Goodbye, all of Evangelion: “EVANGELION: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time” (2021) Movie Review

The following may contain spoilers for EVANGELION: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time.

Director / Hideaki Anno
Screenplay / Hideaki Anno
Production / Studio Khara
Release Date / March 2021 (Japanese), August 2021 (International Streaming)

The Rebuild of Evangelion movie tetralogy was conceived to tell a new Evangelion story with better animation, and assumingly a better tone thanks to director Hideaki Anno’s brighter mindset. Starting in 2007, it took more than a decade before the last film was released, with Hideaki Anno going through another round of depression following the release of the third film and the circumstances of 2020. But as they say, “all good things must come to an end”, and EVANGELION: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time was finally released to both Japanese and international markets in 2021. The film has the monumental task of not only capping off the movie tetralogy, but the whole franchise as well. With such weight on its shoulders, does Thrice Upon a Time live up to the exponentially high expectations of the fanbase and deliver a satisfying conclusion?

The film opens with the same Paris set piece they released as preview a couple of years ago. Their mission is to decontaminate the European NERV branch following the fallout of the Near Third Impact event 14 years prior to obtain much needed supplies and spare parts. We then immediately cut to Shinji Ikari, Asuka Langley Shikinami, and the new Rei Ayanami clone directly after following You Can (Not) Redo as they wander through the red barren wasteland. They eventually reach Village 3, welcomed by familiar faces and get acclimated to a simple and peaceful life, devoid of battles and Evangelions. But peace doesn’t last long as Gendo Ikari and NERV head to Antarctica, ground zero for the Second Impact in an attempt to create yet another impact event that would finally trigger Human Instrumentality.

So how do you exactly unwrap an event movie like Thrice Upon a Time? I normally start by dissecting the plot and characters, though I’ll do them at the very last for this film. Instead let’s first take a look at the animation because this is a very beautiful movie visually. Those still shots of the various locations and surrounding scenery are just gorgeous. On a side note, there’s an NHK documentary that also went up at the same time in Amazon Prime and shows a behind-the-scenes look at the production. Watching this right after the film will give you a better appreciation of how they came up with the angles and shots for the Village 3 sequences. The lack of action sequences made director Hideaki Anno more particular with how the cameras were placed. From the first dinner scene to the sequences when Shinji runs away (yes, he does run away), every shot was meticulously composed. There were also a lot of stills in the Village 3 parts that really reinforce the slice of life aspect which I really liked. All in all, these were very effective in conveying how they managed to establish such a lifestyle despite the chaos everywhere else.

We get more crazy animation during the second act as WILLE intercepts NERV, bringing along Asuka’s ‘Full Armor’ EVA-02 and whatever EVA unit Mari is using. A common thing for these set pieces were the use of massive hordes of mass produced EVA units being thrown everywhere, all of them being CG for of obvious reasons. These worked for the most part though the huge CG Rei for me didn’t. It really came across as uncanny valley territory and I’m not really sure why they went that route. There’s also the battle between the AAA Wunder and three other ships of the same class from NERV. This sequence was totally a homage to Space Battleship Yamato complete with the accompanying retro background music. So for those who didn’t like “Space Battleship Misato” from the third film, well, just take note that you’re getting a lot more of those here.

While animation during the last act was paced slower, we are treated to the Evangelion staple of visuals often thrown during sequences of character analysis, resolution and closure, all of which I’ll go through later. But I really liked how meta they chose to do these sequences, with callbacks even to Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion. This made the film a much more satisfying visual conclusion and lent more credence to being an end cap to everything, not just the Rebuild of Evangelion films. The sound design and score were no less than stellar thanks to the compositions from Shiro Sagisu. A couple of pieces were notable for me, including “Wunder Operation” a variation of the widely popular “Operation Yashima” theme, and a version of “Joy to the World” (which totally makes this a Christmas movie) when Misato makes her final charge.

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this film, the plot and characters. I really liked how the first act felt really different, like something from Studio Ghibli. We’re reintroduced to both Touji and Kensuke who survived Near Third Impact and were key players in establishing Village 3. They also played a good part in helping Shinji get out of his trauma. Asuka, for the most part, was just being Asuka; but the focus was totally on Rei, or as they call her in the village, Ms. Look-alike. By immersing herself with the villagers and doing work, she’s able to learn so much with the little time she has. Being a more empty shell than the original Rei Ayanami allowed her to absorb more humanity through her various interactions. She then used these to help Shinji cry everything out of his trauma and depression. On that note, Shinji was just really moping during this part and we won’t see him take matters into his own hands until the latter half.

