cements the property’s place as an anime masterpiece. Anno delivers a completely satisfying and all encompassing end to his series that combines the original series and the films into a singular vision that is both complementary and independent of the other. It couldn’t have been easy, but it’s storytelling in the highest caliber as you have a layered story dense with character development, crafted with some of the best produced animation humanly possible. Anno’s respect of his property and its fans has become my highest bar to hold creators to, I feel like he understood this was part of his legacy, and there’s a responsibility to that, to craft the best story possible to honor that. It took Anno nearly a decade, but Evangelion can now go on forever.
I think time was Anno’s greatest ally here, even with all the delays. That’s the reason I think this film works as well as it does is now the director is closer in age to Gendo Ikari and his perspective complements and informs his new iteration, helping to close and complete the cycle of father and son with that gift of experience.