Royals Rumblings - News for February 3, 2023

Feb 3, 2023 - 1:00 PM
Hey, there’s a “Hideaki Anno” image in our image archive | Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Just another reminder (Greg mentioned it yesterday, too). Single game tickets go on sale today at 10am Royals time:

Keith Law came out with new prospect rankings and Rany helps frame them:

Vinnie Pasquantino chats with Fangraphs David Laurilia about the nuts and bolts of modern hitting:

Pasquantino: “Bat path… maybe. Sure. But I would say it’s more the depth of contact on different pitchers. If a guy is throwing a heavy two-seam that day, and he’s mixing in a changeup, you want to be a little bit deeper in the zone because that’s where the ball is going. You want to beat the ball to the best spot. So, I would say a little bit, yeah, but it’s more just where you want to make contact with the ball.”

He’s also appears on two Fantasy baseball breakout lists:

Craig Brown examines the return of the return of Zack:

Greinke was the second-best starter for the Royals last season. Yeah, the bar was low, but credit goes where it’s due. If Greinke is again the Royals second-best starter, there’s going to be another round of very unpleasant questions that would need to be asked. (Like…Is it possible to fire Cal Eldred again?) He was worth 1.9 fWAR last summer. Steamer and ZiPS project a year of 1.1 fWAR with an ERA north of 4 in around 140 innings.

Blog roundup?

This is another one of those days where we’re going to combine the movie review OT section and the SotD into one section since it’s all together today.

Ed note: Looking at the word count (almost 8500), this is all going getting posted today. But after today, it’s getting broken into two parts and the second part is going to show up next week so that this page doesn’t look so long. I realize we’re not going to be talking about this two weeks straight so I’m hoping there’s some Spring Training news to talk about instead. Or just lots of Superb Owl talk.

Today’s subject is the Rebuild of Evangelion movies (FYI: Amazon Prime doesn’t need someone like me to shill for them, but all 4 movies of the Rebuild are there). This is one of those entries that maybe isn’t a traditional OT Rumblings. Generally, the idea is to get the coversation started but sometimes it’s just me organizing thoughts in my head. I hope they usually fit into both buckets of “things I want to write about” and “things you want to talk about”. Sometimes they fill one bucket more than the other. I think the Wedding Singer has some sage words about this. For the two or three of you who might have seen these movies: see you in the comments section. For the rest: buckle in, kids, this is going to be a long, weird ride.

For those unfamiliar, we’re just going to let wiki start out with the Wikipedia entry for Neon Genesis Evangelion:

Neon Genesis Evangelion... is a Japanese mecha anime television series... set fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm, particularly in the futuristic fortified city of Tokyo-3. The protagonist is Shinji Ikari, a teenage boy who is recruited by his father Gendo to the shadowy organization Nerv to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha named “Evangelion” into combat against beings known as “Angels”. The series explores the experiences and emotions of Evangelion pilots and members of Nerv as they try to prevent Angels from causing more cataclysms. In the process, they are called upon to understand the ultimate causes of events and the motives for human action. The series has been described as a deconstruction of the mecha genre and it features archetypal imagery derived from Shinto cosmology as well as Jewish and Christian mystical traditions, including Midrashic tales and Kabbalah. The psychoanalytic accounts of human behavior put forward by Freud and Jung are also prominently featured.

Neon Genesis Evangelion received critical acclaim but was also subject to controversy. Particularly controversial were the final two episodes of the series, as the ending was deemed confusing and abstract to many viewers and critics alike. In 1997, Hideaki Anno and Gainax released the feature film The End of Evangelion, which serves as an alternate ending replacing the final two episodes. A series of four films, titled Rebuild of Evangelion, retelling the events of the series with different plot elements and a new ending, were released between 2007 and 2021. The success of the series led to a rebirth of the anime industry, and it has become a cultural icon.

In short, it’s one of the most significant anime in history. As noted above, it’s given credit for resurrecting the anime industry in Japan and a number of the early Toonami-era anime shows that popularized the genre in the US trace some roots to Eva, be it the “short serial” format, serious tone, or including a core of Philosophy or Psychology 101 to give the show some heft.

It’s as obfuscatingly dense and controversial as it is influential. The last two episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) series are a significant departure from the rest of the show in both style and tone, for a number of reasons. And when that ending didn’t satisfy, creator Hideaki Anno and Gainax (studio) made a movie that served as another “ending” called End of Evangelion (EoE). The best fan explanation I have for these two endings is that the original ending (episodes 25/26 of the show) are what is happening inside the heads of the main characters while EoE is what is happening in the outside world, continuing what was seen in episodes 1-24.

Finally, today’s topic is the Rebuild of Evangelion, a set of 4 movies released in 2007, 2009, 2012, and (finally) 2021. It takes the original story and retells part of it before forging its own path. If you’re just going to watch one flavor of the show, this is probably the most approachable. But there’s a lot to be gained by watching the entire oeuvre (in which case, I recommend a watching order of NGE -> EoE -> Rebuild, though fans have come up with more detailed sequences that are akin to the Star Wars Machete Order).

