I’m trying out something different. Knowing in advance that I’m going to see the latest Rebuild of Evangelion movie, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts about the franchise and what I’m hoping for. Not wanting to stop at an easy point, I’m going to also share what I think after seeing it as well.
When I first found out about Neon Genesis Evangelion, I was only aware–like most people–that it was a beautifully animated series built around battles between freaky monsters and athletic giant robots. Only in watching it did I discover things like Human Instrumentality, LCL, the Magi, and the central element that empowers an Evangelion is a soul. Amazing ideas, tense atmosphere peppered with hijinks, and, in the words of Misato, “fan service,” what’s not to like?
All the characters being depressed to deep or deeper degrees. It’s the one flaw with the series. As events progress, the psychoses of the main characters turns into a deeper, darker spiral of self-doubt and overall dread.
That’s part of why I love the series RahXephon. It’s like Evangelion without the psychosis and none of the symbology. It’s also why I like Rebuild of Evangelion; it’s an alternate world where the action gets ramped up, the intrigue gets a big boost. And that psychosis gets toned down to a point where the characters feel realized and motivated, but not slaves to their depression.
Going in to Evangelion 3.0, there are number of things I would expect.
- Crazy Angel attacks. In the new version, the Angels, the freaky monsters that clash with the Evas, are vast, computer generated pieces of artwork. In the first film, one of the Angels is a morphing geometric construct. In the second film, there is an Angel that is mass of spindles arranged as a stick-like bipedal walker. Now, I want something even more visually stunning.
- Battle! At the end of Evangelion 2.0, there is a massive battle between Tenth Angel and the Evas, starting the new pilot Mari turning her stolen Eva into a savage beast and resulting in Rei and Unit 0 being devoured by the Angel. After that, Eva Unit 1 enters the battle, loses its arm, only to make a new one out of pure energy. Can I have something on par with that, please?
- Character complexity. By shedding the trappings of depression, Shinji and his allies have become far more interesting. Shinji himself has gone from being the poster child for whiny kid mech pilot to being a character driven by friendship, anger, and a need for acceptance and belonging. Asuka is still a driven competitor, though she finds herself wanting something simpler at times. I’m fascinated by how rich these characters can be and I want to see more, even if Gendo is still the same asshole he’s always been.
Those are the main things I’m after. Did I get them?
Sort of. Evangelion 3.0 is a very different sort of beast. It is the most drastic departure from any and all expectations of the Evangelion franchise, but it’s all done in the name of some very familiar elements.
While Evangelion 3.0 has some angel battles, they aren’t the visual spectacles the two movies before have led us to expect. The biggest reason for this is that fourteen years have passed between 2.0 and 3.0, changing the character and political dynamics in almost every respect. NERV is now an even darker organization, since many of its operational staff have split away to form a new group called Wille. Those who have split away, especially Misato, have become angry echoes of who they once were, so much that they now unilaterally act hostile and cautious while they’re in the same room with Shinji–poor Shinji who, like us viewers, doesn’t have a clue as to what’s happened.
Even though the members of Wille have split off and become a villain organization, NERV has grown even more grim, becoming a worse villain organization. These groups hate each other in large degrees, so much that the bulk of the action comes from their fighting one another. A lot of the combat looks like it belongs in either Last Exile or Macross since it deals with fighting ships instead of giant robots.
Sadly, this conflict has stripped most of the characters of their complexity. The majority of the characters are now scattered on an axis of how much they hate Shinji for his dramatic role during the closing of Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance. This sends Shinji on a journey of consequences, where he sees how destructive his actions as an Eva pilot are. Not only has he accidentally destroyed lives, but he’s also transformed the face of the Earth–no pun intended–into a surrealist nightmare.
Unlike previous incarnations of Evangelion, there is a friendship that develops between Shinji and Kaworu. Instead of there being a bond between these two that we are expected to accept in a short amount of time, these two become close, giving Shinji a friend who truly accepts him and wants to understand him. While this is a fascinating development, it leads to Shinji reaching a point where he has lost everything of value, even the will to live.
In other words, the ultimate product so far of the Rebuild of Evangelion is to create a complex interesting Shinji Ikari who once more becomes the poster child of depressed mech pilots in anime.
I find myself of two minds about Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. I like the imaginative ways many elements mature and intensify. I don’t care for the hyper-depression Shinji has discovered, as well as the sheer level of hatred his friends give him without explanation. Here’s hoping Evangelion 4.0: Final will be better.