It's so weird finally getting what is apparently the end of the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise as a whole. I also have a rather complicated relationship with the show. Like for years all I ever heard was that NGE was the greatest anime of all time, and oh boy the loud assholes who shout down anyone who speaks ill of the franchise. By the time I watched the series itself, I was pretty much determined to hate it. Particularly its central lead, Shinji Ikari, who even today is very much the passive nerd to end all passive nerd.
The only think keeping me from completely writing off the series was watching End of Evangelion. It was like a completey different experience. Suddenly I "got" NGE: It was terrifying, absorbing, frustrating, and exhausting. It was everything I felt people claimed about the original NGE distilled into one nightmarish movie, and some of that imagery will never leave my mind. It's because of that that I eventually gave NGE another shot. The joke I make is that, when you're a kid you hate Shinji Ikari because you're convinced you'd do all the things he'd never would do. But as an adult you know the truth:
We are all Shinji Ikari.
We don't want to admit it, but we'd all freeze in dire situations. Shinji an already broken character is forced to take the mantel as an Eva pilot. And the experience breaks him down further to the point that he's practically comatose. But the second time I watched the series, I understood. All that responsibility being thrusted on one kid's shoulder--it's too much. But what I recognize at the time is how more complex Shinji actually is, and the series goes through great lengths to build him back up to a scarred individual who nonetheless is capable of making healthy relationships.
And then NGE decides to do all it can to outright ruin Shinji. I think that's what's so heartbreaking about his character arc: He really tries, and is so close to finding the connections needed to confront his trauma, and then it all falls apart.
The Rebuilds films have long been rumored (and in my opinion finally confirmed) to be Shinji remaking the world following the events of EoE. The Shinji in the Rebuilds are what fans claim to want: a more active character. Of course in teh span of three films, Shinji makes things even worst. It actually provides context to Asuka's final words in the ending of End of Evangelion:
(yes I recognize this is a meme pic)
Shinji ends up making the wrong choice. Instead he thinks by doing things over again, that he'll somehow save everyone. That he'll lead a better life. And he doesn't, because he doesn't actually confront his trauma. You know the funny thing about insanity is....
Which is where Thrice upon a time comes into play. My opinions on this one is a bit complex. I think I appreciate it more than actually liking it. I think it suffers from a lot of issues that have plague the REBUILD films entirely. Mainly that part of what made NGE so memorable is because they clearly had to work around using a severely limited budget (which of course led to the infamous final two episodes: おめでとう！！） and because of that, certain ways that allowed the show to save on money also became memorable moments of character development. That's not the case here: It's clear that this has ALL OF THE MONEY being thrown at it, and while it is technically impressive, it's all so weightless. Like the movie opens up with Mari kicking ass, and the camera is twisting and turning as the fight gets ridiculous. But something is loss here. Like think of the fight scenes in the original NGE or EoE and there's a weight to them that makes them so memorable. Here? Because so much of it is CG, that it all feels like nothing really matters. Don't get me wrong, it all looks good. Anime has come a long way since starting to regularly adopt cg, but Anime hasn't yet figured out had to give it the same impact that traditional 2d anime can provide. But because the budget is so much bigger than the original series, a lot of the ambiguity just doesn't work. Especially when it goes into its final act where it clearly feels like the big budgeted version of the last two episodes of NGE, and it doesn't work as it should. Some of it is out ridiculous, like when Gendo and Shinji are fighitng and there's a mometn where it's clear that it's just two actors mo-capped fighting. I was legitimately laughing the entire time.
I get the impression that some of this is intentional, especially as it goes completely abstract. But it takes away from the weight of what it's trying to do. And this is where, despite my issues with the movie, there' s a part of me that remains appreciative of what its trying to do: This is the golden ending for both Shinji Ikari and series creator, Hideaki Anno. It's a film that serves both as a final and as a meta-commentary for the franchise as awhole: The only way to truly move past pain is to walk away. To not obsess of the past and look towards the future. That final shot of a grown up Shinji smiling and for the first time running towards an undefined future made me be all in my feelings. This is a character who has been tortured for 30+ years and finally he's allowed to let go of that burden. If you have that kind of history with the show, then it's hard not to get teary eyed. I just wish how we get there was just as impactful. Despite being nearly three hours, it feels like so many of the more complex ideas roaming about the movie is told in the most uninteresting way via exposition. The moment we've all been waiting for: Shinji and Gendo finally trying to sort their strained relationship by way of a empathetic conversation doesn't work when it's largely just Shinji sitting quietly while Gendo goes over how he got to that point. It's telling rather than showing, and what should be a fantastic moment feels kind of dry.
But I'm happy that we finally get an ending to this series. I'm happy that Anno can finally let the burden of this show (as well as his battles with depression) go. And I hope fans understand that. There will be people who are disappointed by this, and that's fine. Be critical of the material--just don't take it out on Anno.
edit: Oh I guess I get the meaning of the title. "Thrice Upon a Time." So if we look at it as sequel to the original Evangelion.
Once Upon a Time: The original series
Twice Upon a Time: The REBUILD series
Thrice Upon a Time: The golden world in which Evas never existed.