End of Rebuild of Evangelion: Redeath of Evangelion.
By Bonglorio and Andrew
ANDREW: Evangelion is one of those series so influential that any messing around with the story was bound to be contentious, let alone a full remake that adds new characters, has a 14-year timeskip, and is somehow more of a mess than the original show, which was created on a budget of $12 by a man so depressed, he was at severe risk of shriveling up into a singularity of sadness. Now that he has an unlimited source of otaku bucks on tap, plus near-universal critical and popular acclaim, you’d think he’d be able to easily outdo himself, especially with the unrestrained creative freedom he has now that he’s left Gainax and founded his own animation studio. Instead, after releasing the highly contentious (and equally awful) Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo in 2012, Anno went silent. Everyone knows there’s supposed to be a fourth movie at some point, but, like Duke Nukem Forever (in this scenario, Duke is a sad child who spends half the game playing the piano with his gay friend), when it’ll awkwardly belly-flop into the public sphere, soon to be forgotten, is a mystery.
Until now, that is. After more than five years without so much as a peep about the movie, Studio Khara shocked the nerdosphere with a stealth release of the final final chapter in the Evangelion saga. Naturally, I had to review it. But this time, I am (not) alone.
BONGLORIO: Hello folks! I’m Bonglorio again, I like anime about astronauts and food about meat. As a relative newcomer to Chinese cartoons, I was a little leery of reviewing Evangelion again after what the fuck End of Evangelion was, but since I am a gracious soul, I decided to help him out. Now, this movie was a long time coming. Especially after Anno accidentally lost all the production cels in a fire during a dinner party. That’s actually a really interesting story, because Anno had to disguise fast food as his own cooking. Andrew probably knows more about the development of this film than I do, so I’ll let him give you a brief rundown before we dive right into this heavily anticipated(?) installment in the Evangelion series.
Looking back, it’s easy to see why this movie took twice as long to produce as any other Rebuild title. On top of the freak fire Bonglorio mentioned, which was allowed to burn for hours due to Anno initially mistaking it for the aurora borealis, Anno is well known for unconventional stylistic decisions and flirting with different media, including a live-action segment in End of Evangelion and whatever the final two episodes of Evangelion were. This could easily be seen in the Rebuild films’ heavy usage of CGI, with the result of action sequences looking stiffer and less dynamic than in the TV series. Was it a deep statement about the impossibility of any remake living up to the nostalgia-tinted expectations of an overly enthusiastic fanbase, or perhaps Anno losing his touch after 20 years of living off of merchandising royalties? Who knows. Either way, in a bold departure from anime industry standards as well as all common sense, Rebuild 4.0 was animated by cleverly splicing together animation cels from 1970s Hanna-Barbera cult classic Jabberjaw.
Now, the film opens with a very interesting call-back to the original show and previous movies in the series with clips from them set to a remix of “Cruel Angel’s Thesis”, though it’s strange that they put so many ones with the penguin in. And I don’t remember any time Asuka wore sunglasses. After lingering on a clip of Shinji screaming, it cuts to the film’s title: End of Rebuild of Evangelion. Interestingly, the title is displayed first in Japanese, then English, then German, then a language Andrew keeps insisting is Ukrainian. I thought this was an interesting move, either they wanted to show the different cultural influences that went into the series, or show how different words can mean different things, calling back to the original series’ themes of isolation and the difficulty of emotional connection. With that over with, we are treated to an establishing shot of Misato’s apartment, catching a brief glimpse of a EVA unit 01 action figure sitting on a stack of what looks like money. This could be a sly nod to the merchandise the series produced, or a statement on how unhealthy and superficial Misato’s infatuation with Shinji is.
Obsession in general seems to be the theme here: Gendo’s obsession with his wife, humanity’s obsession with understanding the Angels in scientific terms, Asuka’s obsession with being the best, Shinji’s obsession with being loved, the audience’s obsession with finally making sense of Evangelion. Intertwined with this is the message that sometimes it’s necessary to let go and accept the world as it is, as demonstrated by nobody questioning the fact that Shinji is now a great white shark.
