Anime Alphabet - E is for Evangelion 1.11+2.22+3.33+3.0+1.0
As essential as Anno Hideaki’s Neon Genesis Evangelion may be, its rebootquel that took almost 20 years to make is almost just as interesting.
(This post was written as a script for the edited video above, which provides a more complete experience of the post’s subject. The text version below is just for easier reference and comprehension for anyone in need.)
1995’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, created by legendary director Hideaki Anno-san and animated by studio GAINAX in collaboration with Production I.G., is arguably one of the most important and critically-acclaimed animated series of all time. Sparking a trend of late-night experimental anime throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, revolutionizing the insane extent to which a handful of character designs could be marketed, and possibly single-handedly making the otaku fanbase into the primary driving force behind both the consumption and creation of anime for the next twenty-odd years; it has been analyzed and discussed with more controversy and intensity than any other anime in existence; scrutinized to hell and back and loved by some far more than its creator could ever possibly see it for. Its film conclusion, The End of Evangelion from 1999, is a cinematic benchmark for animation, and pumped full of the most mind-searing apocalyptic imagery ever put to film. It’s possible that enough could never be said about Neon Genesis Evangelion--but this video isn’t going to talk about it--not directly, anyways. Instead, we’re going to take a long, hard look at the utterly insane nineteen-year endeavor that has been the completion of its four-film rebootquel, the Rebuild of Evangelion. My name is Trixie, the Golden Witch, you can find my writing at goldenwitch.substack.com, and this is Anime Alphabet!
E IS FOR EVANGELION 1.11+2.22+3.33+3.0+1.0
As intriguing as I find the narrative of the finally-complete Rebuild film series to be, I don’t think anything Anno’s team at studio Khara could’ve come up with would intrigue me more than the mere fact of the thing’s existence, and the lengths at which they found themselves going to finish it. Neon Genesis Evangelion was in the conceptual stage in the early 90s, aired for twenty-six weeks from ‘95-96, and then the film, which ended up being released in two parts, spent another three years in production. Anno began conceptualizing the Rebuild project not long afterward, with pre-production going back as far as 2002. With the release of 3.0+1.0 in 2021, Anno has up to now spent at least a combined 20 years working on Evangelion, not even counting the couple of periods he spent making live-action films instead--and at least 14 of those have been on the Rebuilds.
Believe it or not, there are tons of good reasons for Evangelion to have been given an extensive reboot; and I think for all intents and purposes, the Rebuild series has been an absolute success--hence why I’m talking about it in my series about anime classics. I will eventually get into the reasons that it’s not my favorite version of the Evangelion story personally, but I’d never be so conceited as to claim that anyone needs to have seen the original and be as engaged and interested in it as I am as opposed to watching and enjoying the Rebuilds. By all means, give both of them a try--I am going to argue eventually that Rebuild of Evangelion is explicitly made with people who didn’t like the original show in mind as its primary audience, and will acknowledge both my perspective as someone who relates more strongly to and gets a lot more out of the experience of the original show and film, and also the perspectives of people I’ve talked to about their reasons for more relating to and enjoying the Rebuild series.
Neon Genesis Evangelion was a distant and difficult show as a result of its creator being himself a distant and difficult person. It belongs to a little-acknowledged lineage of apocalyptic coming-of-age horror stories, following in the footsteps of Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Lovecraftian space adventure, Space Runaway Ideon, as well as Go Nagai’s seminal shounen classic, Devilman. Like that story, this one deals with the downfall of humanity through their inability to communicate--but instead of damning humanity outright, it presents a duality between the extremes of everyone melting into one hivemind that doesn’t have to communicate because they’re all just happy and warm in the goo; or, alternately, remaining as separate people while struggling endlessly not to let your psycho-sexual mania ruin your chances of human connection. It’s pretty fucked up.
