Sometimes, you’ll see a wild claim about mecha anime, like “Gurren-Lagann was the first giant robot series to be about characters instead of the robots,” and it inevitably results in a backlash—in this case, the counterargument that all giant robot shows are about characters. Whether the initial statement is made in jest or as a genuinely ignorant take by someone with only surface-level knowledge of mecha, it reflects certain assumptions about what the genre is like.
I got to thinking about the notion that giant robot anime are about characters because it’s both true and an oversimplification. Moreover, the extent to which the giant robots truly “matter,” as in they’re inexorable from the world being portrayed and can’t be substituted with some other form of weaponry, varies tremendously. But regardless of the true “necessity” of either characters or robots, I feel there is more to it than just one side mattering more than the other. Then a thought occurred to me, and I have a kind of nascent “universal theory of giant robot anime”:
Giant robot anime are about characters, but more specifically, the main character reflects some vital or fundamental aspect of the world and story around them. The giant robot, in turn, is reflective of the connection between the hero and that aspect.
If it seems nebulous, that’s because it is. I’m thinking less about trying to justify every mecha anime and more about how the giant robots end up being the avatar through which so many of these protagonists interact with their environment and their histories, and thus reveal more about the anime themselves. There’s also no denying the close ties between giant robots and merchandising, but this also ebbs and flows over the decades.
So let’s start with some of the big ones.
Tetsujin 28is about Shoutarou trying to make a difference in a post-WWII environment by being a boy detective who fights crime. Tetsujin 28 the robot was created to fight the Allies, but is now being used for an alternate purpose: as a guardian of peace instead of a weapon of war.
Mazinger Zdraws a direct lineage to this sort of thinking. While the power fantasy and toyetic appeal of the robot itself is undeniable, Kouji is presented with a question about human potential from the very beginning: If you had great power, would you be a god or a devil? The robot Mazinger Z is Kouji’s way of making a difference, and he chooses to use it as a protective guardian.
Mobile Suit Gundam, the first “real robot” anime that emphasized the robots as weapons of war over superhero-like entities, is about its hero Amuro’s repeated exposure to the trauma of war. It’s through the Gundam that he experiences physical and emotional scars alike, and the very fact that his piloting experience molds him into a capable soldier also contributes to the overall “horror of war” message that girders Gundam and its many sequels.
Superdimensional Fortress Macrosshas three main components: romance, music, and robot battles. Here, the titular robot is literally a flying city traveling through space, and it functions as both an urban cosmopolitan center and a massive superweapon. In other words, it is the very space in which all three pieces of Macross take place.
Neon Genesis Evangelioncenters around Shinji and his fear of human connection, be it with his family, his peers, his friends, or anyone else. It is the anime of extreme introspection. Not only is the EVA-01 the means by which he tries (and fails) to find self-worth, but the EVA itself is revealed to house the soul of his dead mother. He is contained in a womb-like structure inside of his giant mom.
Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is about Simon and the limitless potential of humanity to overcome all obstacles slowly but surely—and ultimately whether there should be limits on that power. Gurren-Lagann manifests this through numerous transformations fueled by human spirit that bring on exponential power growth.
The above examples are all heavy hitters, but what I also want to emphasize is that this applies to “lesser” titles as well.
Brave Police J-Deckeris maybe the most on-the-nose example of the relationship between a boy and his giant robot, as the story is about how Yuuta’s friendship with the giant police robot Deckard is what teaches the latter to develop true emotions and a proper sense of justice and humanity.
Shinkon Gattai Godannaris about the relationship between Gou and Anna as husband and wife and how their love affects both their personal and professional lives as co-pilots. Godannar Twin Drive is literally a combination of both robots.
Robotics;Notesfocuses on Kaito and his relationship with Akiho’s giant robot club, and the blurring of augmented reality with actual reality. The creation of the Guntsuku-1 is basically an untenable goal that, through the events of the series, becomes effectively “real” through how Kaito and Akiho view and utilize it.
Trider G7is about Watta, who’s both a little kid and the CEO of his own company, utilizing both the image of Japanese corporate culture of the early 1980s and the classic child desire of wanting to do what the adults do. The Trider G7 robot literally flies out of a playground, and has tons of cool and wacky weapons, but the fact that it’s Watta’s robot and the main way he gets his job done means it’s the conduit through which that “grown-up” fantasy takes place.
Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Animationis literally a commercial for bullet train toys that are, in turn, advertising for the Shinkansen trains in Japan. Its main character, Hayato, is basically a Shinkansen fanatic who sees them as not only the coolest things ever but as reflecting a philosophy of unwavering service to the people of Japan. The Shinkalion robots, by extension, portray a more action-packed version of this concept.
Giant robot anime embody many values, from crass commercialism to dreams of being brave and strong, from anti-war sentiments to deep looks inward at the psychological scars of society. The mecha themselves are often not “characters” in and of themselves (with a number of notable exceptions), but they are symbolic of how the protagonists of these stories relate to what they experience. The hurdle for those who think that these anime are “more about robots” is that this particular way of communicating the characters’ stories requires an acceptance of giant robots as a storytelling device.
