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.
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.
Once again, here are more interesting Kio Shimoku tweets for the past month. Not many drawings in July!
This is a small honor for me: Kio Shimoku quoted one of my tweets!
VIZ is releasing a Japanese Star Wars tribute artbook, and Kio’s work is in it. Kio mentions that his vision for his drawing was “What Kio Shimoku would like to draw.” The result is a bunch of Episode I characters.
Quoting this anatomy drawing, Kio recalls working on Kagerowic Diary. At the time, a friend asked him why he drew the girls with such muscular backs, and Kio’s response was that he just thought it’d be a good idea.
Kio announced the latest chapter of Hashikko Ensemble with a picture of Mai (good taste).
To fight off exhaustion, Kio went to the convenience store to buy a Red Bull only to discover that they have extra-long Red Bull cans now. Not only that, the long cans were actually sold out.
This is a tweet thread about Shin Evangelion. Because I haven’t seen this movie, I’m hesitating to translate it without proper context, but one thing Kio mentions is that he was really into the theory that Asuka and all the other characters from Evangelion Q were the characters from the old Death, Rebirth, and End of Evangelion films. I will probably revisit this once I’ve seen the film next month.
Kio is looking forward to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
He also likes—no, loves—KonoSuba.
In light of the death of Nasu Masumoto, the author of the Zukokke series of children’s books, Kio reminisces about his own experience reading them. He talks about how as a kid, they were the greatest: a mix of the real and the absurd that went between horror, fantasy, science fiction, and the everyday. He and his classmates would get caught up in imagining their own adventures.
These are tweets from mangaauthor Kio Shimoku from June 2021 that I found notable and informative. They include a number of early sketches from Genshiken, and his dreams of having a vacation home just for building model kits.
Genshiken and Related Drawings
Though he can’t quite remember, Kio presumes this is Ogiue practice from Genshiken. He thinks he made her too loli in these drawings.
Original Sue design from Genshiken. Kio thinks she comes across differently here.
Early Madarame. Kio thinks he captured the spirit of the character well. Character descriptions on the drawing include: close-cropped hair, thin, lolicon, high-energy, glasses, and likes fighting games. Originally, he was supposed to be the best at fighting games among the group, and his preferred main was Nakoruru from Samurai Shodown. The notes also describe him as being essentially the leader of the club despite being a second-year, and also that he likes to tease others.
(What I find interesting is that the fighting game skills went to Kohsaka, and that the character gained a lot more vulnerabilities in the actual manga. Those flaws are part of why people like Madarame, and here we see sort of what could have been.)
Ogiue autograph boards, the purpose for which Kio doesn’t remember.
By the way, if anyone has the actual final versions of these, I would like to make a deal.
A rough manuscript of a manga Kio was planning before Genshiken. It would have been an action series featuring magical sage powers (senjutsu).
The wife’s ex from Spotted Flower, crossdressing as part of a prank on the editor character.
Giant Robots and Model Kits
A custom design for a Zeong. Kio feels like he still doesn’t have what it takes to make this work.
A 20-year-old photo Kio took of a model kit he built. The robot is the L.E.D. Mirage from Five Star Stories, and the photo was taken with a non-digital camera. Airbrushing was probably involved.
Kio saw Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash. Even though the Universal Century timeline has been around for a long time, the film is full of imagery he’s never seen before: what first class looks like for civilian space travel, a military mess hall that’s like a food court, the terror of having to move around the legs of mobile suits in combat. He was glued to his seat while watching..
A 1/144 model kit of the Waff from Gundam: The Origin. It’s the only airbrushed Gundam model Kio has, and he likes how it’s small but still looks chubby.
Kio’s first tank model kit: the Panzer IV Ausf.D from Girls und Panzer. Kio mentions not really knowing how to do weathering, and that he used the darkest paint from the Waff on this kit as well. He also likes how sharp the details are.
The first thing that Kio thinks of when he sees the term “plastic model training camp” is Plamo Kyoushirou, the proto–Gundam Build Fighters manga. He recalls wanting to be like the characters taking the kit boxes out and saying, “I’m gonna make the Dougram!” and “I’ve got the Real-Type Zaku!”
After he became an adult, he started collecting them to his heart’s content. It’s why he wants an extra vacation home, so he can have room for all the kits—though actually, he has so many he can’t add any more. But model kits keep on evolving, and he wants to keep up.
Kio continues to describe his dream of a lodging just for model kits that would have all the equipment and features needed to build kits, and stacks of manga to read. Then, he and the others there would go out at night for drinks.
