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Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon A Time review: The end (again)

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon A Time

Review

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon A Time review: The end (again)

It’s been almost 26 years since Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion was released and changed anime forever. If that seems like hyperbole, simply look at MAL and see what came out before and what came after. It’s been well-documented that it was a key player in paving the way for more original – non-adapted – TV animation to flourish.

After 26 episodes, it ended, though not how people expected. With time, people have come to appreciate that original ending, but regardless, the fandom of the time was cruel, much as fandoms always are. Anno was even sent death threats. And so Evangelion ended a second time in 1997, with The End of Evangelion, heralded as one of the greatest animated films of all time… after more initial outrage (fandoms suck).

In the mid-2000s, Anno observed the stagnating state of the anime industry at a time where anime fandom was now niche after its boom in the 90s. So, departing GAINAX, he created Studio Khara, and along with Kazuya Tsurumaki, his underling and the director of FLCL, they decided to rebuild Evangelion.

In 2006, Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone

In 2009, Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance

In 2012, Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo

And now, in 2021… Evangelion has ended a third time.

And I scarcely think it could have ended any better.

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon A Time, begins boldly in the same vein as the third film, which welcomed the audience to the world with a calm before a raging storm. Mari’s aimless and continuous singing echoes in the background as the members of WILLE carry out an operation. Again, just like in 3.0. This time, they prepare a device to reverse the apocalyptic damage done to Paris, all to salvage technology from Nerv’s European headquarters.

It’s the same grand scene revealed back in 2019 when we saw the first-ever extended footage of the film. Deep into a nearly decade-long wait, getting that glimpse was exciting but it didn’t quell the fears of more cynical fans. 3.33 was divisive for years after it came out. It skipped a decade ahead in the story but said almost nothing about what happened during that time.

Much of that was by design. The film was about Shinji and we were meant to bask in his confusion and despair at the world. The answers, big and small, would come in the next installment. But it’s hard to get people to be patient when the anticipation for an ending is almost as long as the time-skip in the story.

How could one film even hope to tie everything together? The truth is, it probably couldn’t, yet somehow, 3.0+1.0, with its longer runtime of two and a half hours, satisfied me greatly. The answers come at a cost, however. Notably, there is exposition given that feels unnecessary. The operative word is “unnecessary.” I know I wanted answers, but some of them were effectively conveyed without redundant explanation.

I suspected at one point that the film might have a longer flashback sequence eluding to the content of the preview for 3.33 that never ended up making it into that film. What I got was way better. 3.0+1.0 stays in the present for the long haul, but we get glimpses of the past. These glimpses, aided by the better dialogue, convey much more emotionally than any exposition dump.

The phrase “better dialog” is saddening to me. Alas, there are some scenes, like one between Misato and Ritsuko, that explain a lot of things, but unnaturally. They would obviously know the things they’re telling each other. If I had to guess, they were trying to compensate for the time that wasn’t spent with these characters in 3.33.

What I found amusing about this supposition, however accurate or inaccurate it may be, is that the film does a fine job without it. This film is more than competent enough to pay respect to the characters through its pacing, visual storytelling, and the plot as a whole.

This is a testament to Anno and Tsurumaki’s storytelling prowess and proves what I more or less assumed after rewatching the rebuilds in anticipation: They more than likely had a plan. And even if Anno had changes of heart or new ideas, I’m confident watching the final product that he stuck to what was most important.

So the exposition was unnecessary, but barring that, the first half of the film takes brilliant steps to explore the main trio and the state of the world. The preview from the end of 3.33 couldn’t have been more accurate. “Shinji Ikari has lost the will to live, but the destination he arrives at will teach him hope.”

Anno has described Eva as a story of repetition. Shinji has been depressed many times, but I’ve seldom – if ever – not understood “why” when he was. In 3+1, Shinji is truly at his lowest point, equal to that of his despair at the beginning of End of Eva. This depression is prolonged to fit the opening act, punctuated by the characters’ efforts to cheer him up.

Asuka’s life outside of fighting Nerv is shown as well, adding texture to her character now that she has grown up, even if her body won’t. Reunited with Shinji, all kinds of memories come crashing back. Asuka offers some tough love that hides a deeper concern. Rei “(Provisional Name)”, as she is referred to, finds the strength to help Shinji only after learning much more on her own.

14 years have passed since the end of 2.22. It took my recent viewing of 3.33 to realize that the Rei from that film only looked the same because she aged over that 14-year gap. She has none of the baggage Ayanami had. She’s blanker than a blank slate, and despite my dislike for the “fish out of water” trope, I found her to be Rei at her absolute best.