Speaking of, I think that was a bold choice by Anno. Shinji is such a recognizable character that changing his entire species was a brave move in terms of representation for sharks and people who identify as sharks. Sure the scene where he bites off Kaworu’s head was very stereotypical, and his voice and mannerisms were changed to be weirdly similar to Hanna-Barbera’s Jabberjaw, but the overall execution of shark Shinji was very thoughtful and well-done. They even had him a plugsuit designed specifically for his aquatic anatomy. A less effective change was the fact that Rei has a thick Scottish accent. The original point of Rei’s character was that she was eerily robotic and otherworldly, so I don’t know if her new voice fits her characterization.
Which brings us to the other side of the movie. Sure, being bland is bad, but that doesn’t mean that being different is, in and of itself, worth applauding. Long plane flights are boring, but that doesn’t make crashing into a mountain a refreshing change of pace. Someone forgot to tell Anno this, since EoRoE nosedives so hard, you’d think Al Qaeda was behind it. To start with, this late in the story Anno is still introducing new characters. The second Rebuild gave us Mari, the possibly British crack pilot who knows more about everything than anyone and can use the Evas’ full power. The third gave us Toji’s sister, someone whose only relevance is being related to an ancillary character. This time around we get DJ Croft, the definitely British crack pilot who knows more about everything than anyone and can use the Evas’ full power. And of course there are more Eva units this time, the better to drive sales of merchandise. The visual design feels eerily reminiscent of the Disney Star Wars films: a wasteland of recycled designs that have been modified just enough to justify selling a distinct action figure, but not enough to turn off fans still riding out the series due to nostalgia. Everything is calculatedly new yet familiar, right down to the redesigned plug suits that look nearly identical, save that they accentuate the pilots’ asses more. Whatever your opinion of the original TV run of Evangelion, it’s depressing to see an ambitious auteur work be transformed into a soulless machine for generating money, and by the same person who created it, no less. At least George Lucas cashed out and washed his hands of the whole business.
Though there are some interesting moments with the new characters, like when Mari and DJ Croft argue over how to pronounce “Evangelion”, and the scene where one of the Angels (The one with the big beak-nose) is brought down, sealed in a block of bakelite and sent to NERV for study, prompting a monologue from Misato about how grateful she is that it’s stuck in there and they’re out here and the Angels are like Evas and she’s stuck out here, but what she really wants to know is where’s the Angel.
At this point, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the metaphysical backdrop of Evangelion and the famous debate over whether Anno included religious symbolism as part of a deep statement about man’s nature with the divine and the unknown, or just to “look cool.” But then I got sidetracked thinking about the underwater rock concert that occupies the movie’s middle act. It feels extremely out of place, in retrospect. From this point onward, Shinji is, abruptly and without explanation, replaced as protagonist by an entirely new character, Barkley the dog. Honestly, I don’t get it. Maybe Bonglorio did, I don’t know.
I actually sort of understood it. Barkley’s sudden introduction brings with it entirely new themes, such as the question over whether one can truly be a ‘good boy’. The scene where he humps Asuka’s leg is really awkward, though. I don’t know where Anno was going with that. Something about interpersonal connection, maybe? Barkley’s introduction marks a point where Shinji has less and less screen time, to the point where he is only mentioned in a few scenes, and then entirely forgotten, like a commentary on the disposable nature of hero protagonists.
