When I posted my thoughts about Eva Q after seeing it raw in a Japanese theater last December, I opened with “What the heck did I just see?” After seeing the movie subtitled, I have two further thoughts on that. First, I sure as hell don’t blame myself for asking that question. And second, seeing it subbed doesn’t come remotely close to answering the question for me.
I’ll leave it to others to dissect the minutiae of the plot, because many of them are better at it than I would be and frankly, that was never the part of Evangelion that primarily interested me anyway. As I’ve said in prior posts on the franchise, NGE was really the anime that made me an anime fan. It was the series that opened my mind to the possibilities of what anime could be, and what it could tell us about the human condition. It was the psychological side of Eva I loved, the character deconstruction, and for my money it remains the most important anime of all-time.
Having now seen “Redo” subbed, I’m surprised at how little my overall impression of it has changed. I still find it to be too loud, too confused, too busy and almost entirely lacking in personal connection. I still find Mari to be irritating to the point of unwatchability. I still marvel at the animation and art, which despite the Studio Khara label is still the first thing I’ve seen that really looks like Gainax since Eva 2.0. And I still find myself wondering, more than ever in fact, about the question which I think is at the core of the Rebuild experience: was it really necessary?
If my standards for NGE are too high it’s only because, as I said, it holds a singular place in my anime development. So perhaps that question is really too high a bar to hold Anno Hideaki to, but even if it’s not fair it’s how I feel. I said in my review of the second Rebuild film that I don’t consider the original Eva to be a sacred text, and given that not only did Anno-sensei create the series he clearly poured his entire being into it (to the point of a nervous breakdown, in fact) so if he chooses to retell his story, he has every right. He’s already done so once, of course, with the End of Evangelion movies. I have strong feelings on those – I vastly prefer the TV ending, and it remains the most honest and poetic conclusion for me. I feel as if those movies were made for the wrong reasons, and in some sense perhaps I was hoping the Rebuild films would act as a sort of “righting the ship” by Anno. And the chance to see how a middle-aged Anno would see Ikari Shinji differently than the angry young man who created the character based on himself was a fascinating prospect.
I found the first two movies to have many worthwhile qualities, but the Rebuild series has been a good example of the Butterfly Effect in action. The first movie had only small changes, and felt a lot like watching the first 20 episodes of the TV series re-told with a huge budget. The second (for my money the best of the three so far) veered much farther away from canon, but retained a coherent and cohesive narrative, and in fact in some ways made changes that I felt improved on the original. First and foremost, Shinji was a much more forceful presence (much more, in fact, like the character in the manga adaption – which is arguably just as canon as the TV series, as it actually started running before the TV series aired – by the “other” Godfather of Eva, Sadamoto Yoshiyuki) and Rei was possessed of far more recognizably human emotions.
If I were to try and describe where I think “Redo” went off-track in as few words as possible, I would say that it seems to have forgotten that Evangelion is first and foremost a human story. But frankly, the narrative overall is quite a mess. 14 years have passed since the end of “You Can (Not) Advance” – though we get no explanation of that until well into the movie, and in fact much of it is spent leaving the audience to try and figure out just what the heck is going on. If any of the scenes in the preview from the end of 2.0 made it into this film, I can’t remember them – whether that means Anno’s ideas changed completely from the time 2.0 was finished, I don’t know – but there’s a scattershot, improvised quality to “Redo” that more than anything left me exhausted. The film feels like a non-stop string of big set-pieces with a pounding soundtrack that never ceases – indeed, the only respite being the extended sequence in the middle of the movie where Shinji bonds with Kaworu as they play duets on a product-placement Yamaha piano.
As for the cast, well – this being Evangelion and merchandising being what it is, we have to have a “Curse of Eva” that keeps the pilots from aging (I’ll give Anno the benefit of the doubt and call this an inside joke). Shinji has been holed up inside EVA-01’s plug suit and has no memory of that time. The new and improved Asuka – half the eyesight, twice the tsun – has a much larger role to play in this film than in the second. Mari is, regrettably, integral to pretty much every major action scene and just as insufferable and incongruous as ever. This time around it’s Rei who takes on the role of NGE stalwart largely forgotten in the script – she’s rarely on-screen, and completely lacking in personality when she is.
And what of Shinji? The irony here is that Shinji has indeed become a much more decisive and forceful person – and the results for humankind have been disastrous. 3.33 is pretty much a litany of everyone except Kaworu and Futsuyuki treating Shinji even more like shit than usual, including Misato. Shinji was apparently the cause of the Third Impact, and thus reviled by the survivors – including everyone in Misato’s new organization, WILLE, formed to do battle with Gendo and NERV and stop the Fourth Impact from happening at any cost, with the bio-ship Wunder at the heart of the struggle. Apparently that includes even Misato treating Shinji like he willfully caused the disaster and fitting him with a collar designed to give her the power to blow him up should he ever decide to pilot an EVA again. I can hardly blame Shinji for going with Rei (in her latest clone form) when she shows up to rescue him – I would have too, in his shoes.
In this sense, at least, “Redo” has a thematic consistency with Eva canon – Shinji is still eternally a tool of those around him, and yearns to assert some control over his life. He’s so desperate for some human kindness that it’s inevitable that he’s swept up in Kaworu’s wake after the latter treats him with consideration and respect. The ending of the film is really just as much a muddle as the rest of it – you can make your own interpretations, but what’s undeniable is that Shinji acted rather than hesitating, and seemingly nearly caused the Fourth Impact in the process. The cumulative effect of everything that happens is that I end up not really caring which side wins in the end. That never, ever happened in the TV version, where – depressing as it was – there was always a sense that there were at least some decent people trying to do the right thing. Rebuild has turned that into a tangle of interests pursuing their own selfish goals, with no real incentive to hope anyone succeeds. Even if Misato and her crew are trying to save humankind, she’s such an unrepentant bitch (and so is Asuka, frankly) that I can’t bring myself to feel anything for their cause.
At this point I can’t even begin to speculate what the fourth and theoretically final film will hold, or even when it might be released. There are preview scenes at the end of 3.33 but given what happened with the preview at the end of 2.0, there’s no reason to suspect any of them will have any relation to what’s actually in the final film. And hearing Mitsuishi Kotono as Misato deliver the preview narration in the “Sabisu, Sabisu!” style of the TV series, rather than being nostalgic, feels grotesque – because it serves as a reminder of all that’s missing from “Redo”. There’s no humor, no warmth, almost no personal connection at all – it’s no more like the Evangelion of those days than Misato is like the Katsuragi we came to know. This is Anno Hideaki’s story, and he has every right to re-tell it however he likes – but I sincerely hope that the final Rebuild film will offer both a spiritual connection to the original series, and a compelling reason – apart from commercial ones – for why this new series of films was necessary.
Preview (For What it’s Worth):