Before we get any further, I have to put up this disclaimer. The rest of this is really spoiler heavy as it’s going to be difficult to talk about these movies without delving pretty deep into the plot, characters, and settings, both fictionally and meta-fictionally. Eva has always been cryptic by design – I think some of it is creator Hideaki Anno being an “artist” and playing the “I’m leaving this up to your interpretation” type games. But it’s also really dense and rewatchable; for instance, if you blink, you’ll probably miss some hints about, say, Asuka’s or Mari’s past. I know I did the first time. Protip: it’s nice to have an Eva wiki handy to help decode what you just watched. The reviewer on IGN, Kyle McLain, said this: “At my showing of the film, everyone in the theater was given a small pamphlet highlighting new in-universe lore and phrases introduced throughout the movie”. On the one hand, you probably shouldn’t need additional resources to watch a movie. On the other, it’s nice to not have everything spoon fed to you and get more from repeated viewings, even if you have to put up with some obnoxious obfuscation-by-design. So keep this in mind as we go along: there may not be a right answer, even if fandom has coalesced around a particular theory. Lastly, I’m a casual fan so my interpretations are one set and I certainly don’t have views that line up with the hardest of hardcore fans.

If you’re going to try to read as you go along, these two sites can be helpful:

Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)

At first glance, 1.0 is almost a note-for-note retelling of episodes 1-6. A friend of mine said he watched this one and then gave up on the rebuilds because it was basically just going to rehash the original. By all outward appearances, this is the case. I believe this is deliberate misdirection, but, as I indicated above, with so much of this franchise, it’s a bit unclear.

For context: these movies were released across 15 years, including lots of production delays and changes. I don’t get the impression these movies were meticulously planned and, even the things that were, once they were down on paper, were subject to change. Amusingly, during the credits for each movie, there’s a trailer for the next and they never match up at all. The first two movies (1.0 and 2.0) were released less than two years apart and follow the series fairly closely. But after that, the story is almost completely new and the third (3.0) and fourth (3.0+1.0) movies took more than 3 and 8(!) year gaps between releases. While Anno was the head of the project, there were 4 different directors and not in the standard way that 4 different movies have 4 directors. Kazuya Tsurumaki is credited for all 4 movies, but there are also three others with directing credits: Masayuki (1-3), Mahiro Maeda (3-4), Katsuichi Nakayama (4). Not only that, but people and ideas and life stages change across 15 years so I can’t imagine the creative vision was consistent from start to finish, move than five thousand days later.

Just like in the series, the intro shot is gorgeous and throws you right into the action. All 4 movies start with a giant robot set pieces battle and they’re all beautiful, even if a bit over reliant on CGI. The angel designs stand out as a good use of CGI - they retain much of their original creepiness and mysteriousness; some are even enhanced by the new, modern animation. Generally, the digital ink and paint looks as good as it always had and the CGI is used to augment not overwhelm.

Similarly, much of the excellent music has been reused and modernized. Shirō Sagisu’s iconic score still supplements the story’s strong world building. For instance, the visual and audio cues still work in concert to convey the awe of Tokyo-3, the horror of the angels, and the contrasting whimsical everyday life of Shinji, Misato, and others. It’s also gratifying to read about how Anno and Sagisu collaborated to make sure the music and visuals harmonized as it seems like more and more directors are just using temp tracks* (h/t to Matthew) and bland, forgettable music. Sadly, the original theme song, A Cruel Angel’s Thesis, which now sounds decidedly retro, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we have newer pop theme songs from Hikaru Utada, which we’ll talk more about in SotD.

As before, most all of our main characters and initial exposition are introduced during this movie. Our protagonist, such that he is, is teenager Shinji Ikari. Just as he’s always been, he’s an obsequious loser and tabula rasa, who makes the worst incarnations of Tenchi (a contemporary anime character with a similar design) look mature, composed, and brave. The main plot revolves around his emotional arc and it’s probably the greatest source of frustration in this franchise.

Anno has said that many of the other characters in the show are from different aspects of his personality and, frankly, they’re all quite broken. Though who wouldn’t be in this dystopia where half of the world’s population died 15 years ago in the “Second Impact”?

Shinji’s mother, Yui, died mysteriously a few years later in an accident with one of the Evangelions, the series namesake. What are Evas? Evas are living giants with armor and an A.T Field, created by humans from the Angels, such as Adam and Lilith, that had been awakened on earth. What are Angels? The Angels are giant beings of immense power sent by the First Ancestral Race. What is the Second Impact? The Second Impact was when Dr. Katsuragi, backed by SEELE, and accompanied by Gendo Ikari went to Antarctica and tried to merge human DNA with Adam and... you can see how the lore and world building spirals out of control quickly. Much of this lore is dripped out during the course of the series, often when it would best illuminate a character’s otherwise puzzling actions.

The death of Yui broke Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s already ambitious and unstable father, and he sent Shinji away. His motivation in all instances of the franchise is to discover a way to rewrite reality itself using the Human Instrumentality Project so that he can be with Yui once again. He is in charge of NERV, the UN agency charged with preventing a Third Impact, an extinction level event. NERV is really backed by SEELE, but Gendo plays both organizations off each other for his own gain. Also, at NERV is Gendo’s second-in-command Kozo Fuyutsuki, Shinji’s commanding officer Misato Katsuragi (I’m sure that last name is just a coincidence), and scientist Ritsuko Akagi.

