Evangelion. One of the most polarizing anime franchises in history. Since its inception, in 1995, Evangelion has served to be unapologetic, uncompromising, and unabashedly twisted, but at the same time, Evangelion has offered its own kind of unique, almost abstract at times, beauty. Beneath all the iconographic fluff and deep-rooted depression of its protagonist, Shinji Ikari, there is an underlying beauty to the madness. To some, there is an appreciation of its visual and musical merits, combining some of its darkest imagery with the music of Beethoven and Bach, and to others, they’re just glad they don’t have it as bad as Shinji, looking on with intrigue and fascination as his world is tumbling down, tumbling down, tumbling down. Evangelion is a project of disturbed beauty, from top to bottom, on the part of one Hideaki Anno, a true perfectionist when it comes to his beloved creation, and the proof of that is the 4-part “Rebuild” film series that he’s been spearheading since 2007. Granted, things have slowed down a bit, with the fourth and final film currently in a “coming sometime in the next decade” status, but if there’s anything to be said about the third movie, it’s that nobody has any idea just what will happen when the smoke clears.
Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo is the true turning point of the tetralogy, and while steering completely away from the original series and forming its own path, it tends to form a path that, to some, is nigh incomprehensible. For one, this takes place 14 years past the events of 2.22 and the accompanying Third Impact, which caused the Earth to become pretty FUBAR, and Shinji’s the one to blame. Because regardless of continuity, some things just remain the same. However, thanks to some divine intervention by everyone’s favorite gay robot pilot, Kaworu Nagisa, Earth remains partially intact, but not without three warring factions all wanting to stake their claim: NERV, still fronted by Gendo Ikari and still wanting to dethrone God as supreme ruler of the universe; SEELE, the mysterious 2001 monoliths who are still lobbying for the joy of rebirth; and introduced in this film, we have WILLE (pronounced “veel-eh”), fronted by Misato Katsuragi and populated with former NERV-ers, taking on the “chaotic neutral” role by wanting to restore order and balance to the world by any means necessary. Namaste to that. And, of course, we can’t forget about that temperamental scamp Asuka and the woman we all still know nothing about, Mari, who have taken to playing soldier to Misato and WILLE in the 14 years since the Third Impact. Oh, and Rei’s just chilling in the back, she’ll just pop up here and there in this film.
To note, this is the first film in the tetralogy to be presented in 2.35:1 Cinemascope, which is somewhat of an anomaly for modern anime; only a handful of titles are presented in this ultra-wide format, namely the series The Fruit of Grisaia and the Kizumonogatari films, as well as in segments of the series Erased and Madoka Magica. It’s certainly a unique design choice for this film, as it presents a much wider viewpoint of the scenes at hand. 3.33 also appears to be the most extensively-produced of the series, so far, using many animation production techniques ranging from standard storyboards to CG modeling, virtual photography, and even rotoscoping. All of the “Rebuild” films look great in their own right, but 3.33 is by far the best looking of the series, despite its darkened and hushed tones of red, blue, and gray permeating throughout.
The English dub cast brings a very solid performance to the film, as expected, combining voices old and new for an experience that’s both familiar and refreshing. Veteran voices Spike Spencer, Tiffany Grant, and Allison Keith haven’t missed a beat, and they are joined by the more recent Funimation cast additions, including Brina Palencia, Jerry Jewell, and Colleen Clinkenbeard, along with some newer additions in Caitlin Glass and Felecia Angelle, to only name a few. The 5.1 surround sound mix is incredibly crisp on the Funimation Blu-ray, with a very well balanced blend of boisterous explosions and epic orchestral themes working with and around the dialogue of each character. It is a small step down from the previous releases, though, having Dolby TrueHD 6.1 surround tracks, whereas 3.33 only has 5.1 Dolby tracks, but this will only be seen as such a step down by those with sharp ears. Either way, with a quality sound system and a well-placed subwoofer, your house will be booming with this film playing through it.
From here on, we’re heading into major spoiler territory – I won’t reveal everything but there will be serious spoilers abound, so if you don’t want to be spoiled by some of the plot details, skip down to the bottom of this review. Otherwise, here we go.
Shinji’s been sealed away, and when he finally comes to, things aren’t quite as he remember. For one, he’s sealed on a platform with several guns pointed at him and sporting a choker around his neck. The people around him look on with cold, almost callous looks. What exactly has changed? 14 years have passed, and while Misato and her commanding officers have aged, Shinji and the other pilots seemed to have not aged a day. Why is this? “The curse of the EVAs,” claims Asuka. Throughout this time, Shinji has been a comatose prisoner of WILLE, serving time for triggering Third Impact, which proves that if you’re Shinji, you’re damned if you do get in the robot and damned if you don’t. The guy just can’t win, especially here, where Shinji is threatened that if he pilots an EVA, he will be killed on the spot, thanks to that nifty little choker around his neck. A button gets pushed and he goes kablooey. Wouldn’t expect anything less from this series, now, would you?
With an emergency command triggered by nearby drones, WILLE launches their attack, using their flying battleship Wunder as their offense, and Misato makes it especially clear that they have no need for Shinji and want him to do nothing. This poses a very stark contrast to the final moments of the second film, where Shinji “finally” “nuts up” and plays the role of “Big Damn Hero” to save Rei from an Angel attack, only for his role to be completely diminished at the start of the third film. Again, damned if you do and don’t. There’s a secret to Wunder, though, in that its main source of power lies within the ill-fated EVA Unit-01, all without the need of Shinji piloting it. So how’s Shinji going to escape his captivity within Wunder? A wild Rei Ayanami shows up, via EVA Unit-00, to break Shinji out of Alcatraz. And now, the story truly begins.
