Over the past few weeks, we here at Kotaku have been taking a look at the previous Rebuild of Evangelion films as we eagerly awaited the release of the third in the series: Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Well, this past weekend, the long anticipated film was released in theatres across Japan.
But Evangelion 3.0 is just too big of a movie for a single reviewer alone. So today I will be joined by fellow Kotaku East Tokyoite, Toshi Nakamura as we attempt to break down the film to answer one simple question: "How was it?"
Richard: So Toshi, before we really dive into this thing, what exactly is your history with Evangelion?
Toshi: Well, it's a bit of a long story. Basically, I was not in Japan when the TV series first aired. I only found out about Eva during one of my visits to Japan (I think it was a winter vacation in college) because I had gotten a Sega Saturn and a magazine I had bought had an article for a new Eva game for the Saturn called Shinseiki Evangelion 2nd Impression. What immediately caught my eye was the character design by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. I read the article over and over and during my next visit to Japan, I got the game and its predecessor. So, my introduction to the series was actually through an unofficial side story. Afterwards, I bought the first three videos that were out at the time (episodes 1 to 6) and the first three manga. After that, I watched the End of Evangelion movie before watching the entirety of the TV series. What it comes down to is that my introduction to the series was completely out of order and a little messed up.
Richard: Readers who have been following our Evangelion coverage probably already know about my history with the series, but for those don't, let me just say I'm a big fan of the series and I credit the End of Evangelion as the first movie I ever watched that made me work for understanding.
Toshi: Likewise. For those who are familiar with the TV series LOST, Evangelion was kind of like an anime version of LOST: You had a ton of mysteries, mixed with heavy drama, and all the fans would speculate and theorize as to what the answers were. I would soak up all the information I could about the series, trying to figure things out until I reached a conclusion that I was comfortable with.
Richard: One more thing before we get started. I saw it first day, first showing at the biggest theatre in my area. The theatres were crammed full of otaku, mostly men in their late twenties — though there were maybe 20% women. How did the audience look at your showing?
Toshi: I actually had to work during the day (#$&%*!?!!), so I caught a late showing at 8:30pm; but I went with a girl so that makes me cooler.
Richard: Careful Toshi, mixing love with Eva never turns out well. Someone always seems to end up on a beach strangling his significant other.
Toshi: I disagree. Sometimes one of them gets shot and the fan base spends years debating who killed th-Wait a minute...
Richard: Getting back to the audience composition though...
Toshi: Yes. Well, interestingly enough, the group I was with had a modest number of female viewers. Ratio-wise I'd say it was about 75% male, 25% female.
Richard: So, in one word, how would you describe Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo?
Toshi: In a word... "Confusing?" I guess? How about you?
Richard: Is there a word that means "unbelievably contrived" — only more so?
Toshi: Yeah, that gets bundled into "pretentious" in the dictionary.
*From this point on, the review becomes very spoiler heavy
Richard: For our readers who have not seen the film yet, let's give a quick, incredibly spoiler-filled summery of the plot in the film. 14 years after Evangelion 2.22, Asuka and Mari go to space to pick up Shinji where he and Eva 01 have been interned. Misato's anti-Nerv army revives him but there is no sign of Rei II. Rei III then shows up, "rescues" Shinji, and takes him to the ruins of Nerv. Over time, Shinji makes friends with Kaworu and after learning all the secrets of Evangelion — i.e. what happened to his mother, that Rei is a clone, etc. — Shinji agrees to help Kaworu remake the world into a better place by starting the Third Impact. …It doesn't exactly work out.
Toshi: Didn't it? I mean, the minute the neck bomb from Rutger Hauer's movie, Wedlock showed up, everything pretty much worked out exactly as you'd expect.
Richard: Anyway, my main problem with the film is this: The entire plot only works if everyone in the supporting cast is pants-on-head retarded.
Toshi: I wouldn't go that far. I just think most of the secondary characters needed some lessons in basic communication skills.
Richard: I mean seriously, Toshi, the entire plot could be avoided with a 30-second conversation in which they convey to Shinji only the most basic and important information about his circumstances — and they had both the time and opportunity to do so.