The plot proceeds as it does in the originals, with minor changes and substantial omissions to get it down to half the run time. Misato picks up Shinji to make him pilot Eva-01 to battle an Angel for his father. He refuses until he sees the mysterious and injured other pilot Rei Ayanami being forced to take his place. Completely unprepared, the Angel incapacitates him and the Eva comes alive, brutally winning the fight. After he recovers, he enrolls at a local school, meets two classmates, Toji and Kensuke, and proceeds to learn how to pilot an Eva.

Many of the same broad strokes are there as he deals with problems on two tracks. With NERV, more Angels attack and he has to learn to work with Rei and overcome them in different ways. In his personal life, he deals with the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, addresses his failure and runs away before coming back, listens to his SDAT that symbolically changes tracks with his character’s actions, and grows closer to his classmates, especially Rei. The movie ends with the climactic battle where Rei selflessly sacrifices herself to protect Shinji as he defeats the Sixth Angel and he rushes to free her from the Eva.

In all, it plays like an upgraded version of the first few episodes of the series. The plot is more streamlined, the animation improved, and Shinji’s character a bit more developed at the expense of depth elsewhere. It was a commercial success and, generally, a critical one. Many correctly observed that it was just the original series with a fresh coat of paint. I think many expected all four movies to be like this. They were wrong.

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009)

Whereas 1.0 is almost a note-for-note retelling of the first few episodes, 2.0 is a Greatest Hits of episodes 7-19ish and viewers are led to think that, just like 1.0, this is just a cleaner retelling of the original NGE story. Right up until it’s not.

Yes, that’s a little bit of oversimplification as there are also a lot of new bits. They can seem a bit jarring until you realize what is happening across the entire set of movies. I don’t envy the Studio Khara’s task one bit. They had to retell a wildly popular story in only 4 short movies. These aren’t supersized MCU-length movies, either; they clock in at 98, 108, 96, and 155 minutes.

Eva is a science fiction character drama that features giant mech battle action sequences, 90s-era secret government conspiracies, cryptic religious lore, and fanservice to appeal to a larger audience all set in a futuristic dystopia that requires extensive world building. That’s a lot to cover and not a lot of time. This means the movies are always moving at a fast clip (upside: we’re freed from some of the draggy sequences of characters on escalators talking about trivialities). This primarily manifests in two ways and is most evident in this movie.

First off, nearly all of the characters aren’t as deep as in the series. Yes, those plodding long shots of the NERV escalators were dry and classroom scenes were goofy, but they add richer colors to the character tapestry. A lot of the characterization that is spread through the middle episodes of the series is mashed into a couple of new events. A bunch of Rei, Asuka, and Misato character development is smashed into a dinner-with-Gendo plot in 2.0 that is also rushed, too. Asuka Shikinami is the third of the Eva pilots and her hyper-competent-bordering-on-brash introduction plays as it does before, establishing her as one of the main characters in the story.

Another new plot involves Ryoji Kaji, who in NGE, was a mysterious NERV double agent who has known Misato and Ritsuko since college. He takes the major characters who are students to a research aquarium. The world is even more bleak in the Rebuilds than in NGE as the ocean has turned red and is devoid of life. However, this refreshing scene breaks the tension between battles and reminds viewers that this even in this post-apocalyptic world, there is hope for the future.

In the Rebuilds there’s not enough time to develop Ritsuko and Kaji properly. Because of this, we lose the duality of Kaji/Gendo and Misato/Ritsuko as postive and negative role models for Shinji and Asuka. The plot from Ritsuko’s character episode (one of my favorites) about her mom and the Magi computers, is gone. Kaji’s surrogate father role is reduced to the aquarium scene, a handful of lines, some references to his offspring and watermelons, and a martyrdom that is referenced only in flashback.

Ultimately, many of the character arcs are stripped back to focus primarily on the one between Shinji and Gendo. I feel this mostly makes sense, not just because of the change in medium, but in the overall context, taking into account how the three versions of the story interplay with each other and what is most important in this third retelling. But you don’t know that until the very end.

Lost in this creative decision is any deeper meaning in Shinji and Asuka’s relationship. There’s no time for Asuka’s depression story arc or Toji becoming the fourth pilot (though I’ve always felt that plot got short shrift in the show, too) - these plots simply don’t exist in the Rebuild. And we also have to leave time for the new pilot, Mari Makinami Illustrious. We’ll talk more about her later.

The second way the shorter running time affects the movies is that some of the important moments don’t get a chance to breathe. It’s not for a lack of trying as there are times when even the movies slow down ponderously. However, in the series, the dummy plug scene and Unit-01’s Berserker Mode scene are two of the more shocking scenes in anime and are separate angel encounters (13/14) in separate episodes (18/19) of NGE.

In the Rebuild, these are combined into the Ninth Angel attack so each loses some punch. For the bulk of the movie, the trio of pilots, Shinji, Rei, and Asuka learn to work together, balancing their relationships, as the Angel attacks continue to evolve. In NGE, Unit-03 is infected by an Angel and the pilot of the rogue Eva is Toji, a casual friend who was on his first mission. In the Rebuilds, it’s Asuka, one of the core characters, a change which should have made the pivotal scene even more impactful.