I describe Evangelion as a horror series because it is a tale of disempowerment--it’s a story about letting down your guard and being pierced by something because you want to feel connected to it, even if it has to hurt you to get through to you. Shinji’s big character flaw is simply that he’s extremely pain-avoidant--he doesn’t want to get hurt, and he doesn’t want to have hurt anyone, but the fact that he is often given no choice in the matter doesn’t soften his feelings about it. He is capable of picking himself up and being strong sometimes when people show him affection, but the painful encounters never stop coming, and as the crutches which he props himself up with are stripped away until he’s left with nothing but his own will to live to rely on, he is plunged into the pits of despair again and again--but in that despair, he is able to understand the despair of others and finally connect with them enough to realize that he’s never been alone all this time, because everyone else has been suffering just like him. Evangelion always kind of has a happy ending, if only in the sense that it always ends with Shinji deciding to keep on trying to communicate.
This is all explored in a pulled-back, slow-moving and exactingly detailed setting, where plot mysteries sit in the background of scenes which just marinate in the characters’ emotions; as well as adherence to a laundry list of Anno’s favorite film and animation tropes which may or may not entertain you to pieces; if you like all the hyper-real militaristic set-dressing, hilarious biblically-referencial science fiction jargon, and super-rich, complex adult characters with relationship drama boiling on the backdrop of a teen sex-comedy full of badass mecha fights, you’ll love the show. Just like most anime featuring giant robots, Evangelion is best understood as a genre amalgamation, that taken in parts can look like several wholly different experiences from what I already described of the experience in whole.
I think a lot of people have overstated how confusing or pretentious Evangelion is, simply because it doesn’t explain much of the backstory and lore in the early episodes, but alludes to it mysteriously for a while. It’s the kind of thing that rewards rewatching because you know what’s really going on, but I also think you could just read spoilers before watching the show and be able to focus on what’s actually being shown to you in each scene more easily. Again, though, this is assuming you find the cinematography, animation and design work as exceptional as I do. Evangelion is an easy series for me to watch in part because I just enjoy looking at it, and also because at any point in my life that I’ve watched it, I’ve found a character to relate to in a powerful way. As an adult I have closely related to Katsuragi Misato, whereas watching the show for the first time at age 14, I connected so strongly with Ikari Shinji that I even saw many of the other characters in the show in the same way that he did, because I was no more capable than he was of understanding the nuances of their personalities.
It was only necessary for Neon Genesis Evangelion to be written and presented how it was for people like me, who had a similar enough childhood experience of isolation and misunderstanding to that of Anno-san to connect with the way that he represented his psychological trauma, and the explanation he gave himself in his work for how he was going to live with it. Even though I think the last two episodes of the original TV show, which had to be created last-minute when the original ending wasn’t finished and would have to be reworked into the End of Evangelion film, is overly expository and lofty in its language and beats you over the head with the point, that had been exactly what I needed when I watched the show as a kid, and the speech about how there is another Asuka in her mind from the one that exists in Shinji’s truly put me on the path towards trying to understand people and be understood myself.
But as you are most likely aware, Ikari Shinji is not exactly the most popular anime protagonist of all time--in fact, I think his personality is by far the biggest driver of the show’s controversy. As perfect as he is for the people who are most likely to consider Evangelion a classic, it’s actually pretty rare in pop media to be asked to relate to a whimpering coward with no self-esteem who frequently damns the world to potential apocalypse for the explicit reason that no one is nice enough to him for piloting the robot. Even if you do relate to one of the other characters in the show, most of them are also frustrated with Shinji much of the time, and a lot of people just don’t get much out of feeling like their mewling protagonist is being dragged kicking and screaming through his adventure when you’re just trying to actually learn what the hell is going on. It’s fair to say that even if you find Shinji’s reactions to the things asked of him to be perfectly reasonable, given what a total garbage human being his father is and how little he’s been given to go on, it’s still unlikely that the average person would expect themselves to be as disengaged and difficult to deal with were they in the same situation as Ikari Shinji.
