Bridging The Gap: Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo – That’s A Bummer…

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When we last left Tokyo-3, the world had suddenly reached critical mass as one Shinji Ikari took it upon himself to break the confines of possibility to rescue a thought-lost Ayanami, to the impending destruction of all around them. But alas, Third Impact is thwarted by the surprise appearance of one Kaworu Nagisa, who contends that this time, it is he who will grant the always hapless Ikari “Happiness”. Flash forward, and Ikari is now at the center of a spectacular rescue in orbit by Mari, and a now one-eyed, and very much alive Asuka. It is after this that Ikari comes to realize that he had been in suspended animation for roughly eleven years, and that the world and friends he once knew have taken an almost completely new tack. With the newly-formed organization, WILL-E, Misato, Ritsuko, the lieutenants, and the rest have taken it upon themselves to rebel against Shinji’s ever resolute father’s still forging-ahead NERV. And this is far from all, the boy’s role in what could have spelled the end for all involved has made for some startling new revelations involving his choices, and everything he holds dear.

Only made worse by the turn that he may have in fact, done all of this before..

Enter Evangelion: Shin Gekijyoban “Q”, part three of the four-part Rebuild Of Evangelion film series.

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Things I Liked About Evangelion 3.0
1. The Bold Setting

The choice to break completely free from the confines of the familiar is among one of the most exciting things about the whole affair. It’s no secret that this is very much what has kept me most involved in these films since 2007. If there is anything that Evangelion has successfully offered up in regards to lasting impressions, it’s in the design works of the world, its characters, and the overall texture. And in the case of Q, we have a bounty of spaces and ideas to play within during its running time. While the previous two largely flirted with bringing the design aesthetics into The Oughts, there was still quite a bit of retro-future still working as a mid-1990s filter for consistency. And here, we get ships, buildings, entire geographic structures & machines with an almost fine art feel coming off of it from nearly every frame. It, along with the film’s aggressive editing all proves intense to the point of fetishistic at times, and often dizzying to absorb in one sitting. Q wants to be an explosion of pure-anime nuance, and while other elements may lack, it is here that the film impresses.

2. The Animation

Since the film was delayed a few times during its troubled production, there are action sequences here that are about as dumbfounding in their animated prowess that it could only have been made by obsessives. From the disorienting, and eye-raping rescue sequence at the opening, to the bizarre finale, there are details that will perplex, and perhaps inspire those into the integration of computer, and old fashioned cel animation. Cameras do the impossible, while titans and aliens clash, leaving little to chance. Clearly, extra time was devoted to making this an ultimate demo reel for some very talented artists under Anno & Tsurumaki’s wings. It’s like Disney on a bad trip.

3. Shiro Sagisu’s Score

With sounds ranging from the operatic, to the quietly emotional. Sagisu unleashes his greatest arsenal here, while not forgetting what I consider to be major characters in the Evangelion universe, the lone piano and brass. It’s clear from the offset, that this is Evangelion with all the stops ripped out as familiar themes(From even more Gainax/Anno collabs- As 2.22 contained a lot of Kare Kano, there is a lot more updated non-Eva stuff this time. )  weave into some truly evocative refrains, and updates to previous movements. The addition of electronic pulsing, raging guitar, and the return of the lonely analog sounds from the original series makes for a bit of an emotional ride outside of the film. It’s easy to see how many rushed to catch the film in theatres just for the packaging alone.

 4. The Promise Of Upping The Ante (Between Generations)

The idea that one generation of Evangelion seems primed to duel it out with the previous is a compelling impetus for this series. Q is the unveiling of a deep divergence, and as such, it surely has the feel of creators more than ready to take their classic into uncharted territory. The challenge (of course), is figuring out how it can rival the original whilst making a name for itself by itself.

5. The Cast

As always, one of the biggest highlights of the Evangelion franchise is the cast. And here, there’s zero exception as everyone brings their game to the event. Still shocks me to this day how much Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, and Yuko Seki still sound their parts after all these years.

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What I Didn’t Like?

Just about everything else..

Let’s call this as it all really has been, a battle of wills (both for and against) between father and son.

