Evangelion 3.33 Q: Philosophy x Gainaxing, or a Confusing Mess?
This time is like no other for us in living memory! (Long may it last.) / Breathe the air, take in the feeling of peace and harmony! / Freedom can fly close to the sky. / Now we can shine! / Peaceful time, we’ve never had it so good!
Note: This is not a review but a *spoilerific* examination of the current, rather harrowing, trend in modern Japanese animation for pretension, faux-philosophy and abandonment of basic story-telling tropes via a close study of one of my favourite – ongoing – film series; The Rebuild of Evangelion. I assume readers have a passing knowledge of the series thus far.
Before I begin on what is basically a tl;dr rant on Evangelion 3.33, I’d like to write that I actually like the film on the whole – but as a stand alone film from the series with stupid characters. Commendations to Sagisu Shiro and the London Studio Orchestra for the soundtrack. The visuals were fantastic, especially the tesseract scene at the start and the introduction of Unit 13. Lastly, the film handled the tender Shinji-Kaworu relationship very well and it’s unequivocally the best iteration of their relationship yet.
Anyway! I remember back in boarding-school when I had my first lesson in composition; ‘Flow’ was the key-word I took away at the end of it. One sentence flows into another. One paragraph flows into the other. One chapter flows into the other. And so on. The same can, and should, be said of a tetralogy of films. In this case the much applauded Rebuild of Evangelion.
When Evangelion 3.0 came out late last year I felt like the only one who really liked it. Reviews in Japan were mixed (from popular media outlets) to vicious (from otaku on 2chan). Two weeks ago I was sent Evangelion 3.33 Q and, today, I decided to watch it back-to-back. That’s right, I’ve just completed a marathon run of 1.11 to 3.33 and I now understand what a lot of people were complaining about. I think my previous, rose-tinted, summations of 3.0 Q were because of the huge gap between 2.0 and it. I think I was just glad to be watching a new Evangelion film and listening to Sagisu Shiro’s fantastic new soundtrack. With that keyword, ‘Flow’, in mind, let’s first re-cap the two previous films.
Evangelion 1.11 may seem at first to be a straight-up shot-for-shot remake of episodes 1-6 of the Neon Genesis Evangelion series. And yes, there are instances (which one can find online) of scenes from the series just being ‘prettied-up’ for the movie. However, there were subtle difference between the series and the movie which, for Rebuild, would have major world-shattering implications. Firstly, in Rebuild itself the world is in a much worse state of affairs than in the series; seas are red, the majority of sea life is died, the majority of human life is also dead with cities falling into disrepair and ruin.
But what perhaps affected Rebuild the most are the things that were cut entirely – especially as it pertains to Shinji as a character. The most striking is Unit 01’s hand not moving on its own to protect Shinji from a falling ceiling like it did in the series. This changes the scene – and Shinji’s motivations – drastically as Shinji now gets into the Eva for the first time to protect the injured Rei with no expectation of help from the Eva itself. This is important. Many other cuts also serve to make Shinji a stronger character. The vast majority of his whining has been removed, making it more about the character struggling to find meaning in his life rather than simply complaining about it. In his battle against the 6th angel he and, later, Rei take on take on the full brunt it’s attack – suffering mentally and physically – and Shinji learns that despite what he had believed, he is not alone – not in pain nor responsibility of saving the world.
The changes highlighted in 1.11 flow into 2.22 and further build on the characteristics and development of Shinji, Rei and, a newly introduced, Asuka. I ignore Mari as I see her no more than fan-service, pervert-bait and a product seller. Anyway, 2.22 strengthens the relationship between Shinji and Rei, away from the squick of the series and into something that is at once funny, cute, sometimes tense and tender. Asuka is no longer the ‘arrogant, egotistical, conceited, freaky, self-absorbed, twisted, cold-hearted, schizophrenic, saccharine, unsympathetic, self-centered, totally absurd, and just plain annoying‘ one-dimensional girl from the series but a well-written, balanced pilot with a lot to prove. Her friendship with Shinji blossoms naturally and, again, serves as a fantastic mirror to Shinji’s relationship with Rei.