In terms of its story, I think that this disconnect so many viewers have with the protagonist is the biggest thing that the Evangelion Rebuild series seeks to address. It presents a Shinji who cares and become curious about Rei and Asuka in a more direct way--a Shinji who doesn’t renege on his feelings every time they get hurt a little bit, and who’s really ready to involve himself proactively in what’s going on in order to fulfil his own goals, even when they oppose that of the organization giving him orders. The difference is best-summarized in how Asuka changes her nickname for Shinji from “idiot” to “brat.” The original show’s Baka-Shinji was just so oblivious and slow, and so afraid of the pain which might come from learning something or getting involved, that he kept himself in a bubble of his own ignorance until his revelations came, always a little too late to prevent another disaster for the people around him. Gaki-Shinji, on the other hand, is proactive in his own downfall. He does want to know what’s going on and get involved, but when he does, he causes more problems than he solves because he is a selective listener, and feels entitled to protect whatever he personally cares about on his own terms to the damnation of everything else. This is not a Shinji based on the troubled and distant child that Anno once was, but instead on the madman who bet everything and possibly ruined anime forever even from his own perspective by creating Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Evangelion and its creator’s complex relationship with anime fandom has remained one of the most-discussed factors in analyzing the franchise. On the one hand, Anno-san is by many accounts the ultimate otaku—so much so that his wife, Anno Moyoco-san, wrote a whole manga about the experience of living with one of the most famous otaku in Japan. On the other hand, Anno has a lot of problems with otaku which Evangelion sets out to explore, such as the troubling nature of waifuism and wanting people to conform to your expectations of them, and, in the case of the Rebuild films, really poking holes in the wish-fulfillment aspect of anime by showing how even if Shinji did act like a badass action hero and save the cute girl like most anime protagonists would, there might still be unforeseen and dire consequences to his unthinking actions. On the third hand, Evangelion was so popular with otaku and its designs were so iconic and beloved that they made waifu culture worse than ever before, spawned a slew of imitations, and generally drove anime even more towards the late-night viewing otaku audience.
This is what drove Anno to lift his fourth hand against his own children like Gendo and start dissing the otaku audience for years to come—claiming things like that the culture has become toxically incestuous as anime creators have stopped taking influence from other parts of culture, such as the films, shows, and books whoch had also inspired him in the creation of Eva, and become too fixated on regurgitating what has already been done in anime.
I think most of Anno’s criticism of otaku culture has been very fair; but it’s important to realize that he can only say these things with such confidence because he is talking about the culture from the inside and, as always and most especially within Evangelion, he is also criticizing himself. In the original show, Anno was working through his feelings toward his notedly cold and distant disapproving father, his struggles to communicate with his peers, and his frustrations with an industry which he’d by then been toiling through troubled productions with for more than a decade—and while it may be complicated and troubled in its approach, both endings of Evangelion were hopeful about the idea that he’d learned enough to go on living and trying to be a person. In the Rebuild films, Anno seems to draw more from the audience and their reaction to the original show on crafting Shinji, and relegates himself now into the role of the disapproving father, Gendo, who is also to be commented on and sort of redeemed in the last of the films—which I should probably start talking about now in terms of what they actually are.
Evangelion 1.0 was released in 2006 and mostly reproduces the first six episodes of the TV show image-for-image, with revamped HD animation and some extra flare put into the fight against Ramiel to make her seem like less of a joke and more of a serious threat. It also significantly reduces the sequences of Shinji moping around. I would go into more detail but frankly, trying to describe the plot of Evangelion would be more complicated than telling you just to go watch it. If you really don’t wanna do that and don’t care about spoilers then just strap in and try to keep up.
When Evangelion 2.0 released, it was tempting to look at it as a streamlined version of episodes seven through twenty or so of the original series because of how it repurposes key moments and characters from that set of episodes, but I think it’s a lot more helpful to think of it as a wholly different story that happens to bear those similarities. This is especially true when we talk about Asuka Shikinami, who is almost a totally different character from Sohryu. We don’t learn Shikinami’s backstory or watch her seethe in self-hatred and resentment like we did Sohryu. She isn’t desperate for male attention and isn’t nearly so unwilling to recognize the good things about the other kids. Asuka Shikinami is just upset that Shinji and Rei get to occupy her playground when they’ve neither put in the work nor proven their talents to deserve being there. Her arc takes a huge turn when she realizes that they get to be there because she literally just can’t save the world all by herself, and soon comes to appreciate the efforts of Shinji and Rei to such an extent that she loves and strives to protect the both of them.
