Hideaki Anno, Masayuki, Mahiro Maeda & Kazuya Tsurumaki | 97 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Japan / English | 15
Well now, hasn’t this been a long time coming? Just over two years since its western disc release was first announced, just over three years since it debuted in Japanese cinemas, and just over four-and-a-half years since the previous instalment’s English-language release, those of us in the UK who don’t attend anime conventions (where it’s had a few screenings in that time) are finally able to see the penultimate part of creator Hideaki Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy. As to whether it’s worth the wait… well, your mileage will vary.
The “rebuild” movies started out with a literal interpretation of that moniker: the first movie is a faithful (though condensed and sometimes slightly rearranged) retelling of the series’ early episodes, even using the original art from the show. The second movie deviated much further: familiar characters were introduced in completely different ways, wholly original characters appeared, and some subplots became more prominent. It culminated in a climax that was a drastic departure from the series, and now this third movie forges into entirely new territory — so new that I’m not going to give any kind of plot summary, for the sake of readers avoiding any spoilers. Good luck to you if so: not only do most reviews divulge the first major divergence, but so does the film’s own blurb.
Maybe that’s for the best — I’ve read more than one review bemoaning the confusion at the opening of the film, which stems from not knowing that thing I’m not telling you that the blurb does tell you. It’s surely deliberate, though: hero Shinji is in a similarly confused position, and we’re clearly being aligned with him in this strange new situation. Besides, for me this was the most engaging and exciting segment of the movie. As well as a couple of thrilling action scenes, it juggles character relationships in interesting ways, establishing a new status quo unlike that we’ve seen before in the franchise. It culminates in a fantastic stand-off between former allies — indeed, former friends. How times change.
Change, and the embracing or rejection of it, is surely one of the major themes of Evangelion. This is more explicitly debated as 3.33 moves into its middle section, where we get an extended dose of Shinji’s traditional insecurities. Hey, it wouldn’t be Evangelion without Shinji having a self-pitying whinge, right? Fortunately there’s more going on than that, but this is a section light on action and heavy on the series’ more thoughtful elements. There are answers to some of the mysteries, but it again wouldn’t be Evangelion if it all made easy sense. At the same time, Shinji bonds with new Eva pilot Kaworu. A controversial character, apparently, and not just because of the homosexual overtones (which some reviewers claim to miss, presumably because they’re blind), but the scenes where they harmonise by playing piano together are quite fantastically animated.
Indeed, whatever else you can say about 3.33, it looks glorious. The choice of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time helps emphasise the story’s epic qualities, but that’s incidental to the fantastic images conjured up the animators. Various techniques are hurled at the screen — there’s a lot of CGI as well as traditional hand-drawn art, and they even used motion-captured stuntmen for one scene — but it marries perfectly, allowing camera angles and moves that are incredibly filmic and more dynamic than you normally find in 2D animation. The makers of the Rebuild have always talked about wanting to create innovative, memorable imagery, and they’ve once again succeeded here.
3.33 divides quite neatly into three half-hour sections. I guess that should be expected, as the whole tetralogy has been based in traditional Japanese ideas of narrative/musical structure, hence the films’ Japanese titles incorporating the names for the three movements: jo, ha, and kyū (序破急), which roughly equate to “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”. As discussed, the first is fantastic, some of the best material in the entire series, in my estimation. Also as discussed, the second is a lot slower, but has its plus points too. The third… ah, the third. Here we get some more action, which will please anyone who thrills to Eva combat, but it is also utterly mind-boggling. I’ve been reading up on a few fan sites since watching, and I’m still not absolutely sure what was going on or what it signified. You won’t find any enlightenment in the disc’s special features, which present a long list of extras at first glance, but turn out to be 19 repetitive trailers, TV spots, and promo reels. Yes, nineteen.
After all that, it ends on a rather low-key cliffhanger, making it feel like one of those two-part finales that Hollywood YA adaptations are so fond of at the moment (cf. Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc). In some respects that’s actually true: it was originally said that films 3 and 4 would be half-length movies released together. Obviously that plan disappeared a long time ago. Still, it does make you wonder if that confusing third act will play better when paired up with the tetralogy’s concluding instalment. In the meantime, it’s hard to call 3.33 a completely effectual film in its own right. It quite successfully introduces us to an entirely new era for Evangelion, and teases that various groups’ plans are entering their final stages, but a possibly-indecipherable climax and a “we’ll just have to pause here”-level “to be continued” leave you wanting the next part more than feeling that was a fulfilling, finite experience.
So when will that conclusion come? Well, a few years ago Anno ‘joked’ that the finale might be released “four to six years” after 3.33. As we’re already almost at four years with no sign of a release date, I guess it wasn’t so much of a ‘joke’ after all. An English-friendly DVD/Blu-ray will inevitably take an additional couple of years, too. So an indefinite, but undoubtedly lengthy, wait begins…
Evangelion: 3.33 is out today on DVD, Blu-ray, and dual format Collector’s Edition.