Note: This was written on January 12, 2014, prior to my moving to WordPress.
Allow me to preface this review by admitting my own bias; Neon Genesis Evangelion is my favorite anime; movies, manga, and Rebuild all included. And I fully acknowledge that this is not entirely earned- there are much better anime out there (as well as much worse), but I’m just insane, and Eva satisfies that. Alright? Good.
Anyone familiar with both the Rebuild films and the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series knows that, for the most part, the Rebuild so far has just been a retelling of the same story with updated animation, and some minor plot changes. It’s worked fine up until now since the first half of NGE was never the part people had a problem with, but the ending of 2.0 pretty much promised a complete overhaul for the second half. And 3.0 delivered.
The primary change is that, after attempting to save Rei and activating the S2 engine at the end of 2.0, Shinji fell into a non-conscious state inside Unit-01, and wasn’t retrieved (or, it seems, rebuilt) until fourteen years later, with no sense of anything that happened in that time. The problem is, a LOT happened in that time.
The first big change is that a new organization, WILLE (German for “will”), now exists and is in direct confrontation with NERV. It seems to be under the direct command of Misato Katsuragi, and has only two combat Eva Units, which are piloted by Asuka and Mari. Though it is said to be in opposition to NERV, the group also fights what appears to be an Angel.
So, if it wasn’t already clear, this is (not) at retelling. That said, it also doesn’t forget about the story elements from the second half. A lot of dedicated Eva fans will see parallels to the original series scattered along this new path, as well as some not-so-subtle nods to The End of Evangelion that add up to be pretty important story points rather than just fan-service references.
In fact, 3.0 gravitates quite a bit towards End of Eva not just in that it acknowledges its existence but also in its style. It’s certainly still closer to the two previous Rebuilds, but it definitely feels like it’s going towards the same places as the later episodes over the original. There’re some cliché script choices early on, and a lot of new lore, that give it this air fantasy non-sense, but that all still appeared in the part of the original Eva people liked, and, like then, it fits in fine here and actually does a lot to pump new ideas into the franchise.
Despite the links to End of Eva, 3.0 is not the Rebuild’s answer to it. There’s still one more movie to go here, and that’ll be the big finale. 3.0 is just the set-up.
Shinji’s character arc pretty much mimics the original Evangelion at this point. He bit by bit has his reality shattered, while learning that everything good he’s tried to do has failed and now he’s useless to the people he wants to protect. He only manages to cope because of his friendship with Kaworu and the healing power of amazing homoerotic piano playing (sadly the shower scene where Kaworu tries to get Shinji in bed with him does not make an appearance).
There is one new element this time around. One that you’d think would be pretty cataclysmic for Shinji. But really it’s just more of the same, putting more guilt on Shinji’s shoulders to the same affect.
Overall, Rebuild continues to rehash this character arc, but better. It makes his role in things much clearer, both to him and the audience, and makes his motivations more understandable.
As for Asuka, the Rebuilds continue to treat her well, making her very much the star of action scenes and emotionally sturdier than in the original, without lessening her character depth. In fact, in her early scenes she comes off as more interesting than before, having grown up a lot over the last fourteen years (yet somehow looking the exact same, and this is briefly addressed) to be more restrained and less whiny, but no less fun to watch. It’s like they added a gruff old cop and an abandoned bride layers to her character. And of course there’s the eye patch. Simply said, it looks cool and is probably hiding a few secrets to come out in the next film.
Unfortunately, after the early scenes, she only ever shows up to fight. She gets to be the super cool Eva pilot every Eva fan has fantasized about (don’t lie), but there’s not much character in that. She and Mari are basically Dr. Eggman’s two robot lackeys for the majority of the movie, with the exception that they’re actually entertaining. Which is really a shame since Mari’s still a bit of a mystery.
Of course the biggest appearance of all goes to Kaworu. After being shoehorned into just one episode in the original, Ginax was careful to integrate him properly this time. His handful of appearances in the previous films really didn’t serve any purpose other than the studio saying “Don’t worry, we’ll remember him this time”, and that they did.
Though a lot of things about him and his role in this story are still unclear, he does have a lot of presence and is able to come off as a character instead of just a plot device. His relationship with Shinji has enough time to develop for it to be believable, his own motives are clear, and he actually has some range of emotions. Also there’s one scene where he and Shinji are talking and it suddenly cuts to him in laying on his side obviously trying to flirt with Shinji… it’s just amazing.
As for the rest of the characters, they’re mostly unchanged. A lot of the minor ones have been dropped, and a couple new ones appear, most notably Sakura Suzuhara, Toji’s younger sister, who now works for WILLE.
The four important ones, Gendo, Misato, Ritsuko, and Fuyutsuki all appear, and among them Fuyutsuki oddly gets the most focus, with Ritsuko on the opposite end of the spectrum. I doubt she’ll ever get her character arc in Rebuild, since this series is clearly try to appeal to a larger audience, and there’s just no way of getting all that baggage into the last film cleanly.
As for the other three, Gendo and Misato are mostly unchanged, and Fuyutsuki has pretty much said all he’s going to, capping his character off. Misato is still very tough on Shinji but also cares about him, and still charges into suicide missions with so-crazy-it-just-might-work plans. And Gendo’s blood is still cold enough that it could be used in a liquid cooling system strong enough for an eva.
Evangelion 3.0 has something for every Eva fan. It continues the Rebuild storyline with the same animation quality and action sequences that we’ve come to expect. It ties in elements from The End of Evangelion that dedicated fans can enjoy. It’s got the same bad-ass Asuka that End of Eva teased, now accompanied by Mari. For fans of Rei who think she could use just a little less personality, you’re covered. It’s got the magnificent bastard himself, Gendo, at his finest. It’s got more giant robots, and that has yet to ever be a bad thing. And, my personal favorite, it has enough homo-erotic tension between Kaworu and Shinji to make you scream “Just fuck already!” (come on Gendo, you know people would pay to see it!)
But it’s really only for Eva fans. One of the great things about the earlier Rebuild movies was that someone could watch them with no previous knowledge of the franchise, and though it’s certainly possible to continue into this installment that way, it’s just not as enjoyable. Neither Rei nor Kaworu are ever satisfyingly explained, nor are “impacts”, nor is Yui, yet all of these appear here, along with new things that aren’t getting answered until 4.0.
Obviously, if you’re a longtime Eva fan and are already familiar with the old and new, you don’t need me to tell you to watch 3.0. But if your only experience with Evangelion is the Rebuilds, then it’s a bit tougher. If you like it for the cool action or characters, and don’t care too much about the story, then watch it. It looks really cool and most of the characters will make enough sense. But if you are interested in the larger world of Eva and want to get the most out of the story, I would recommend checking out the original series and The End of Evangelion before watching 3.0. It’s annoying that familiarization with the franchise comes up two movies in, but there’re enough throwbacks and parallels that anyone wanting to get the most out of this movie (and presumably 4.0 as well) should be familiar with the original.
Anyway, that’s Evangelion 3.0. With one film left to go, nothing to do by hope they don’t screw with use again. Please PLEASE not again, Ginax.