And by the way, it takes about 33 minutes for the title card to show up.
Back on what’s left of Earth, everything has been torn asunder. The NERV geofront, completely eradicated, all due to the Third Impact. The outside world, wholly decrepit and damaged. Empty. Silent. Welcome to your new world, Shinji Ikari. It comes standard with a gay piano player who wants to bring you happiness, a girl who doubles as the reincarnate clone of your mother, a cell-like room for you to reside in, and the world’s greatest Dad himself, Gendo Ikari, with a grand entrance. He introduces Shinji to the new Evangelion Unit-13, which he will be piloting alongside Kaworu because it’s all a part of Gendo’s master plan at universal domination, you see. Oh, and yes, there’s a fanservice scene of brief female nudity to be had, at around the 37-minute mark; and yes, it’s incredibly out of place with the tone of the film. It’s Evangelion’s version of a running gag, it’s gonna happen no matter what.
So what exactly happened during the Third Impact? Short version: everyone and everything became completely FUBAR, and it’s all thanks to… Shinji. Yes, going back to the second film, when Shinji saved Rei from being consumed whole by an Angel, the fusion of EVA Unit-00 and Unit-01 was enough of a stimuli to set off the Third Impact, but it was thanks to Kaworu and his magic moon spear that altered the event into the “Near Third Impact,” still setting off enough to eradicate life on Earth and bring about a twisted form of evolution. Of course, for Gendo Ikari, this was just another Tuesday.
By the second act, Kaworu’s presence is firmly established in the film, as is his connection with Shinji. The connection between Kaworu and Shinji is certainly not new to this film series, as it dates back to the original TV series, but in this movie in particular, the connection is made especially noticeable with quite a bit more development. Shinji’s endured the long standing argument of “nature vs. nurture” throughout his entire life, and the series thus far has been a shutout victory for the “nature” side of things – Shinji’s always been pushed around, ordered around, told what to do and when to do it, and has been around people who give him very little in return. Gendo? Barely a father to him. Rei? Cold and very emotionless. Asuka? Give me a break. The only one who gave Shinji any kind of nurturing is Misato, and that’s only outside the confines of NERV, if there’s any to be had. So with Kaworu in the picture, playing a serious direct role with Shinji in the film, Shinji is finally able to feel nurtured and form a co-dependence with Kaworu, homoerotic overtones put aside. The basis of any kind of relationship lies with trusting and nurturing one another, and it is exemplified with Shinji and Kaworu here more than ever before. But the biggest sign of their trust comes when Kaworu takes possession of Shinji’s explosive choker and wears it in his place, allowing Shinji to pilot the EVA without threat of death.
This is where things start to get really crazy, as things heat up into the third act of the film. Nearing the climax, it’s shown that Shinji’s silver-haired (boy)friend isn’t wholly innocent with his intentions, but he’s not entirely villainous, either. And Kaworu isn’t all that he seems to be, either. Both Shinji and Kaworu gear up and head inside EVA Unit-13 to excavate two spears, those of Cassius and Longinus, to undo the events of Third Impact, but in what’s become a recurring theme of this film, they are not what they seem to be. Oh, and “Rei” is following along in her EVA, as an insurance policy of sorts. This is where I’ll stop giving out plot spoilers, so I’ll just say that the climax of the film is just as insane, iconographic, and blood-thirsty as anyone would come to expect from this franchise. Revelations are made, battle lines are drawn, EVAs are fighting one another, Angels are awakened, heads are exploded… well, okay, only one head is exploded, but it is the noblest sacrifice I’ve seen in a long time, and everything, if you can believe it, turns out worse as a result. Like I said, Shinji just can’t win. When the smoke clears, though, all that’s left are our three main pilots – Asuka, Rei number 12, and Shinji – standing in the empty Tokyo-3. God’s in His heaven, but all is certainly not right with the world. Not after this film.
After it is all said and done, Evangelion 3.33 may just be the most emotionally draining, taxing, and exhausting installment of the franchise, so far. But I can’t personally condemn it as a bad film. It’s disjointed in parts and it relies too heavy on interpersonal drama, sure, but that’s part of what makes the Evangelion franchise what it is. It’s unapologetic, uncompromising, and unabashedly twisted, and 3.33 fits that criteria to a T. It’s not going to please everyone who sees it, nor is it going to leave everyone wholly satisfied with its foreboding final scene, but after 20-plus years of the Evangelion franchise, that’s to be expected at this point. What does this mean for the fourth and final film, though? How will the story reach its supposed “FINAL” conclusion? Will we ever find out what Shinji’s listening to on his tape player? No one really knows. There isn’t much we can all do but wait and hope that Anno won’t lose his mind again. Repeated viewings of this film will only cause more questions than answers, but this is certainly a required viewing for all Evangelion fans – it’s not quite at Event Horizon-levels of madness, but it’s real close. God only knows what “3.0+1.0: Final” will bring.
Verdict: Rent It. Not entirely a must-own, but definitely a must-see-once. Evangelion 3.33 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Funimation Entertainment.