Eyeless in Japan
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Eyeless in Japan

Evangelion Ends

Hideaki Anno comes to terms with his greatest creation

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details for all of Evangelion and Devilman Lady.

Rebuild of Evangelion is complete. An ambitious film project that spanned fifteen years from 2007 to 2021 is over. It served not only introduce Evangelion to a new generation, but also to comment on the legacy of the original anime. I had admittedly been rather dismissive of the Rebuild films, seeing them as fun action flicks which lacked the depth of the old show, but after having marathoned all of Rebuild in one sitting, I can say, with some confidence, that this series is thoughtful, moving, and cathartic for longtime fans.

A lot has changed since 2007. Evangelion is now on Netflix in high definition, though some localization choices have left many frustrated. Evangelion’s creator, Hideaki Anno, has gone on to do a number of projects, from voicing Jiro in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, to directing a new line of tokusatsu films, starting with 2015's Shin Gojira. Anno’s Studio Khara has also produced two great short films within the Evangelion universe: a traditionally animated one that looks like a series of paintings (until you come to me) and a computer animated one meant to mimic live-action (Another Impact (Confidential)).

We also saw the end of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s Evangelion manga, whose ending is in some ways more satisfying than either the anime or End of Evangelion. Speaking of which, there has been a growing critical appreciation for End of Evangelion in the West, with American film critics from Time Out New York ranking it as the 65th greatest animated film of all time.

Overall, I enjoyed the Rebuild series. The animation is beautiful and faithful to the original, but it also adds in details that a tight 90’s budget wouldn’t allow. There’s a good mix of traditional animation and computer effects. The movements of the CG Evas manage to look realistic and fluid. The characters are, for the most part, well-developed, with notable differences from their old counterparts to keep them fresh.

Evangelion’s composer, Shiro Sagisu, is at the top of his game with some epic orchestral themes, like “Fate”, “Carnage”, “The Ultimate Soldier”, “The Final Decision We All Must Take”, and “The Wrath of God In All Its Fury.” 3.0+1.0 in particular, stands out with some very beautiful pieces like “Orchestra Dedicata ai Maestri”, “prettiest star”, “what if”, “karma”, and “mirror mirror.” Pop star Utada Hikaru has also been brought in to sing the lovely songs “Beautiful World”, “Sakura Nagashi”, and “One Last Kiss.”

The action scenes and the fanservice have also been cranked up to ten. Now, I did like the fanservice, specifically when it came to the curvy redesigns of the female characters, but I found the number of ass shots to be a minor annoyance. The action scenes are also fun, utilizing the best effects that CGI can offer. My favorite fights were the enhanced versions of the old anime battles, because they feel like fully realized versions of what couldn’t have been accomplished in the 90s. That said, the fights become more ridiculous as the films go on. What made the fights in the original show so intense was the clear sense of limitation. These restrictions become less relevant in the last two films and the fights lost some investment from me as a result.

Even though 1.0 is virtually a frame-for-frame remake of the first six episodes, it executes them quite well. There was a lot of lost potential to introduce characters like Asuka and Mari earlier on, but it nonetheless remains a satisfying action film. The primary focus of 1.0 is Rei and Shinji’s relationship. Shinji learns to be brave and Rei learns to open up to him.

This relationship is built upon in 2.0, which is my favorite of the Rebuild series. 2.0 is pure fanservice from start to finish, but it is also where the series starts to truly diverge from the original show. Asuka and Rei’s personalities are also greatly improved. Asuka is willing to go beyond her tough exterior and connect with Shinji, while Rei grows romantic feelings for him. Mari is also introduced here, and while she is fun to watch, she is lacking in any real character depth. The action scenes far and away surpass the first film, with one highlight being the three pilots against the Eighth Angel. I personally enjoyed the “slice of life” stuff more than the action scenes, which, for me, was what made the original Evangelion so rewatchable.

Shinji is once again forced to fight another pilot trapped in an Eva, but instead of being Toji, this time it is Asuka. This brings a deeper level of betrayal and tragedy to the fight, which even goes so far as to reference to choking scene from End of Evangelion. The core of 2.0 is the romance between Rei and Shinji, which reaches a climax during the scene where Shinji saves her from one of the Angels. He does so without any regard for what it will mean for the world, but he has at last found a reason to pilot the Eva.