I’m riding high off of three things: recent elections defied expectations, the VTubers of holoX have just been celebrating their one-year anniversaries, and it’s been 15 years of Ogiue Maniax! It’s hard to believe each one for somewhat different reasons, but I’m hoping I can carry this joyous monentum through this month and into the eventual new year.
Here are my Patreon subscribers for December 2022! Thank you to everyone.
As with every year, I’m going to be rating the anime characters I think are the best of 2022. It is unbelievable how tough this year’s field is. I feel like the top candidates would have won in virtual every other year had they been eligible.
The new anime season is in full swing, but while I’m enjoying the hell out of so many things (like Gundam: The Witch from Mercury!), my mind is on the upcoming US midterm election. I plan on (sort of) following up with my thoughts on this subject in a few days but for now, I’m using this time to encourage citizens to vote however they can: in person on Election Day, by mail, by early voting, anything.
I’d also like to thank my Patreon subscribers for this month of November 2022.
I was originally going to write about how Chainsaw Man reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s the way Chainsaw Man feels like you’re peering into a creator’s psyche, how it both leans into and plays with various tropes, and importance given to feelings of loneliness. The manga (and soon to be anime) stands out from its peers and defies so much of what we consider “proper storytelling,” and I genuinely think it’s going to become an influence on creators on the level of Evangelion.
But the two works are also fundamentally different in a lot of ways, and any actual influence from one to the other is indirect at best. The missing piece of the puzzle is that as much as Chainsaw Man has shades of Evangelion, it’s also reminiscent of Beavis & Butt-Head.
Denji (aka Chainsaw Man) isn’t suffering the same type of loneliness that Shinji from Evangelion feels. One could argue that Shinji is a whiny teen too caught up in his own head, but the kind of heavy introspection he (and the other characters) engage in isn’t something Denji does for the most part. Instead, like Beavis and Butt-Head, he rarely thinks things through properly, and is also obsessed with losing his virginity. And similar to Beavis & Butt-Head’s environment, Denji lives in a world that seems off-kilter, as if even that which is considered “normal” is more facade than foundation. Also, Denji is not terribly smart most of the time, but he also has brief glimmers of insight—a kind of Butt-Head-esque quality.
I sometimes describe Denji as being cut from the same cloth as Monkey D. Luffy, but I realize now that this analogy is limited because while they share some things in common, Denji doesn’t have that sense of justice and camaraderie. I realize now that a better comparison is to say that Denji is Shinji combined with Butt-Head. He’s kind of shallow, yet his emotions nevertheless feel real and honest, and ultimately he’s not a bad guy. I think it’s part of what gives Chainsaw Man a strange profundity.
And if Denji is Shinji + Butt-Head, that would mean the character of Power can be viewed as Asuka + Beavis. Asuka is aggressive and trying to constantly prove herself, while Beavis is like a bizarre embodiment of Freudian id who also comes across as naively innocent at times. It totally works, is something I’m currently telling myself.
Could you imagine what it would actually look like if you tried to cross over Evangelion and Beavis & Butt-Head? It would be a spectacle of the absurd, gross yet fascinating—Chainsaw Man to a tee. In a series where characters grapple with emotional problems that run the gamut of silly and vapid to deep and soul-rending, everything feel bizarre and unstable, and when you add a layer of hyperviolence on top of everything else, you get a series that’s incredibly hard to match.
Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)
For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.
Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.
BEST FEMALE CHARACTER
Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)
In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs.
But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.
There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place.
I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.
Much of Kio’s tweeting this month has had to do with the fact that Hashikko Ensemble Volume 7 went on sale on the 22nd, and Spotted Flower Volume 5 is out on the 30th…on top of Chapter 44 of Hashikko! There are lots of inevitable scheduling woes, but he’s actually also been responding to and retweeting readers in a concerted fashion for the first time.
Hashikko Ensemble Volume 7 cover check. Kio seems fine with it.
All Spotted Flower volumes have a plastic cover jacket with characters in clothes that obscures a second paper cover jacket with the characters in underwear. Kio gives a sneak peek here.
Kio mentions that there are store-exclusive extras for Spotted Flower.
Kurotaki Mai in a bunny outfit, as a late celebration of Bunny Day, but also to promote the new release.
The next chapter of Hashikko Ensemble has a ridiculous amount of lyrics and musical effects, but while the work seemed to never end, it’s finally almost over.
With the work on both upcoming volume releases more or less over, Kio decides to do some cleaning.
Kio discusses with 18+ manga artist Ikuhana Niro (who also publishes in Rakuen: Le Paradis) about ways to abbreviate Hashikko Ensemble and Spotted Flower in Japanese. Ikuhana uses HashiAn and SupoHana, while Kio originally uses Hashikko and SupoFura, but also Spotted in hiragana or katakana. Supote is brought up, with the idea that it sounds like Ponite (ponytail).
The Rakuen: Le Paradis Twitter account chimes in that Supote is one sale 9/30.
Kio responds with thanks to those who tweeted about supporting the release of Hashikko Ensemble, Volume 7. He doesn’t quote tweet readers all that much, so it feels special.
A fan mentions that they’ve always liked Genshiken and stuff, but only recently got into Hashikko Ensemble and wish they did so sooner. Kio tells them to enjoy it at their own pace.
