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  • Writer's pictureAdam

Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Aetherial Review

Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 did something I didn’t think was possible for a piece of media to do to me in the year of 2021. It produced within me a feeling that was similar to my response to the original Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) series. It wasn’t the same exact feeling, but the sequence of emotions it led me to reflect on: fear, despair, loneliness and finally hope - took me back to recognising those own emotions within myself when watching the original series as a disaffected teenager in the mid 2000s. It’s also a movie that adds an additional coda to what Evangelion has meant to so many in the decades of success it has enjoyed since its debut, attaching some new layers of meaning to the series as a whole. Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 is therefore a fitting title: it’s a cinematic artefact that takes different chunks of the Evangelion experience and adds them together in an attempt to synthesise something completely new. For the most part, it succeeds, acting as a highly emotive epilogue to several decades of subversive storytelling.

Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 is a feature film that feels composed of three distinct parts. The first of these parts embeds our characters of Shinji, Rei and Asuka in a rural lifestyle that directly juxtaposes with the harsh red blanket that covers the earth as a result of Shinji’s actions. Our characters are essentially given space to heal in nature, and there was something inherently fulfilling to this premise. If you’ve been following the series from the beginning, you’ve already witnessed these characters experience so much misery that it's simply nice to witness the characters resolve their emotional obstacles in the idealised beauty of Studio Ghibli movies. It becomes patently obvious that these chilled out vibes cannot last into the movie’s second act, and as one violent event tears it all away, I felt a sense of loss for the slice-of-life Evangelion AU that the first 30 minutes does such a great job of crafting.

This early stage of Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 also does an incredible job of contextualising the other movies in the Rebuild of Evangelion saga. One of my frustrations with 3.0 was feeling like the 15 year timeskip that the film hinges upon was never fully explored to my satisfaction. The first third of 3.0 + 1.0 does a tremendous job of explaining things that previously felt glossed over for the sake of perceived narrative focus. The secondary characters of Kaji and Misato were given important moments in this movie which felt like something the prior movie sorely lacked. What the people of Earth have been up to in the interim since the ‘Near Third Impact’ was also something that I had wanted more context on before, and this movie delivered. This movie retroactively improves my opinion of the preceding movie: aspects that felt underserved in that title are given more attention in this one and many questions are directly addressed, to the point where it all feels more clearly planned out than I ever thought it might have been.

The second section of the movie is a more grandiose crusade where the sci-fi lore of the narrative and the emotional circumstances begin to inexorably intertwine. Shinji faces up to his responsibilities and boards the Wunder, having conversations with other characters that seek to highlight his personal growth. When the ship takes off an the plan is set in motion, suddenly a torrent of new terminology is thrown at the audience: we’re travelling to the depths of the anti-universe, encountering swarms of ‘eva-infinities’ and injecting angel-blood in a flurry of pseudo-symbolism. You have to let 3.0 + 1.0’s expansive index of new lore footnotes wash over you during this sequence, as there’s barely enough time to come to terms with everything it throws at you. Despite this, I was endlessly entertained by this movie’s extended ‘final battle’, which crammed a cavalcade of new evangelion and angel design into a highly-creative ‘diving’ sequence. As a fan of mecha and appreciator of Evangelion’s design philosophy in this area, there is a lot to love in terms of new aesthetic elements throughout this area of the movie, even when some of the new terminology eludes easy interpretation. These signs and signifiers of the upcoming apocalypse are plentiful and often awe-inspiring in 3.0 + 1.0, but rarely mean as much as the character drama that underpins it.

At some point during this second act, the circumstances of the characters and their emotions once again take centre stage. The gambit led against the indomitable Gendo Ikari plays right into his hand, and the movie reaches a dramatic crescendo in the form of a scenario that is archetypal of the series’ primary conflict: Shinji is the only one left who can pilot evangelion Unit 01. The emotional reconciliation of Misato and Shinji that precedes the movie’s final act is one that feels particularly satisfying. Misato in the preceding movie was walking a dark path, something that the first act of this movie further elucidates, drawing clear parallels between Gendo’s parental neglect and Misato’s own failings. It’s incredibly satisfying to get one final glimpse of the ‘real’ Misato, and their sacrifice feels warranted and incredibly tragic.

It’s one of many profound character moments in the film. There’s too many to list and meaningfully comment upon: a lot was packed into this final instalment when it comes to characterisation, and every character felt like the ‘best version’ of themselves in terms of individual narrative arcs. Asuka and Rei get competent twists on arcs we’ve seen them experience in other parts of the Evangelion story, and it was refreshing to see aspects of these characters expanded upon.

When we reach the ‘anti-universe’, dialogue illuminates upon the imaginative capacity to rewrite reality as a whole. This is the point where the film drops the rulebook into the red ocean and allows the relationship between Shinji and Gendo, alongside the personal feelings of Asuka, Kaworu and Rei to inform the visuals that carry us through to the movie’s conclusion. The final act of 3.0 + 1.0 reminds us of something obvious; the sci-fi filter that the series blankets itself in is nothing more than aesthetic coating atop a raw, human story about the nature of being. This is never more clear than in 3.0 + 1.0’s robust climactic battle, which forces Gendo and Shinji to acknowledge and accept their own behaviours and have a conversation. The most powerful moments of this movie are the conversations between these two characters who would rather do anything but talk to each other. Gendo Ikari is given more depth than ever before, and the parallels between Gendo and Shinji that have always been sub textually present are brought out into the spotlight. The style-switch to communicate Gendo’s backstory is an especially neat touch, conveying the character in a way that I didn’t think was ever going to happen.

The successful re-write of the universe in a way that allows us to say ‘goodbye’ to ‘all evangelions’ is one that feels earned. As previously mentioned, these characters have been through enough on-screen (and off-screen) trauma for several lifetimes. They’ve earned the right to an abstract ‘happy’ ending. The final shots are vague enough to speculate about what has actually happened, but clear enough to let us know that all the characters we care about are safe and free to shape their next chapter.

It’s hard in this review to convey exactly why Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 resonated with me so much. In this regard, words fail me - I could write for days about the various ‘good’ things about this movie, and I feel as though this review has only scratched the surface of what I enjoyed about it. Part of me feels like abandoning the formal conventions of a review and just wailing uncontrollably. This is largely due to the emotional role that Evangelion has played in my life, and my deep attachment to characters who I could see aspects of myself in as I was growing up. The original Neon Genesis Evangelion helped me to recognise my own potential to grow and change beyond the neurosis and trauma that I believed was holding me back. I know it’s a series that did the same for many others, and most people who love Evangelion have a connection to it founded on being able to resonate with the character's struggles. It’s therefore cathartic to get to see these characters move beyond them in a more tangible way. The end of this movie made me sigh in relief.

Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 is a movie I thought I’d never receive - a more definitively ‘happy’ epilogue to a series that played an instrumental role in my life. Evangelion is a series that I’m always going to come back to, and some aspects of the prior Rebuild movies had left me worried that I’d only ever hold the original series in that high regard. I’m happy to say that there’s now two versions of the Evangelion story to experience, and the two of them - the original series and the rebuild saga - compliment each other beautifully. Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0 is the final artistic flourish in an incredible sequence of works, and if you’ve ever enjoyed Evangelion, one that you owe it to yourself to experience.


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