When Shinji refuses to fight the other Eva, Gendo removes Shinji’s control of Unit-01 and switches to an experimental autopilot (the dummy plug). This causes his Eva to behave like a feral animal, brutally tearing Unit-03 apart and then crushing Asuka’s cockpit in its teeth. All while Shinji is captive in the cockpit of Unit-01, powerless to change what his Eva is doing. In the manga, this attack kills Toji. In the series, Shinji sees who it is and lets out an inhuman scream and then the episode credits roll. Here, it’s put to odd children’s music so that, even upon seeing it’s Asuka, it’s projects a bizarre tone and, because of the format, we have to charge forward into the next scene.

Upon regaining control of Unit-01, a furious Shinji attacks NERV HQ until Gendo floods the cockpit and Shinji passes out. He runs away from NERV again and has to do soul searching to find what he really wants. All of this gets overshadowed by the next scene, the movie finale. This can make parts of the series and movies feel tonally different, even if unintentionally.

Up until this point, it feels like these changes were for the deliberate purpose of better fitting the story into the shorter movie format. Or they were stylistic in nature, like Asuka having a different last name that better matched up with other characters. The finale of 2.22 changes everything.

As before, the Tenth Angel attacks but Unit-01 will not start for the dummy plug. In NGE, the Angel puts Asuka and Rei and their Evas out of commission, leaving Shinji the only one to stop it. He goes into Berserker Mode and Unit-01 devours the Angel, as noted above, one of the most memorable moments in the series.

In the Rebuild, Asuka is still hurt so an injured Rei and her damaged Unit-00 are all that stands between the Angel and NERV HQ. Her attack fails and the Angel consumes her and her Eva before proceeding to NERV. Upon seeing the Angel partially take Rei’s form, Shinji returns to pilot Unit-01 once more. To defeat it, he goes into Berserker Mode, and merges with his Eva. Rather than consuming the Angel, he reaches into its core to pull out Rei and then combine with the Angel to become a god. This triggers the (Near) Third Impact. All of our main characters have a front row seat to what Ritsuko declares is “The end of the world” and the credits roll.

The film was more commercially successful than the first, a trend that continues in the series. The movies make $20M, $44M, $67M, and $93M on budgets of $7M, $10M, $13M, and $20M. The reviews were a little more mixed, with many praising the new direction of the story while others decried them. Then again, I’m not sure the 11 official critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are an accurate gauge of critical consensus. Almost all of them are shorter than what I’m writing and read like the literary equivalent of someone forced to eat their broccoli before they can go back to watching Oscar-bait. By comparison, Disney’s Strange World, which has grossed less, has 161 reviews, so we’re talking reviewer small sample size with the Rebuilds.

At the end of the credits, the Spear of Cassius is cast down from the heavens and impales Unit-01, prematurely ending its apotheosis and the Third Impact. Eva Mark.06 and its pilot Kaworu, descend from the moon, declaring “This time, I will show you happiness”.

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (2012)

If you held any illusion that the new movie would revert back to the original series, the intro leaves no doubt we’re in new territory now, no longer treading the ground of NGE. It’s understatement to say that 3.0 is a bit of a mess and the weak link of the series. But it’s also jolts the narrative forward.

The movie starts out inconspicuously enough with Asuka and Mari being dispatched to retrieve Shinji and Unit-01 from space after the events of 2.0. Only they’re ambushed by Angel-like drones and Unit-01 wakes up to destroy them. Asuka escorts Shinji back to Earth, where he’s taken aboard the AAA Wunder, a giant fortress ship akin to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.

Upon his return, there’s a palpable tension. Old friends are acting frigid, and a new character introduces herself as Sakura Suzuhara, the name of Toji’s little sister. Asuka angrily punches a crack in the glass of his isolation chamber and explains that it’s been 14 long years since the Near Third Impact and the only reason she hasn’t aged is due to the “Curse of Eva”. A distant Misato tells him to “don’t do anything” while Ritsuko coldy informs him he has an explosive collar (DSS Choker) and that if he ever pilots an Eva again, they will kill him to prevent another awakening. They are now all a part of WILLE, a resistance cell fighting Gendo and NERV to prevent the Fourth Impact.

As they are explaining that Rei is gone, no one found a trace of her, and his actions that cost millions of lives was meaningless, he hears Rei’s voice. Mark.09, an Eva very similar to Rei’s Unit-00, attacks the Wunder, blows a hole in the hull, and reaches a hand out to the confused Shinji. Faced with the choice between a hostile WILLE and a lifeline from the friend he saved, he goes with Rei. While escaping, Sakura begs him to never fly another Eva, as he’s a walking cataclysm. Misato hesitates pulling the trigger on the DSS Choker until he is out of range.

In NGE, Rei is one of many clones of Shinji’s mother Yui. This knowledge drains some of the drama out of the next act. Shinji’s delight quickly sours as he realizes this empty vessel is not the Rei he saved at the end of the last movie, the one he shared experiences with. Fuyutsuki confirms she is a clone and this realization pushes Shinji further into despair.

