In 1995, Neon Genesis Evangelion premiered to rave reviews and a huge fan base that only continued to grow the longer the show aired; but when its long-awaited series finale finally premiered, Hideaki Anno had run out of money, resulting in some scenes being sketch-styled, animated much more experimentally than previous episodes. It’s hard to say if this is what caused fans to be upset with the finale, but the backlash was intense. At one point, Anno’s office/studio was vandalized and he even received death threats. As a response, he began the Rebuild of Evangelion. These films, based on the original series, continue its existential exploration, but do so while taking many significant departures from the original plot. After a nine year wait, the final installment in this rebuild, 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon a Time, was released in 2021, and is my Stream of the Week.
It’s worth emphasizing that this film CAN work as a standalone, so you don’t have to watch the previous sequels (but you should). While the combat sequences seem to have lost a bit of gravity compared to the previous show/movies, the visuals in this latest film are just as stunning as they’ve always been. Fight scenes are still popping with color and are so wildly directed that viewers are all but guaranteed to be entertained from the first second to the last.
Like the original series, we still get long shots of characters contemplating existence; but this time each ultimately finds their path in a broken, dark world. Perhaps this underlying optimism is what separates it from the gritty style of the previous sequels. Looking back, it’s almost as if the other films in this rebuild were Anno’s way of saying “you want more action? Here, take it at the expense of these characters.” I’m glad this is no longer the case. Characters that were once in the background are now given so much depth and nuance we can’t help but to relate with and critique them. 3.0 + 1.0 is just as punchy as the rest of the rebuild, but managed to bring in some of the thought-provoking aspects of the original series.
Another thing I really appreciate about Thrice Upon a Time is how you can feel Anno working through a kind of healing process on the screen, but not in a self-eviscerating/trauma mining kind of way. Filling in a lot of the blanks and shortcomings left over from the original show and movies, this final chapter covers so much: happiness, grief, loss, the self, society’s expectations, love, family, friendship, gender, corporate corruption, what it means to be human, community, class; but what we ultimately get from this unflinching, wild, uplifting philosophical epic is that no matter how bleak things may seem, “there’s always hope,” and sometimes that’s enough. For fans of existentialism, or people who just want to see huge robots fight, this is a great watch. Stream it on Amazon Prime while you can!