To the complaints that immediately arose from early screenings, on one hand, they seem to be right on the mark declaring the film overwrought and more than a little strange considering all that had come before. On the other, I can see what was the creative germ was for such a choice. To do away with the TV series’ voice-over therapy session, and to present Shinji in a world that literally doesn’t need him, is a conceptually visceral one. It’s only that when the film is tasked with giving us more in regards to the whys, hows, and whos, that the whole thing feels less like a continuation of the series, and more like a crew yearning to do something else.  It attempts to be the more contemplative section to the series, but frankly isn’t patient enough to follow through. Rebuild Of Evangelion, if taken as a four-section story, we are at what is meant to be gap between the second and third acts (often known as “triumph of the villain”, with Shinji being his own worst enemy), and as such, it requires some much-needed information regarding the world we are now in, and the status of all the major characters. And even though Shinji’s meeting and subsequent burgeoning relationship with the ever mysterious Kaworu Nagisa is given a fair amount of coverage, there is nowhere near enough granted to anyone else. Things just happen, and we’re expected to follow along without any real context.

In all fairness, the setting choice is something that Anno & Tsurumaki have tackled before. In fact, thrusting the world forward near the finale is something of a GAINAX staple that goes all the way back to Top Wo Nerae!’s last two episodes. Even Imaishi’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan resorts to this flash-forward technique. (Sagisu’s gargantuan renditions of tracks first used in the latter section of Fushigi No Umi No Nadia should prove to be the largest tip-off) This is perhaps the first time in which it is employed with Shinji’s (and in turn, some fans’) villification in mind. Instead of discussing his neuroses, and legendarily touchy relationship with his reality, we are dropped willy-nilly into a world that  is the polar negative of the one he chose to undo, thereby illustrating his growing need to become something he had such a hard time grappling with back in the original timeline. It’s a purgatory of his own making, and the entirety of 3.0 is merely a shallow representation of it, punctuated by two grand scale action pieces that seem far more interested in the engineering wizardry of the staff than in telling a comprehensible story. The machine fetishization leven in these sequences are so detailed, and even surreal that while all of it unfolds, one realizes that so much more story could have been covered. (shades of STEAMBOY) There is even this lingering feeling that this was not the film as initially planned. The whole affair feels like a troubled production, real-life natural disaster notwithstanding.

Another film that comes screeching to mind, is Back To The Future II, which also dealt largely with awakening to a parallel world that houses the protagonist’s worst possible fears. In the world of Evangelion, even doing nothing remains a choice. And what we have here is the end result of several iterations, temporal choices that have led to this point where virtually every road going forward presents unwelcome consequences. The caveat here, is that there is no simple Macguffin with which our heroes can find themselves out of this bizarro realm.

Another of the most important casualties this series of films has yet to avert, has been that of the characters. While many might point out that with a film, it is expected that many would get short shrift in the name of pacing, it troubles me that so much of these movies offer up so much time to action, and so much less about character motivation, and expect spectacle to compensate. In classic summer movie fashion, this is rarely to never the case. And with a story as often technical and operatic as Evangelion, it’s a little sad to see such a rich cast get whittled down to a mere series of inflated cameos. It doesn’t help that everyone’s motivations have been changed without us understanding anything, but it only gets worse as new crises keep coming up, offering up very little in the way of consequence, or hint as to where these new aims are coming from.

The biggest offender of this is in the character of Mari, who has been fun to watch in action, but since her introduction in 2.0, has yet to show any agency but to be another figure to sell to the maniacal. With small hints, leading to a bizarre speech last time, to merely playing support to eyepatch Asuka, we continue to get nothing about her and her role in the greater scheme. While some fans may wish to point out that there is one more movie, to not do this in TWO films is pretty suspect. It only makes her look that much more superfluous. It’s pure pander-bait, and not the kind of thing one does in a big film series that seeks to be both grand and personal.