Kio mentions that there are store-exclusive bonuses for Volume 5 of Spotted Flower. (I’ll be getting the Ogino-sensei ones from Melonbooks and Animate.)
A drawing used for promotional store displays for Volume 5.
Kio talks about how intense the Basso Masters from Hashikko Ensemble are.
Kio talks about how he couldn’t find any footage of a three-girl group singing “Zenryoku Shounen.”
Showing his drawing of the Chorus Appreciation Society performing “Etupirka” versus an actual performance.
In response to a TSUTAYA bookstore showing its display bookshelf for manga artist panpanya, Kio responds that it’s sandwiched in one hell of a place, given the shelves on each side (Blue Lock, Demon Slayer).
Kio up until recently still was not a fan of Kurita Kan’ichi as the voice of Lupin III ever since he took over the role in the 1990s. However, he’s noticed that rather than sounding like an imitation, Kurita’s performances now have a weight and seriousness that has allowed Kio to finally accept his Lupin.
Kio sees Five Star Stories models and reminisces about when he built his first resin-kit Akatsuki from that series.
Kio retweets an article talking about a journey with toy soldiers that began from a panpanya manga.
Kio talks about the good work an “Akio-san” did on photos. What it means is still unclear.
This was a pretty tweet-heavy month for all the reasons above. I get the feeling we’ll be seeing less for October, but you never know. I also posted these highlights right before the 9/30 release date of Spotted Flower Volume 5, so I’m sure I’ll be covering a lot just from that!
It’s incredibly strange to go from the finality of the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion movie to seeing Shinji and Gendo characters show up in Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z, the fun-filled sequel anime about kids piloting bullet-train robots. What’s even more bizarre is that there’s a kind of thematic resonance between the two. The portrayals of the Eva characters in 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time and their Shinkalion Z appearances actually feel like they fit together.
Possibly due to its transportation and tourism connections, Shinkalion is famous for its unexpected pop culture cameos. A version of Hatsune Miku is a recurring character in the original Shinkalion. The franchise also makes multiple explicit references to city pop legend Yamashita Tatsuro, has Godzilla in a feature film, and showcases a Hello Kitty Shinkalion. It even just had a tiny Maetel from Galaxy Express 999show up. Evangelion is just one of many pop culture icons to appear, but the sheer tonal difference between it and Shinkalion makes its presence all the more jarring on paper.
Shinkalion already had a crossover with Evangelion in the first series, but whereas the main character back then (Hayasugi Hayato)visited Tokyo-3, here we have Shinji showing up in the world of Shinkalion. What really stands out about Shinji here is how gentle and reassuring he is in this world. The Shinji we see greeting the new protagonist, Arata Shin, has a calming presence that feels closest to the version of him we see towards the end of 3.0+1.01, as if parallel Shinjis arrived at the same place, only one had to go through some of the most dire trauma possible. The next closest would be the Shinji often found in Super Robot Wars after the positive influence of hotblooded pilots has rubbed off on him.
Not only does Shinji come across as a mature ment figure to Shin with the aura of a mentor, but he specifically mentions that he’s met a Shinkalion E5 pilot before. In other words, not only does the series acknowledge the previous Evangelion cameos within the world of the story, but we’re also likely seeing a Shinji who’s a little older. In a previous episode, it’s revealed that Shinkalion Z takes place in the world of the original Shinkalion after its climactic final battle, and reuniting with a Shinji with memories of what has come before actually creates a kind of anticipation for Hayato to return at some point.
As for Gendo (featured in the image at the beginning), he’s mostly played for laughs in terms of how incongruous he is with the relatively lighthearted world of Shinkalion. He says all the things you expect (“Shin, get in the Shinkalion”), but delivers it all with such a straight deadpan that it veers straight into parody territory. At the same time, his presence and demeanor feel reminiscent of a key scene in 3.0+1.01 involving trains, which makes the aforementioned resonance between that film and Shinkalion Z all the more noticeable.
Ultimately, both Shinji and Gendo seem to be in better places in Shinkalion Z. While there’s nothing concretely saying so, I like to believe that the Shinji and Gendo of Shinkalion are better people because they have robots that are also trains—the kind of thing both father and son would probably enjoy, given their personalities and histories.
Episodes are up on the official Youtube only until the following Monday EST, so anyone who wants to check out Shinji and the Shinkalion Z 500 Type EVA should do so as soon as they can. Unlike the last series, this episode actually has “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” for the streaming version.
Not a ton of tweets this month, but if you’re interested in Kio’s thoughts about Rebuild of Evangelion (as well as his bout with work exhaustion and illness), here they are!
During a sale on the Kujibiki Unbalance manga, Kio talks about how this came before Jigopuriand Nidaime. “In a sense, it’s an original work closest to being a Genshiken spinoff.”
Kio has two volumes coming out in September (Spotted Flower v5 and Hashikko Ensemble v7), and he expressed that the amount of work he needs to put in to draw all the extra stuff was a challenge. However, he eventually managed to finish more recently.
Kio planned to take a 20-minute nap that turned into an hour. However, because his hands were feeling great, he called it a win.
Hase-san’s eyes quickly draw you in. (I think this is referring to Hasegawa Kozue from Hashikko Ensemble, but I’m not 100%.)