This kind of linear character arc best characterizes the difference between the show and the films. Everyone in the show was intentionally portrayed as deeply unreasonable. They reacted to every perceived microaggression (which could include things like lack of immediate response or light teasing), by completely raising their guard, lashing out or running away. Their tumultuous emotions were always creating just as much danger as the angels were—and that tug of war drove the whole midsection of the series. Just when a relationship was going okay, someone would learn or say or do something to mess it up again—and the angels were constantly learning new ways to get into their heads and make things even worse. There was never a sense of linear progress—Shinji or Asuka might get better in one way, but worse in another. Rei was pretty much at the whims of fate. They all kind of cared about each-other, but also kind of didn’t.
At the start of Evangelion 2.0, Shinji and Rei hold onto the progress that they made at the end of the Ramiel fight and don’t really let go. Shinji gets some of the praise he’s always sought from his father and really grips it as a compelling force in his changing attitude towards the world. Most of what we see him do in this movie is to be attentive to the needs of Rei, to work toward a better relationship with Asuka, and to patiently listen to the advice of adults like Kaji. He expresses some level of resistance to the change others expect from him, but the ire that keeps his finger on the ‘run away’ button is exclusively aimed at his father, Gendo.
By the midway point of this film, his relationships with everyone in his age group seem pretty healthy—and the only thing which drives him to finally try and run away once more is the extreme pain of having his father literally remove his agency in controlling Eva to force him into seemingly murdering Asuka. Even still, his first response to this is a level of retaliation that only gaki-Shinji could ever do, and he gives up purely because he doesn’t want to have to fight in a system that his father ultimately controls.
Asuka and Rei are flat-out inspired by Shinji in this story. After eating enough of his prepared lunches, they both start teaching themselves to cook for him. Rei starts putting real effort into being more human and reaching attachment with those around her, and even begins working toward repairing Shinji’s relationship with his father. Asuka, seeing this, goes into her final battle with the intention of protecting Rei’s ability to do this thing for Shinji. In the last fight of the film, Rei tries to suicide-bomb the angel with an N2 mine specifically so that Shinji will never have to pilot the Evangelion again. As selfishly as we could view Shinji’s decision to run away, Rei only has sympathy for the fact that the person she loves is hurting and she wants it to stop. When Shinji is compelled back into battle, it is from being reminded once more that if he doesn’t fight, it’s Rei’s blood that will be on his hands—and of course Misato’s and everyone else’s as well—but his battle cry in the end is that he doesn’t care about the world or himself—only about protecting Ayanami.
This film also introduces us to a new character that operates as Shinji’s total foil in Makinami Mari Illustrious. Mari is shocked to find out that there is someone struggling with the notion of having to pilot an Eva. In her mind, it is just so obviously a necessity for those who can pilot to do so that she has chosen to simply enjoy it. Whatever joy can be found in doing her job, she has decided to partake in fully—and perhaps she is even over-indulgent; but as she reveals in each encounter, she is most importantly unstoppable. You could not make her run away even if you tried, because her mindset is that you have to do what you have to do, so you might as well enjoy yourself while you’re at it.
Ultimately, Mari is unable to win for humanity by herself—Shinji is special in that Gendo’s plan has always been built around him to begin with, and in his overpowering desire to rescue Rei he activates the latent power of Eva Unit 01 to initiate the third impact and bring about another mass extinction. The result of this is the world of one of the most alienating mainstream animated films I have ever seen, Evangelion 3.0.
Eva 3.0 is thematically pretty straightforward and narratively about as obtuse as it could possibly be, mostly in that the concepts and visuals on display are indeed so thoroughly alien. You can sort of piece together what is going on, but part of the point is to not really have a full grasp on it—and it remains that way because of how Shinji refuses to react to anything in a helpful manner. It’s not that his actions don’t make sense given his personality and what he’s been through, but pretty much the whole film consists of people telling Shinji not to do things that he ends up doing anyways because they feel right to him in the moment, and because he feels the need to have been doing something. This is a Shinji empowered by the idea of his own heroism that he thought he should’ve earned with his feat at the end of the previous film, and truly marks his departure from the idiot Shinji of the past who almost certainly would’ve gone into shock and done nothing ever again after getting rejected as hard as he does at the start of this movie.