That’s probably my favorite thing about Evangelion: every questionable narrative decision that feels unsatisfying and half-assed is only further proof of Anno’s brilliance. In a very real sense, Rebuild of Evangelion questions the validity of franchise loyalty itself, with such subtlety it’s nearly impossible to tell whether it’s subversion or just plain money-grubbing. Are we stuck in there, or are we out here? Bear in mind that this is the same franchise that commented on fetishization of it characters by having the protagonist literally masturbate over a comatose Asuka, complete with closeup of his semen-covered hand, then went on to rake in mountains of cash producing borderline pornographic figurines of that very character. Sexualization is bad (except when it helps the bottom line). And then Shinji, upon seeing a vision of his dead gay friend, called forth the apocalypse, turned everyone into orange juice, had psychic dream sex with a clone of his mom while his Eva unit (which had transformed into a giant cross) sank into an eyeball-filled vagina on a giant version of said clone’s forehead in space, brought himself and Asuka back to life, tried to kill Asuka, and then cried. I mention this in part to tamper down on the incredulity you must surely be feeling at Bong and I’s description above, assuming you haven’t seen the movie yet. Should you? Hell if I know.
Anyway, to get this back on track, let me add that Hideaki Anno is the master of humble beginnings that ramp up to unhinged, raving insanity in such a way that it’s impossible to tell where exactly the transition took place. Evangelion is defined, not by teenage angst or abandonment issues as so many would have you believe, but by the subtle gradient of the comprehensible into madness. As such, EoRoE almost defies description. How can one review such a movie without laying the whole thing bare, which is to spoil half the appeal? And why bother when anyone still sticking with the series at this point is going to see it anyway? Either you know what you’re in for or you bought the wrong Blu-ray thinking you were getting Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Ultra Flavor Edition instead. It’s a mistake I’ve often made, but the only thing more embarrassing than buying anime from Walmart is haggling with the customer service department trying to return the anime you bought from Walmart, which is why most of the furniture in my house is propped up on stacks of anime DVDs. 38 identical copies of Katamari Damacy (the ideal number to possess) sit in neat rows on particle board which in turn is held up by a hideous profusion of Lucky Star box sets. I went to the store last week to buy a bicycle, but it turned out to only be more Lucky Star. Maybe that doesn’t exactly get things back on track. It should, however, tell you that Lucky Star ruined my life.
The beginning of EoRoE’s descent into raving madness begins 17 minutes in, shortly after Barkley is introduced. There is a scene where Gendo is again arguing with SEELE, represented as always by numbered black rectangles. SEELE mentions that this time they have a ‘Strongman’ in place to make sure their plan goes through, to which Gendo expresses incredulity. This brings a response from SEELE: “Would you like to see the Strongman?” What follows is a 10 second long pause, then Gendo abruptly is ejected from the room, uttering a single annoyed ‘Fuck.’
Keep in mind, the plot up to this point was about EVA 02 going missing from NERV. After this brief interlude, we’re finally back to Misato, Asuka and the rest standing before EVA 02 back in the hangar, and Ritsuko has this to say: “Thank you finding the Evangelion, though I wish you hadn’t.” Understandably indignant at this enigmatic remark, Asuka shoots back with “Fuck you, Dr. Akagi!” The increase in profanity is pretty jarring, to say the least.
Personally, I didn’t feel anything was that bad, especially compared to the stuff my editor says when I’m four months past the deadline again. Yes, I know Bonglorio would’ve had it done by now if he were on his own. No, I will not provide a better excuse than “there’s a leprechaun who unplugs my router every time I access Google Docs.” She just has no conception of how difficult it is to work around Seamus. Anyway, what was I talking about? The script? I didn’t really have problems with the dub script, other than the lengthy monologue in which Rei says Gamergate was a “misogynistic harassment campaign” and calls for the workers to seize the means of production. I don’t think that was in the original Japanese. I know a guy who knows Japanese, and he assures me that the scene in question was actually about the dubious factual basis for the so-called Rape of Nanking.
