Monday, May 6, 2013

Evangelion Q / 3.33

Now *that's* the way to play it.

This is a review of the third Rebuild of Evangelion film, Evangelion 3.0, 3.33, Q, Quickening, or "You Can [Not] Redo".  There are spoilers, so hold off if you haven't seen it.

I've sort of been missing out on the Rebuild of Evangelion party these past few years, simply because, despite being a huge fan of Evangelion, the Rebuild movies didn't click with me. I didn't hate them or anything, but the spark wasn't there. They felt choppy, and like they skimmed the surface of a deeper story. And yes, I did get the vague feeling that they were trying to pander to certain anime stereotypes rather than create broken characters who might feel like anime stereotypes.

At the same time, I didn't view Rebuild 1.0 and Rebuild 2.0 was such a radical departure from the series.

But I really got into the groove with this film. It hit that sweet spot of being familar yet new, exciting yet comfortable (for a very strange definition of "comfortable", I'll admit), and seemed more imaginative and engaging.

Instead of the action-oriented fare of the first two Rebuild films, this was a slow build-up to a climax. There was plenty of action, but the real meat of the story procedeed slowly, as Shinji "adjusts" to the new world that he finds himself in.

Shinji's rescuing of Rei Ayanami from inside the Angel Zeruel caused a...proto-Third Impact that was halted by Kaworu literally falling from the sky in an new Evangelion. Shinji himself has been in a coma for the following fourteen years, drifting in space, entombed in EVA-01. The Children appear not to have aged, but everything else has changed. Misato, Ritsuko, and the bridge crew head up an independent organization called "Wille", which also employs Toji's sister Sakura. They all tell Shinji not to pilot the EVA, and he's also been outfitted with a collar that prevents synchronization and could kill him if activated. Shinji can't do much anyway, since Eva-01 now forms the core of the Wunder, Wille's flying fortress.

But Rei in Eva-00 breaks in and takes Shinji to NERV, run by a Gendo (sporting Khiel-like goggles) and a very weary and balding Fuyutski. Kaworu is there, and forms a bond with Shinji, while Shinji notices that the Rei who is also there is...not quite right. The world around them has been destroyed and distorted, though it is also still and quiet. There might be a chance to change the world back to the way it was, but it also might play into the hands of the still-scheming Gendo.

In terms of its plot and setting, Evangelion 3.33 is radically different from what has come before, which seems to have confused and upset a lot of people. I'm not bragging here, but I was genuinely excited by the new setting and content to watch it be explained further. Several of the series beats are repeated in different forms: a Shinji who has lost everything; a returning Rei who is now distant and confused; Shinji's bonding with Kaworu and the "breakup"; a journey underground; a battle between EVA-02 and Shinji. Some of the lines are even the same or similar, if you allow for differences in translation. It's an elegant way to do a remake, one that's satisfying.

And my god, the visuals. Granted, an expanded low-level digital video can't get me the crisp picture that would be best, but I saw a lot of shifting bodies, fluid things, grotesque monsters and grotesque ships. I lost it at the Wunder and reconfigurable design and the battle with the "grid angel"--just incredible. Except for the bright pink Evangelion piloted by Mari, I loved the new Eva unit designs, though the "beast mode" of EVA-02 is still hard to warm up to. I'm okay with the idea in theory, but the results are always a little goofy-looking, and the new panther-like shape is a bit too much. The new slick black NERV Plug Suits were also very cool.

I don't blame the actual movie for it, but Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0 started a flood of speculation about whether Evangelion was becoming...the series some people felt it always should have been. Some praised what they saw as a more positive direction for the remake, including an allegedly "badass" Shinji who provided the audience with a linear path to self-improvement--because of a single scene where he reached into the voind to try to rescue Rei. Some even went far enough to claim that this was representitive of Hideaki Anno's improved life and greater maturity as an artist, or to imply that a wrong has been corrected, that Evangelion was rightfully compensating for having never given the audience what it wanted.

Look, I'm all for people liking different things and changing their opinions. But I'm going to level: It's aggravating to suggest Evangelion "owed" the audience some kind of feel-good release, some kind of payment for suffering through a story and a protagonist they didn't have a taste for. Stories don't owe their audience a thing: they exist to be told, not to make the viewers feel good. You can't pre-manufature a story to please people anyway, so you might as well go ahead and tell what you like and sort the rest out later.

Me personally, I don't feel Shinji's actions were that far removed from his previous character. He's shown himself capable of fighting back, caring about people, and even going totally postal. I'm a huge fan of Shinji and found him bland in the first two films, was unable to feel that same emotional rapport with the character, but he was really pretty much the same.