She learns about life in its simplest form, from people making the best of a broken world, and creates her own self. Her own “Rei.” It’s the begging of her arc and the symbolic end of a longer one, all before the main conflict truly begins.

Almost a full hour was spent catching up with the characters, learning about the world, and actively seeing them change and grow. There were surprises constantly. Some were cause for relief and rejoice, while some almost made me cry.

One thing is for certain: Almost every problem people had with a lack of world-building and character progression in the third film is thoroughly addressed before the one-hour mark. I’m not exaggerating. Past that point, the members of WILLE take the stage alongside Shinji and drive the story towards the final battle with a vengeance.

I recall loving the designs of WILLE and its members, especially their airship, the Wunder. However, before I began to fall in love with 3.33, I felt the new command crew was wasted. After all, we don’t learn much about them. They still aren’t A-players here either, but when I think about the command-room crew in the main series, I don’t think I’ve ever really been THAT attached to them either.

Image of the AAA Wunder

Credit where it’s due, though, I remember them by their designs. There’s Glasses Guy, Long-hair Guy, and Maya (oh, shit I did remember her name, but probably just because she was gay for Ritsuko). The WILLE crew is much the same. Glasses Guy now looks like a Gunbuster character. Long-hair Guy has facial hair now. Nagara is the hot navigator. Finally, there’s Old Dude, Young Dude, and Pink-Haired Girl.

[Editor’s note (which is still me, so whatever): My friend reminded me of Toji’s sister, but I don’t know if she counts. Regardless, she’s another one]

The command crew was never really super memorable on their own. They were a unit that communicated mostly among themselves to represent the morale of the home team leading the series. And as far as these films go, they do just that.

Two of the members of WILLE have something of an arc involving their growing distrust of Misato and her plans, but it feels shoehorned in as a way to emphasize Shinji’s growth as he nears the end of his arc. I’m still a sucker for the drama caused by it though. It’s one more addition to a scene filled with callback after callback to End of Evangelion.

Finally, let’s talk about Mari. I have pretty much loved Mari ever since I first watched 2.22. Some people hate her because she “doesn’t have a character.” I think the actual reason people don’t like her is that she doesn’t have a substantial character arc, despite being propped up alongside the others in marketing materials.

To me, she was always a delight to watch. She’s oddly excited about piloting but far more than even Asuka. She gets off on piloting an Eva and goes berserk, figuratively and literally, when she has one under her control. She’s crazy, curses like a sailor, and introduced the concept of characters other than Shinji going berserk. She exists as a shock to the system.

In 3.33, she took a back seat, like all the other characters, but she brought a smile to my face every time she was on screen. It helped that Trina Nishimura, who voiced her in Funimation’s dub, explored both her peppy attitude and her rage with a treatment that didn’t sacrifice either. She’s a fucking whirlwind and I love her.

So do we learn her whole life story and find out that she’s really a broken person just like all the other Eva pilots? Not quite. If anything, it’s what we aren’t told that’s even more interesting. She isn’t the kind of character you learn everything about. She’s the kind you theorize about. I remember early reviews suggesting we wouldn’t get any substantial development for her, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

She’s got fun chemistry with Asuka, her scenes with Shinji are great, and she still kicks ass during the action scenes. Plus she’s a glasses girl so – look, I’m not saying she’s the highlight of the film, but I think it’s time we acknowledged the true best girl, you know?

Joking aside, there’s so much to discuss regarding the last hour and a half of the film. With so much of it being spoilers and a lot more of it being filled with action, it’s easier to discuss the technical quality of the film as a whole. Redline took seven years to finish, as did Kizumonogatari. Those two animated projects with long development times became visual marvels in their final forms. How does 3.0+1.0 compare?

If I had to quantify a percentage, I’d say 98% perfection. Even the extra 2% that will undoubtedly be a source of scrutiny could reasonably be classified as an intentional design choice. I can’t say it bothered me too much. That’s the issue though. I will inevitably defend it, and critics of Anno will inevitably claim I’m being pretentious by doing so.

It all boils down to one scene. There’s a fight that looks quite off. It’s a fight in the middle of a city during the daytime. But… not really. The whole final confrontation is as trippy as the last episode of NGE and End of Eva combined so naturally, nothing is as it seems. No Evangelion conclusion would be complete without something abstract.

Frankly, the worst thing about the short sequence is the lighting. The sound effects are as to be expected from Eva. The choreography in the CGI is pretty solid and combined with the sound makes for a nice close-quarters fight. And the music only makes it sound more epic.

