WTF Happened With Evangelion 3.0?

Warning: this editorial will contain unmarked spoilers for the Evangelion Rebuilds, especially 3.0.

Saying Evangelion 3.0 was divisive is like saying One Piece is long. 2.0 was hugely popular, and for good reason. It kept a lot of the strong character psychology and mech fights that made the original series one of the most popular and influential anime of all time, but filtered out a lot of the dense philosophy, occasionally frustrating character development and dated animation that made the original one of the most controversial anime of all time. Rei stood up for herself, Asuka was far less caustic and Shinji began to show some initiative, or at least attempt to do so. The way 2.0 ended, the Rebuilds actually had the potential to surpass NGE and even the preview at the end showed promise. It makes sense that everyone had huge expectations going into 3.0, and a lot of people, myself included, ended up confused, angry, or some mixture of the two. This isn’t going to be an actual review as much as me looking at what made 3.0 so controversial and how it might have become that way.

The first notable thing about 3.0 is that the story is barely coherent. It’s told entirely from Shinji’s point of view, so it makes sense that it would be confusing for a while since he had been asleep for 14 years. Being vague to mirror Shinji’s confusion is a perfectly fine way to tell a story as long as basic plot information and character motivations are explained eventually. 3.0 does none of that. The first third of the movie isn’t as much a story as a bunch of things happening. Shinji wakes up aboard a giant ship called the Wunder. Everyone treats him like an enemy. The ship is attacked by an unknown group. Misato reveals that they’re now part of a group called WILLE and fight against NERV. The ship transforms and starts flying in a scene that would be cool if they explained what was going on. Nobody tells Shinji anything, so he goes with a Rei clone that came to take him back to Gendo. All of this happens in the first 30 minutes or so and it feels like they skipped a movie. Evangelion has always been hard to understand, but it usually at least gives enough information for the audience to figure things out on their own. 3.0 leaves the questions of how WILLE formed, who actually attacked them, why the ship transforming was such a big deal and why everyone was so hostile to Shinji (I know he almost caused Third Impact, but the film never gave enough information to figure out if that was why they suddenly hated him) completely unanswered. Being cryptic is one thing, but not telling your audience anything is just bad storytelling. This is exactly why so many of us were disappointed with it. What ultimately saves the movie is how it develops Shinji.

Shinji is understandably upset once he realizes that he almost destroyed the world and all his friends hate him, so his growing friendship with Kaworu makes sense. Kaworu himself seems to genuinely care for Shinji and wants to help him get back on his feet. Shinji takes comfort in that and ends up defining himself by how much he can help Kaworu. Characters only defining themselves by external things instead of finding their own self worth is one of the central themes of Evangelion, and 3.0 handles it excellently. Their relationship is ultimately what saves the movie and is why a lot of people still like it. I was annoyed at it for much of the runtime, but the way it developed Shinji is why I don’t think it’s actually a bad movie. As for why 3.0 ended up as such a mess, I think it can be attributed almost completely to writer/director/The Evangelion Guy, Hideaki Anno.

anno

Evangelion has always been heavily influenced by Anno’s emotional state. NGE was originally intended to be a fairly standard monster of the week mecha show, and that’s how it was for about 2/3 of the show. What changed was Anno’s onset of depression, which was also when it got noticeably darker and more introspective. The Angel fights began to take a backseat to the characters dealing with their issues, most notably Shinji’s depression. The entire climax of the TV series was Shinji overcoming his depression, and it’s clear that that was what Anno was most interested in.

After working on 3.0, Anno described losing his sense of purpose and questioning what he was doing with his work. After finding out that he hadn’t been able to save Rei, Shinji had similar feelings, questioning whether he had ever been able to do anything good while piloting the Eva. Anno’s mental state has always influenced Shinji, and it’s clear that 3.0 is no exception. The focus on character over plot explanation is the movie’s biggest flaw, and it’s pretty clear that Anno’s own struggles were what influenced this. The movie would have been much better with a more coherent plot, but the characterization and the way it connects to Anno’s personal struggles ensures that 3.0 is at the very least interesting. Even when it’s not good (and some parts of Evangelion aren’t) Eva has always been interesting, and 3.0 is no exception. I don’t know if 4.0 will be able to recover from this, but it’ll definitely be interesting regardless.