After someone mentions that the possibility is closer than he might think, the conversation mentions a Wonder Festival dealer named “Backyennew.” Kio responds that he knows this garage kit maker.
Responses to Other Works
Kio recalls this crossover drawing between different Shounen Sunday characters. After trying to remember what happens on the next page, a follower answers that it was a kind of fourth-wall breaking moment where they mention that the other manga authors said to do this.
Kio watched the anime film Pompo: The Cinéphile, and thinks it’s a really interesting movie. He talks about how important the editing process is, and recalls that back when he worked on Gonensei [The Fifth-Year], he tried to cram every idea in. For that reason, the progress the character Gene makes as a first-time director is impressive.
By the time of Genshiken, Kio knew how to edit down better, though he actually just took the cut material and turned them into extras in the collected volumes.
The director of Pompo, Hirao Takayuki, is happy that Kio “of Genshiken fame” tweeted about the film. Hirao says he read Gonensei, and that the pain from that manga is still with him today. Kio gives him a big thank-you, mentions how young and inexperienced he was at the time of Gonensei, and compliments Hirao for the highly technical edits. Kio also says the movie being shorter is a good thing, and that he still want so get the second half of the limited-edition extra booklets.
…And here he is with both extras.
Kio says that even though he only read a little bit, Uncle from Another Worldis a manga that made him think that he’d like to see it as an anime.
In order to get all the limited-edition goods, Kio went to see Shin Evangelion four times. The fourth time around, he felt he could just sit back and enjoy the movie.
Kio points out that this song, “Ame” (Rain) from “Mizu no Inochi” (The Life of Water) is mentioned in Volume 3 of Hashikko Ensemble.
Kio went to see this mini concert by the Oedo Coraliars. He was blown away by the harmonizing.
The story of Neon Genesis Evangelion is partly one of a creator who tapped into the zeitgeist of his viewers, who then began to travel along a path divergent from the very people that called themselves his fans. Anno Hideaki is not an isolated incident. Any time a creator makes a sequel and it’s considered to do more harm to the series than good by some (J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Tomino Yoshiyuki and Gundam), there’s a sense that ideas and sensibilities did not align as well as they could have.
Of course, fans are individuals too. What one might call the general fan reaction to something is akin to an aggregate or a median of all of the different values that exist, and one might even argue that there’s no such thing as a singular “audience” or “fandom.” However, I think that’s a significant contributing factor to why it’s so hard for so many characters to achieve great success more than once, why there are so many flashes in the pan. Even when they’re attempting to chase their audience and please them, it doesn’t necessarily work out as they might hope. How likely is it for one person to tap into the collective feelings of a group, and do so consistently over a period of years?
Love ’em or hate ’em, this I think this situation is why production by committee/audience testing exists. If you want lightning to strike twice, why not try to find out as much information as possible? Why not try to approach the group mindset with a smaller group of your own? It’s safer and arguably more reliable.
The issue with this approach is that it’s more likely to discourage risk and experimentation. This doesn’t mean it can’t ever result in strong works, but the Mr. Plinkett review of the current state of the Star Wars franchise explains it well. Disney knows exactly what the fans love about their beloved far, far away galaxy, and will keep tapping that well for as long as they find if feasible. These can be favorite characters, changing trends in how people perceive media (gender and racial diversity), or something else, but rarely would a work like this try to challenge or anger its audience.
This, I believe, is the danger zone that Anno saw all those years ago as fan response to Evangelion became one that encouraged an objectification and consumption of its characters. That conversation is more complex than this post is going to get into (and keep in mind that I’m not necessarily against either side), but it keeps me thinking about the divergence of creators and fans.
In an essay by Evangelion creator Anno Hideaki found in Gundam: The Origin Volume 1 (Aizouban Edition) titled “Celebrating the Revival of Gundam as Tale,” Anno argues that anime narratives in recent years have moved away from being “Tales” like the original Gundam. “Audiences have come to need work only as an escape from reality, as a comfortable dream, judging everything on the criterion of moe, while creators’ intellectual paucity and the jumble of trivial touches have encouraged that structure.” Referring to current anime and manga as “stagnant,” Anno laments the loss of the Tale in anime and manga, hoping that it can make a return, and even blames himself for contributing to this current state of anime. Thus, when considering the new Evangelion movies as “rebuilds,” I began to suspect that the films might be an attempt to bring the “Tale” back into Evangelion after its influence had broken down the concept in the first place. Although I was not aware of this perspective of Anno’s when I saw the original two movies, after viewing Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo I find that the Rebuild of Evangelion films, while not attempting something so simple and shortsighted as turning back the hands of time in order prove the superiority of Tales, are still revisiting Evangelion in such as a way as to try and address the differences between older and newer anime narratives, create a Tale appropriate for contemporary culture, and respond to current criticisms of youth culture.