3.0 is when I think a lot of fans soured on Rebuild, myself included. The plot gave me a lot of Last Jedi vibes. I referring specifically to the subplot where Admiral Holdo deliberately doesn’t let Poe in on her plan for reasons demanded by the script. This leads Poe to make a very stupid decision that easily could have been avoided. Similarly, when Shinji wakes up fourteen years after Third Impact, no one at WILLE explains anything to him. They’re all mean and cold to him, which I understand, given that he unintentionally caused the apocalypse, but I expect a military organization to have a little more discipline. When you force a teenager into becoming a child soldier, you can’t act all that surprised when they make reckless decisions. All WILLE needed to do was sit Shinji down and explain the situation to him, which might have prevented him from running into the clutches of NERV for an answer. Misato, least of all, has any excuse to be so cold, considering that she was cheering him on during 2.0’s climax. Indeed, while Shinji does bear responsibility for Third Impact, had he not acted against the Angel, they all would have been annihilated.

A lot of these changes would have been more welcome had the film spent more time fleshing them out, but at a paltry 96 minutes, this is the shortest film of the tetralogy. As a result, the transition to this darker phase feels abrupt, in direct contrast to the more gradual pace taken by the show. The character development is also weak, with Asuka and Rei being set back to square one, and Mari appearing for little more than fanservice.

The only highlight of 3.0 was Shinji and Kaworu’s relationship. As in the original anime, Kaworu is the only one who shows Shinji any compassion at this stage of his life. Their scenes playing the piano together are exquisite and, I have to say, Anno really laid it on thick with the rainbow colored music montage. As enjoyable as all of this is, however, Kaworu ultimately goes through the exact same arc that he suffered through in the original show. Considering how much he was teased over the course of the previous two films, I was rather disappointed by this turn. His death is also not at Shinji’s hand this time, so it lacks the same level of emotional impact.

I did not expect to like 3.0+1.0 as much as I did. It justified the existence of Rebuild and fixed a lot of the problems I had with 3.0. It also did so in a way that felt organic and satisfying and not sloppy and forced like The Rise of Skywalker. It not only gave a fantastic finale to this tetralogy, but also to the Evangelion saga as a whole.

The opening third or so of the film might be my favorite part. Shinji, Asuka, and Rei settle into life in a small Japanese village. Toji and Kensuke have both grown into capable adults in the fourteen years after Third Impact. Toji has married Hikari and is now the village doctor. Kensuke helps Asuka in keeping the village in safe and working order. The two boys have gone from being Shinji’s friends to his elders. Shinji spends much of this time in a deep depression, unable to shake off the guilt of having caused Third Impact. He’s often curled up in a fetal position, refusing to speak or to eat. To demonstrate just how depressed he is, there’s an uncomfortable scene where Asuka has to force some rations down his throat to prevent him from starving.

The new Rei, who I wasn’t very fond of in 3.0, very nearly steals the show. Her inquisitiveness about the unfamiliar world around is very cute to watch. She sees a cat for the first time and asks what it is. She sees a baby for the first time and asks why it is so small. The villagers have her work in rice-planting and she acquires an interest in the library. Asuka informs Rei that she only likes Shinji because it is in her genetic programming, but she accepts this and pursues these feelings anyway. She sadly dies shortly thereafter, but she dies happy.

Now, Shinji does overcome his depression, but it is a long and grueling process. He doesn’t emerge from his self-hatred alone, but with the love of those around him. They continue to help him out, no matter how he behaves towards them. Shinji comes to understand that everyone else is suffering too, and he feels moved to return to his friends the love that they showed him. Knowing Anno’s mental health struggles throughout the production of the original Evangelion, you can feel shades of naked autobiography here.

The crew of WILLE are also far better this time around. They speak with a better understanding of Shinji’s situation. Even the one crew member who wants to kill him is revealed to have some personal trauma from Third Impact. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anno made WILLE to recreate the great space crews of past anime, like Gundam, Macross, and Space Battleship Yamato. I only wish we had more time to spend with them.

Even the cold Misato is redeemed by the film’s end. We learn that she is cold, not out of personal malice towards Shinji, but out of guilt for burdening him with the salvation of all humankind. She even acknowledges her role in encouraging him to act for himself in 2.0. Since Misato failed Shinji as a guardian, she feels unable to serve as a mother for her and Kaji’s son. However, she gets one final chance to be a parent to Shinji, by sacrificing herself to give him the spear to rewrite the world as he wishes it.