Toshi: Yeah, that's one of my pet peeves with rom-coms, and I never thought I'd see it here.
Richard: You're totally right. Just like a rom-com. Characters lose all common sense so the plot/drama can be railroaded in. If the logical conversation had happened in this film, the movie would be 15 minutes long:
Misato: Shinji, you've been trapped in the Eva for 14 years. Your dad is insane and trying to end the world. We're trying to stop him.
Shinji: What about Rei? Where is she?
Misato: She's dead, Shinji. You were there.
Shinji: No, I saved her. She was in the plug with me!
Misato: You were the only one in there when we got you out. But if she's in there, Shinji, we'll do everything we can to get her out, too. ...But there's one thing you should know. Your father cloned Rei and is using her against us.
Shinji: That bastard! What can I do to help?
Misato: The problem is, Shinji, that the last time you were in the Eva, you started the Third Impact. We don't know what will happen if you get in it again. So we need you to sit this one out for a while until we know more.
Richard: BAM! MOVIE AVOIDED
Toshi: I know. However, playing the devil's advocate, I could kind of understand why Anno, the writer/director, made that choice in the script. I was totally frustrated with the fact that no one would take the time to explain anything to Shinji; but when Kaworu showed up, it finally made some sort of sense. His line that Shinji was struggling and unable to keep up with the change that had happened made me realise that by explaining nothing and tossing Shinji around like a rag doll, Anno was trying to place us, the viewer, in Shinji's shoes. A little forcefully, but I think that's what he was going for.
Richard: Yeah, Anno clearly had an archetypal story in mind: the hero, lacking all the facts, joins the bad guys not knowing they are evil. This isn't a problem in and of itself. I love this story. It serves to show the villains' motivations, blurs the line between good and evil and gives the hero a new perspective on the overall conflict. No, my problem is not with the archetype they chose but rather that instead of developing the characters and giving them a legitimate backstory to withhold this crucial information, they settled for making the entire supporting cast abusive and passive aggressive.
Toshi: Agreed. Definitely more plot driven than character driven, which is a shame considering how well done the character-driven narrative of the previous movie was.
Richard: The cast is also dumber than a box of rocks.
Toshi: Now now, the cast isn't dumb, just the characters they portray.
Richard: Their goals — which are never explained, by the way — are dependent on getting Shinji out of his 14-year stasis. In the short term, they want to use Eva 01 as the power source for their flying Eva battle ship. As for why they need a flying battleship? Who knows?
Toshi: And where the hell did the flying battleship even come from? Considering how few other people show up, I was constantly wondering how many people were even alive. I swear NERV must be completely automated, or Gendo and Fuyutsuki must not have a problem with doing manual labour on their own...
Richard: No kidding, the population of the world seems to be Misato's ship and the four people at Nerv.
Toshi: I wonder who cleans the bathrooms...
Richard: Anyway, back to the characterization problems. While you'd think at least someone would be happy to see Shinji after they get him out, everyone instead turns up the passive aggressiveness to 11. Why they act this way is never explained. Do they blame him for the last 14 years? Asuka, Ritsuko, and Misato all three do a great job at yelling at him and blaming him, all the while telling him nothing about why or what he's done.
Toshi: Which was quite contradictory to how Misato was cheering him on at the end of the previous movie.
Richard: Exactly! The worst of the lot is Misato. She was egging him on in Evangelion 2.22. She knew what he was doing (saving Rei) and wanted him to go for it. Neither he nor she had any idea what he was trying to do could cause the Third Impact. And christ, it's like she's reading from a manual called "How Not to Deal With Shinji Ikari." He is awakened and taken in chains up to the bridge, where she then refuses to talk to him while Ritsuko explains they've attached a bomb to his neck (of course no one bothers to tell him why). Then, when he offers to help Asuka fight an angel, Misato just coldly tells him he's not needed. You know, after specifically calling him to the bridge. Seriously Misato, have you MET Shinji? A few kind words and he'll be eating out of your hand! What, were they just trying to break him psychologically? If so, why?
