Written by: Hiedeaki Anno
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
As much as I enjoyed last year’s Pacific Rim I did feel ultimately disappointed by the movie. Yes, it’s true that Guillermo Del Toro’s ode to giant mecha movies was the first perfect live-action encapsulation of giant fighting mecha but the story itself was so directly plucked from the manga and anime that had come before it that to me, as a serious fan of the aforementioned genre, it never brought anything really new to the table story-wise. Pacific Rim, while being a fantastic live action giant-robot movie and impressive in its own right, didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It didn’t break the bounds of the genre it was trying to emulate. It was very much the sort of thing I’d seen before in Japanese comics and animation even if it was brought to life with real actors and unbelievably realistic cgi robots.
The original series of Neon Genesis Evangelion was an anime of a different stripe when it first debuted in the mid-nineties. It took many of the solid conventions of the tried and true fighting robot anime and turned them on their heads. It presented mecha design of a kind never seen before in Japanese animation and presented characters so flawed and so emotionally tragic that it hit the industry like a thunderclap. Whatever anime fans may feel may be about Neon Genesis Evangelion or its characters, everyone has to admit that it was a work that changed the way things were done in anime. The original Evangelion showed that serialized anime could be deeper than just pounding on monsters with metallic fists. Giant robot anime could actually delve into deeper issues of identity and belonging and present us with an actual work of somewhat profound art instead of just standard action sci-fi fiction.
Now, almost twenty years after Evangelion’s initial release comes the third part in what has been called a re-build of the original TV series. The original series has been in the process of being re-vamped in a four-film big-screen epic where the original director has been re-shaping the vision of his initial masterpiece. While many fans (myself included) were aghast at the initial idea of this, upon having seen the results of the past two films (Evangelion 1.0 and 2.0) much nerd-rage was abated. The first two entries of the re-builds were fantastically impressive feats of visual storytelling and maintained much of the spirit, if not the depth, of the original series. I reviewed Evangelion 2.0 for Ain’t It Cool News almost three years (!) ago and as you can see by clicking here, I found it to be a staggering experience.
Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo continues to follow the pedigree of its predecessors-at least visually. From the very opening of the film the filmmakers present an amazing feat of visual splendor for the eyeballs to behold. In all honesty, I was impressed beyond belief when witnessing the striking spectacle that presented itself before my eyes in the first twenty or so minutes of Evangelion 3.0. The colors of the movie are so spectacular and the design of the world is so detailed that I could not help but be enthralled by what I was seeing in the movie theater. This new Evangelion series continues to be a technical masterpiece with eye candy so inundating that it almost cannot be fully taken in upon viewing. Evangelion 3.0 carries on the visual legacy of the first two films in that it presents a reality beyond what could be presented in a live action film and is barely ever presented in an animated one. It is truly a beautiful work to behold.
As gorgeous as Evangelion 3.0 is it is in this chapter that the narrative itself begins to backslide a bit. As Eva 3.0 opens we are introduced to a whole new direction than what fans may have been expecting. In my review for Evangelion 2.0 I made the point that this re-imagining was slightly different than what had come before, in that in 2.0 the differences between the film series and the original TV series had begun to reveal themselves. With Evangelion 3.0 the story completely diverges into something new and completely different from its predecessor. Evangelion 3.0 takes the series directly into alternate universe territory with familiar characters living in a whole new and somewhat terrifying world.
As dramatic as this shifting of gears is for a fan of the original series it’s something that I expected given the way that things went in the film that led into this one. As a matter of fact I applaud the creators of this new Evangelion for taking this step and creating a whole new continuity for their universe. What I have a problem with is the creative back step that the writers forced upon their main character. This third entry into the Eva rebuild goes into some really dark places and being a fervent fan of the original series I don’t have a problem with that. What bothered me was that the lead character, Shinji Ikari, once again devolves into the somewhat useless and emotionally paralyzed teenager he was in the original series. While this was an aspect of the character that I sympathized with in the original series, Evangelion 2.0 had given me the expectation that the character of Shinji might not be so…miserable in this iteration of the mythos. I suppose this turn of character was to be expected, especially with the revelations that are given light in this film. The problem is that when Shinji finds himself thrust into despair it stops the momentum of the whole movie. Evangelion 3.0 opens with the force of a Mike Tyson haymaker and then comes screeching to a halt and lingers there once Shinji is left to his own myopic mourning. Again, this is the sort of thing that’s to be expected of Evangelion but I felt that the whole second act of this film could have been saved if Shinji’s depression and the manipulation of such by other characters had been handled more briskly. Unfortunately, this movie decides to sit and loiter in a fog for almost a third of its running time. While the mysteries of what Shinji was going through were compelling enough to keep me riveted I felt that this segment of the film could have been cleaned up a bit.
Luckily, the third act of Evangelion 3.0 pays off in spades and the climax of the film very much makes up for the anime’s second act. An epic faceoff between all the players involved ensues and the stakes could not be higher: the survival of the human race itself. It’s here where the visuals and direction combine to deliver a demonstration of “traditional” animation and artwork at its finest. The final act of Eva 3.0 is a tour de force of Japanese animation action. The culmination of the film fires on all cylinders and blew the back out of the theater for me. This is the type of thing that a live action film like Pacific Rim could never deliver and it’s a testament to the power of animation. While Evangelion 3.0 isn’t perfect in itself the finale itself is perfection and I cannot wait for the Blu-Ray release of this film so I can wallow in the glory of its beauty in my own living room.
Evangelion 3.0 is a film which continues to show why the Japanese animation industry is an important one. It’s an industry that has artists and craftsmen that are willing to step outside the box and give us completely new imaginings that we wouldn’t see anywhere else in filmdom. While, yes, there is a lot of anime out there that is superficial, Evangelion 3.0 and this new, as well as the original Evangelion, is a perfect representation of art taking a chance on something new and unexpected. This is the type of animation, along with the beautiful works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, which stands at the forefront of artistic storytelling and it’s the type of animated film making I hope to be exposed to whenever someone suggests I check out a new anime title.