Enter Kaworu, the mysterious and beloved character from a single, poignant episode of the series. He suffers from overexposure here as he’s already been seen in the previous movies and stars here. Shinji wasn’t mentally strong to begin with but now he’s broken, abandoned, and a kid out of time. So he instantly latches onto this sympathetic character. They play piano duets and gaze up at the stars. Kaworu fixes his SDAT player and then removes the DSS Choker, taking the burden on himself. Shinji never really stops to ask how or why Kaworu can do these things, he’s just happy to find a friend.

Kaworu shows Shinji the results of the Near Third Impact on the world, how the survivors blame him for this, and how Gendo plans to go through the Human Instrumentality Project. He wants Kaworu and Shinji to co-pilot Unit-13, to force a mass extinction and humanity’s evolution, to remove their individuality and reunite with his lost Yui. The impact of his decision to start the Near Third Impact rocks Shinji.

One of the frustrating parts of dealing with this movie is that Shinji is repeatedly beaten over the head with the moral “you made the choices, now you live with them”. And this beating extends to the audience where you’re made to feel guilty for cheering alongside Misato at the end of 2.0 when she yells “Don’t do this for someone else; Do this for your own desires!” Shinji finally makes a decision for himself, breaking free from his reliance on everyone else, his defining character trait.

Is he rewarded for it? No. Rei is gone, never to be seen again. It would be like if Neo saved Trinity at the end of Matrix: Reloaded, but never ran across her again, except maybe as a ghosted memory fragment in the Matrix. There’s no tangible payoff for his growth or personal risk. Instead, he’s brutally punished for it. His actions caused the Near Third Impact, destroying Tokyo-3, and killing countless people. That guilt destroys him.

This wasn’t some fatal Shakespearean flaw where Shinji selfishly took what he wanted, rest of the world be damned. What he did was out of love, with no indication what the outcome would be, good or bad. Good process yielded bad results and he’s moralistically punished for it.

Kaworu tells him that if they use Eva-13, they can retrieve the Spear of Longinus (despair) and Spear of Cassius (hope) to rewrite reality and erase his mistakes. Wanting to atone, Shinji eagerly agrees. They pilot Eva-13 into the depths of NERV Terminal Dogma, accompanied by Rei in Eva Mark.09. Misato sends Asuka and Mari to stop them and the Twelfth Angel attacks. The battlefield descends into chaos. Eventually, Mark.09 and Asuka’s Unit-02 are destroyed while Unit-13 consumes the Twelfth Angel.

You can’t say the Fourth Impact was foreshadowed, so much as it was shouted at the audience. Kaworu, the main character sitting nearby in the dual cockpit, the one that broken Shinji has latched onto, keeps yelling that something is wrong, to not grab the spears, those same spears that he had told Shinji about in the first place. But Shinji completely disregards him and grabs what are revealed to be two Spears of Longinus. They had fallen into Gendo’s trap.

Ruefully, Kaworu reveals that he was the First Angel and is now cast down as the Thirteenth. He tries to use the spears of despair to destroy Unit-13. But then he realizes he has to sacrifice himself. Shinji watches in horror as the DSS Choker decapitates his only friend in the other cockpit. Mari forces Shinji’s Entry Plug from Unit-13. With both pilots gone, the Impact ends prematurely again. Shinji’s escape pod lands in the wastelands where the others also crashed. Stranded in the red desert, Asuka gathers Rei and a catatonic Shinji to look for help.

The last act is really frustrating to watch, one of those times when you want to yell at a character onscreen because they are acting foolishly. Similarly, Kaworu should have known better. And so, the third movie ends like the second, with Shinji causing another aborted Impact. At least in 2.0 he was trying to save Rei and grow as a character. Here, he’s merely a broken child trying to undo the previous mistake. He’s tricked into it, gets nothing out of it, and loses Kaworu in the process. It’s wholly unsatisfying.

Of all the rebuilds, this one had the most negative reception. Oddly, a number of the OG fans list it as their favorite, the only movie they like in the Rebuilds, because it’s something new. Or maybe they’re just being contrarian gatekeepers, like fans of so many niche interests. Structurally, some things work: the time skip helps the Rebuilds break free from the originals. However, many don’t: too much Kaworu, too much emotional torment for Shinji, and too many similarities between the ending of 2.0 and 3.0. This was the last Eva movie for more than 8 years and many feared it might be the last Eva movie ever made.

Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (2021)

As I said at the start, buckle in: this is going to go long. Not only is the final Rebuild movie much longer than the others, it carries the burden of wrapping up a (dense) 25 year old franchise after an 8 year hiatus. Against all odds, it mostly sticks the landing, even with all the previously encrusted dogma, not just from the Rebuilds but from the previous other tellings, and heightened expectations of a series dormant for too long.

The final movie starts out with another gorgeous CGI battle. Want to see Ritsuko’s nervous team of WILLE hackers try to activate an Angel defense system in central Paris while Wunder’s battleships fly through the air to provide cover and Mari acrobatically destroys waves of evil Evas before chucking a red Eiffel Tower at them? Then you’re in luck!

The hope of a new defense system is muted as the opening credits roll over a dying world. It is covered with the red “blood” from Angel battles. Headless floating zombie Evas called Failures of Infinity, remnants of the Near Third Impact, are everywhere. To say nothing for the abandoned cities and countless dead.

