Hideaki Anno has ended Neon Genesis Evangelion twice before. Due to production issues, the final two episodes of the original 1995 anime series about giant sci-fi robots and the angsty teens who pilot them controversially abandoned its main plotline in favor of examining the psychology of its characters through the use of abstract animation. Fans were dissatisfied with the ending, leading to the making of The End of Evangelion. The 1997 film delivered the apocalyptic action that fans had hoped for, but was just as polarizing.
24 years later, Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time, which is streaming on Amazon Prime, gave audiences a third and final ending to the franchise. While examining similar themes of interpersonal relationships, mental health, and gender and sexuality, Thrice Upon a Time sets itself apart by trading the show’s patented nihilism and despair for a hopeful perspective. Although the film recognizes that life comes with challenges and harsh realities, it provides a life-affirming message to both its characters and fans of abandoning escapism in favor of embracing the real world.
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Unlike Neon Genesis Evangelion’s previous iterations, Anno and his new production studio had the time, budget, and creative control to fully realize their vision. Through what is perhaps the franchise’s most ambitious action set piece, the film recaps its premise: Children, including the main character Shinji (Ogata Megumi), are trained to pilot giant robots called EVAs against powerful alien beings. The preceding films showed how the experience of battle left Shinji traumatized. Meanwhile, an organization led by Shinji’s father Gendo (Tachiki Fumihiko), plans to complete Fourth Impact, which will allow all human souls to relinquish individuality and unite as a single being, but a resistance force tries to stop them.
The story then takes a step back to follow Shinji and fellow mecha pilots Asuka (Miyamura Yūko) and Rei (Hayashibara Megumi) to a small village. In arguably the film’s best sequence, Anno shows how regular people have been living since the events of the previous apocalyptic Impact, rebuilding once-destroyed communities into a self-sustaining society. The trio experience a domestic life they could have had in a kinder world that didn’t force them to fight. Even more importantly, it allows the characters a small moment of peace and healing before they must leave it all behind to fight.
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While the film focuses on enhancing the franchise’s beloved action and introducing new sci-fi concepts such as the Anti-Universe, it also goes to the effort of understanding characters that were previously relegated to the background. Rei, who was previously living under the control of Gendo, develops her own values and experiences happiness for the first time in the village. Anno even extends empathy to Gendo by delving into his past and uncovering the heartbreak at his core. The father-son relationship between Gendo and Shinji is pushed to the forefront, reaching emotional breakthroughs that previous entries never achieved.
Each version of Shinji’s story depicts his repeating cycles of loneliness, depression, and self-loathing. However, in Thrice Upon a Time, Shinji finally builds the courage to face his problems head on and answer the series’ most critical questions on the human connection. The film is not just a remake – it’s a story of its own that delivers a cathartic ending to the franchise. Through his masterful storytelling, Anno not only provides closure for his characters, but to anyone who has felt their own experiences reflected in the series.
Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time is streaming now on Amazon Prime.