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Evangelion Ends With Thunderous Applause

This is one piece in a collection of 10 film reviews submitted by this year’s New Wave Jury members at Cornwall Film Festival 2021. The collection tackles recent films that stood out as radical works of filmmaking. You can read the other reviews here.

The instance of my own introduction to the Evangelion franchise occurred around a decade ago, when I found myself instantly captured by its interpretation of adolescence and the emotional evolution that accompanies such a time in life. Never had a piece of fiction felt so achingly relatable at the time. The chords that it struck internally have kept ringing ever since, influencing my choice to educate myself more thoroughly about the art of storytelling.

Evangelion as a whole, considering every counterpart media related to the franchise, is anatomically confusing and bewildering upon an initial experience, but just underneath the surface of emotionally estranged characters, giant robots and religious symbology is a perfectly realised analogue of the creator’s own struggles with hope, despair, anxiety, and depression. The latest and, supposedly, final chapter in the ‘rebuilt’ film saga, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time (2021) attempts and succeeds in concluding the entire canon of Evangelion media, all the way back to the original televised series which aired in the 90s. The payoff of Hideaki Anno and his team producing the film over the course of eight years is a precise, innately cinematic animated feature. The tone is considerably more diverse throughout its runtime compared to other instalments, showing us new sides of certain characters in a manner that had never been expressed until now.

The worldbuilding is slow and steady during the first half, with Rei, Shinji and Asuka trekking across striking apocalyptic vistas after experiencing the traumatic finale of the prior instalment. Suddenly, they find themselves residing and living in an unexpectedly tranquil village. By living and socialising with ‘normal’ people, the three estranged characters inevitably find themselves in a position to self-reflect; a long overdue moment for each of them. The second half takes us to the other side of the coin, slowly descending toward a violent, metatextual finale that positions Shinji in direct conflict with his father.

Many ideas and ongoing themes from the course of the series are explored in the latter half, with the film slowly divulging into its own canon to the most extreme degree. The most impactful and creative aspect of this concluding chapter is how Anno manages to re-interpret and re-imagine the most familiar elements of Evangelion, and subsequently mirror them in the struggles that he and his team have personally faced in closing this long-running opus project. The result of this display of pure, meta-bending artistry is an experience that is equal parts exciting and cathartic, but simultaneously bittersweet. By the time the credits rolled, I was reminded of why I and so many others have a reason to care about Evangelion in the first place, and that reason was Hideaki Anno.

By Jules Davison

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