We’re then brought on a tonal whiplash from the Village 3 sequence to the assault on NERV. Not only that, we’re also bombarded with a whole load of new lore and terminology that scratching my head was an understatement. Personally, I think that’s something you’d expect from Evangelion so I was fine if didn’t understand what causes what. Amidst the chaos, we got character motivations from a couple of the AAA Wunder crew, including Toji’s sister and that pink-haired girl on the bridge. Both of them were affected by the Near Third Impact in various ways and blamed it all on Shinji. Ritsuko was also given a very satisfying payback when she got to shoot Gendo a couple of times, literally blowing his brains out. Remember in End of Evangelion, she was unceremoniously shot and killed by Gendo so I’m glad she got retribution, despite not really killing Gendo. Then there’s Misato, and we also got an explanation why she acted the way she did in You Can (Not) Redo, along with whatever happened to Kaji. It was really nice seeing her and Shinji have that talk they used to years prior.

Shinji basically took charge as the third act started, and he very much knows what’s needed to be done. Hideaki Anno used the anti-universe mechanic they introduced earlier to go full meta with the presentation of the next sequences. It started with EVA-01 locked in battle with EVA-13 in what appears to be a tokusatsu studio modeled after Tokyo-3. Anno is a huge fan of the tokusatsu genre so it was a treat seeing such nuances like buildings being tossed around just like in Ultraman and even EVA-01 getting thrown beyond the sound stage and hitting the backdrop of the sky. The battle then shifted to Misato’s apartment, with both EVAs fighting and cans of beer and UCC coffee flying all over the place. It continued to Rei’s apartment, then to the classroom, and a bunch more locations. All of these was explained as the LCL recreating environments from memories for humans to perceive within the anti-universe. And it’s not just Shinji or Gendo’s memories, but our memories as an audience who watched Evangelion for the last 25 years as well.

We’re then treated to a very familiar and similar sequence to that from End of Evangelion. Complete with the same sequence train where Shinji is contemplating Human Instrumentality. But instead of going through Shinji, the movie flipped everything and did the same to Gendo. We finally get to see the story behind the best father in all of anime. How both him and Shinji were afraid of getting hurt pushed others away. And all it took was pretty much what’s needed to resolve any conflict, communication. He finally realized accepting Shinji is what would bring him closer to Yui. If you remember that scene of Shinji crying on the train station, they satisfyingly paid it off by having Gendo hug him back and say some much needed apologies.

It was also really satisfying how Shinji not only resolved his issues with Gendo, but he also gave resolution to the other characters. From Asuka and her desire to be acknowledged, to Kaworu and his desire to be happy without relying on the happiness of others, and finally Rei. This is the same Rei Ayanami who Shinji rescued two movies back in You Can (Not) Advance. He then explained to her how he won’t turn back time, nor revert the world. Instead, he’ll recreate the world free of Evangelions — a “Neon Genesis.” This is coupled with a very cool scene of imagery and title cards being projected behind them, from the TV series to these movies, making a complete circle.

With all the closures and conclusions the movie presented, one didn’t completely gel with me — Mari Illustrious Makinami. Between her, Asuka and Rei, Mari really had just a single interaction with Shinji, that parachute landing on the rooftop. They even mentioned it in the movie. So it kind of made it hard for me to believe these two had some sort of connection, especially with the way the movie ended. But since Mari is supposed to represent Anno’s wife, it sort of made sense? She indeed saved Shinji after rewriting the world in the same way Hideaki Anno was saved by his wife during his depression. So I guess it worked in a deeper way, but they could’ve definitely presented her character and interactions with Shinji much better.

There you go, that was EVANGELION: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time, a monumental movie running for more than two hours with a goal to give 25 years of Evangelion a definitive conclusion. And I believe it was able to do so, while not perfect, in a very satisfying manner. Comparing it to End of Evangelion which was Anno’s response to death threats and depression, Thrice Upon a Time is a much, much, much more positive experience that some may find off putting, coming from the Evangelion franchise. Shinji’s choice to recreate the world without Evangelions is basically Anno wanting us to bid our fondest farewell to this world and its characters. And sure, Evangelion will always be there because merch, but at the end of the day it’s a story we can finally leave but not forget.

So what do I think of the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy? There have been a lot of discussions regarding this, with those who prefer the original series consciously ignoring these movies, while others prefer the movies with its more modern sensibilities. They may not be perfect, but I believe they represent the true vision Hideaki Anno wanted all along. And I personally think, with the last movie somewhat confirming this, both the Neon Genesis Evangelion and Rebuild of Evangelion are part of a continuous cycle. With the latter complementing the former and providing a much needed conclusion. So while it would be a great experience to watch both versions of the story, if you’re pressed with time, then I’d gladly recomment going ahead with Rebuild of Evangelion.

All four Rebuild of Evangelion movies are available for international streaming on Amazon Prime Video.


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