And speaking of pandering, this is pretty much where much of the biggest issues I have with Q reside. Instead of offering up a more dramatically sound summation of where Shinji has led us and his friends astray, once our lead meets the ever-angelic Kaworu along with a strange-behaving Ayanami with NERV, the film almost screeches to a complete stop–for fujoshi-baiting of the most egregious kind. From their initial meeting, to the beautifully animated piano duet, the oozing of the doujinshi-fueled grue puts the off-putting product-placement to complete shame. Had they figured out how to integrate their meeting with more actual story from both sides of this newfound conflict, it all might have been fine. But as it is, it’s largely distracting, and nowhere near as functional as it could have been. It seems to know what buttons it wants to push, and it’s clearly not buttons of those who prefer a little more meat to these fancy bones. It’s relentlessly disingenuous to the point of almost hearing the director(s) asking us “HAPPY NOW?” to the plunk of Comiket change.

 

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But therein lies perhaps the saddest part of the whole Rebuild affair; that we are one film away from a series that wants to be a revealing status report on the minds behind one of the most important animated series of all time, as well as a commercial blockbuster. And as it stands, this has been the feeling that has dogged me since the first film. That the packaging offers up plenty of bang for the buck, but that it never settles down long enough to actually chew on its own ideas in service of making its points. One thing the original series was so astute about, was in how they made it clear that the trappings were nowhere near as important as what was going through the minds of all that were experiencing these psychological trials together. Evangelion at its best was always about relationships, and the blockage that can happen when intentions diverge harshly, even between family. Now Q was delayed, partially by the tumult caused by and around the Tohoku quake, and subsequent tsunami, and nuclear disaster. And as such, we can cut a tiny bit of slack in knowing that some things are unavoidable. But this can’t fully be what was initially planned. There is very much a feeling that the Rebuild series could have gone in a very different direction (the Next Episode break at the finale of 2 offered up some dramatically unique things). It all feels like a general throwing up of well-animated hands.

I have come to peace with the idea that the original Evangelion series was a failure that exceeded expectations, and worked simply because it was a deeply personal reflection of one person’s struggle against personal demons and production ennui. This time, we have a failure that just attacks without provocation, focus, or reflection. While I applauded when Anno & crew split off from Gainax in the name of creative freedom, this all feels reflexive, and not as impassioned about context so much as fan-jerking. Where the original stumbled almost- ungracefully towards a memorable conclusion, the new just falls flat on its face – and that makes me sad.

4 thoughts on “Bridging The Gap: Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo – That’s A Bummer…”

  1. Just watched this. You make a lot of good points, especially about the diluted characters—Asuka has really kinda gotten the short shrift in this movie series, and her plight was one of the most compelling things about the original. (Mari is a plot device, and not even a terribly important one.) I admit I was blown away by the sheer virtuosity of a lot of the scnes in this film, and there were still many moments in the first half especially where the emotional cues were spot on—Anno still remembers what it’s like to be despondent I guess :) But it really did feel like something was wanting about the whole thing, on the human level; I confess I frequently had trouble buying a lot of Shinji’s motivation for doing things or believing one person or another.

    I hesitate to call this a failure yet, though; it’s quite possible that not only is there one more movie left, but that Anno has something quite different to say vs the original series. Granted, it feels a heckuva lot less personal therapy-esque so that should be expected. And he’s never been the type to go for simple heroism, either. It might be embedded in the film’s subtitle, You Can (Not) Redo, though oddly enough I feel the ending of this film somewhat contradicts that!

    What’s interesting is that after 18 erratic years, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto is 2 chapters away from finishing the Evangelion manga. I need to go and marathon-read that sometime. Perhaps his take is even more revealing; the parts I read were surprising in the tone shift.

  2. Yup. Watched part of the first Rebuild. Realized something was off. Haven’t watched anymore.

    Not enough misery and despair. There’s a lot of destruction, but destruction without misery and despair is pointless. All the cool character/plot-building things happen AFTER everything gets blown up, and if we don’t get shown that, we don’t get character/plot development.

  3. In the original series and movie, the battles were a metaphor for their personal troubles. Asuka was kind of messed up, and she dealt with her messed-up-ness by beating the crap out of the 9 other Evas in the original movie. That’s what made it moving. (Not that it helped her in the end, because the other Evas got back up and beat the crud out of her afterwards, but that only added to the pathos).

    There isn’t anything like that in these movies. There’s fights, but they don’t serve any purpose except to advance the plot.

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