Kio makes a joke about his LCD tablet being really “hot,” except he means literally high-temperature. He realizes that he’s always used the tablet in air-conditioned environments, so he never really noticed it until now. He then decides the next day to use the AC after all.
Kio was all prepared to hold a “lavish party” (which might just be “getting more work done”), but between his schedule and the side effects of this medicine (vaccine side effects?), he wanted to cancel. As he went back and forth between at least trying to work, he realized it wasn’t possible.
Last month, I left this tweet untranslated because I hadn’t seen Evangelion 3.01+1.01 yet. Now I have, and it’s time to delve into it. WARNING: SPOILERS
Kio was apparently a fan of the theory that Asuka and the other characters in Evangelion 3.33 were all from the old The End of Evangelion timeline, and the Rebuild characters were all imprisoned. He also came into the final film ready to not be surprising by anything, but it was the gentleness of the movie that got to him.
Kio was too busy to go see Evangelion 3.0+1.01 in theaters again, so he listened to the soundtrack while working, and mentally recalled scenes from the film.
Kio commiserates with someone else about needing to pee partway through Evangelion 3.0+1.01—the nature of a movie that’s two-and-a-half hours long
Kio reacting to this month’s Five Star Stories. According to him, the designs can be disappointing in some ways, but the contents of the story are so rich. He seems to really feel the Shinnomaru and the Akatsuki. He had originally gotten some of Volks’s “Mighty Series” model kits, but didn’t build them. When someone he knew gave him the Akatsuki, though, he ended up finishing that one.
A recounting of his experiences at the Secondary Culture Choir Festival, previously mentioned in the July tweet roundup. He’s not super knowledgeable about music still, but he enjoyed the sense of freedom with which they sang, and is grateful for the experience. He was announced as a “manga creator,” which he’s flattered by.
Kio has listened to this chorus before, but thinks they probably sound even more impressive in person.
Bringing closure to as tumultuous and influential an anime as Evangelion is a task of confounding proportions. Back in 2007, the Rebuild of Evangelion film series started with the intention of being the definitive final word on the franchise, but when it came time to produce the fourth and final installment, numeroussetbacks delayed its premiere from 2008 to 2015, and now to 2021. With so much anticipation and so many expectations to answer, it would hardly be surprising if the movie was a spectacular flop. But against the odds, Evangelion 3.01+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time is exactly the conclusion that we needed.
Before I get into the weeds, I want to make it clear that I’m coming at this as a long-time fan of Evangelion. What Star Wars has been to so many, Eva is for me, with the added benefit of helping me explore the inner depths of my psyche. I discovered the series in high school thanks to friends, and spent many days discussing and speculating every aspect of it with them. Even my screen name is a reference to the series. And as a fan whose identity was shaped in part by this experience, Evangelion 3.0 + 1.01 (also known as Shin Evangelion) is an immensely satisfying work. While I had plenty of questions by the time the credits rolled, I came away feeling…at peace. It’s as if the 20+ years since I discovered Eva, and the personal journey I’ve taken as a human being during that time, are reflected in the progression and transformation of the characters themselves.
Warning: Heavy Spoilers Ahead
Neon Genesis Evangelion
The TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion is an exploration of the inner turmoil of people who desperately try and fail to connect to others while engaged in a futuristic battle of biblical proportions. The protagonist, 14-year-old Ikari Shinji, is brought before his estranged father, Gendo, and ordered to work for his organization, NERV, by piloting a mysterious biomechanical titan known as an Evangelion (or EVA) to fight off reality-defying monsters from above called Angels. But Shinji suffers from severe depression due in part to being abandoned by his father at a young age, and his relationship with his father is one of craving acceptance and acknowledgment. He soon meets other EVA pilots (collectively known as the Children), notably the hauntingly quiet Ayanami Rei and the aggressively competitive Sohryu Asuka Langley, each of whom have their own complex issues. Later, Shinji also meets a pilot named Nagisa Kaworu and establishes an intense bond, if only briefly.
An overt recurring theme of NGE is the idea that it’s impossible for humans to truly understand one another. Often mentioned is the Hedgehog’s Dilemma: a metaphor for people who are afraid to pursue close relationships because of the risk of hurting themselves. The EVAs and Angels fight using Absolute Terror Fields, nigh-impenetrable force fields that are revealed to exist to a lesser degree as the psychic walls that separate human hearts and minds from one another. Another concept thrown around is “Instrumentality,” a state in which all humans are fused together physically and spiritually, and where no barriers to misunderstanding exist.
NGE’s legacy is in part the popularization of what would become the mysterious doll-like character archetype (Rei) and the tsundere (Asuka), but it also does an amazing job of articulating psychological and emotional pain. That said, one potential weakness is that it does little in the way of offering solutions or steps to overcome that internal suffering, despite a desire to inspire and motivate its viewers by the end. In fact, the bizarre and trippy final episodes of the series were heavily lambasted at the time of airing, with director Anno Hideaki discovering that angry fans were discussing ways to kill him—an experience that contributed further to his depression at the time. In response, he created a pair of bitter “compilation” movies that revised the last parts of the TV series into a brutally violent trauma festival where the protagonist Shinji rejects Instrumentality but fails to make an actual firm decision on which direction he wants humanity to take.
