I was a teenage Evangelion tragic. You don’t need to know all the details – we’ve all read enough white dudes futilely strive to define their cultural background through television/movies (see: every Star Wars review) – but my fandom consumed me for a while there. I read all the fan theories. Found all the fan art. The fan porn. I even dabbled in my own fan fiction which, thankfully, never made its way online.
So, suffice to say, I am – or was – deeply invested in Evangelion. To me, it’s not just a seminal giant mecha anime, but a powerfully-conceived allegory for tackling the concomitant challenges of depression and egoism in one’s teen years and a gateway into more experimental art. (Granted, the series’ shift into abstract emotional introspection in its final episodes was mostly motivated by budgetary constraints, but it was still mind-blowing to teenage me.) Plus, giant robots.
Which brings us to Evangelion 3.33 [You Can (Not) Redo], the third feature-length reboot/reimagining of the franchise. I dug its predecessors. The first film, You Are (Not) Alone, retold a chunk of episode with better effects, but it was the second film that really set the stage for something exciting, incorporating new characters, twists and a dramatic deviation from the original storyline in its final moments. You see, You Can (Not) Advance concluded with the advent of the “Third Impact”, a nebulously-defined apocalypse that occurred much later in the original narrative.
Let’s talk about the Third Impact for a second, then. Don’t worry, this is going somewhere. I’ve never precisely understood what the Third Impact is, nor the particulars of why so many of those with real agency in Evangelion – chiefly, protagonist Shinji’s father Gendo Ikari and the shadowy organisation called SEELE – want to trigger it. But in the original anime series, the manga and End of Evangelion, it wasn’t an issue because as an allegorical event, it offered up a host of tantalising interpretations. What it was might have been ambiguous, but what it represented to the characters was crystal clear. Well, reasonably clear. Most of the time.
By beginning the third film in the wake of a premature Third Impact, You Can (Not) Redo promised an opportunity to really unpack the emotional undercurrents lurking beneath this pseudo-Armageddon. And the film’s disorienting opening scenes – revolving around a 14 year jump into the future that has inexplicably unaffected the age of teenagers Shinji, Rei and Asuka – suggests the kind of experimentation that made the original series, even at its most narratively dense, utterly emotionally engaging.
Instead, what follows is a labyrinthine morass of jargon and religious imagery that makes the more confusing elements of the original series look like Astro Boy. Chief director and screenwriter – original Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno – is obviously aware of how confusing this all is to his audience; the majority of Shinji’s dialogue are exclamations along the lines of “I don’t understand!” and “This doesn’t make any sense!” That the particulars of the plot – which revolve around causing the Fourth Impact or reversing the Third Impact or something – are unclear isn’t so much the problem. The problem is simple: there’s no reason to care.
Compare You Can (Not) Redo with the 24th episode of the series, “The Beginning and the End, or ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’”. The intricacies of its story are somewhat opaque, even after multiple viewings, but its emotional tenor cuts through with remarkable clarity. Themes of resignation, post-traumatic stress and confused sexuality resonate through an abandoned NERV complex; attempts to channel those same feelings with the character of Kaworu (who features prominently in Evangelion 3.33) leave the film feeling like an overstuffed, over-confused imitation of that episode.
I’ve watched You Can (Not) Redo twice now, and each time initial optimism has swiftly curdled into confusion and then undisguised dislike. I appreciate Anno’s chutzpah to create a film so defiantly uninviting, to reject any hint of fan service in the quest for something bold and new. The problem is that this quest is thoroughly misguided. I hang on to a slender thread of optimism, though. There’s a fourth film to come and, perhaps, all this mess is merely an inelegant staging for a triumphant final act that deserves to wear the Evangelion name. I’m just not sure I can bear to struggle through this third chapter again.