Procrastination is my middle name.

August 13, 2021 – I sat myself down in buangruang3 with a plastic jar of salted peanuts and a big plastic cup of iced Diet Coke to watch Hideaki Anno’s final ever instalment of his Evangelion series, シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版:|| (Shin Evangerion Gekijōban:||, or essentially Evangelion 3.0 + 1.01 Thrice Upon A Time)[1] which had its worldwide premiere on Amazon Prime that day.

I first knew of Evangelion from VHS tapes of the 26-episode TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shinseiki Evangerion, which I’ll refer to NGE henceforth) distributed by AD Vision in the mid-late 90s when it was first released in shops in Newcastle. In those days, anime videotapes were pretty expensive and to buy a set of tapes just to watch the entire series wasn’t a priority as I was somewhat skint, being a student and all. I noted that this anime series was directed by Hideaki Anno, a name I first heard when I watched his Gunbuster series[2], and made by studio GAINAX (The Wings of Honnêamise/王立宇宙軍~オネアミスの翼 was my other GAINAX film I owned at that time on tape). One other thing I noticed were the streamlined and slim nature of his mecha – a far cry from the robust ones I am used to seeing like those seen in Macross or what little I knew of Gundam.

Fast forward to like 10-odd years later, I obtained a fansubbed .avi copy *koff*[3] of the original 26 episodes of NGE, bundled together with the Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion films. I remembered vaguely watching a few episodes of NGE and dropping it when it got… weird.

Once again, the procrastinator in me struck until I decided early this year, after hearing that the final Evangelion film was out in Japan[4], to watch the three Rebuild of Evangelion blu-rays which I gradually bought over the span of 5-6 years in anticipation. The first film, Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 序, Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Jo), pretty much retold the first few episodes of the original TV series, which felt like a fever dream to me at that time. Followed by Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 破, Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Ha) which diverts into a different storyline to that of the TV series (which at this time, I still hadn’t re-watched) and the third disc, Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo (ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版:Q, Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Kyū). By this time, NETFLIX had all 26 of the TV episodes of NGE. I then watched NGE in its entirety and the End of Evangelion[5] film – all for the first time.

Did it make everything clearer?

Yes, and no.

Let’s start with the basic premise of the Evangelion story. Ikari Shinji is a teen who was picked up by an organisation named NERV to pilot an Evangelion, a mecha tagged as Unit-01, to defend Tokyo-3 from an angel attack (angels are massive beasties that can be killed by destroying its core). The instruction to Shinji was from his estranged father, Gendou, who pretty much abandoned Shinji after the passing of his wife/Shinji’s mom. Essentially being dropped in the deep end pretty much immediately on arrival at NERV headquarters, Shinji refused but on seeing that the other option was Gendou making the other Eva pilot, Ayanami Rei, get into Unit-01 despite still recovering from her recent injury from piloting it, Shinji reluctantly pilots the Unit-01 Eva. Shinji’s understandably clumsy performance piloting Unit-01 nevertheless ended with the Eva going berserk which ultimately kills the angel. Katsuragi Misato, the operations director of NERV (who picked Shinji up in her car at the beginning of the story) takes Shinji in to live with her in her apartment.

The plot’s not too bad, you say. Boy pilots mecha, stumbling a bit in the beginning, and later emerges victorious. Gets to live with a woman (and a penguin). Can’t be that bad, right? He’ll show improvement, get into a redemption arc, gets the girl (which one), right?

This is when, as I mentioned before, the fever dream starts.

While the Eva units are made to combat waves of angel attacks in a monster-of-the-day kind of fashion in each episode, the origins of these angels (they have names, you can look it up) came from a time when life began on Earth. Man’s (well, specifically a particularly cult-like group called SEELE) somewhat convoluted interference with the powers associated with the angels’ origin ultimately leads to some kind of prophetic end which SEELE named the Human Instrumentality Project. However, this plotline in Evangelion is paralleled with that of Shinji’s relationship with his father, Gendou, throughout the series. Like how Shinji was abandoned by his father only to meet him three years later to carry the heavy burden of piloting Unit-01 was just the beginning of his psychological downward spiral. The story soon introduces Soryu Asuka Langley, as the pilot for Unit-02 trained in Germany prior to her joining Rei and Shinji in Japan. Referred to as the “second children” (that’s Engrish for you)[6], Asuka was a cocky pilot who on the surface does not appear to think much of Shinji, as she felt he didn’t get into the Eva programme via any merit other than being Gendou’s son. And, of course, Ayanami Rei. The quiet Eva test pilot (she pilots Unit-00) was pretty much enigmatic throughout the series, with the reveal of who she is in the later segments of the story explaining the reason for why this is so, and why Shinji seems to feel some degree of closeness to Rei.

The subsequent episodes see Shinji, Asuka and Rei tackling new angel attacks, each one with its own unique characteristic, and of increasing difficulty (like a video game) when it comes to strategising ways to kill it. And while in the beginning, Evangelion can be watched like any other run-of-the-mill mecha franchise, the psychological effects experienced by not only Shinji and the other Eva pilots, but also the supporting characters, are revealed in these episodes. Everyone has their own personal hell to deal with, so much so that you could somewhat watch Evangelion as a psychological drama, with the Eva mecha action simply occurring in the background. Throughout watching Evangelion, I saw/heard a myriad of terms (like the spear of Longinus) and concepts (first and second impacts, Lilith and Adam), some of which seemingly dropped into the plot without much context at times, often in the form of visual/verbal clues for the audience to figure out themselves[7].

