Rebuild of Evangelion 3.33: You Can(not) Redo, the third movie in the rebooted Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series was finally released on US Blu-Ray and DVD after a delay of over three years after its original theatrical release in Japan. Rumour had it that creator and director Hideaki Anno spent all that time tinkering with the cut, remastering and correcting animation that might have been rushed in the theatrical version, re-cutting for rhythm, new bits of animation and so on.
Evangelion is unique in the cult it generated and continues to generate in anime fans. It's different from other series and has cast a shadow over many other anime shows since it ended in 1997. It took the "teenagers piloting giant mecha" genre to new places, adding pretentious references to Christian and Gnostic references to the usual Japanese obsession with the Apocalypse, the end of the world, and Freudian psychosexual subtexts. It also raised the emotional stakes to subvert the giant mecha genre: when Mobile Suit Gundam launched the genre in 1979 with its teenage hero reluctantly drafted to fly a giant robot to fight a war, it was about the dystopian post-Sixties hangover. With Evangelion, the teenagers flying the giant robots are much more emotionally messed up. They didn't do it out of a sense of duty or right and wrong. Shinji has no moral compass and suffers from depression, parental neglect and self-loathing. Asuka is overcompensating for her mother's suicide and sense of inadequacy. Rei is so emotionally withdrawn and passive she's barely human (spoiler: she's not). And the Evas turn out not to be giant robots at all, but giant clones of the kids' mothers combined with the DNA of the angels that destroyed the world over 10 years before. That explains why the kids were the only ones who could pilot them, and in womb-like cockpits where they were suspended in amniotic fluid. Rei herself is another clone of Shini's dead mother, created by his father Gendo in a scheme to use his son to bring about another apocalypse where he can remake the world and be reunited with is his wife.
Evangelion was the ultimate downbeat, feel-bad giant robot anime. The reason it keeps getting new fans is because they relate to the sad, tragic dilemmas of Shinji and company, who are stand-ins for the latchkey kids of divorce, neglect and abuse in an era where Japan's economy was in the doldrums and all certainties about life no longer felt certain anymore. That the series has obsessive fans in the West and all over the world is indicative of how kids, teens and even twentysomethings relate to their situations, writ large with giant robots and the end of the world. Teen angst externalised into apocalyptic Science Fiction, because it really does feel like the world is in danger of ending.
The series was intensely personal for Hideaki Anno, who was working through his own existential crisis and deep depression at the time. It was practically Ingmar Bergman with giant robots. He ended it not with a happy ending but something more more ambiguous. Thanks to Gendo's scheme, all reality breaks down and Shinji is the one left to decide how to remake the world and his life. The problem is, without a stable emotional or moral compass, Shinji is a bubbling cauldron of loathing and selfishness, and he may not choose to remake the world with people in it again, since he may not be capable of seeing other people and his loved ones as anything other than objects in his world that betrayed and made him miserable.
The new movies feel like more than Anno revisiting his most famous series to cash in, considering he had since already become a prolific director of anime and live action movies, not to mention a producer and actor. It seems his dialogue with himself isn't over. The first movie seems like a remake of the original TV series' first four episodes, but the story starts to diverge in a different apocalyptic direction with the second, and it turns out Rebuild is not just a remake or a reboot but a sequel to the TV series – it's Shinji's life, rebooted after the series' entropic breakdown from scratch, without him realising it, to see if he could affect a different outcome. The ending of the series had actually allowed for all sequels and spinoffs, including the various manga spinoffs and reboots since 1997 to be canon, including series' designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's "official" manga adaptation of the series, another series that was a high school comedy without any giant robots, and another series where the kids were superpowered warriors.
The Rebuild movies seem to be from an older Anno who has since gotten happily married and perhaps gotten some perspective over his depression and crisis back in the 1990s. With 3.33, the world was almost ended again by Shinji's actions, and everyone hates him now, holding him prisoner as the kid who destroyed the world while his father and the other factions continue to fight over who gets to win the war to reset Reality again. Shinji is angrier, even more confused and proactive this time, but his actions may have actually made things much worse this time. That's not to say there isn't wild giant robot cosmic action. That's the sugar coating for the themes of emotional turmoil, uncertainty and destructiveness.
3.33 was rumoured to be a rough production with Anno having major disagreements with the studio, and much of the audience hated the direction the story went in. Anno was said to have become seriously depressed after its completion. There is no release date for the fourth and final movie that should reveal where he stands on the series and its themes once and for all. Anno is currently co-directing the new Godzilla movie for Toho Studios. He will probably get around to making the fourth and final movie eventually, but there might be a long wait if the prospect of making it depresses him as much as it sounds. You don't know what the author is trying to say until you see his ending, after all.
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