At the beginning Evangelion 3.33, we see protagonist Ikari Shinji waking up 14 years in the future, in a time when much has changed. Shortly after Shinji’s revival, a fight breaks out and it turns out Shinji is aboard a ship called the Wunder, an airship with a powerful laser cannon powered by Shinji’s iconic robot, the EVA-01. As the battle ensues, a combination of characters we’re familiar with and characters entirely new shout about the status of the enemy, which weapons to use, and what strategic options are available, all while Katsuragi Misato stands at the bridge as a stoic and hardboiled captain ready to give orders at just the right time. Although this somewhat resembles depictions from previous films and the television series with the organization NERV and Shinji’s father Gendou at the helm, what this resembles even more is the most classic Tale in all of anime, Space Battleship Yamato. Substitute the EVA-01-powered laser for the Wave Motion Cannon and Misato for Captain Okita, and you more or less have a fight that wouldn’t look out of place in Yamato. Shinji is thrust not just into the future, but into what appears to be a completely different anime story structure.
Rather than simply making it the Tale of Shinji experiencing the simpler world of a Yamato-esque goal and the pieces surrounding it, however—Yamato was about traveling to a distant planet to retrieve an item which would help remove the radiation that had turned the Earth into an inhospitable husk—Evangelion 3.33 complicates the issue. While both Yamato and Evangelion 3.33 take place on a devastated Earth, for the latter it turns out that Shinji’s actions in the previous movie, when he finally stood up for himself and gained the self-activation he never had before, were the very cause of the planet’s current dire situation, the Third Impact. Shikinami Asuka Langley, who was injured in the last film when Shinji had control of his own EVA forcibly taken away from him, is alive and piloting, but shows absolute disdain for Shinji. Even the one goal he had set out to accomplish, rescuing Ayanami Rei from being absorbed by the enemy Angel, turns out to be a failure, as Rei’s body was never found, most likely absorbed by EVA-01’s cockpit after the two had fully synchronized with the EVA. Instead, what Shinji gets is a clone of Rei devoid of memories, an almost-unthinking soldier who can only follow orders.
This clone Rei in the third film (although technically all of the Reis are clones) is a strikingly powerful presence, acting as a strong argument against the classic criticisms of Ayanami Rei and the characters she has inspired. Typically, Rei is seen as an almost doll-like fetish object, an attractive girl with pale features and no personality whom men can sexualize as the “perfect” passive woman entirely subject to their desires. Here, in Evangelion 3.33, we get the truly subservient version of Rei, a character who is so passive she cannot even read a book without being ordered to do so, and the disturbing nature of this iteration of the character actually highlights just how much characterization and personal will is present in the base character of Ayanami Rei. “You don’t know what’s missing until it’s gone,” as the cliché goes, and the fact that a truly doll-like Rei is so bizarre and alien underlines the fact that Rei is defined not by her loss of humanity but by her pursuit of it. Rei ends the film seeing a gigantic grotesque version of herself and asking, “Is that me?” The titanic Rei acts as an uncanny juxtaposition and jars Rei into becoming self-aware, becoming the potential seed through which she can gain independent thought and conscience. Rei, who is arguaby seen as the classic example of a character whose various visual and narrative components appeal to the “database” mindset which Azuma Hiroki argued back in 1999 was increasingly common in a postmodern Japanese society, re-gains the ability to become part of a Tale which isn’t, a cohesive work which is at the same time complex and contradictory.
This is the narrative space in which Evangelion 3.33 takes place, and the result is that even though this film may appear to be another case of how nothing Shinji does ever goes right, it is not the same sort of internal trauma and pessimism which classically characterizes Evangelion. The depression Shinji suffers and shows in this film does get the closest to the type of introspection that Evangelion is famous for, but given not only the context of the previous films which feature a cast of characters more willing and able to communicate their pain to each other but also the difference in setting the 14-year shift provides in this film even those signature abstract angst moments take on a different set of meanings. Most notably, Shinji’s psychological paralysis is not the result of some indescribable fear or internal agony, but because of his own guilt. This can be seen in the bonding scenes with Nagisa Kaworu, the tragic character whose role in all previous versions of Evangelion has been to connect with Shinji on a level no other character had previously been able to before dying at Shinji’s own hands. Kaworu and Shinji’s relationship takes on a somewhat different dynamic, as Kaworu helps to bring Shinji to a place of conviction already familiar to him from the previous film.