When Shinji is first uncovered after fourteen years, the people he used to share some love and trust with seem to have none left for him, and only one request of his existence: do not pilot an Eva. As far as they are concerned he shouldn’t really try to help in any way, shape or form, as the result of his previous efforts pretty much ruined the world and their lives for as long as they can remember. Shinji can’t face this attitude and atmosphere, and so when Rei shows up to whisk him back to his father, he obliges in the hopes of finding a use for himself in spite of anyone’s advice. Back at NERV, Shinji finds a path of least resistance in Kaworu—someone willing to trust and love and speak to him—and so he spends a lot of time with him, while not really paying attention to or trying to understand much of what he’s saying, or to take in the lessons he imparts.
Kaworu sees humanity in the long view—a species using mass extinction as a deliberate means of attempting to reach the next evolutionary stage. He encourages and embraces change, and abates Shinji from the guilt of being an instrument of fate, as he sees himself in the same light. If anything, I think Kaworu was hoping to distract Shinji from feeling responsible for doing something—but as he becomes interested in making a Shinji so desperate to return things to how they were before happy, he leads him to the twin lances that ought to let them effect another change. Sadly for him, it is only on arrival that he realizes the situation isn’t what he thinks, and like everyone else that once trusted Shinji is incapable of getting him to stop pushing forward after realizing the hope he’d given him was false. Gaki-Shinji ends up pulling the trigger on the fourth impact, and only Kaworu’s self-sacrifice can keep it from getting any worse, as we will later learn that Shinji’s previous mentor, Kaji, had done during the third impact.
I feel obliged to mention that I don't think Eva 3.0 is as well-written as it is conceptually intriguing. Too often it feels like characterization plays second-fiddle to lore dumping, and the order in which information is relayed to Shinji is only so that the story can take the traumatic turns it needs to for making its point. Somehow it simultaneously seems to throttle you with its messaging while making little sense as a dramatic narrative. When it first came out I honestly hated this film, and while I think the fourth film does a lot to make up for its shortcomings, I still think the way characters like Asuka and Mari communicate in this film betray the nature of their characters and good writing in general. It feels way too much like everyone is speaking directly to the audience about how their similarities to Shinji are problematic.
It is mentioned often in this film that fourteen years have passed since the previous one—and when 3.0 released in 2012, it had been about just as long since the end of the original series. The Curse of the Evangelion has kept Shinji, Asuka and Mari from aging, and Shinji is desperate for a return to form—to know what became of his old friends and to continue where he left off, even in a world which in every other way is completely different. Shinji is a representative of stagnation—of the very inability to grow and evolve that Anno has accused the anime industry and the otaku audience of so many times. In his critique of that, he shows us something harrowingly new—visual styles totally unknown to anime and a world that might not even register as part of Evangelion if those child characters weren’t still running around within it.
It is important that I address at this point that it would be incredibly reductive to credit the Evangelion Rebuild films too much to Hideaki Anno. While he may have been in charge of the project and of the studio, speaking as a fan of his filmography, the movies do not really feel like Hideaki Anno projects. Just take one look at Shin Gojira for instance and see how it much more closely resembles the original Eva series than the Rebuild movies do in all the places where they aren’t referencing it directly. Rebuild 2.0 far more closely resembles the tone of FLCL and Diebuster, directed by Anno’s direct protege Kazuya Tsurumaki—whom I think should more comfortably be regarded as the director of the Rebuild films. 3.0 also credits Maeda Mahiro-san, who directed Gankutsuou (the trippy anime version of the Count of Monte Cristo), and was on the design team of Mad Max Fury Road, as a third director. Considering how much of 3.0 is dedicated just to showcasing the horrific space-goth alien design work, I think that crediting is also well deserved.
