Farewell, Evangelion

””This December, the blockbuster film from Japan, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, will be receiving a limited theatrical release in the United States. The film title is long and complicated, as is the Evangelion franchise. It originally was a beloved (if controversial) anime whose first episode aired in 1995. Later, Evangelion would include a movie continuation, a manga series, and a “Rebuild” theatrical series. Thrice Upon a Time is the final film of the “Rebuilds,” acting as a permanent conclusion for a franchise that has had many indefinite endings. Though it all seems overwhelming, Evangelion is genuinely one of the best pieces of media I’ve ever experienced, and every minute spent watching or reading it is worth it.

The plot of Evangelion centers around Shinji Ikari, a teenage boy who has been summoned by his father to pilot a giant robot in order to ensure the survival of humanity, as it is being threatened by alien beings called Angels. In terms of genre, the series is classified as mecha (an anime genre in Japan that centers around robots in battle), but it is more than just sci-fi action. Evangelion’s creator and director, Hideaki Anno, poured himself into the story, both through his obsessions and his depression. The result is incredibly philosophical, as the show was a form of self-reflection and a tool for betterment. Characters change and evolve over time, bleeding with nuance and complexity. The visuals and use of limited animation influenced a new age in anime.
Intensive symbolism and lore create a depth to the franchise that was unmatched when it aired and has been unmatched since.

Thrice Upon A Time has a turbulent production history. It was originally meant to come out in 2015, but Anno’s depression returned in 2014, and he refused to make another film. But in 2016, he returned as director and producer - this time with a different angle. Unsure of where to take the storyline and character development, Anno turned to the cast and crew, who had been behind the franchise for decades. For example, when Anno first created the anime, he saw himself in Shinji but now could only see himself in Shinji’s father. Because of this, he relied upon Shinji’s voice actor Megumi Ogata to understand the character’s feelings and forward movement for him. Anno’s behavior during this final film’s production was remarked upon by Yūko Miyamura, the voice actor for Asuka Langley Soryu: "Anno-san is amazing. He has become an adult.”

And that is one of the main themes of Evangelion: growing up and becoming an adult. Learning to deal with the childhood and trauma dealt by life. Discovering one’s identity and place in the world. Shinji Ikari usually receives a lot of criticism as a character, but that is because he is so realistic and so relatable. He is afraid of getting close to people for fear of getting hurt, disliked, or abandoned. He blames himself for not being good enough and fears failure. Shinji’s emotional state is fragile, and he is often seen listening to music through headphones in order to shut out the world. Though he is the main character meant to save the world, he is far from heroic. But at the end of the final episode, the final book, and the final film, Shinji has worked through his emotional turmoil, coming to terms with himself and those around him in order to experience love and acceptance. Thrice Upon A Time’s ending does just that, only on a much larger scale that allows for the franchise to reach a permanent conclusion.

To be honest, the “Rebuild” theatrical series is not my favorite Evangelion media form. I love the original anime series too much for anything to ever top it. But Thrice Upon A Time is an astonishingly healing film. Shinji Ikari is a character incredibly close to my heart, as I relate to his journey like many other fans. Though much of itstwo-and-a-half hours are taken up by intense battles that will determine the fate of the world, the film also heavily focuses on the internal battles of Shinji and the other main characters. Despite the franchise’s penchant for being dark and cynical, Thrice Upon A Time finishes on a note of joy and new possibilities brought about by radical compassion. That Shinji is able to mature and break free from his cycle of trauma is an inspiration one does not expect to find at the end of a film about giant robots and alien Angels.

Moreover, Thrice Upon A Time is a celebration of all things Evangelion. In addition to the characters finding happiness and peace, there are the actual visuals of the movie. The final episodes of the original anime series, as well as its movie continuation, were unique in how they broke the fourth wall during Shinji’s mental contemplations and breakdown. This included devolving from completed animation sequences to line art, acknowledging its existence as an animated story. It also recognized its connection with the audience without ever directly addressing the audience by incorporating animated and live-action scenes of movie theaters and film sets. Thrice Upon A Time makes use of these same techniques, breaking the fourth wall in a purely visual way to create more emotional depth with the audience while also referring back to its original iteration.

There is so much more to explore about the Evangelion franchise and Thrice Upon A Time, from their incredible music to their detailed religious undertones, that no one work could contain it all. But I highly recommend you dive into the world of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and don’t miss the limited theatrical release of Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time in December, as this is most likely your last opportunity to see Shinji Ikari on the big screen!
Writer and Artist: Sarah Moloney