Instead, a different tragedy occurs, as Kaworu’s plan—to co-pilot the new EVA-13 with Shinji in order to fix the world ravaged by the Third Impact—is undermined by the fact that NERV and Gendou have replaced one of the key items capable of restoring the world, instead leading it to a further apocalypse. Kaworu realizes the difference and tries to stop Shinji, but Shinji is so intent on correcting everything that he fails to register Kaworu’s hesitation and he ends up falling for Gendou’s plot. The scene again looks to be another case of Shinji failing, but given everything else shown up to this point, I find that it draws attention not so much to Shinji’s individual suffering, but to the world around Shinji. Whether Shinji follows his own will or whether he listens to others, he still creates disaster, but this Shinji is, again, a more active Shinji whose problem is not that he’s “unwilling” to help, but that his surrounding environment has forced him into unwinnable situations. Appropriately, this time around Kaworu dies, but not directly because of Shinji.
Shinji’s plight in Evangelion 3.33 mirrors the recent criticisms used against youth culture by media appealing to older generations. Whether inside or outside of Japan, the current generation is seen as a group of selfish good-for-nothings who want and expect everything handed to them, instead of knowing the value of sacrifice and hard work. Whether they’re referred to as “NEETs” or “Generation Me,” Shinji and Evangelion 3.33 bring to attention the idea that, while we can place blame on them, the previous generations are not absolved of blame; the world the children inherit is the world given to them.
Ultimately, I find that the Rebuild of Evangelion films are trying to create a Tale similar to Yamato and Gundam, but in a way which is consciously trying to take into account the era in which we live. At the end of Evangelion 3.33, Shinji is once again emotionally distraught and paralyzed over the horrible consequences of his actions, when Asuka literally drags him out of his cockpit and tells him that he can’t simply sit still. Rei joins them. The previous two films had already established that the characters were able to bridge the emotional gaps they were unable to overcome in the original television series, and though the space of 14 years after the Third Impact had bred in Asuka a deep resentment and anger towards Shinji, that one scene shows how the connection is still there. My prediction for the “Tale of Evangelion” as expressed by the four films is thus: 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.
I’ve been revisiting Neon Genesis Evangelion lately and have come to appreciate it in ways that I hadn’t before. While I always found the show to be especially good at showing the deep-seated fears and emotions within the characters to the point that they feel almost tangible, I’ve begun to take note of how well the characters’ words and actions exemplify their personalities.
One example that stands out in my mind comes from Episode 19, the famous episode where EVA-01 goes berserk and eats the enemy angel, Zeruel. When Zeruel descends upon Tokyo-3, it is first met by a barrage of artillery fire from Asuka and her EVA-02, just weapon after weapon after weapon, with Asuka getting progressively angrier until she is defeated. Rei then appears, her EVA-00 missing an arm, and charges at Zeruel with a powerful bomb with the plans to detonate it at point blank range. Later, right before Zeruel can attack the staff of NERV, Shinji bursts through and engages in melee combat, then loses power, then goes berserk. What I’ve come to realize is that the way each character fights in that scene represents them incredibly well, acting as more than just a visual spectacle.
Asuka is always looking to prove her self-worth, particularly as a pilot and as compensation for her traumatic childhood, and her desperation mounts increasingly as more and more weapons are deployed by the EVA-02. This loud, brash display of firepower is Asuka.
From the way everyone else reacts to seeing Rei carry the N² Mine, it is clear that no one knew of this beforehand, which means that the idea is entirely her own. Rei, who constantly questions whether or not she is human at all, has very little regard for her own life.
Shinji fights with a form of desperation different from Asuka’s, and as one of his core traits is a vague sense of self-identity, Shinji’s close combat perhaps shows his desire to gain an identity through the piloting of EVA-01. This also differs from Asuka because Shinji is not looking to prove himself, but rather to find himself. It might also be possible to say that the berserk scene itself shows Shinji’s tendency to be pulled along, though I’m not sure about that one.