It's more the fallout from 2.0 that I object to, the sense of entitlement from the fans, that Shinji would be capital-B better as a John Q. Hero, or that there is an ironclad way to write a Good Story and that Evangelion was correcting itself for failing to do that the first time. There is no formula for creating a perfect story, or a perfect protagonist, and if a story isn't what you want, you shouldn't expect to get anything different.

And yet, I couldn't help but enjoy that the action lauded as an example of Shinji's newfound "badassness" turns out to have had horrible destructive consequences. I don't believe that it's Gainax deliberately screwing with the audience, because I don't know how the actual Japanese audience reacted to these scenes, but it's awesome that things turned out this way. When I saw others get angry at this, I couldn't help but smile.

Shinji in this film is eager to fix things, but also lost in himself and torn with angst. His mannerisms are very similar to the closing bits of the TV series, which this film roughly corresponds to. And the actions he takes, get him into more trouble.

EVA 3.33 is pretty much Shinji's show: other characters get few scenes to themselves.

Misato's emotional abandonment of the returned Shinji is believable. Not nice, not the same, but believable. Even if Misato cheered him on fourteen years ago, Shinji almost caused Third Impact and did enough damage with that "almost" that it would transcend personal feelings...except that Misato had a chance to kill Shinji but hesitated, meaning she still cares for him.

Others later pointed out that not knowing it was actually the real Shinji they retrieved had also influenced the cold attitude of Misato and the rest of Wille, which also made sense. But what I've always loved about Evangelion is that, yes, it lets its characters make mistakes or do bad things.

Kaworu is pretty much the same character as before. He gets more screen time, and more emotive range (with some angry and determined facial expressions), but it doesn't add up to a fuller character. He's there to love Shinji, occassionally say sharply cryptic things, be revealed as an Angel, and die so Shinji can angst about his death. That's all fine, though only time will tell if Kaworu will serve the same thematic purpose that I believe he used to.

Asuka is angry and fights things and still has a crush on Shinji even when she's 28 and hasn't finished puberty yet. There's a sense of impotence to her, but I do miss Asuka's particular mental explosions. Perhaps we will see them later. Remember: Asuka is not a hero, and she is not strong.

Mari still doesn't feel like she serves any purpose, other than being a body to fill a cockpit in battle. Several new named and designed characters are introduced, but they just fill generic personel roles. I still expected a little bit more of Mari than I did of these characters, being how heavily she was marketed, but I'm no longer holding my breath for her to do anything more than act playful and casual regardless of the situation, with a few psychotic outbursts. Maybe she's an ironic take on some anime archetype or another, but she's dull.

Overall? It was a lot of fun. Despite the despair of the story, there was very much a sense of wonder to the entire film, and obvious things that kicked off a weird kind of joy in me. Many of the technical concepts were left mysterious, but I'm content to wait and see if they are further explained. If not all the answers come, I'll be satisfied with what we do have.


  1. I agree with all the thoughts in this review, except these:

    ''Remember: Asuka is not a hero, and she is not strong.''

    Asuka Langley Soryu was not, but 2.0 kind of already established Asuka Langley Shikinami as being vastly different in a number of ways. It's best not to expect to see too much of Soryu in Shikinami. The latter is a more "well adjusted" take on the character. Maybe it's cause the creators wanted to compensate for the raw deal the Asuka character got in "End Of Evengelion", where growing stronger only resulted in her brutal demise.

    ''I still expected a little bit more of Mari than I did of these characters, being how heavily she was marketed, but I'm no longer holding my breath for her to do anything more than act playful and casual regardless of the situation, with a few psychotic outbursts. Maybe she's an ironic take on some anime archetype or another, but she's dull.''

    I'll admit that I'm disappointed we didn't get that much new info on Mari, but I understand that it could be because this is the film that was meant to properly introduce her. Her part in 2.0 was actually shoehorned in during production and it shows. I still believe that Mari is here because she has a signifigant role to play in this story's finale, whether it be for good or evil. Let's wait until the fourth and final movie to pass final judgement on this character.

    1. Well, people were saying Shinji was more "well-adjusted" in 2.0, and look how that turned out. :P

      But I can understand this interpretation. After all, 2.0 saw Asuka playing with a doll, something that in the TV series, signaled her childhood trauma. That was a jarring moment, and it might be proof that Asuka in this series is never going to explode as she did in the original anime.

      However, if she continues as she is, she won't be a compelling character, and I'd hesitate to label her as "heroic" except in the most generic sense. A truly heroic Asuka would have been furnished with her original past, but then truly moved beyond it, instead of burying it.

      I do miss Asuka's explosion, since it undermined the traditions of heroism as much as Shinji's story did. Her fate in EoE was totally in keeping with the idea that no matter how much Asuka struggles, all she's earned is superficial fighting prowess, and in the end she's as bad as Shinji in her psychology.