Using the Jo-Ha-Kyu-(Final) Noh inspired pacing system that Rebuild supposedly follows; it is because of the foundations laid-out in 1.11 (Jo) , then built upon and strengthened in 2.22 (Ha) that the last half-hour of the latter hits the audience like a hammer to the occiput. ‘It all returns to nothing, it all comes tumbling down, tumbling down, tumbling down’ to quote Komm, süßer Tod. (^_^). Asuka’s left for dead, Shinji’s no-longer a pilot – running away again, NERV is devastated by the 10th angel, Gendo just doesn’t give a fuck and Rei II sacrifices herself. By the end of 2.22 the 3rd impact has begun when only forty minutes prior Shinji, Gendo, Asuka, Rei and Misato were going to sit down for a ‘family’ supper. When Shinji does return to the Unit 01, his whole personality has changed. His love for Rei II makes him turn into a God, for lack of a better term.
Frankly speaking, I would argue that 1.11 to the end of 2.22 followed Jo-Ha-Kyu perfectly, with Ha being sandwiched between the positron canon use against the 6th angel and a dummy-plugged Unit 01 crushing Asuka. The build up and characterisation was perfect after Asuka’s introduction. Take the scene where they all visit the water cleansing plant and the ‘team’ sees marine life for the first time. One felt, at times, as if they are watching a slice of life anime. That is why the ending of 2.22 is hardest to stomach because we, like Misato, are cheering Shinji on.
Then 3.33 comes along and dun fucks it all up! Awesome visuals and music aside, the real problems with 3.33 lies with the characters. The shoddy story-telling and characterisation (or decimation thereof) turns the movie into a confusing, unbelievably contrived, pretentious beast: a perfect reflection of the current state of Japanese animation I feel.
To recap: 14 years after Evangelion 2.22, Asuka and Mari go to space to pick up Shinji where he and Unit 01 have been interned (in a tesseract for no apparent reason). Misato’s anti-Nerv army, Wille, revives him but there is no sign of Rei II. Rei III then shows up, ‘rescues’ Shinji, and takes him to the ruins of NERV. There, Shinji makes friends with Kaworu and after learning all the secrets of Evangelion – i.e. what happened to his mother, Rei is a clone of his mother, that he caused the 3rd impact, etc. – Shinji agrees to help Kaworu remake the world into a better place by starting the Third Impact. You Can (Not) Redo: Get it? Anyway…It doesn’t exactly work out.
To start, I hate time-skips. I hated them in the Forsyte Saga, I hated them in Gurren Lagann and I hate it here. I honestly think that the only reason they had a 14 year time-skip was to set the IRL foundations for a potential anime / manga series without Shinji. Maybe, ‘The Adventures of Wille: Search for Ikari‘, or ‘The Seele Files‘. Who knows. Time-skips are rarely handled well and only further expose how terrible a writer is.
Then we have Mari. She, in 3.33, seems to serve only one purpose – to be a snarky, large-breasted, pointless supporting character. Yet everything she does is utterly pointless. Asuka ends up doing all the work anyway; from the start when they have to get the tesseract, through to trying to stop Shinji from yet again causing the 3rd impact at the end. Ok, she may be the only other living connection to Shinji’s mother besides Gendo but even that is wasted. I mean you have a character who fucking knew Yui and the only time she interacts with Shinji is in 2.22 – using him as a landing platform! What?!
When that Battle Royale neck-bomb appeared I knew exactly how the film was going to end; which is a real shame. Then there’s the fact that the whole film could have been avoided if all these terribly intelligent characters, that were carefully structured over the course of two previous films, hadn’t suddenly become so fucking retarded. All the events in the film could have been avoided if anybody, especially Misato, had a five minute conversation with Shinji. Something akin to:
Misato: Shinji, you’ve been trapped in Unit 01 for 14 years. We would have tried to find you earlier but your dad is insane and trying to end the world. We’re all trying to stop him.
Shinji: What about Rei? Where is she?
Misato: She’s dead Shinji; killed by the 10th angel. You were there. Remember?
Shinji: No, I saved her. She was in the plug with me!
Misato: You were the only one in there when we got you out. Believe me Shinji, we looked; but if she’s still in there, we’ll do everything we can to get her out, too. There is one thing you should know. Your father cloned Rei and is using her against us.
Shinji: Really? That bastard! What can I do to help?
Misato: The problem is, Shinji, that the last time you were in an Eva, you started the Third Impact. We don’t know what will happen if you get in it again. So we need you to sit this one out for a while until we know more. Leave it to us; Unit 01 will lend us its power to defeat your father once and for all.