The film starts to get very absurd towards the climax, almost to the point of self-parody. The Giant Rei now has a photo-realistic CG face. It almost resembles a Monty Python animation. The religious terminology that once carried thematic weight now sounds like pretentious babble. Holy lances and spears seem to be given away by Oprah en masse. I have to believe that this absurdity is intentional by Anno and his longtime co-director, Kazuya Tsurumaki. They’re poking fun at themselves and at how seriously the series is taken. Evangelion always had a sort of puckishness towards the fourth wall, so like all things Rebuild, this puckishness is taken to the nth degree.

The last third of the film is very cathartic for those fans who have followed Evangelion from the beginning. It begins with Shinji at last confronting his oppressive father, a confrontation that we never quite saw in End of Evangelion. While Gendo did confess that he was simply an adult version of Shinji, he was eaten alive by the Eva before he could meet with his son. In 3.0+1.0, they fight with their Evas through reconstructions Shinji’s memories, from Misato’s messy apartment to even a tokusatsu-style set of Tokyo-3.

Then they talk. We learn that Gendo began life enjoying his solitude and despising the uncertainty of interacting with others. It is only when he meets Yui, who accepts him, that he opens up. When she dies, he feels, for the first time in his life, the acute pain of being alone. This is what sparks his obsession with bringing Yui back through the Human Instrumentality Project. He pursued this obsession to the point of abandoning his only son. What he never realized, however, was that Yui’s soul was within Shinji the whole time.

Whenever Evangelion ends, Shinji is always faced with a grand decision. At the end of the original 26th episode, decides to breaks out of his shell and embrace the real world. During the climax of End of Evangelion, after initially accepting Human Instrumentality, he chooses to face the world’s broken reality, no matter how difficult it may be for him. Now, the third time around, he wishes for a world without Evangelions, giving the Eva pilots the happy endings he feels they deserve.

During this climax, I was reminded of one of Anno’s inspirations, Go Nagai’s Devilman. At the end of the spinoff Devilman Lady, the reader learns that the whole plot thus far was an elaborate scheme on part of Ryo Asuka to redo the terrible ending of the original Devilman. Likewise, it is all but virtually confirmed, if not heavily implied, that the Rebuilds are direct sequels to the original series. This element was lifted from the ending of the Evangelion manga, where Shinji uses Instrumentality to restart fresh, with everyone reborn with no memory of their past selves.

This first person he sends off is Asuka, which makes sense, given that their relationship was at the center of the original show. We learn that Rebuild Asuka is a part of a series of clones known as the Shikinami. She never had any parents and was jealous of Shinji for it. They end up together on the red beach from End of Evangelion, but instead of a violent relationship, it is one of mutual compassion. Asuka had earlier confessed to Shinji that she had a crush on him, and Shinji returns these feelings with a confession of his own. This pleases her.

The next person he says goodbye to is Kaworu, who is stuck in an endless loop of trying to make Shinji happy and dying for him. Shinji frees Kaworu from this loop, allowing him to pursue his own life. Kaworu cries upon hearing this decision. This is probably the first time that anyone had thought of his happiness.

The last person he sends off is Rei, specifically the Rei from 2.0 who was trapped in Unit 01. She had stayed in the Eva to free Shinji from the burden of trying to pilot it. The Rei clones, after all, have been programmed to look after Shinji. He frees her of this burden, telling her not to worry about taking care of him, and that he can handle himself.

The film ends with Mari arriving to save Shinji. He waits through various phases of animation until she comes. They soon wake up as adults in the real world. Across from him at the train station, Shinji can see adult versions of Asuka, Rei, and Kaworu, who no longer have any memory of the Evangelions. Only Mari and Shinji remember their past lives, but now they can live beyond them.

The Eva pilots that we have been following since 1996 have finally grown up. As has Anno. If you watch the behind-the-scenes of this film, various cast and crew members comment on how he has matured as a director. He’s a married man now and is clearly much happier than he was during the original End of Evangelion. While he says goodbye to a creation that he had labored over for nearly a quarter of a century, he also wants to tell the fans that there’s beautiful world out there waiting for them.

Go out and enjoy it.

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Sansu the Cat

Sansu the Cat

I write about art, life, and humanity. M.A. Japanese Literature. B.A. Spanish & Japanese. email: sansuthecat@yahoo.com