The lighting makes everything look too bright and fake. But again, it’s all a build-up to a reveal that feels incredibly on-brand for Anno given his passions. And if none of that convinces you, consider this: every single frame of animation before and after that in the fight is dripping with so much love and style that harping on that scene is a waste of time.

The final battle is a veritable artist showcase of clashing styles and influences. Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Promare) even contributes one of my favorite action cuts from the film. It pains me that – for the sake of avoiding spoilers – I can’t show you any of it.

Hell, forget the final battle, I think the entire film looks incredible. Gorgeous background art, highly detailed close-up shots, great character acting – it’s all there. As the film nears its conclusion, the leaps in technology and animation technique only get more bold and experimental. I could have sworn Akiyuki Shinbo was a guest director at the end. There were some Monogatari levels of meta-textual abstraction.

Continuing on the technical end of things: the music. Shiro Sagisu has the honor of having composed the score for every single Evangelion. And as I’ve seen his work in Gridman, Dynazenon, and beyond, it’s clear that this man’s range and skill is as wide as his apparently god-tier taste in music.

People expect a certain sound when they hear of Evangelion, but Sagisu has evolved the definition of that sound inexorably. There are rock ballads, hard metal battle themes, tragic orchestral swells, and groovy heroic themes that feel like a love letter to the Japanese sci-fi of yore. With the soundtrack officially released, I will fill this review with as many of my favorite tracks as possible.

With the sound comes the voice acting, something Evangelion fans are infinitely passionate about. As Amazon snatched the rights, they committed to producing an English Dub of this film, with Spike Spencer, Allison Keith, and Tiffany Grant returning. However, they did not get everyone from the Funimation dubs.

Rather than release the Funimation dubs for the first three and then producing theirs for the end, they decided to redub everything. I have… MANY thoughts about this. I intend to publish either an article or a video about the many English dubs of Evangelion soon. No matter what form my rant takes, you’ll probably find it on my blog, Sakura Sunrise.

For now, however, I want to focus on THIS film and its dub. I love it. The new actors do a good job for the most part and for the characters that sound way different, I can typically excuse it on account of them having aged quite a bit. Not only that, Amanda Winn Lee returns as Rei for the first time since the old ADV dub of Evangelion.

The old cast, united, is a force to be reckoned with. Even John Swasey returns as Gendo. He’s basically the most iconic voice for the role at this point. Some line deliveries feel like they are held back by a lack of liberties taken by the directors and scriptwriters. Mike McFarland’s directing is certainly missed. He created the best Evangelion dub ever with Funimation.

Once I move past my sadness at the cast members who didn’t return, the dub sounds almost exactly like how I expected and wanted the (third) end of Evangelion to sound when I imagined it. I can’t picture being as excited about the final film’s release if this dub hadn’t been releasing at the same time.

Hideaki Anno has always made Evangelion a story about himself as much as his characters. Neon Genesis Evangelion looked deep into the consciousness of Shinji and showed a glimpse of Anno’s mind with it, ending on a note that conveyed the strength he found through working on his art.

End of Evangelion may have been darker and more cynical for a myriad of reasons, but it had similar things to say about the hardships of life, escapism, and not giving up on life. But even with all of that, could Anno, the one with the most to gain from Evangelion, truly part with it there?

Judging from current events, Anno is thriving. Between Shin Godzilla in 2016 to the upcoming Shin Ultraman and Studio Khara’s Shin Kamen Rider, the man is directing rebuilds of all of his favorite franchises. The works that inspired him will now be revitalized for new generations by him.

And Evangelion, a series rebuilt by him for the same reasons, is now done, and I can’t help but feel satisfied. It really feels like Anno, regardless of his feeling about the franchise towards the end, found happiness and direction. He got to close out the book on this series.

If a man so troubled could find his happy ending, who’s to say any of us can’t as well? That’s the biggest takeaway for me. 3.0+1.0 was dense, full of exposition, sometimes rough, and often indulgent. And yet I wouldn’t dare say that any of it lacked heart or soul. I don’t think for one second that Anno didn’t give it his all.

Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but if he did at all slouch during the production, it sure didn’t seem like it. To be able to come back after almost a decade and give an ending that truly satisfies and burrows into your brain for days after viewing it, takes talent. True talent and hard fucking work.

And now it is really, truly, honestly, over.

Third times the charm, right?

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The Rebuild of Evangelion (Evangelion New Theatrical Edition), including 1.11, 2.22, 3.33, and 3.0+1.01, is available for legal streaming through Amazon Prime Video.

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