I think the best indicator for how much this particular moment in Evangelion represents the inner feelings of its characters comes from a comparison to the redone scene in the second Rebuild of Evangelion movie. In it, Mari replaces Asuka in EVA-02 for the film’s iteration, and the fight begins in a similar fashion, with EVA-02 surrounded by firearms which Mari initially uses one after the other. However, the scene itself feels remarkably different. Mari uses each weapon more slowly and deliberately, never really reaching the intensity that Asuka did in the TV series, and after only a few decides to run in up close with a melee weapon. The method Asuka used is something only Asuka can do; it would not reflect Mari’s character.
As for Rei and Shinji, their changes highlight more of a subtle shift in character, a fundamental part of the new films. Rei, just like the original, attempts to defeat Zeruel by detonating a bomb at point-blank, but in this version Rei takes the time to push Mari and the EVA-02 out of the blast radius while thanking her, showing that her actions do not simply stem from doubting her own humanity but from also affirming the humanity of others. Shinji’s fight is initially similar, but as I once mentioned in my review of the film, Shinji never loses control, the “berserk” EVA-01’s actions conscious and deliberate on the part of Shinji. While he still seeks his own identity, he is able to set that aside to save Rei, establishing a stronger identity in the process.
I’d like to actually end by talking about Mari once more, because as I was making this comparison I realized the role she plays relative to the others in terms of their relationship to the Evangelions. Asuka pursues self-worth, Shinji self-identity, and Rei a connection to humanity, but Mari seeks pleasure in the act itself. She revels in being an EVA pilot in and of itself, with no seeming underlying motivation except perhaps some strange desire to experience life to its fullest. Her “bestial” fighting style, even before she activates the actual “THE BEAST” mode, is indicative of this. That Evangelion is able to cut to the core of its characters in even its action scenes makes it truly impressive.
I watched Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance over the weekend and I have a whole smattering of thoughts to put down on the subject. It’ll be part-review, part-editorial, and it will contain a ton of spoilers, so watch out.
Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance is the second of four movies whose purpose is to retell the story of Studio Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most influential works ever in anime history. Fueled by hindsight and merchandise profits, Rebuild brings it all back while taking into account changes that have occurred in the world and in anime since the original series ended back in the 90s.
The basic premise of Evangelion is that a cataclysm in the early 21st century has left most of the world unpopulated. Ikari Shinji, a quiet, passive teenager, is tasked with defeating otherworldly monsters known as “Angels” through the use of unusually organic-looking robots called “Evangelions.” However, his nature and personality make him perhaps the least qualified person in the world to be engaging in battle, let alone defending the Earth. He is supported by the organization NERV, which houses the Evangelions as well as his fellow pilots, the mysterious, stoic Ayanami Rei and the aggressive and competitive Sohryu Asuka Langley.
The idea seems fairly simple, but Evangelion would eventually become a whirling dervish of emotional trauma and introspection that sucks you into the characters’ thoughts and fears, and that characteristic of the series is by far its main strength, and according to some, also its main weakness.
Shinji especially is a pile of neuroses and doubts, which can make him an aggravating main character but also establishes him as quite a bit of an “anti-protagonist.” In watching the first Rebuild of Evangelion movie I found myself unable to engage Shinji, as they tried to build him up to have just an ounce more confidence and determination, but failed to spend enough time on his inner thoughts. His change of heart at the end of the movie comes so suddenly that it rings false to some extent as a result. Luckily, You Can (Not) Advance solves this problem with grace and artistry, which is to say, I liked this second movie. Now on to why.
While the movie opens with a fight between brand new character Makinami Mari Illustrious and an equally brand new Angel, I feel like the movie truly “begins” with the scene immediately after. Here, Shinji and his father Gendou, who is also the head of NERV, are at the grave of Shinji’s mother. Prior to the first movie, father and son had not seen each other in years, and so their relationship is justifiably awkward. Walls have been erected towards each other. However, here at the grave of Ikari Yui, both show that the walls are not absolute, that they are willing to express their feelings towards each other, if only briefly.
While Evangelion has always been about humans relating to one another, this idea of taking just that one tiny step towards trying to connect with others is what really sets apart the Rebuild of Evangelion from the original TV series. The characters aren’t significantly different from who they were in previous incarnations, but by attempting to reach out to others they encourage others to do the same as well, which keeps everyone from retreating into the comforting shell of personal insecurity. Ayanami Rei is seemingly without personality in the first film, and could have very well remained that way, but Shinji is able to reach out to her. In turn, in this film when Asuka (now sporting the surname “Shikinami”) confronts Rei and accuses her of being a “doll,” Rei is able to reply that she is not, but more importantly tries to help Asuka, who she sees as being much more human than herself and thus able to foster relationships outside of their “work.”