Rebuild of Evangelion (Thus Far)
In a sense, the Rebuild films are heavily revised formations of Eva that are far more than either a retcon or, in Star Wars terms, a “Special Edition.” Existing elements might be 99% similar, but that 1% makes a crucial difference. A new pilot, Makinami Mari Illustrious, is introduced, and she seems to lack the baggage of the other Children. Most importantly, compared to NGE, Rebuild sees the characters initially tracing the same path, but taking gradual steps to challenge the Hedgehog’s Dilemma instead of living in fear of it. Each film gets further and further away from the original, and by the time of the third entry—Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo—thrusted the characters fourteen years into the future, the idea that Anno had ruined Eva was accepted by many.
I disagreed and wrote a long review of Evangelion 3.33 that was part defense and part analysis of how Anno was trying to “address the differences between older and newer anime narratives, create a Tale appropriate for contemporary culture, and respond to current criticisms of youth culture.” I began by referencing an essay Anno penned expressing concern about the decline of the “Tale”—the kinds of grand narratives like the “journey to another galaxy to save the Earth” plot of Space Battleship Yamato that used to be common in anime—and his desire to see them return. I ended by making my own prediction on what the “Tale of Evangelion” would be, based on my analysis of the third film as a criticism of those who admonish the youth for being not hard-working enough:
A 14-year-old boy estranged from his father and suffering deep personal agony is thrust into a situation far greater than him, and though he is told to sacrifice himself for the greater cause, through the connections he makes with his peers he finds that he would lose too much in the process, including his own identity. This prioritization of the self and what he finds valuable in life does not come without its own consequences, but it becomes the potential ground for him, and those like him, to find their own solutions to the problems of the world. Of course, the fourth film has yet to debut, so we’ll see if I’m right.
At the time, I expected to get an answer fairly quickly, but history repeated itself and Anno fell into depression again, with the catalyst that brought him back being, of all things, working on the film Shin Godzilla. So now, coming into 3.0+1.01, I indeed wondered how my predictions would fare, but more importantly, I wondered how this final film might choose to resolve (or leave open) much of the baggage of Eva, both within the works and within Anno himself.
Finally, Shin Evangelion
The end of the third movie has the three pilots surviving a traumatic battle and wandering into a post-apocalyptic world, with Asuka pulling Shinji up and out of his cockpit, and Rei (or rather, a clone of Rei) following along after having just awakened to her own individuality. The symbolism of that moment, of seeing them reach out to one another, encapsulates the challenge to the Hedgehog’s Dilemma that Rebuild of Evangelion. Evangelion 3.0+1.01 comes in almost directly after that moment, and leads into what I can only describe as a thorough (yet never boring or tedious) conclusive response to all the thematic and cultural fragments of Eva that have piled up over the years, and that the general contours of my above prediction about Evangelion 3.0+1.01 have come to pass.
Shinji and Space
The early part of the Evangelion 3.0+1.01 sees Shinji, Rei, and Asuka staying in a makeshift farming village, where they reunite with some old school friends who have established their own lives. It can feel far removed from what’s expected of Eva, but there is a great significance to this part of the story. During this time, Shinji most greatly resembles the Shinji of the old TV series: retreated into his shell in a state of depression, too weak to do anything but not weak enough to want to die. But while NGE would have characters, at best, try to force Shinji out of his shell, here you see him finally get what he needs to heal: support that understands who he is and the space he needs to find himself. It’s a process that can’t be rushed. In this town without any EVAs to pilot, the characters experience a slice of what it would be like to discover themselves and what they truly want.
Rei and Opportunity
Rei is a major catalyst in Shinji’s change, and I’m reminded of something her voice actor, Hayashibara Megumi, wrote in her career memoir: In order to help Hayashibara understand the character better, Anno explained that Rei doesn’t lack emotions—she’s just unfamiliar with them. The result is a person who doesn’t have the filters humans establish to operate in society, and with the different Rei’s we’ve seen over all of Eva, we see it play out in different ways.
It’s witnessing the current Rei clone in an environment where she can discover life with child-like wonderment that awakens Shinji and brings him to a state of calm that we have never seen in any mainline Evangelion work (Super Robot Wars and Shinkalion don’t count). Back at the very, very beginning of both NGE and the first Rebuild film, Rei was Shinji’s original reason for piloting EVA-01 due to his guilt over seeing her in pain. But while this Rei ends up in an even worse place, what seems to be in Shinji’s heart is not guilt or regret but determination to help others. He decides to fight for the happiness of those he cares for, instead of as a desperate attempt to find acceptance.
Asuka and Time
Evangelion 3.33 begins with a 14-year jump forward in time. Much of that third film feels very jarring because of how much the characters have changed and how bitter they feel towards Shinji for triggering the apocalypse, but in Evangelion 3.0+1.01, it also shows how time has transformed characters inside and out. Toji and Hikari (two of Shinji’s old classmates) have a family together. Katsuragi Misato, Shinji and Asuka’s old guardian, takes on a gruff, Okita-like exterior which, along with WILLE (the organization she leads to oppose NERV) come from her desire to protect her children, both figurative and (as we find out) literal. But out of all the characters, Asuka’s growth in this timespan is especially significant.
