It was only by pure luck and sacrifice that a Fourth Impact was stalled. Now, Shinji Ikari must grapple with the fallout from that ordeal. Together with Asuka and Rei, he ventures into the unknown of a world that he himself has ruined. Deep within, Shinji finds a beacon of hope, life among the ruins and it spurs him to return to battle one last time. As NERV and WILLE gather for their final showdown, Shinji prepares to take his place as the master of his own destiny. Determined to step out of his fathers ambitions, Shinji boards Evangelion Unit 01 once more…for what many hope to be the last battle of the last war mankind will ever face. The story ends…but the legend of Evangelion lives forever as a Neon Genesis begins.
With a wait time of nearly 10 years since Evangelion 3.33-You Can (Not) Redo, you can believe expectations for the final chapter of the Rebuild of Evangelion saga are at a fever pitch. There have been delays aplenty and bouts of depression that led to Director Hideaki Anno taking a step back (and thankfully directing one of the best Godzilla movies ever in that downtime). But we’ve come to it at last. 13 years after it was originally announced for release in the Summer of 2008 (along with Eva 3.33), Evangelion 3.0+1.0-Thrice Upon A Time has finally arrived. Is it the Anime to end all Anime or, at the very least, does it send the Rebuild of Eva Saga out in style despite some missteps along the way (looking at you again Eva 3.33)?
In 1997, Hideaki Anno unleashed The End of Evangelion upon the world. It was an unrelenting and brutal tale of the end of the world and a generally angry reply to those who blamed Anno for, what many considered, an underwhelming finale to one of the greatest TV Anime ever made. Thrice Upon A Time shows us a side of Anno I don’t think we’ve ever seen or haven’t seen in a long time. Evangelion 3.33 was the most divisive of the Rebuild films, throwing Shinji and the audience into a brand new scenario with zero explanations and a harsh lack of clarity. After that stumble, Anno starts off smartly by doing something I don’t think many would expect from an intro to the grand finale: Shinji, Asuka and Rei are allowed to take a break. Yeah, they venture to a new location, meet up with some surprise faces and just…chill, get their heads on straight and just…well chill. We’ll talk about how this affects Shinji in a moment but it’s more through Rei’s eyes and experiences that this works the best, giving us the best look at Evangelion’s primary poster girl since her debut 26 years ago. It’s a far cry from the instantly depressing beginning to End of Eva and sets up what Thrice Upon A Time is all about. If The End of Evangelion was about the bleakness and crippling fear of loneliness at the end of the world, Thrice is about looking on the bright side and deciding that even if the world is ending, there’s plenty worth fighting for. (I should also note that I LOVE The End of Evangelion and am not slighting it. That was a different ending for a different Eva than the one I’m reviewing today, just wanna make that clear).
While the extra production time shows in Thrice’s dazzling and mind blowing presentation, we never lose sight of what’s at the heart of the spectacle: the cast. If Rebuild has done wonders for any one character, it’s Shinji. He’s gone from being the butt of Anime lead joke to the subject of every Psych Major’s Senior Thesis to a character who isn’t standing stubbornly still. Each film has shown Shinji evolve and occasionally devolve depending on how you look at Eva 3.33 (I keep coming back to that, I know). Thrice sees Shinji reach his latest plateau and he must decide whether or not to wallow in the agony he suffered in the previous film or take the steps needed to step out of the shadow of who he was before he piloted an Eva. Everyone else gets plenty of the films 2.5 hour runtime to share their stories, better explain missing events from this new timeline and just show us more of a side to them than we’ve ever seen before. Eva’s big three girls: Misato, Asuka and Rei are all given some of their best moments in the franchise, some more heartbreaking than others. Even Gendo, Eva’s biggest enigma, has some light shed on his motivations which might seem clear but not as clear as you think when you hear his tale. It just goes to show that 26 years after the TV Show first aired, you can still look at these familiar faces in a new light and come out understanding them better than ever.
Naturally, the scale of Thrice Upon a Time’s action sequences dwarfs anything that came before them, even in the admittedly beyond compare ones from Eva 3.33. Mari and Asuka are once again at the center of two of the movies most bombastic set pieces. The amount of CG work thrown into Thrice shows the extra years of production time have not been wasted with Eva’s spinning, slicing, shooting, and occasionally chomping (because Eva) their way through hordes of endless enemies. The WUNDER, Misato’s flagship, even gets a chance to shine in an exciting battleship duel as it races to NERV HQ for the final battle. For all the wonder I’ve seen in each of these Rebuild movies when it comes to the action, I cant help but marvel at the more peaceful scenes that dominate the first third of the movie. The imagery and the music both enhance the growth we observe onscreen for Shinji, Asuka and Rei during that whole section of the film and shows that Eva isn’t just about the giant robots duking it out. Times of peace can look just as beautiful as all the kick ass action.
Thrice Upon A Time goes for flawless with its execution but does feel held back by a couple of nagging elements. Believe it or not, I’m not talking about the two and a half hour runtime (apparently this is one of the longest Anime films ever made along with The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya). No I’m talking about first some of the WUNDER crew members who were introduced in the previous film and I still don’t feel any connection to them. When they whine and complain about what’s to come, it comes off as annoying because they aren’t legacy characters and are just there to fill the films overabundant fanservice quota (and boy is there a lot, as Misato always promises). And then there’s Mari. The girl who was the biggest sell point for the Rebuild of Eva Saga always excels at the action scenes and she gets to interact with Shinji and the others a lot more than before. However…Mari’s backstory and motivations remain Rebuild’s greatest unsolved mystery. Now this is Evangelion, unsolved mysteries come with the franchise (just look at the end of End of Evangelion). But when the bulk of the cast is bearing their souls and showing us their backstories in beautifully animated sequences, why cant we get some proper answers about Mari’s origins and how she came to play the role she’s been given? This isn’t going to hurt Mari’s popularity in the slightest, she stands pretty much on the same level as Rei, Asuka and Misato at this point. But Mari’s good for more than just kicking Eva and Angel ass and Thrice should’ve given her more time to showcase that.
Evangelion 3.0+1.0-Thrice Upon A Time isn’t just the closing chapter of the Rebuild of Evangelion films, it’s a final word on Evangelion in general. It’s a film that answers a lot of questions, looks back surprisingly fondly on the past of the franchise and takes its cast in bold new directions I couldn’t see Anno doing back in the 90s. As I said earlier, The End of Evangelion was a bloody but natural conclusion to that particular iteration of Evangelion and it worked fine. Thrice is a different kind of ending for a different kind of Evangelion that works on so many levels and in truth, it probably shouldn’t have. The odds were stacked against it from the lukewarm reception of Evangelion 3.33 to the constant delays that followed. Yet, Thrice pulls off a major win for the franchise that’s both enjoyable and begging to be watched multiple times for the easter eggs, hidden messages and the fact that even at 2.5 hours, it’s a great ride from start to finish. 26 years later…Evangelion is still finding new ways to wow us all.