7 thoughts on “WTF Happened With Evangelion 3.0?

  1. 3.0 is what it is for a far more lame reason. Notice how Rei gets absurdly mistreated, slandered and more or less written out? Notice how Shinji is punished or verbally dismissed for having cared about and attempted to save Rei?

    Notice how Asuka, Kaworu etc… are drastically stronger than their anime counterparts?

    The whole point of 3.0 was to attack Rei’s character and to flatter Asuka and Kaworu’s.

    The background here is that Anno is a prominent Asuka fan (and Kaworu, to some degree). Back when NGE first came out and the characters were more than moe fetish objects, Rei was the most popular and respected character for being original, well-written and for being adorable in a Emily the strange-esque, waifish way. Rei was without exaggeration twice as popular as everyone else. It was a time of extreme popularity where people would stage elaborate heists into communal offices, disguising themselves as police or other civic officers to run off with state-sponsored Rei-swag.

    Anno is a huge nerd, an otaku if you will. For all his life he’s lived this kind of life, adoring fictional settings and characters. He loves fanservice and made porn doujins himself before EVA. Anno did not like that Rei was more popular than his favorite character. Just like a random anime-fan on some forum doesn’t like that there are other anime more popular than his favorite.

    3.0 is such a disjointed, dumb mess because it’s not trying to be anything more than a middle finger to the Rei character and a rewrite of the Asuka/Kaworu characters to be flattering.

    Mark my words: Anno most definitely doesn’t share Shinji’s feelings on the subject. Concerning Rei, he could not care less because he became bitter and twisted after NGE.

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    • I don’t think so. The other characters Shinji because he almost caused Third Impact, not because he wanted to save Rei. If anything, 3.0 was more flattering to Rei than Asuka. Asuka barely got any screentime compared to Rei and Rei actually showed signs of development at the end. The impression I always got from Anno was that he doesn’t really care what people think of his work as long as he’s satisfied with it.

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  2. >The other characters Shinji because he almost caused Third Impact, not because he wanted to save Rei.

    They do explicitly mention that he’s making a lot of fuss about one person, and implying he’s selfish/stupid for caring about said person – Rei in this instance.

    That said, you don’t see the correlation here? Shinji nearly caused 3rd Impact because he wanted to save Rei. Hideaki Anno is screaming “If you want to get close to Rei, the world will end!” at the viewer.

    >If anything, 3.0 was more flattering to Rei than Asuka. Asuka barely got any screentime compared to Rei and Rei actually showed signs of development at the end.

    Don’t be stupid. Asuka or any other character doesn’t need the most or just more screentime to be flattered. You can spend ten hours on attacking a person, and just one on flattering another, time has nothing to do with it.

    The facts are that Asuka is extremely flattered by 3.0, and Rei is extremely downsized, and the “development” is only there to showcase how pathetic they’ve made the character. As in, “it’s amazing this retard is able to put the pin close to the hole.”

    >The impression I always got from Anno was that he doesn’t really care what people think of his work as long as he’s satisfied with it.

    Then your impression is wrong. Read some interviews, try to understand him as a person and not as a fantasy idol.

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    • 1. I don’t see that as blaming Rei or really having anything to do with her personally.
      2. I get that screentime doesn’t automatically mean positive portrayal, but Asuka didn’t get any real development and was virtually a non-entity in 3.0. The only time she really stuck out was at the end, and that was just because she was fighting again and not because of her character. I actually think Rei was a better character than Asuka.
      3. I don’t think of Anno as some kind of “fantasy idol,” that’s just based on his writing. I find it hard to imagine him writing EoE, the last few episodes of NGE or any of 3.0 with the intent of pleasing fans. Where did you hear differently? If you have a link, that would be great.

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      • >1. I don’t see that as blaming Rei or really having anything to do with her personally.

        When they do refer to Rei multiple times like they do, I have to say you’re forced to agree that it does have something to do with Rei. It is undoubtedly an attack on Rei as a character.

        >2. I get that screentime doesn’t automatically mean positive portrayal, but Asuka didn’t get any real development and was virtually a non-entity in 3.0. The only time she really stuck out was at the end, and that was just because she was fighting again and not because of her character.