The first hour moves slowly, in contrast to the rest of the series. Asuka helps guide Rei and Shinji to Village 3, a small town protected by one of the defense systems. Shinji, traumatized by the events of the last movie, won’t eat or speak for a long time. When he sees Asuka’s DSS Choker, he flashes back to Kaworu’s death and vomits. In turn, Asuka forces food down his throat so he doesn’t die.

It was a daring gambit to stop the action for more than an entire act when there’s so little time left. However, this creative choice pays off, allowing for a necessarily palette cleanse and bringing resolution to some of the minor characters. An older Toji is the town doctor and Kensuke is the local handyman.

With Shinji despondent and Asuka distant, “Rei” is the focus of a lot of these scenes. Toji and Kensuke dub her “lookalike” after they realize she isn’t the original Rei. She goes to work farming with the other women of the village who, in turn, help her understand the simple life. She goes to school with the other children by day and tries to learn what it means to be human at night. As Toji and Kensuke show him kindness and acceptance, Shinji begins to slowly recover.

“Rei” asks Shinji to give her a name and he calls her “Ayanami”. She returns his SDAT player, tells him that she is happy, and says “Goodbye” before her body melts away, unable to live outside of the controlled environment at NERV. While traumatic, this helps Shinji move on. After more time healing, he asks Asuka to take him back to the Wunder. Once onboard, we touch base with the other characters, alternating between hope for the future and tense preparations for war. With the characters (and audience) recentered, the movie launches towards its conclusion.

Once the final battle begins, it overwhelms – the CGI looks like we’re trapped in the virtual world of Summer Wars. We’ve left the common visual language of the series to remind viewers just how far we are into metafiction. At one point, Shinji and Gendo are standing in the “Minus Space”, staring up at “Evangelion Imaginary” as Gendo explains it is “imaginary and fictional, and does not exist in our world; only humanity, who can believe equally in both fantasy and reality can perceive this EVA”. That’s where we go.

The Human Instrumentality Project has always been the heart of the series. It’s never explicitly defined and it’s always wrapped in inscrutable dogma. But, at its core, Instrumentality is the franchise using arcane jargon to rewrite reality and fix the broken connections between characters in the series. Plot devices that were heretofore unexplained, many heretofore unmentioned, are thrown at the viewer in rapid succession: the Key of Nebuchadnezzar, Calvary Base, Vessels of the Adams, the Chamber of Guf, Golgotha Object, etc. Really, they’re all deus ex machina in a series built around the very concept of deus and machina.

Reality is malleable and the specific details of each item really aren’t important. These plot devices, action beats, and visualization serve to break up the character movement and development. The plot is an absolute slave to the characterization because the characterization /is/ the plot. Was the last scene emotionally intense? Let it breathe by cutting to a pair of giant spaceships battling in a CGI void of unspecified reality!

The science fiction will always resolve with treknbabble, the religious allegory with more dogma. The current enemy will always be defeated by some Eva power, only to be one-upped by an even stronger Angel. Hey, that mythical spear was referenced two movies ago in a vague prophecy so that’s lightly satisfying. But which characters survive and where do they end up? That is the real drama.

The science fiction plot of the Human Instrumentality Project won’t be resolved with science, it’s going to be resolved by helping these broken characters heal. You have to resolve the interpersonal issues, especially Shinji’s, but also everyone else’s. No matter how many giant mechs or religious spears or N2 bombs or AT fields you throw at the problem, Shinji, Rei, Asuka, Misato, Ritsuko, Gendo, and others have to have their character needs addressed before we can move forward. It’s an artistic therapy session for Anno and Psych, Philosophy, and Religious Studies 101 class with giant fighting robots and fanservice for the rest of us.

I’ll quickly recount the plot beats that get us here but, as noted, they’re mostly immaterial. WILLE takes the Wunder to the Second Impact site in Antarctica, hoping to intercept Gendo and Fuyutsuki and prevent them from restarting Evangelion 13. Gendo anticipates this and the Wunder has to fight its way through three other sibling ships. He also set a trap for Asuka to use the Ninth Angel, which was trapped inside her after the events from 2.0 (and why she has a DSS Choker), to reactivate Eva-13. Conditions met and the rites performed, Gendo takes Eva-13 through a portal into “Minus Space”. Shinji follow him in Unit-01, seeing the original Rei one last time. It’s breathtaking. It’s frantic. It’s awesome. It’s manic. It’s Eva, cranked up to 11.

For the third time in the series, the Human Instrumentality Project commences. In this iteration, the fight for control is represented by father and son dueling across the Anti-Universe. Gendo is despair in Eva-13 with the Spear of Longiness while Shinji is in Eva-01 wielding hope and the Spear of Cassius. They duel across abstract scenes from different incarnations of the show, everything from the streets of Tokyo-3 in NGE to Misato’s dining room in the Rebuilds. They are perfectly matched. Gendo yells: “Violence and fear are not the criteria upon which our conflict can be resolved” as his Unit-13 throws Shinji from Kaworu’s piano onto the train tracks of Village 3.