I am reminded by this film of the Watsky song, Exquisite Corpse—a nine-minute rap song in which Watsky bookends an elaborate and fantastical post-apocalyptic storytelling comedy rap contributed to by seven other artists. In its conclusion, he addresses his own ultimate lack of necessity to the world of hip-hop, and the weirdness by which he became involved in it at all, when it really was never a white boy's game to begin with. He paints himself as just another dead body that will be moved past as the genre keeps evolving and finding meaning regardless of his continued involvement.
I don’t think that Hideaki Anno necessarily enjoys that his show ended up inspiring so much imitation, evaluation and exaltation that the world couldn’t move past it; and more than anything, I have long theorized that the true purpose of the Rebuild series has been a vehicle for him to empower other people to push the medium forward in their own ways. We will get into how the Rebuild series was necessary in accomplishing this later; but even just looking at this one film, wherein Shinji, who has always stood in for Anno himself to some extent, is told that he doesn’t have to do anything by people who are frustrated by the results of his actions as they try to invent their own new solutions—all brought to animation using techniques I don’t think really exist outside of the third and fourth Rebuild movies—I can’t help but read this as Anno’s self-flagellation for his own continued insistence on returning to animation with the Eva series. Perhaps the forgiving Kaworu with a positive view of evolution sacrificing himself for Shinji could be viewed like all the inventors who’ve had to pour their talents into re-realizing this dinosaur of an IP.
Whatever the case may be, Evangelion 3.0 was as controversial as you’d expect from a story with its message. It seemed to diminish the incentive to wrap up the film series with any kind of quickness, which is fine, because in the meantime studio Khara got to make the Animator Expo, which allowed hundreds of the best creative minds in the anime industry a shot at free and high-level expression. If the Rebuild movies existed for no reason at all but to make the money for Anno to make this project possible, then their existence will have been worthwhile—but let’s wrap up that fourth film before we get into the nitty-gritty of what made these films a good idea.
Evangelion 3.0+1.0 almost couldn’t be more different from the previous film, or from the Wnd of Evangelion from which it cribs some of its key moments and imagery while flipping those on their heads. I might go so far as to call it a feel-good movie, though a deeply trippy and esoteric one. It suffers the same lack of subtlety in its writing as the last two films, with too many scenes of characters discussing the plot and themes directly or sharing information with other characters that ought to already know it for my tastes; however, if I’ve learned anything in my career as a writer and media analyst, it is that subtlety really doesn’t work when you’re trying to make a clear poibt to the audience, and is only really impressive to people who evaluate it highly as a necessary aspect of writing—which is bot the majority of people.
In its first third, this film is as humane as could even be possible within the world of Evangelion. Unlike the pilots who have been cursed with continued youth, the side characters that we never got to meet in the last film have all grown up to maintain livelihood in the ruined world that the near third impact left behind—and so have had to learn the very basics of how to survive as human villagers. In their adulthood they have become patient and caring, facing enough hardship and having had enough responsibility thrust on them to understand and sympathize with the likes of Shinji and Rei. As such, they are capable of giving those children the kind of care and attention which the broken adults of the original scenario were never capable of giving. Rei in particular, having been given her first existential crisis at the end of the previous film, takes an interest in understanding how to be human on a very fundamental level; and in learning about it, is able to pay it forward ro Shinji until he finally awakens from his catatonia. I really appreciate the idea behind this part of the movie, of taking these kids out of their anime world and putting them into as real a world as could exist inside this narrative, as a kind of advisement to the audience that if they want to be more of a person, they can put down the anime and go do some actual labor with real human beings outside, though the folksy charm and patient wisdom of the villagers can feel a little forced. A better version of this story can be found in the very worthwhile Isao Takahata film Only Yesterday from studio Ghibli.
After that we plunge into more than an hour of what I can best describe as character exonerations. Everyone has their traumas and motivations laid out so that they can come to terms with their feelings toward one-another and offer forgiveness. Shinji, realizing he has the only real decision-making power in the scenario besides his father, who set everything up in this round of the universe to revolve around himself, finally confronts him inside of a cluster-mindfuck world to learn that the very same emotional wreckage that made Shinji who he is has first compelled his father to make all of these choices.