Due to being an EVA pilot, Asuka has not aged physically. However, she has matured mentally, and the final film establishes how she’s grown over those 14 years while Shinji was in stasis. She’s still Asuka at her core, but an Asuka who doesn’t seek validation, and it helps her communicate with others in her own way. Earlier in the film, when Shinji is listless, she basically forces food down his throat, in essence telling him that she’s going to help whether he wants it or not. Later, she has a brief heart-to-heart with Shinji about how one of his biggest problems isn’t that he makes the wrong decisions, but that he’s afraid of making decisions and owning them—and such indecisiveness can end up making things worse. As Asuka departs for combat, she even mentions that she did indeed have feelings for him back then, but she’s grown past that point. In other words, Asuka is no longer the tsundere who can’t be honest with her feelings.
Between Asuka, Shinji, and Rei, one gets the sense that the timeskip is also addressed toward the viewers. The jump into the future brings those characters out from their 1990s roots and shows how people like them (or indeed character archetypes like them) might have transformed two or three decades later.
Action and Homage
The fights in Evangelion 3.01+1.01 do a lot of things at once. While they’re thrilling from a technical perspective (sometimes to the point of being overwhelming), they’re also windows into the components that make up Eva as a whole. Some of the fights are closer to that classic Eva style, drawing inspiration from the tokusatsu stylings of Ultraman. Others completely flip the script on what Eva fights are supposed to look like, as the enemy they face isn’t individual Angels but rather entire armies of chimeric EVAs that almost trivialize the specialness of the EVAs themselves.
And then there’s the battle that basically comes across as Anno’s love letter to Space Battleship Yamato. The third film introduces the Wunder, a flying fortress that functions, and in the fourth film we see it engage in a ship-to-ship combat scene straight out of Yamato, complete with the old-fashioned orchestral soundtrack. If Yamato is the gold standard of the Tale, and that style of story is woefully underrepresented in anime over the past two decades, then putting in a Yamato-esque fight potentially feels like there’s a desire to indeed bring Rebuild of Evangelion into one cohesive whole. At the same time, Anno’s ability to add in all of these elements of his life—his favorite shows, his depression, his feelings about Eva itself—suggest a desire to communicate another important lesson: when it comes to stories, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can put in all the escapist elements and the otaku fantasies, but you can also bring it all together and motivate people to return to reality.
Out of all the battles, though, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above all as arguably the most important conflict in all of Evangelion: At long last, Shinji directly confronts his father, Gendo.
Shinji vs. Gendo
Seeing Shinji finally come face to face with Gendo, determined to settle things once and for all, was a powerful emotional experience. Even before anything truly began, I couldn’t help but smile as my body was jolted by a strange catharsis. To see this culmination of two and a half decades, to see Shinji do what he has never dared even try—it’s like the film and Eva as a whole are showing how Shinji has truly healed and grown into a better place. In that moment, the boy has finally become a man, and it has little to do with the new generation taking over the old. Rather, Gendo is the source of so much of Shinji’s grief, but in the ensuing confrontation, Shinji sees Gendo not as the distant and intimidating patriarch but another human being who, like him, has trouble sharing his feelings.
Gendo reveals that he has merged with an Angel and given up his humanity, and the fight between Shinji and him takes them on a tour through Shinji’s memories. It’s explained as them being in the realm of God that defies all physics and human comprehension, Minus Space, and so this is how Shinji’s mind is interpreting what’s there, but it’s also a two-fold callback to Neon Genesis Evangelion. First, many of the Angel fights featured psychological deep-dives full of abstract imagery. Second, NGE uses quite a bit of recycled footage in artistic ways. Rather than truly reused scenes, however, the fight sees their respective EVAs, EVA-01 and EVA-13, clashing against familiar backdrops without consideration for size and scale differences, as if to say that this fight is about the big as well as small moments that permeate Eva.
During their battle, Shinji notices that they’re in a stalemate—all of his EVA-01’s moves are mirrored by Gendo’s EVA-13. Shinji comes to the realization that this conflict cannot be solved through violence, and begins a true conversation with Gendo. He asks his father about what makes him tick, what motivates him to take things so far as to try to essentially remake the whole of humanity, and the answer is that Gendo is all too much like his own son.
Gendo goes through his entire history, explaining how as a boy, he cherished solitude and the calculated predictability of things like a finely tuned piano. Meeting his future wife, Yui, taught Gendo that he could find happiness living with others, but after her tragic death/disappearance (she was caught in an EVA experiment gone haywire and absorbed into it), Gendo was afraid that he could no longer return to his old way of being. Gendo has actually never been contemptuous of Shinji but rather scared of him—scared of having another connection that could be severed. This is even visually manifested when Gendo’s AT Field activates to his own surprise; it implies that he feels (absolute) terror towards his son. The only way Shinji can make it through was by handing Gendo back the old portable music player that both have used as a mental respite from the world.
Gendo built up power and a fearsome presence as protection for his own emotions. In doing so, he passed down his suffering to his son. It’s only after Shinji tries to understand (but not necessarily forgive) his father that this cycle could be broken. Just like in The End of Evangelion, Gendo could never forget Yui and would go to any lengths to bring her back (down to killing the gods if he needed to), but Shinji effectively saves him from that path—and as it’s revealed, Yui saves them both in turn.