There are also a few oddities with the voice acting. Asuka’s iconic “anta baka” has, in the English version, been replaced with some nonsense word that doesn’t even match the lip flaps. I understand certain liberties have to be taken as part of the localization process, but it’s like they didn’t even have access to the original script and just wrote the dub’s lines based on what was happening on-screen. Maybe it’s for the best that we didn’t get Anno’s unfiltered creative vision. All I know for sure is that during the climax, the English-language audio track inexplicably switches over to the musical number from the Dexter’s Laboratory episode “Aye Aye Eyes.” At least they did a better job with the localization than NISA would have.
The entire localization is full of weird little things like that, which while overall minor, imply that more care should have been taken with the sound mixing. For example, there’s a moment where the only audio for 30 seconds is donkey sex sounds. The pacing is really odd, as usual, with an entirely pointless scene of Asuka running down the streets of Japan screaming about vampires. I like the music of the NGE series, so it was disappointing that instead of classic songs like “Thanatos” and “Kom, Susser Todd”, you get varying remixes of Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
The DVD we got also had plenty of very interesting special features, such as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Ugandan Bantu. There’s a commentary track with the localization staff, where I learned that Misato’s voice actor was replaced halfway through with a trained African Gray Parrot. There’s production and concept art, as well as a special feature called Dissolution of EVA which is thirty minutes of Hideaki Anno sitting on the toilet in his underwear, crying and eating ice cream.
In conclusion, Neon Genesis Evangelion is metaphorical for Japan’s traumatized national psyche. Shinji is the modern man, paralyzed by self-doubt, so wracked by ennui that he can no longer relate to a society interested in him only for his occupation. He is special, but only in the presence of his dead mother, reflecting the paradoxical situation of the millennial generation as the inheritors of the wealthiest society in human history even as they are systematically denied economic and personal autonomy. Our legacy is a dead end, our future stolen from us so that the material comforts of a senile generation can be prolonged a few more years, a fact Evangelion demonstrates through SEELE, the cabal of old men kept alive through technology and sending children to their deaths for the sake of their plot to transcend humanity and live forever. Shinji recognizes that he has nothing to gain from this fight, yet must participate anyway. When given absolute power to reshape the human condition into anything he pleases, all Shinji can imagine is a globalist neoliberal melange in which all people become one. He sees no purpose to his own existence, and so presupposes that no other individual is worth more or less than any other, with distinct thoughts and desires of their own. In him we see a creature born of Fukuyama’s end of history, who has made the final logical leap from destroying all national borders, all institutions that separate us and thus define us, toward the terrifying conclusion of removing the borders between that last bastion of sovereignty, the mind. Thus, all intellectual and societal development halts and democracy, in the absence of any possibility of an alternative, triumphs eternally.
Asuka, on the other hand, presents a window into the past. Half-German and half-Japanese, self-assured, blessed with overwhelming strength and the will to power, she is the avatar of the Axis experiment in building a society of heroes. In Shinji we see our present and future, while Asuka is the vanguard of the retreating past. She is, in the end, crushed by an army of mass-produced Evangelion units, representing the fall of fascism before the weight of Allied numbers. Notably, it is her death that marks the point of no return beyond which Shinji remakes the world in his image; and it is a world which provokes visceral disgust from her. To lose one’s own identity, to be nothing more than components for a literal sea of identical humanity, is the worst fate possible for such a character, whose self-worth is derived from rising above others through hard work. Also, he masturbated on top of her.
Now Barkley, Barkley is a fascinating case. His usurpation of Shinji’s role for much of the film can be seen as the fulfillment of Shinji’s self-abnegation, which becomes solidified on a metatextual level. Barkley is, in a way, a stand-in for Anno himself, who guides the narrative to its inevitable destination. His status as a dog reminds us of the role reversal in which the former masters of the global order have become servants of a rising periphery as western civilization ceases to be the prime driver of economic activity. When Barkley is asked whether he’s a good boy, the audience is confronted by intricate questions of original sin and white colonialist legacies. However, I must confess that there is one facet of Evangelion’s story that has me thoroughly confused, and which may unravel my entire analysis. No matter how much I ponder it, something still eludes me.
Where’s the caveman?