They stop fighting and Gendo shows Shinji, Eva imaginary. Giving it both spears, Gendo begins the Additional Impact, rewriting perception and reality to grant his wish. Shinji begins to understand that all of his fathers actions are the result of grief from losing Yui. And he will rewrite existence to get her back.

Meanwhile back in the “real world”, Misato uses the Wunder to craft one final spear, going down with her ship, in the creation of the Spear of Gaius. Mari confronts Fuyutsuki who releases the remaining Evas that power the other ships so Unit-08 can consume them, further consolidating the few Evas that remain. In the middle of the next act, Mari takes her combined Eva and the Spear through a giant imaginary Rei while Joy to the World plays and it shows up in Shinji’s hands when he needs it most. And it somehow feels like it fits. Yup.

This is the third time trying to end the story. The first was the original episodes 25 and 26 of the series. It was well behind schedule and feels hastily constructed. Many parts of it play out like an abstract interrogation where Shinji has to justify his existence. He inadvertently wishes for an empty world, where only he exists. Realizing his mistake, he tries to find meaning in life and form connections with other characters. He exists in various realities from a sitcom to pencil sketches before determining he might be able to live with himself and the world is restored.

The second, the “replacement” ending, is End of Evangelion. It is messy, to say the least. The audience watches as, one by one, all of our main characters die mostly unsatisfying and often gruesome deaths. Then their souls merge in Instrumentality. However, Shinji rejects Instrumentality and wants to continue the human struggle to make connections with other people, even as it is imperfect. His mother’s soul assures him that “it will all work out” and all human souls can return if they choose. That’s a gross oversimplification of the first 84 minutes of movie time, but I’m not here to write another 1000 words on EoE.

However, The final scene is intentionally vague and still a matter of debate to this day. Shinji and Asuka appear to be back on earth on a beach. Shinji begins strangling Asuka for no discernable reason. But Asuka reaches up, caresses his face, and he starts crying. We’re given some vague clues but not enough to determine how much time has passed and why this is happening. After Shinji fought so hard for this return to life, why this ending?

As I mentioned before, one way to look at these is that 25/26 of NGE is what is going on inside Shinji’s head while EoE is what’s happening in the outside world. The Rebuild may offer up another option for what is going on. More on that down below when discussing the movie as a whole.

Gendo and Shinji continue to converse inside Shinji’s “mind train”, a frequent symbolic location in NGE. Gendo chooses a path similar to a previous one of Shinji’s, the one without AT fields where all people are merged together as one, free of individuality. But he cannot find Yui, he only sees Rei. Shinji returns his SDAT, the one that used to belong to his father, and they travel into the past and see that young Gendo is just like Shinji, a lonely child. But he didn’t mind loneliness until he saw the alternative with Yui and her death crushed him. In telling this story, the realization strikes him: he cannot find Yui because part of Yui has been in front of him all along. Shinji. He laments all the lost time and apologizes to Shinji. The answer is so simplistic and frustrated me at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the elegance of it.

With Gendo gone, Shinji was left to control Instrumentality. Next, he tries to help Asuka, this one likely a clone of the original Asuka Langley Soryu from NGE. He revisits her on the beach from EoE and helps her heal, sending her back so she can settle down with Kensuke. He could be the father she never had and accepts her even though she thinks she’s an Angel, no longer human. He helps Kaworu realize that he was confusing Shinji’s happiness for his own. He joins up with Kaji to farm and try and find happiness and meaning.

Finally, there’s Rei. Shinji meets her on a sound stage, in front of a screen showing scenes from the NGE. She seems content in this false reality, unsure if she has a place in a world without Evas. But Shinji assures her than another incarnation found happiness in Village 3. Shinji promises he isn’t going to rewind time or revert the world, but rewrite it as a world without Evangelions (I’m not entirely sure the distinction here), Neon Genesis.

As Shinji prepares to plunge the Spear of Gaius into Eva-01 and eliminate Evas forever, his mom appears and shoves him back into reality. He sees Yui in Eva-01 and Gendo in Eva-13 and realizes his parents wish was to end this together. The spear pierces all of the Evas, including the giant Rei Evangelion Imaginary. All the Evas return their souls back to earth and the world is reborn anew.

The animation devolves into pencil sketches with Shinji (and the world) fading away. But then Mari’s voice breaks in, the art progresses back to modern animation, and she fanservice-y emerges from the water. After all, that’s also at her character’s core, too. As her Eva, the final Eva, fades away, the controversial Mari saves the day, and sends the series off.

In the final scene, adult Shinji is waiting at a train station and sees glimpses of Asuka, Rei, and Kaworu. Mari sneaks up behind him, accuses him of being a “real grownup”, and removes the DSS Choker. The two run out of the train station into Ube, where Anno is from. The animation shifts from digital ink and paint into realistic CGI and then real video of the city as the first bars of the final theme song start. The words “Thank You and Farewell Evangelions” is splashed on the screen. It’s the type of ending to a book or movie that makes you a little sad the journey is over. You have to return to the real world after being emersed in a lush fictional one. In this particular case, the animation literally paints this picture for the viewer.