And there you have it. Shinji doesn’t leave with Rei III, doesn’t meet Kaworu, doesn’t enter Unit 13 and doesn’t re-start the 3rd impact. With all those events avoided the film would become a forty minute OVA. Wille would just need to drop an N-2 mine on NERV; place Lilith, Unit 13 and the 11th angel on ice in some secure facility, defend said facility with their lives and rebuild once more.
I like the type of story Hideaki Anno had in mind here. Shinjo, lacking all the facts, joins with the ‘villains’ not knowing that they plan to use him to destroy the world. No, my problem is not with the archetype they chose but rather that instead of developing the characters and giving them a legitimate reasons to withhold this crucial information, they settled for making the entire supporting cast abusive and passive aggressive.
And this is where we return to ‘Flow’. There is none from 2.22 to 3.33 and also within 3.33 itself. A gigantic year time-skip disrupts the flow of time, especially for Shinji and the audience. Yes, like him, we don’t have time to adjust to this new world and maybe that’s what Anno was going for – audience disorientation via Shinji, but this goes on for the whole film. We, like Shinji, are never grounded and that’s frustrating. Characterisation doesn’t flow either. Yes, 14 years have passed and yes the members of Wille are understandably pissed-off at Shinji but they were the same people supporting his world-shattering actions at the end of 2.22. Have they conveniently forgotten that and changed so easily? Lastly, there’s no flow in the overall plot. Things are conveniently placed and told to us and we’re expected just to believe it.
I really hope that Evangelion: Final answers many questions Rebuild has once more thrown open; yet, somehow, I don’t see that happening. My favourite ‘fan-theory’ is that Rebuild of Evangelion is a follow-up to End of Evangelion’s ‘気持ち 悪い’ (Kimochi warui) scene. Shinji, literally, rebuilt the world and it’s more fucked than before!
20 questions that still plague me after Evangelion 3.33 (in no particular order):-
- Why did Kaworu / Tabris take off Shinji’s Battle Royal neck-bomb and place it on himself?
- Why did Kaworu not stop Shinji before the Lances of Longinus were pulled out of Lilith?
- How did Shinji end up in a bloody tesseract?
- Why would the Marduk [report] children not age?
- Did Hideaki Anno not think that maybe a time-skip of 14 years is unrealistic? Why not 2?
- Does Anno honestly think that I’m going to suspend my disbelief that much that I’ll accept that in 14 years only two angels attacked NERV / Wille / Seele / whatever?
- How did Misato convince everyone at NERV to leave with her?
- Where are Wille getting their funding from? Clearly not Seele, and certainly not NERV.
- Was the end of Evangelion 2.22 the 2nd point 5 impact or the 3rd impact?
- How does it take 14 years to find an object orbiting the Earth when you can build a positron-cannon in less then 24 hours?
- Speaking of space, what happened to the moon-base and how did Unit 01 end up in orbit?
- Is Kaworu gay, or at least bisexual?
- What’s up with all the major personality changes?
- How is it that Gendo and Fuyutsuki are only the ones running NERV AND could research, develop and build Unit 13 all by themselves? Rei III and Kaworu seem unhelpful.
- Surely the end goal for Human Instrumentality, ‘tang’, is the same whether Gendo or Seele instigate it?
- What were Seele thinking when they sent their ace-in-the-hole, Kaworu, to Gendo?
- You know what, I would actually like to see the film previewed at the end of 2.22. Can we make it happen?
- If Misato can afford a giant battle-ship, why would she need to patch Asuka’s plug-suit and graft Unit 02 with Unit 04 in the next film?
- Can they please stop it with the fan-service? Will it ever end? Will Mari’s breasts continue to get even bigger?
- Where is Rei II?
Oh this is… this is nice, this is the end, okay. Where exactly am I? Oh grea… here’s the song, oh good. Um, there’s some things that are still unresolved here, guys! How do I get home? What do I eat? Was Rei my-my mom? Or a clone? Or, hell, was this all in my mind? Wha-what’s an EVA? Is that sort of a Freudian thing? Er… um Am I real? Oh, hell, does a bus run through here? I mean, I’d like to go home now but um… Oh God… Where’s home? Okay, okay, okay. I mustn’t run away, I mustn’t run… Okay I got that, good, okay. Now, if I were to run away, let’s analyze that: Where the fuck would I go? I’m on a big blue ball! Uhh, is this how you end the series? I mean, is this where we go from here? Okay, the movie better sure as Hell make up for this, I’m telling you right now, ’cause I’m stuck in Nowhereland! You ran outta ink too, didn’t you, ya bastards?