The Shinji we see as Evangelion 3.0+1.01 starts its build to the end is one who has found his center and now aids the other Children in reaching peace and acceptance themselves. This process of Instrumentality is not the forceful clashing of souls that bring all the ugly demons to the surface like in NGE, but something calming and joyful. The world Shinji looks to remake isn’t one where humanity has evolved into a single entity, but one where humanity has the ability to move forward, and where EVAs don’t exist.
One notable aspect of these scenes is that they call back to not just the previous Rebuild films but also what came before. Regardless of whether this is meant to be merely symbolic or is actually saying that all the Eva anime exist in the same multi-reality and are all connected, the result is a move towards resolution as a whole. When talking with Asuka, Shinji and her return to the beach at the final parts of The End of Evangelion. This Asuka is actually wearing the plugsuit uniform of NGE (a visual marker of the difference between Sohryu and Shikinami), and when Shinji says, “I loved you too,” he’s both responding to the future Shikinami’s casual reveal of her old crush and the more emotionally stormy Sohryu.
Similarly, when Shinji is talking with Rei (who is initially presented as a kind of ethereal presence with uncharacteristically long hair), behind them is footage from The End of Evangelion during Shinji’s mental breakdown. In that movie, Rei wanted to rescue Shinji by starting Instrumentality, and giving him control, only for him to reject it partway (thus resulting in another half-decision). This time, Shinji is the one who seeks to say goodbye to all Evangelions (a statement that clearly has a double meaning between the mecha and the franchise) but has peace and compassion in his heart rather than conflict and shame.
Unlike The End of Evangelion, Instrumentality in Evangelion 3.01+1.01 is not initiated with the Spear of Despair, Longinus, a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that in the context of Eva is a weapon capable of piercing the divine protection of AT Fields. It also doesn’t use the weapon obtained initially by Shinji, the Spear of Hope, Cassius. Rather, Instrumentality is accomplished by using the Spear of Will, Gaius, a new weapon created by Misato aboard the Wunder. This isn’t supposed to be possible, but it’s all in the name: Gaius has been willed into existence. This also reflects the vital difference in Misato’s organization, WILLE, compared to all the other groups that have shown up in the Eva franchise. Unlike NERV (“nerve”), SEELE (“soul”), and GEHIRN (“brain”), WILLE (“will”) is about what humans create rather than what has been created for them.
Looking again at my prediction about the final film, I wrote, “This prioritization of the self and what he finds valuable in life does not come without its own consequences, but it becomes the potential ground for him, and those like him, to find their own solutions to the problems of the world.” I believe this plays out through the Instrumentality of Evangelion 3.0+1.01. Prioritizing the self means helping oneself in order to help others, and that process wills a solution into existence.
Aside from Asuka and Rei, there’s another character Shinji connects with during Instrumentality: Nagisa Kaworu. While I only briefly mentioned Nagisa earlier, and he indeed only appears for one episode in NGE, the character actually has an outsized impact on Eva as a whole. The twist with Kaworu is that he reveals himself to actually be an Angel in human form, that Rei is much like him, and that he was sent by the organization above NERV, SEELE, in a betrayal. Even so, it’s clear that his love and compassion for Shinji is genuine, and Kaworu even allows Shinji to kill him at the end in one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the TV series. Because of this portrayal, Kaworu has long been a popular character—especially among fujoshi—because of how he could establish a bond with Shinji when no one else truly could.
Kaworu exerts such a tremendous influence that other versions of Evangelion (such as the manga drawn by character designer Sadamoto Yoshiyuki) make the move to introduce him sooner. That includes Rebuild of Evangelion, where Kaworu first appears acting as if he’s been through all this before, and is determined to save Shinji this time around. Here, his actions amount to trying to spare Shinji the pain of the past—even going as far as ending his own life in Evangelion 3.33 to keep the blood off Shinji’s hands this time around. In Instrumentality, Shinji says that Kaworu reminds him of his dad, but in a positive way. Kaworu’s love is so powerful, yet he is literally a higher being to the point that it’s hard to tell how much is romantic and how much is angelic, or if that distinction matters to Kaworu at all. For his part, while that love is genuine, Kaworu made the mistake of thinking he wanted to make Shinji happy, but he himself was looking for happiness through Shinji.
But Kaworu is not the only minor character with major influence, and this requires me to talk about Makinami Mari Illustrious.
Mariand the Outside View
Rebuild of Evangelion is where Mari makes her introduction to the franchise as a whole, and her presence in the films can be puzzling. She’s another pilot, but her story is never explored in depth for three entire films. Yet, it turns out that she’s crucial to Evangelion 3.0+1.01, which drops a number of revelations about her.
Mari is revealed to actually be “Mary Iscariot,” and the name implies that she is both bringer of good and betrayer—though what she betrays (the gods?) is unclear. Mari is also shown in flashbacks as being a peer of Gendo and Yui’s, implying that she’s much older than she actually appears. I speculate that this means Mari was the first EVA pilot, but the importance of her age comes down to shifting expectations as to what her role truly is. It means she’s more mature than everyone else, and that—much like Asuka—it gives her a certain long-yet-decidely-human view that the others don’t have, not even Kaworu.