The NGE TV series had an interesting and very bizarre ending which was panned by a large number of fans and critics at the time. Suffice to say, if you had been watching this as a mecha anime, the last few TV episodes ended NGE with a whimper. Anno subsequently released the Death and Rebirth films (which I didn’t watch) to summarise the TV series, and End of Evangelion (EoE) to showcase the last two episodes of NGE from a different (and more traditional story-telling) perspective. EoE was very well received from what I understood and understandably so, too, as it does provide some closure for those who found the original ending unsatisfactory.

These earlier Evangelion stories had undergone numerous minor adjustments and it was no wonder that Anno wanted to do the Rebuild of Evangelion films, to tell a better version of the story as it were. Spurred by the tech available which was obviously superior to that utilised in the mid-90s NGE TV series and a better budget, these films were made by Anno at his newly-formed studio Khara (stylised using the Greek alphabets chi-alpha-rho-alpha). The inception of the first Rebuild film was in 2002 and it was released 5 years later, with the subsequent two films were released in 2009 and 2012, respectively. The rebuild films include new characters not seen in the original TV series, especially when events following Evangelion 2.22 saw a change in the role NERV has in the story. That aside, we were also introduced to the fourth children – the spunky Makinami Mari Illustrious[8] and her Evangelion Unit-05, and later Unit-08.

While the Evangelion fan would have had to endure all 26 years before watching the final film, notwithstanding the near 10-year wait between films three and four, I probably had the entire experience properly in less than a year, despite having all the media in my possession much longer for a good few years.

Which made watching 3.0 + 1.01: Thrice Upon A Time a relative dawdle for me.

Following on the aftermath of You Can (Not) Redo, Shinji experiences a transformation in his character, partly moulded by his past experiences and the people around him. The first half of the film saw familiar faces from the earlier parts of the Evangelion story, and it was great to see that this wasn’t shown as an effort to get the old gang back together for a reunion, but to present a more important aspect to the story – closure. In this case, closure for the characters, and for us the viewers who had watched the entire story all these years. It was in the second half when certain aspects of the 3.0 + 1.01 story confirmed my own personal suspicions about certain characters after watching the TV series. The overall look to 3.0 + 1.01 is pretty cinematic in my opinion (I sat relatively close to my 55″ LED TV, and with the audio coming from speakers through an integrated stereo amp instead of an AV amp – I have to say, IMAX, eat your heart out). A lot of CG is seen but I actually like it in anime if it does the job well, and in this I felt it was superb.

The ending in this film echoed EoE in some aspects but the best part was how the story reached its conclusion. This final instalment of Evangelion provided me with a sense of relief, after all that shit Shinji, Asuka and Rei had endured, I really felt they deserved to have this ending.

I then actually stood up in buangruang3 and applauded in front of my TV when the end credits were rolling[9].

People talk of what’s actually canon and what’s not in Evangelion. The overwhelming view on this question is that everything is canon, including the manga written by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki who was the character designer for Evangelion at GAINAX. People also talked about how everything is in a time loop, with the stories seen in different Evangelion media (like the games) are set in different time loops, and this include the Rebuild films. Not forgetting how the entire psychological aspects of the story and characters are reflective of Anno’s personal mental state during the time the original TV series was made. If the feel of the Rebuild films were similarly reflective of Anno’s personal life, he must be in a better place now with how 3.0 + 1.01 turned out.

Can I now fully explain to anyone the Evangelion mythology? Nope, I can’t.

Also, I don’t really think it matters. Sure, we can dive into the wealth of information out there fully explaining Evangelion, and I had done so although admittedly not extensively but sufficient enough to grasp the essential concepts of the story’s plot, but I think if you had managed to watch Evangelion in its entirety, everything will make sense in some way or another.

At the end of 3.0 + 1.01, I felt genuinely happy. Happy that the story finished nicely for all concerned.



[1]Originally 3.0 + 1.0 when it was first released in Japan back in March 2020, the film underwent several tweaks by Anno which was later released as 3.0 + 1.01 in June 2020. This iteration of the film is the one the world got to see on Prime two weeks ago.
[2]Aim for the Top! (トップをねらえ!, Toppu o Nerae!) tells the story of Noriko and her team mates battling hordes of space aliens. While this is typical of mecha sci-fi – simply involving thousands of ships, big explosions – that kind of thing, I loved the science (admittedly, some were made up particle physics theories) behind it (before Nolan’s Interstellar) and the poignant end to the overall story. I still have the VHS boxset by Kiseki Films.
[3]Unlike them newly-fangled versions you get internationally today, these fansubs had Fly Me to the Moon as the ED song.
[4]No thanks to COVID, the film never got to be shown on these shores.
[5]I have to admit I returned to the .avi fansubs at times. No Fly Me to the Moon? Come on! I need to hear her sing “I rove you. Kiss me prease“.
[6]Rei and Shinji are referred to as the first and third “children”, respectively.
[7]And this is when the internet provided assistance. Imagine what it was like in the mid-90s when there was no Google.
[8]Mari was named after two WW2 battleships – the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Makinami.
[9]I can’t talk about the Rebuild films without mentioning Utada Hikaru. I love her music from the time she debuted in 1999. The ED songs for 1.11 and 2.22 were two versions of Beautiful World from her 2018 record HEART STATION. Hikki sung the poignant 桜流し (Sakura Nagashi) for 3.33 and the aptly titled One Last Kiss (the MV of which was actually directed by Anno) for 3.0 + 1.1.