        Yes, this is all something I’m aware of, and it’s also part of the whole point. Asuka is in a protected mode where she has implicit development, rather than actual development as a good character.

        The “Q” (or Rebuild) variant of Asuka is the most popular Asuka has ever been relative to other characters. If you head over to pixiv (a japanese community for fanart), you’ll see that nearly all pictures made of Asuka is of the Q/Rebuild variant. For Rei, the opposite is true, with maybe one in a hundred is of the “new” Rei.

        The point is that neither Rei or Asuka are in Rebuild made to be characters, they are made to be undeserved attacks and flatteries of them respectively.

        Asuka has no character because 3.0 put all it’s efforts into making Asuka attractive to the Asuka fanbase and the new audience.
        Rei has no character because 3.0 puts all it’s effort into undermining it.

        This goes for the movie as a whole, and this focus on pointless otaku nonsense is why it such a mess like you think. At the center of this is Hideaki Anno – a well known Asuka otaku.

        > I actually think Rei was a better character than Asuka.
        Doesn’t mean that the new Rei is a good character. It should be noted that “Rei” in 3.0 isn’t even Rei. It’s a clone. In the original, Rei is reborn, this doesn’t seem to be the case in 3.0, and even if it were, the character is so disjointed that it’s a mere technicality. The character is ruined.

        >3. I don’t think of Anno as some kind of “fantasy idol,” that’s just based on his writing. I find it hard to imagine him writing EoE, the last few episodes of NGE or any of 3.0 with the intent of pleasing fans. Where did you hear differently? If you have a link, that would be great.

        I didn’t say he wrote EoE/3.0 with the intent of writing fans. I say that he wrote EoE with the intent to make a good story and to be constructive with it’s characters, arguably being too lenient in some cases.
        With 3.0, he set out to please only a shallow portion of the fanbase, not the fans in themselves – which resulted in the mess that is 3.0.

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      • I just didn’t find Asuka’s portrayal particularly flattering since she barely left an impression in 3.0. I liked the way Asuka and Rei were developed in 2.0, but Asuka was virtually a non-entity in 3.0 and Rei was only a little better. It’s not so much that Anno cared about one more than the other as he wasn’t that interested in them. 3.0 was Shinji’s story and the rest of the cast didn’t have much of a role beyond how they affected him. Kaworu got a fair amount of development, but mostly in how he related to Shinji.

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  3. >I just didn’t find Asuka’s portrayal particularly flattering since she barely left an impression in 3.0.

    This isn’t true. We’ve observed the fact that the impression she left was flattering, and that it has greatly popularized the character.

    >I liked the way Asuka and Rei were developed in 2.0, but Asuka was virtually a non-entity in 3.0 and Rei was only a little better.

    Like mentioned earlier, this isn’t true either, as it’s the other way around. Rei Q is a clone of Rei, and Rei is not present in the movie – this makes Rei the non-entity with zero screentime. Imagine if the next movie had a clone of Asuka who laid in a bed all the time, with no appearance from Shikinami.

    Then we’ve also been over how screentime isn’t the deciding factor alone.

    >. It’s not so much that Anno cared about one more than the other as he wasn’t that interested in them. 3.0 was Shinji’s story and the rest of the cast didn’t have much of a role beyond how they affected him. Kaworu got a fair amount of development, but mostly in how he related to Shinji.

    Absolute nonsense. It shows precisely that he likes one more than the other, and he’s been saying this for many years now already himself. Kaworu has less development in Rebuild 3.0 than in one single 24 minute episode of NGE, despite having more screentime.

    Anno spends more time on Rei in the Rebuilds so he can attack and undermine the character. He’s rewriting other characters to facilitate this attack – Yui is rewritten to be named Ayanami, and Asuka is e.g rewritten to be far more stronger. These two changes both create a setting where Rei is seen as inferior to both – which is Anno’s only goal these days.

    Watch it again – notice how they’re presented, notice how much free room they’re given. If you still think Asuka isn’t being flattered to high hell, and Rei isn’t being stepped on, then you must be delusional and in denial of the original show.

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