Mari is the one who fights on the “outside” while Shinji is warring with his dad on the “inside,” and the one who comes to bring back Shinji during Instrumentality. Notably, Mari is also the only one of the Children with whom Shinji does not have that final talk about their feelings, as if Mari simply doesn’t need it the way the others do. And at the very end, in a world without Evangelions, Shinji and Mari are older and romantically connected.
I’ve seen much criticism of Mari—that she’s a shameless marketing ploy, that she’s pointless, that she does too much or too little, and that she should not be the one with Shinji given how small her proverbial shadow is. But I think that—much like Kaworu—this is the point of Mari. Her role is that of the external force who brings a new perspective and can spark bits of change in people caught in a spiral. We think that major characters should do major things and minor characters should do minor things, but that’s our assumptions about storytelling.
Is Mari “Anno Moyoco”?
Anno Hideaki’s wife is manga artist Anno Moyoco (Anno is actually her maiden name, by coincidence, albeit written with different kanji), and the film makes a number of references to her. A poster for Sugar Sugar Rune shows up in the background, as does a physical copy of another series by Moyoco called Ochibi-san—and on the cover is Ochibi-san talking to a porcupine. Given that Shinji reflects so much of Anno, it’s easy to think that Mari is therefore based on Moyoco. Both Studio khara and Moyoco herself deny this, though.
I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s not so much that Mari is Moyoco, but that she’s based on her manga, or more specifically, the strength of Moyoco’s manga. In Moyoco’s thinly veiled autobiography about their married life, Insufficient Direction, Anno writes some illuminating commentary. He describes Moyoco’s works as consistently accomplishing what Anno never could: bring the reader back into reality from the fantasy of the story and leave them energized. Not only does Evangelion 3.0+1.01 feel like Anno finally getting it down, but Mari literally shows up to pull Shinji from disappearing into the work that is Eva. In another callback to NGE, Shinji and the world around him starts to break and the way down to initial outlines used in anime production, only to come back to full color once Mari arrives.
Rebuild Reflecting on the Past and the Future
Rebuild of Evangelion has different titles in Japanese: Evangelion: Jo, Evangelion: Ha, Evangelion: Q (Quickening), and Evangelion: :𝄂 (the musical symbol for repetition). The first three refer to the concept of jo-ha-kyu, a form of structuring found in Japanese music and noh theater. But given that it’s four parts, and the way these films have played out, I also find that they embody a different dramatic structure: kishoutenketsu.
Each film ties almost perfectly into one of the four sections. Evangelion 1.11 is the awakening (ki), largely following the events of the original NGE to tell audiences that this is indeed Eva but with some notable differences. Evangelion 2.22 is the development (shou), further extrapolating the consequences of those seemingly small changes. Evangelion 3.33 is the change or twist (ten), where what we thought we knew about Eva is turned on its head. And finally, Evangelion 3.01+1.01 is the conclusion (ketsu), seeing where the story goes after that shift in expectations. I can see even more clearly now why Evangelion 3.33 left so many concerned, because without that last part, we would have been left in the dark, perhaps worrying about whether the underlying message was full of hope or despair.
One of the old criticisms of the third film is that the way people attack and blame Shinji but don’t tell him what he did seems both like bad storytelling and unfair to Shinji himself, but with the added context of Evangelion 3.0+1.01, it feels different now. There’s a part in the final film where many of the side characters express their bitterness over Shinji’s actions 14 years ago leading to the death of their loved ones, but they also admit that they’re cognizant of the fact that Shinji also ended up saving them. He’s their “savior and destroyer,” as the movie puts it, and it’s impossible to stay rational when confronting a person like that.
From Shinji’s point of view, he arrives at a place where he doesn’t fear decisions or blame because he understands that paralysis in the quest for perfection is a trap, and he’s willing to take the lumps to make the world a better place for those he loves. Thus, Evangelion 3.0+1.01 ends up being a look at the past, present, and future. It encourages a renewed viewing of what came before, but doesn’t leave audiences trapped there, and shines new light to illuminate what was but also what could be.
I’ve made a couple of comparisons to Star Wars, and it doesn’t hurt that here, too, the son must face the father in a battle for the soul. Along this vein, another similarity is that both have new works meant to bring their franchises into current times. However, I find that Eva manages to succeed where Star Wars could not because the latter ended up being too intimidated by the potential for actual change. Episode IX, the final part of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, is a retreat into the comforting space of its own history and popularity. Evangelion, in stark contrast, forces the spotlight on its own influence and tells audiences to let them go if that’s what will help them heal.
Evangelion 3.0+1.01 is one of the most emotionally satisfying films I’ve ever seen, to the point that it goes far beyond the confines of cinema and animation. It’s as if Evangelion has grown up and found itself, and in many ways I find my own journey these past two decades and change reflected in the changes found in Shinji, Rei, Asuka, and the others. Rebuild of Evangelion ultimately feels like a reunion with old friends, catching up on where we’ve gone in life. And as we share our adventures and anecdotes, we can take mutual pride in the fact that we were able to find the will to do and experience so much. I understand that this sentiment is about as subjective an impression as it gets, given that not everyone who has watched or will watch Eva will have the same perspective, but I hope that those who are still lost might know that someone understands them.