It is very difficult for me not to read Gendo’s self-given backstory as Hideaki Anno laying his own soul bare to explain why he created Evangelion the way he did. I have no grounds to speculate on whether he ever got to speak to his own father this way and to find out how their own upbringings were similar, but this without a doubt to me reads as the father of the modern otaku admitting that his story about being a distant weirdo was itself so distant and weird that it could only have fostered distant weirdos as children. There is a massive difference between the Eva that spends its whole time looking inward at psychology to try and understand itself, and the mew Eva which instead suggests that the key to getting out of your depressive self-centered spiral lies in embracing the basic niceties that guide human civilization. You don’t really need the intellectual or philosophical understanding of the differences others have in their perceptions to be able to start the healing process—you just need to go out there and start being a person, one step at a time.
Whereas I described the imagery of the End of Evangelion as ‘mind-searing,’ the end of the Rebuild is instead comically absurd. Like the other endings, it involves a lot of meta text and fourth wall breaking, but it isn't so much a jumbled mess of coded impressions as it is an audacious attempt at neatly tying all aspects of Eva up in a bow. We don’t quite get an explanation of what it means for Makinami Illustrious to be a sort of anti-Christ named Mari Iscariot, nor a clear grasp of the function of the endless cycle of this story which Kaworu is apparently doomed to observe eternally—hell, it’s not even clear if that cycle is still going in the end—but if nothing else, for the purpose of the Rebuilds, the curse of Evangelion seems to have been lifted, and the characters finally allowed to grow into adulthood and step into reality.
How effective is all of this, I struggle to say. I grew up with Neon Genesis Evangelion, and while it meant a lot to me, it also didn’t by any means untrap me from anime or least me into adulthood. I emerged into reality a while before this film series concluded, and could nod conceptually at what this presentation of events is trying to say and what it seems to mean for Anno as a person reflecting on the effects of his most famous work, but I don’t feel very strongly effected by it because of how the presentation doesn’t resonate with me the same. I watched this film series with my fiance who did not enjoy the original show enough to want to finish it after ten episodes, and while he enjoyed the films a lot more to the point of making it to the end and understanding the point, he also didn’t feel it so deeply as to have been emotionally effected by it. There have been many ardent defenders of the third film in particular who find the way it approached punishing the wish-fulfillment fantasy so many have wanted Eva to be instead of what it was, but I don’t know how satisfied they are now with the fourth, and honestly it’s hard to even look at the film series contextually as a singular piece when they took so incredibly long to be released in full. Are any of us who kept up with it until now even close to the same people we were when the first Rebuild came out, mich less even the third one? My opinions on the second and third films have made continuous dramatic shifts over the years, and only in rewatching the second through fourth as I wrote this video did I finally grasp the entire actual story to a point I could tell you what the hell was going on—which is something I haven’t bothered doing here because frankly, I don’t care that much about the actual plot of either version of Evangelion. It has always been to me primarily a vehicle for character-driven thematic exploration and two different kinds of incredibly radical visuals made possible through insane worldbuilding; the way all if that is narratively justified be damned. That may also be part of why the films do less for me, as giving a more clearly spelled-out version of the narrative mostly confirms how ridiculous it always sounded on paper without falling back to dress the windows into the soul that were the imagery and dialog.
Nevertheless, while I may not have the best vantage point to discuss the necessity of the Rebuild films as an emotional narrative, I am still sure that the films had a purpose historically in what they did for Anno and the people he works with, as well as for the industry of animation as a whole, and that it may have been a noble one, though the fruits of its labor are, I hope, only barely planted and budding still.
By all modern accounts, including that of Anno-san in his expose from a couple of years ago, the studio most responsible for the original Evangelion series, GAINAX, was an operation of extreme hubris and incompetence. I won’t get into all the details here as it would take a while and you can go read Anno’s account firsthand linked in the description below, but suffice it to say that there were many good reasons for Anno to part ways with them around the turn of the millennium and to build his own studio in the form of Khara for the production of the Rebuild series. The most potent of those reasons to me would be that of intellectual property rights. The creation of a legally distinct Asuka Shikinami, new characters like makinami Mari, changes to all of the costume and mecha designs as well as new forms and titles, all to me reads first and foremost as an attempt to recreate Evangelion in a form whereupon Anno and the production committee behind the Rebuild series could fully control the IP without GAINAX’s interference.