Toshi: Again, playing devil's advocate, we don't know WHAT happened in that blank of 14 years. So something must have happened to make them turn on him like that. I am kind of alright with the explanation that "things are different now," which sort of works with the title of You Can (Not) Redo. But, yes, very plot driven and not character driven enough.
Richard: But sadly, we find out nothing of the rationale that turns the cast from "characters" into "one-dimensional arseholes." When it comes to all the characters on Misato's side (including Asuka and Mari), their only point in this movie was to make it so when Shinji has the chance to ditch them, he does.
Toshi: I wouldn't say "one-dimensional assholes" as much as "too one-dimensional to be convincing." We're kind of shown that SOMETHING has happened to turn everyone against Shinji, but we're never really given a picture of how horrible it was (just hints of it) and the characters aren't written in a way to convincingly make it seem whatever happened was bad enough to make them turn against Shinji. Only that they either blame him or just don't like him anymore.
Richard: Are we supposed to think it was the end of Evangelion 2.22 that did it? Because that doesn't make a lick of sense.
Toshi: I can only guess whatever it was must have happened between the two movies. Pretty convenient that there's no footage of that, because it would have made going into Eva 3.0 a lot easier.
Richard: Frankly, this utter lack of character development made me hate everyone except Shinji, Kaworu, and Rei (who I am now ambivalent to). These three are, as you may have guessed, the only characters to receive any kind of character development whatsoever.
Toshi: Which is understandable, because this is clearly Shinji's story. He's the centre of the whole thing and the one the audience is supposed to relate to... Which falls apart later, but we'll get to that.
Richard: Well, his and Kaworu's story anyway — which leads into what I feel is the best part of the film — namely, every part with Kaworu and Shinji.
Toshi: You mean the sexual subtext between them?
Richard: Well, there is definitely subtext — though nothing more overt than close proximity.
Toshi: Well, no. But it was heavily implied enough to make the girls in the audience I was with giggle and swoon a lot.
Richard: Homosexual relationship or no, it really was excellent. Their friendship was gradual and far better done than in any other incarnation — anime, game or manga.
Toshi: I definitely agree there. I think the movie really found its footing once Kaworu showed up. Things made more sense and it was a lot easier to get into the movie.
Richard: But all good things must come to an end as we move on toward the climax. So when the grand "evil" plan was revealed — to start the Third Impact and remake the world into a better place — I was ecstatic. It sounded like a great way to get rid of all those one-dimensional windbags and get back to the characters I had enjoyed watching. Honestly, something is very wrong with your movie when the viewer is rooting for the bad guys because they are more likeable — even if they are, stunningly, even less competent.
Toshi: Fourth Impact. (Do I sound like a snob? I sound like a snob.)
Richard: It was really unclear. Like some people called it the "continuation" of the Third Impact, or called what Shinji did the "near Third Impact." I don't think they even know the correct terminology themselves.
Toshi: Whatever. Big holes in the sky... Blood and stuff... IMPACT! Which brings me to a problem I had with many of the "spectacle" scenes in the movie.
Richard: So, what? The entire first and last thirds of the movie?
Toshi: Pretty much. The problem I had personally with those scenes is that there was a lot of "stuff" just for the sake of there being "stuff" and more importantly, they never showed the reactions of the characters we wanted to see reacting to this stuff. I wanted to see Shinji's reaction to the newfangled space Yamato-wanna-be, or Gendo's reaction to the Fourth Impact as it's happening. I mean, this stuff is important to them, and we don't see what they think about it at all.
Richard: Yeah, for it all being Gendo's plan, he really didn't seem to give a shit, did he?
Toshi: I guess he was too busy talking to unresponsive black monoliths.
Richard: Of course, the downside of Gendo's "evil" plan is that it means that, just like in Evangelion 2.22, the climax is again centred around starting the Third Impact. You can't tease the End of Eva in every movie. It's the boy who cried wolf! And I have a feeling this isn't the last time we'll be dealing with "impacts" in these films.
Toshi: The deus you say!
Richard: It is indeed quite mechanical.
