Director: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Katsuichi Nakayama, Mahiro Maeda
Screenplay: Hideaki Anno
Production company: Studio Khara
Streaming on: Amazon Prime
‘If you’ve seen anime, you’ve seen the impact of Neon Genesis Evangelion’. I remember brushing off this statement as nothing more than the melodramatic ravings of fans that never grew up. Really, just how does a 90s anime from the mecha genre (giant robots fight giant monsters) come to influence franchises I’m thoroughly invested in some twenty years later? I recall it was this abject cynicism that drove me to eventually put Evangelion to the test. And today, watching the final Evangelion film that will ever be made, I can’t thank the cynic in me enough.
Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (released earlier this year and now streaming on Amazon Prime) is the fourth and final film in the Rebuild of Evangelion series, that tells an alternate version of the original 26 episode anime that aired in 1995. To understand what’s so special about the film requires a bit of context, so it’s best watched after familiarising oneself with the original’s legacy.
The original Neon Genesis Evangelion had a premise not too different from any other mecha anime. Fourteen year old Shinji Ikari is summoned to meet his long estranged father, only to learn he has been chosen to pilot an Evangelion, humanity’s sole weapon effective against the monstrous ‘angels’ driving them to extinction. However, what at first might look like a generic action packed robo-monster smackdown is anything but. Rather, it’s merely the setting for an intense psychological and philosophical introspection into loneliness, depression and what it means to be human. These are subjects that are shied away from in a medium that, until then, was considered only suitable for kids.
I remember watching the anime for the first time and thinking, “Wow, I don’t get it at all. And yet, somehow, it just hits different.”
A single watch certainly wasn’t enough to grasp all it had to offer. A story not so much with characters, but with real, broken people, weighed down by trauma, questioning their identity and existence. Whether it was Shinji’s acute fear of getting close to people and being vulnerable, or Asuka’s pathological distrust of others, I found I could see pieces of myself in these characters. Their struggles gave me, someone who has never suffered depression, an insight into what it might be like for those who do. Indeed, even back then, characters like Asuka and Rei captured hearts so strongly they practically redefined what it meant to fall into the Tsundere and Kuudere character types. Many otakus today won’t even accept a Tsundere unless she sports Asuka’s hot-and-cold personality and pigtails, or a Kuudere unless she sports Rei’s bob cut and emotionless, doll-like demeanour. That’s how influential these characters still are.
But if there’s one thing the original Evangelion called criticism to, it was its conclusion. The last two episodes of the anime dropped the mecha setting entirely, as Shinji went on an almost psychedelic introspection of his own thoughts and feelings. While many maintain this conclusion is a work of art, just as many others point to it being a result of the production running out of time and budget. Even the subsequent film End of Evangelion, which provided an alternate conclusion, left fans with mixed feelings. Some called it masterful, others found it too cerebral and depressing.
So despite having two separate conclusions, fans, including myself, still lacked a sense of closure. Hence the hype and hopes pinned on the Rebuild series. And it’s fourth and final film is everything we could have asked for.
It follows the events immediately after the heartbreaking end of the third film. Having nearly triggered the apocalyptic ‘4th impact’, and following Kaworu’s sacrifice to stop it, Shinji walks across the wasteland he created alongside Asuka and Rei, seeking the nearest surviving village. His spiral of depression, at being manipulated by his father and the consequences of his actions, only grow worse with each passing moment. In the meantime, his father (winner of the anime’s worst dad award) continues to orchestrate events, pushing the world towards the 4th and final impact.
The story is packed with both guns-blazing action and surreal, dreamlike sequences. True to Evangelion, there will be moments when they leave your head itching a little… The artwork is vibrant and arresting. Each red, ruined landscape, or softly bubbling stream, make the care and attention to detail lavished upon this world evident. And its residents, down to the last supporting character, all make their presence felt, pulling you into their lives and making this dystopian world feel real and lived in. By popular demand, the original English voice cast was brought back for the lead characters, including Spike Spencer (Shinji), Amanda Winn Lee (Rei), Tiffany Grant (Asuka) and Allison Keith-Shipp (Misato). Each deliver performances pregnant with emotion, where every battle cry and broken sob resonate painfully.
The strength, and emotional impact of the film, however, makes itself known in one of its quietest moments. Rei, having lived her entire life secluded from the outside world and raised only to follow orders, finds herself sheltered by a kind family. Social recluse that she is, even the meaning and intention behind phrases like ‘good morning’ are a complete mystery to her. But when her time with them draws to a close, Rei can only leave behind a letter, conveying the entirety of her emotions and experience in the outside world with the words: “Good night, Good morning, Thank you, Goodbye”.
It’s moments like this that remind me why I fell in love with Evangelion. Indeed, the film itself is akin to a sweet parting letter to its fans, as evidenced in its trailer and theme song One Last Kiss. And to me, this film is special, because in Shinji’s character you can see glimpses of creator Hideaki Anno’s own personal growth: from suffering crippling depression during the production of the original anime, to gaining a measure of love and self-acceptance all these years later. Now with him moving on from the franchise, it marks a ‘neon genesis’, a new beginning, for all of us who were along for the ride.
It’s a rare privilege to bid farewell to a story that has changed you as a person and shaped the industry you’ve grown to love. To which, a little bittersweet, I can only repeat Shinji’s own parting words: “Goodbye, all Evangelions”.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.