It is important to realize that Evangelion is one of the biggest money-making franchises of all time, particularly in the world of anime. It had a theme park, a whole town themed around it, and enough merchandise that there are youtube videos about how you can live your entire life using only Eva themed stuff. This os a twofold empire as well—the original IP is bigger than God on its own, but the Rebuild franchise has now had the time, space and control to take the reigns as the driver of Evangelion product. Adding a new design to Evangelion is tantamount to creating an entirely new market force, and the Rebuild films did as much of it as they could get away with, out-milking the original and keeping Evangelion as a household name in Japan for the last decade and a half.
Gainax eventually ran itself into the ground through continued mismanagement, with staff splintering off in all directions, while Anno has used his money and power to resurrect the medium of miniatures in film, produce the best and most massive series of experimental short films of the 2010s, and also one of the only original OVAs to drop that decade in Kazuya Tsurumaki’s Dragon Dentist. As I mentioned before, the Rebuild films have showcases some of the most incentive and insane to look at animation techniques that I hope are pioneering a future of stunning stuff I’ve never seen before. It’s hard to know what else the power of Eva has allowed to be accomplished behind the scenes, or what it might lead to in the future, but I can almost forgive its having hogged so much of the studio’s attention for so long if Shin Ultraman comes out as good as Shin Gojira did, and if Tsurumaki gets to make another interesting project after being occupied with Wva for so long.
In the end, the legacy of Evangelion is only just entering its next phase. The impact of the original series is so deeply ingrained into what anime has become that I can’t imagine the medium without it, even if it hasn’t been dead cribbed-from lately in the way it was in the first ten years of its wake, but only because it is part of the bedrock everything since has built onto. The Rebuild films don’t necessarily do enough different narratively to have left another distinguishing mark on the anime landscape, but their animation techniques and imagery almost certainly will, and the existence of Evangelion the commodity will continue to be a part of the social lifeblood of anime culture probably forever. Regardless of the canonical entries created by Anno, there has always been a constant stream of sanctioned and unsanctioned stories being told with Eva’s characters, universe and imagery, and probably will continue to be for as long as anime culture remains a part of world culture. I certainly think I will find myself with more than enough reasons to keep talking about this franchise well into the future, even if I do so primarily because it's undying infamy is great for drawing attention, which can then hopefully be redirected into other points of interest.
On that note, this video is the fourth episode of the Anime Alphabet retrospective series, with previous videos about anime classics Attack no. 1, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Digimon Adventure, each of which has its own sequels to be created once those videos reach view count goals established therein. When this Evangelion video reaches 100k views, I will finally go back and complete my episode-by-episode coverage of the original series which I began and abandoned in 2015. When it reaches 200k views, I will extend into related media such as the Evangelion manga, which is considered by some the best version of the original story, penned by the character designer, Toshiyuki Sadamoto, as well as some of the other popular offshoot stories. Anime Alphabet will continue next month with the release of F is for Fullmetal Alchemist, in which I will compare and analyze the manga versus both of its anime adaptations. You can support my efforts through my patreon, as well as find bonus articles and podcasts on goldenwitch.substack.com. I review music, interview musicians and create my own music over on the Branches of Ygg channel, and you can see my adventures in the offline world on the Picnic Adventure channel. Learn more about myself and my crew by watching the VOIDGAZERS variety show, and find me as goldenwitchfire on social media. Thanks again for watching, and don’t forget: anime forever.
All Anime Alphabet Episodes: https://www.youtube.com/playlistlist=PLw6UBKuaMyFCKrC7j2yoj5_vSLvfutsfk
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All music from Evangelion 1.0 and 3.0+1.0
Anno’s exposé on GAINAX: https://diamond.jp/articles/-/224881