Cast: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuuko Miyamura, Kotono Mitsuishi, Akira Ishida, Fumihiko Tachiki
Running time: 96mins
The lowdown: Head scratching ahoy as the Rebuild of Evangelion moves from the five star brilliance of Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance into the abstract bafflement of 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Set fourteen years after the cataclysmic events of part two, creator Hideaki Anno radically shifts the story and invites arguments he’s lost the plot altogether. Animation and Shiro Sagisu’s score are astounding, but when the completed Rebuild saga is finally compared to the brilliance of the original anime series, You Can (Not) Redo may say it all.
The full verdict: Mid 1990s anime series Neon Genesis: Evangelion was so criticised for its two-part conclusion, Hideaki Anno made a brace of feature films to wrap up events more satisfactorily, 1997’s Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion.
Now three movies into a “Rebuild” he began in 2007, Anno risks igniting similar fan fury with this latest Evangelion. Whereas 2.22 took the series into bold new directions, expanding the Eva world and climaxing with a breathtaking denouement, 3.0 narrows its universe and invokes the original series ending that got everyone steamed in the first place.
Fourteen years after the events of 2.22, Asuka and Mari retrieve Shinji, languishing (perhaps as a spirit?) in the shell of Eva Unit-01, which hangs in Earth orbit.
Treated with hostility by old friend Misato, Shinji learns his actions at the end of 2.22 brought about the Third Impact, which was subsequently prevented but not before wiping out most life on Earth. He also learns that piloting a giant robot Eva again may restart the apocalypse.
Aboard the Avengers-style flying battleship Wunder, Shinji learns Misato now heads up anti-NERV organisation WILLE. During an attack on the Wunder, Rei, piloting another Eva, snatches Shinji away and returns him to NERV.
There his father instructs him he is to pilot the new Evangelion Unit-13, along with the mysterious boy Kaworu.
Evangelion is not for the fair-weather anime fan, but even die-hards are likely to be disappointed by this third instalment.
Seemingly bewitched by the potential of CGI animation to create near-surreal battle sequences, Anno largely discards plot and character. Bar two military drone attacks on the Evas in the opening twenty minutes (which are easy to mistake for Angel attacks) little occurs in the first act, Anno tossing aside a third of the movie’s running time.
He also seems reluctant to reveal what has occurred in the fourteen years Shinji’s been hibernating, squandering a potentially interesting game of story catch-up.
Other questions are left hanging – why haven’t Asuka and Mari aged either? Is Asuka’s explanation that it is the “curse of the Eva” a reference to fanboy desire that these characters never develop – how interesting it would have been to see a late 20s Asuka confronting Shinji.
How does NERV operate with only a handful of staff, including Shinji’s do-little father Gendo?
Why is the climax basically a replay of 2.22? Why did Anno ditch all of 2.22’s “preview” material in favour of such a story cul-de-sac? Why are there title cards at the ends of Acts I and II?
How will part 4 overcome the plot limitations (uninteresting post-apocalyptic world, reduced number of characters) to make the whole Rebuild project worthwhile?
It’s not the first time we’ve been left with more questions than answers. But, despite moments of brilliance, beautiful animation and the joy of seeing Shinji, Asuka, Misato, etc again, this is the first time we’ve come closer to not caring what the answers might be.
With Evangelion, we may ultimately realise You Can (Not) Go Back.