There’s an argument to be made that Shinji doesn’t earn this happy, Disneyfied ending (or that it’s befitting the Eva franchise). He destroys the world twice, once in a really stupid manner, and then wishes for a carefree life, settling down with a vapid fanservice waifu. However, I think that’s a really narrow reading of the last movie. Shinji has to first delivers satisfying endings for every other character before he can be at peace with himself. The staff has also gone out of their way to say that, in the final scene, Shinji and Mari are not a couple, merely friends.

I guess we finally need to talk about Mari Makinami Illustrious – the most controversial addition to the Rebuilds. FYI: I’m cribbing most of these notes from the Evangelion wiki. Anno didn’t originally want another pilot, but she was foisted on him by one of the producers, probably to sell more merchandise. Anno original intent was for her to “destroy Eva” but he had little beyond that, so most of her design fell to Kazuya Tsurumaki (of FLCL fame) and outsider Yoji Enokido. Her presence caused constant script revisions, as most of the writers just wanted to ignore her, and her voice actor was decided at the last minute. There’s a common misconception that she represents Anno’s wife, who pulled him out of depression. You can see how people come to that conclusion, however both of them have vociferously and repeatedly denied it. Personally, I think she’s his alien Ariadne and a free radical used to, yes, destroy the Evas. But she also plays a pivotal role in connecting a number of characters and plots in the Rebuilds because she has outside knowledge. That makes her a fictional cheat code, a lazy writing crutch, only it fits within the narrative structure of the Evangelion universe.

Within these movies, It doesn’t make a lot of sense why she’s the character opposite Shinji for these last two scenes. She’s not that close to him and definitely not as fleshed out as previous characters. She can’t be – she only existed in the Rebuilds, movies already too dense for their own good. However, there are a number of dropped hints like her familiarity with NERV’s plan, knowledge of the Eva’s Berserker mode, and, for the most eagle eyed, during Gendo’s resolution, a freeze frame photograph from the past that shows Shinji as a baby with Yui, a younger Gendo, and the bespectacled, ageless Mari.

The prevailing theory with these, along with other clues (mostly around Kaworu), is that, taken as a whole, Eva is a time loop and Mari either retains her memory or exists outside of it. That’s why, in the Evangelion universe, she could be the one to destroy Eva and a perfect fit in the final scenes, even if she’s an imperfect fit for the Rebuild-specific universe.

Similarly, Shinji is still a bit of an unlikable, obsequious loser after all this. We aren’t really shown him coming of age or overcoming that in broad strokes. However, this third time through the loop, he helps everyone else find closure. Maybe this means he is growing with each iteration and that’s where the real growth comes from. You can’t see that just from watching the Rebuilds, but would need to watch the entire series. All this would make the Rebuilds a deconstruction of NGE, which was a deconstruction of the mech anime genre. My head hurts.

On the whole, the work screams about Anno being tired of Evangelion – his most popular work not being his favorite. In the finale, the main character goes to an imaginary dimension, makes a wish that gives fulfilling conclusions to all other characters, a wish that leaves the world without the title Evangelions, and then escapes, as an adult, into a realistic animated version of Anno’s hometown. Again: artistic therapy?

However, like anything when analyzing these series and movies, there are a lot of interpretive paths. Mine may not be correct. Further, I’m not even sure Anno chose certain ones over another deliberately or if he just left it open. And, while it really feels like the series is done after the conclusion of 3.0 + 1.0, any universe that involves the main character rewriting reality can never truly be assumed complete.

To put in perspective how the series creator may have felt at this point, Shinji’s voice actor Megumi Ogata said Anno asked her how she thought the story should end because, in his words: “Now I feel closer to Gendou than Shinji. The only people who can understand Shinji’s feelings now are Ogata and [Anno’s assistant] Ikki Todoroki”. It had taken so many years and so much creative energy that he had lost the narrative thread.

While this movie could have been mailed in or a complete creative disaster, miraculously, it wasn’t. It feels more like a labor of love. As I said at the start, it mostly nails the landing. It’s a flawed and imperfect movie, to be sure, but it delivers the series’ most satisfying conclusion. And does so by a wide margin, finishing off both the rebuilds and the franchise as a whole. There are a few who think it’s a warmed over, less creatively adventurous rehash of EoE (which whistles past the legion of unsatisfying and imperfect aspects of NGE and EoE) and others who hate it just because it’s not like the original. But many think it’s the definitive conclusion to the entire Evangelion story. Count me among the positive reactions.

As we’ve logged over 8000 words already today, the SotD section is going to be brief.

The theme songs for all 4 movies were done by Hikaru Utada. If that name sounds familiar, I’ve highlighted a number of her songs before, as she did a number of theme songs in the Kingdom Hearts series (Simple and Clean, Sanctuary/Passion, Don’t Think Twice). Even though it took 15 years, she did the theme songs for all 4 movies: “Beautiful World”, “Beautiful World -PLANiTb Acoustica Mix-”, “Sakura Nagashi”, and “One Last Kiss”.

Rather than just post the audio, I ran across some well-done AMVs (anime music videos), one for each song. They chronologically follow each Rebuild, but will be mostly incomprehensible without having seen the movies first. However, if you want to get a sampling of everything mentioned above without sitting down for 8 hours of movies, these only take about 5 minutes per song.

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