"Thrice Upon a Time"
(Spoiler-Free) Synopsis: Shinji, Asuka, and Rei are welcomed into a sleepy little village of survivors from the Near Third Impact, an event Shinji inadvertently caused. Having failed to redeem himself for his mistake, Shinji is at first unresponsive to the kindness given to him. But soon after settling in, it becomes clear that the world needs him once more in the fight between WILLE and Nerv, a fight to decide the outcome of the human race itself. Will the machinations of Gendo Ikari come to fruition? Will the Instrumentality Project be a success, or will it be stopped before it starts? It's the final showdown and the final Evangelions are prepped for action!
Comments (MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS):
Yikes. I'm really torn about this one. Because in some ways, it's quite good. But in others, it kind of sucks. I think the positives ultimately outweigh the negatives, but the negatives still have weight. Let's call this movie an exercise in crowd-pleasing that got a little out of hand.
Let's start with some of the aspects of the movie that satisfied me. For one, everything done with the Rei from the previous entry is excellent. Her learning about the world outside of taking orders from Commander Ikari, realizing her humanity and the importance of every day life, sincerely smiling and being thankful, these things fill me with a sense of warmth. I never really warmed up to the Rei Ayanami of the television series. Here, at least, some version of Rei's growth creates a sense of life affirmation. She's allowed to be more animated, even as she is alien, a wonderful dichotomy that makes her part of the story irresistable.
I was also rather fond of most of what they did with Asuka. I didn't agree with all of it, mind you, but a lot of it was very fitting. While Rei is exploring her humanity, Asuka is cutting herself off from the rest of the village because she feels like it's not a place she lives in, but rather protects apart from it. I think this is because Asuka doubts her own humanity, and we discover why later on: much like Rei, she wasn't the only Asuka. She was just the survivor of all the Asukas. And this is what Asuka ultimately is made out to be: a survivor. No matter what happens, Asuka will find a way to survive. But she doesn't necessarily need to be alone to do that.
We also get a dose of Gendo's backstory and his obvious parallels to his son. We discover that he was very much like Shinji, but with an even bigger need to be apart from others, not necessarily out of fear or hate, but just a fundamental lack of capacity to connect to them, at least until he met Yui. Yui was his oasis in the world, and after losing her, he forsook everything in a desperate attempt to reunite with her, even if he had to reinvent the entire world to do it. Watching a child Gendo struggle his way through socialization up until the cusp of adulthood when light is shone into his dreary world is eye-opening. That our "villain" comes to regret abandoning his son in his mad quest, instead of embracing the small piece of her he had left shows that nobody in the series is without a heart.
And, of course, this has more of Shirō Sagisu wonderful music, from the foreboding "tema principale" that accompanies Asuka, Rei, and Shinji's trudge through the red wasteland to the triumphant and exciting "this is the dream, beyond belief", to the struggling and tumultuous "theme du concerto 494" to the grand, operatic, and uplifting "the path", Sagisu once again proves his meddle in the realm of anime music, or just generally music itself. It's a soundtrack worth pursuing.
One of the other reasons the soundtrack is so excellent is the finale's "One Last Kiss" by Hikari Utada, a whimsical, bittersweet, but upbeat song of parting by a person remembering the best parts of a relationship that is perhaps over. This is an excellent song to cap the bittersweetness of the end of a franchise the fans have held dear for decades, but still reflects a kind of happiness at the conclusion. To the Evangelion faithful, this movie is the one last kiss.
Unfortunately, after some of the other elements of this movie, I may need the kiss of life to revive me from inhaling too much jargon. Even for Evangelion.
But let's talk about Mari first. Why not? She seems to be pushed as the "it girl" of the movies, slapped all over the merchandise and shoved into every action scene, but not actually allowed to develop like a character might, naturally. I object to Mari, and her place in the finale, for the reason I'd object to any barely developed plot device being the focus of the ending of a beloved series: because she doesn't fucking belong, is why, no matter how hard Hideaki Anno wants her to.
What do we actually discover about Mari in the movies she's in? She likes piloting Evangelions, okay. Good to have somebody who isn't miserable about it, and enjoys it for the pure sport, and not just because of their ego. She likes teasing Shinji. Okay, who doesn't? For a downbeat kid, Shinji attracts winsome devotees like he's Johnny Depp. But what else is there to Mari? What are her ambitions? What are her struggles? What is she afraid of? I'd settle for knowing her favorite food. But I'll tell you what we REALLY know about her: she's Moyoco Anno.
Yeah, Wife Guy Anno basically placed Mari in Evangelion as a stand-in for his wife, coming into his (Shinji's) life and ultimately uplifting it with her positive attitude, leaving him more tranquil and satisfied with life. Only Anno forgot to actually flesh out Mari as a character, so it's almost like an unintentional middle finger to his wife. In all the downtime with the pilots, we didn't really get any scenes of Mari reflecting, desiring, reaching, or any other kind of actual development. All we know is that she's been around long before Shinji was born and has been kept young by piloting an Eva (how is this possible if the first Eva went to Rei?). If only we could have seen her interact with Gendo, we might've had some of that elaborated on.