Toshi: It's Dragon Ball syndrome. Once you blow up a planet as the crux of your story arc, you have to do it again in every subsequent story.
Richard: Only if you're a hack writer.
Toshi: Well, writing isn't the only flaw that this movie has. I'm sure you managed to find some other points you weren't quite pleased with, right?
Richard: Well, aside from the aforementioned characterization (or lack thereof), pretty much everything from the closing moments of Evangelion 2.22 is left totally unexplained — i.e. where is Rei II? And Mari still has no reason to exist (other than to sell figures). But the big one is the character designs for all the "future" characters.
Toshi: Well, Mari also sells doujinshi, but that money doesn't really go directly back to Gainax. Speaking of character designs and "future" changes to the characters, Gendo seems to be going the Keel Lorenz (Selee 01) route in his eyewear, did you notice?
Richard: The shades, Toshi, the shades. It's like Gendo and Misato dropped by Hill Valley circa 2015 to pick up the latest in eyewear.
Toshi: Well, selling real character paraphernalia is another way anime companies make money.
Richard: Then there's the other problem with the designs. The fact that even though 14 years have passed, Asuka and Mari still look 14 years-old. Oh there is a contrived explanation — being a pilot prevents ageing — but this causes more problems than it solves. If they have discovered the fountain of youth, why isn't everyone under the age of 14 spending time in an Eva and enjoying the immortality?
Toshi: Going into nerd territory here, but, by being a pilot, you run the risk of mental contamination, you're risking your life fighting angels, and (please stop me) in order to —
Richard: Well now at least fans won't feel bad about lusting after 14-year-old girls, I guess.
Toshi: I can confirm or deny nothing. Moving on. Please.
Richard: Well, while I have been pretty down on the film, it wasn't all utter crap. Like I said above, I loved pretty much every scene with Kaworu and Shinji. They also took the time to lay out many of the series' mysteries in plain Japanese which I can imagine was nice for those not familiar with the series.
Toshi: Indeed. Fan girls will love those Kaworu/Shinji scenes. They also did the familiar thing of using a bunch of religiously significant terminology that fans are probably going to be spending their time looking up and speculating over.
Richard: Really, I guess the best thing about the movie is that they tried something new. Instead of copying the series like with Evangelion 1.11, they blazed their own path and ended up somewhere far different from what anyone was expecting. I mean, I think they fell flat on their faces, but I'd rather have a failure like this than an uninspired rehash. Still, it did pretty much flat out make everything that happened in the first two films completely irrelevant.
Toshi: And here's where we differ in our conclusions. I, too, enjoyed the fact that they went somewhere new and unexplored, but I wouldn't say it fell flat on its face. I could see what they were trying to do and the reasons behind some of the choices they made. Some of the execution needed refinement, yes, and for people who trudge the depth of movies investigating their structure, symbolism, and story structure, the flaws will stand out. But knowing those flaws and seeing what was being done, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. Was it a perfect film? Not by a long shot. But as a fan of the series, I had fun despite all its flaws, and I managed to feel a lot of the old excitement I used to get back when I was first introduced to the series. I do expect that my opinion will be in the minority though.
Richard: Well the next film is called "Evangelion:||". Don't know what that is at the end... an "I" and an iota, maybe? I think I'll pronounce it "ill" because that's about how I feel after seeing You Can (Not) Redo. And frankly, if any movie needs to take a do-over, it's this one.
Toshi: It probably should have been titled, "You Can (Not) Refine"... As for title of the next film, it requires some knowledge in music to understand, but that symbol is used to signify the end of a piece of music. Paired with a colon, it means "repeat." So either the next movie will truly be the end of the series, or it may lead back to the start or another round of movies.
Richard: Toshi? One more random question. If Misato can afford a flying Eva ship and several spaceships, why do they have to literally patch Asuka's plug suit together with duct tape?
Toshi: Better that than grafting two Evas together straight up the middle and having them — Oh, wait, that was in the preview for the next movie...
Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo was released in Japanese theatres on November 17, 2012. No international release dates have currently been announced.