I really became aware of this element when Rei invites Shinji and Gendou to dinner to try and have them grow closer (or perhaps less distant). Amidst all of the talk of Angels and Human Instrumentality, I began to care a little more about this dinner, as I felt it skirted closer to the heart of the movie than anything else. The film follows a minor variation of themotto for success from another Gainax work, Gurren-Lagann, “Believe in me who believes in you.” Everyone is portrayed as a thinking and feeling being, even the Angels, who are not one-trick ponies but instead contain backup plans which are augmented by contingencies, hinting at the idea that they have brains underneath those monstrous facades.
The dinner ends up being canceled, as a disaster leads to Asuka and her new experimental Evangelion being possessed by an Angel. Shinji is sent out to fight the compromised EVA, but cannot act out of fear of hurting Asuka. Despite Shinji’s protests however, Gendou is able to override his controls, causing Shinji’s unit to go on auto-pilot and crush the Angel, with Asuka still inside. Shinji is justifiably upset at the whole ordeal, but what he curses most is that he ended up doing nothing. When Shinji is faced with a similar situation again, this time with Rei being the one at risk, Shinji is determined to not repeat the same mistake. Even if something terrible happens as a result, it’s better than having stayed on the sidelines.
The final scene of the movie mirrors one of the most famous scenes in Evangelion, that of Shinji falling unconscious and the EVA rampaging out of control, ultimately leading to it consuming the Angel in an orgy of violence and “evolving.” In this instance however, Shinji does not fall by the wayside and instead is fully in control. His desire to do something and make a difference where he once could not causes the EVA to transcend into a god-like state, visually captured by the movement and posture of the EVA. Neither hunched like normal, nor craven like when berserk, this divine manifestation stands with shoulders apart and head raised, as if to say that it has transcended into another level of existence. Its movements are steady and deliberate, with a clearly conscious mind behind them. In the end, Shinji is able to succeed because he has grown as a person with the help of those around them, who were themselves made better by knowing Shinji.
Whether or not I like this more than the original TV series is still up in the air, but seeing as there is so much to this film, so much to discuss and address, I am quite surprised that so much of the discussion going on about You Can (Not) Advance tends to be rather lacking. Instead of exploring the characters in-depth or talking about themes and story, the conversation revolves around talking about whether or not Asuka is tsundere, the levels of fanservice in the film, and how much merchandise the whole thing generates, as if to say that the movies do not contain any merit beyond being cash grabs. Why is that? I understand that Evangelion, being the classic it is, has been discussed to high heaven by anime fans the world over, but I don’t think any of us are too cool for school that we cannot bring about that fervor again.
Actually, a better way to put it would be to say that people seemingly do not allow the discussion to move beyond the idea that Rebuild of Evangelion is tapping into that pool of devoted fans. It is doing that of course, but no one ever said that they cannot still put heart and effort into the whole project.
I don’t know if it’s just from the media I’ve watched, but over the past four years or so I feel like there’s been this steady increase in a certain kind of nostalgic sequel/remake. These are different from your A-Teams and your Transformers movies and such, where the works are designed to tap into fond childhood memories and bring them screaming into the modern age; they’re more about addressing the previous work more directly, whether as a sequel or as a remake or in some hybrid form.
The first example that pops into my mind is Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the classic series about an underdog boxer, while more recently Toy Story 3 gives off a similar vibe. Anime is no exception, either. The Rebuild of Evangelion movies, while acting as a story reboot, also feel like direct responses to what came before them.
In all of these cases, it is as if there was some unfinished business left by the previous work which the original creators felt needed addressing, something simply beyond “the last thing made some mistakes.” For Rocky Balboa, it was a combination of Rocky V being a terrible way to end the saga of the Italian Stallion and Stallone himself realizing how old he was getting. With Toy Story 3, it seems like Pixar realized just how many years it’s been since the original Toy Story came out and wanted to bring it back one more time and use it to address both the people who grew up on those movies and Pixar itself and talk about growth and change and passing things on to a new generation. And the new Evangelion movies take the raw material of the original series, puts it through the lens of a decade and a half of anime post-Evangelion, and uses it to try to more deeply explore the relationships between the characters, to talk about all of the new concerns that have cropped up in Japanese society since then.
Again, I don’t know if it’s just that I’m at the age to really notice this sort of thing, or if it’s that this generation of adults is especially keen on discussing the topic of change and resolution, but I can’t help but feel that it could be a defining feature of this time period in creative entertainment.