Speaking of Gendo, why does he get off so easily? Yes, like I said, I liked that Gendo realized his mistakes, but he basically gets to fulfill his ultimate wish without any real caveats. In End of Evangelion, he was chomped by a representation of Eva Unit 01 as he entered Instrumentality. Does Gendo Ikari really deserve to be happy after years of neglecting his only child and the deaths of so many for his dreams? Is he redeemable? Well, I guess you can decide for yourself, but for myself, I feel like maybe he shouldn't get such a boundlessly positive conclusion. And maybe if they hadn't dumped his back story at the end of the movie, and instead dole it out over time, he would have already been a more sympathetic antagonist to begin with.
The CGI is painful. And I'm an apologist for a lot of CG in anime. But I cannot defend some of the comically terrible-looking shots and bad decisions over what to do in 3D computer graphics. It makes a mockery of the import of this final film in the series and possible capper on the franchise. It's especially bad during the initiation of the Instrumentality Project. I hope Falldog doesn't see this movie, a blood vessel on his head would burst.
The one really good CG use was when Asuka was force-feeding Shinji in a scene.
There also some things I have some mixed feelings about specifically. The treatment of Misato, for instance. Nobody points out that she has basically done what Gendo did to Shinji, but to her own son. I'm not even sure why her son exists as a plot element, they do nothing with him except make him a reason why Misato is distant and determined. I did enjoy her taking some responsibility for what Shinji has done, since she was in charge of him and encouraged him to do what eventually brought about the Third Impact. And she does command well, generally, and comes across convincingly in her role as a leader. But I feel like after spending the previous movie threatening to kill Shinji for existing, it's a little too late for her to suddenly turn around so quickly and embrace the boy.
I'm not exactly sure what went on with the Instrumentality Project, to be honest. A lot of the dynamics are a complete mystery to me. In the original series and End of Evangelion, Gendo and SEELE forcibly evolved all of humankind into one boundless mass of bodies and souls without form or shape until Shinji ultimately rejected the idea and decided living in the real world was better than in a big lie where everything was conveniently tranquil. In this movie? I don't really know what I was looking at. Where all the souls of the existing humans combined like in the previous incarnation? How come we didn't get shots of goo-ified people? At one point, they mention that its the souls of ancient beings that Gendo is using, but are those in addition to the ones he's already combined with the Third Impact, or what? Then there's the Evangelion Imaginary, a conceptual Eva who can change the world. Where does that fit in?
What was with all the talk about the spears? This carries over from the previous movie. What is the significance of the spears? Where did they come from and what do they do? Why was Gendo saving two spears? What was the spear Misato created for Shinji and how does that give him the power to create a world without Evas?
Does Shinji literally create a reality that never had Evas in it, and the people at the station (aside from Mari) are just alternate universe counterparts who don't know him, while the other people he knew are back in the other world? Or is "a world without Evangelions" simply a point in the future where civilization has gotten back on its feet? How do you create an entirely new reality with a spear? Is it like a pocket dimension or does it exist in a completely new universe? What the fuck is with all the spears?!
Maybe the ending is even more metafictional. It's there to show us the real world in the end. To tell us to let go of Evangelion. Well, I'm not about to, Anno. Tomino tried to do it with Gundam, and his failure has become your failure.
Let's be honest: the ending is designed to give closure more to the franchise itself than to the movie series. Anyone who's seen both the series and the movies can clearly see that. I'm guessing that if your only experience with Evangelion are these movies, you're more than a little confused by the ending, which seems to be giving closure to the characters not necessarily as they are in the movies, but the very concepts of the characters as they exist across media, be it TV series, manga, or the Rebuild films. It's an ending manufactured specifically to crowd please a certain audience, and cap the franchise rather than the movies. In fact, that's what I'd say the main flaw is with Thrice Upon a Time: like Rise of Skywalker, it is obsessed with being a finale, rather than just BEING a finale. Obviously it's of a much higher quality than that other movie, for reasons I have already listed, but it has the same monomania.
End of Evangelion, meanwhile, while possibly also made to please a crowd that was dissatisfied with the television series ending, didn't feel obsessed with being everything to all people. It was more viceral, harrowing even, and didn't care about crowd pleasing, except to have a more plot-driven finale than the show. It didn't give us the closure we wanted, it gave us the closure we needed for the movie. And that's what made it truly great.
Thrice Upon a Time? Well, it's a good movie, but it's not a great movie. Of all the Rebuild films, it's probably just a little better than the first, certainly a big step up from the disaster of the third, but not as well-measured and exciting as the second. The "one last kiss" isn't with tongue, it's more like a chaste peck on the mouth you give when you're not in practice (so, a kiss from me... still single, ladies, if there are any takers).
- Penguin Truth
He's back! And he's brought friends! Wooh!