DirectorHideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Katsuichi Nakayama, Mahiro Maeda
Release Date(s)2021 (October 17, 2023)
Studio(s)Studio Khara (Shout! Studios/GKIDS)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Ah, but where to begin? And which Neon Genesis Evangelion are we talking about anyway? Also, which revision of which version are we talking about? Creator Hideaki Anno is one of those artists who is never satisfied with what he’s already done, so he’s repeatedly gone back and tinkered with things along the way. He eventually made the unusual step of starting over from scratch and rebuilding the original material into something completely different, but Anno being Anno, he’s even tweaked and revised the rebuilds. Woody Allen once joked that a relationship is like a shark: it has to constantly keep moving forward or it dies. If that’s true, then Anno’s relationship with Evangelion will never die, at least until he does. This relationship has been in constant motion for more than a quarter century now.
Neon Genesis Evangelion began life as a television series consisting of 26 episodes that were originally broadcast in Japan from 1995-1996. It was followed by two different theatrical features, Evangelion: Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion, both of them released in 1997. The former provided a recap of the events of the series, incorporating some new material along the way, while the latter offered a drastically revised version of the events of the final two episodes. Much of the footage added to Rebirth was later incorporated into director’s cut versions of episodes 21-24 of the series, and the film was revised into the simplified Evangelion: Death (True), which was itself revised yet again into its final(?) form Evangelion: Death (True)². Surprisingly enough, The End of Evangelion has remained relatively static, although it’s still a shock to the system to anyone familiar with episodes 25 and 26 of the series.
Despite the perpetually mutating nature of this material (and arguably because of the fact that it never seems to stay still), Neon Genesis Evangelion remains one of the most influential and popular franchises in the history of Japanese animation. Evangelion revitalized the giant robot genre by not really being about mecha at all. Many of the tropes are still there, and on the surface, the basic concept does appear to be about giant robots battling kaiju from space. Yet neither the robots nor the monsters are what they appear to be. Instead, the show is a mediation on the nature of humanity, steeped in metaphysical speculation.
Evangelion takes place in the years following a global cataclysm called the Second Impact. The agency NERV has been tasked with using giant creations called Evas to protect humanity from the incursion of creatures called Angels, and to prevent the possibility of a Third Impact. The Evas require synchronization with human pilots, and three children are initially chosen for the task: Rei, Asuka, and Shinji, the latter of whom happens to be the estranged son of NERV’s director Gendo Ikari. Yet everything is in service of a far darker goal for mankind: the Human Instrumentality Project.
That basic concept provided a framework for Anno to explore the psychology of these children, and by extension, his own mental difficulties as well; the entire production became therapy for him after suffering from depression. He put different aspects of himself into each of the children, with Shinji as the primary focus. Shinji wants to run away from everything because he struggles to find acceptance; his issues with others is a reflection of his inability to accept himself. As another character explains later, Shinji suffers from the Hedgehog’s Dilemma: the closer that he gets to other people, the more they hurt each other. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings, and has to deal with social awkwardness as well as his burgeoning adolescent sexual awkwardness. The universal nature of all of this is one reason why Evangelion has had such longevity.
Still sitting comfortably? Because this is all far from over. Beginning in 2007, Anno launched a series of four films known collectively as Rebuild of Evangelion. His original intention was to introduce the world of Evangelion to new audiences, reworking most of the material from the original series and films while eventually taking things into new directions for the finale. Needless to say, nothing ended up being quite that simple, including the process of making the films. It proved to be a tumultuous period for Anno, with his focus divided between this project and others like Shin Gojira, so the final film didn’t reach the screens until 2021. His overall plan also changed during that time, and while the first installment does mirror the events of the series, everything shifted dramatically after that. The Rebuild of Evangelion isn’t so much a rebuild as it is a complete re-imagination of the entire concept.
The initial film Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone was released in 2007, and for the most part, it does provide a condensed recap of the first six episodes of the series. The overall narrative generally follows the same events, although it advances some of the mythology a little more quickly, and it takes a major jump near the end by introducing a character who didn’t appear until much later during the series. Considering the significance of this character, it was a bold way of warning audiences to be ready for anything. Interestingly enough, some of the changes that were to come were as much the results of practical considerations as anything else. The series had been shot on 16 mm film, so the original animation couldn’t be re-used alongside new material without having it stand out like a sore thumb, and the original assets like the cels and other artwork weren’t always available or in adequate condition. As a result, all of the animation was re-created from scratch following the original designs, but once everything had to be re-animated anyway, that opened the door for re-imagining all of it as well. The changes began as baby steps, but as the series of films progressed, it would eventually result in some quantum leaps.
Oh, and the shark still kept moving forward: the theatrical release Evangelion: 1.0 was revised for DVD as Evangelion 1.01, and revised again into version 1.11 for Blu-ray. Most of the changes were cosmetic, although a few minor scenes were added as well. You didn’t think that this was going to be easy, did you?
Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, released in 2009, appears to forge its own path right from the opening scene by introducing a new Eva pilot, Mari Illustrious Makinami, as well as a very different chain of events. In reality, it’s more of a blend between the old and the new, re-configuring scenes and concepts from the show and mixing them with a significant quantity of new material. It strengthens some of the relationships between the characters, especially the one involving Shinji and Rei. Asuka has been softened slightly in the process, and Rei has been humanized a bit more—which is rather ironic, as anyone familiar with the series will attest. The story builds to a conclusion that seems to be drawn from The End of Evangelion, but like everything else in You Can (Not) Advance, that sequence of events has been dissected into individual components and reassembled here. Instead of launching the endgame, it opens the door for a new beginning, reserving some of the other components for later installments. Like the Second Impact before it, this partial version of the Third Impact won’t be the end of everything.
Unsurprisingly, the re-assembly wasn’t quite finished yet, and Evangelion: 2.0 was also revised for home video release into version 2.22. Once again, most of the changes were cosmetic, but there were also a few more significant alterations. Fortunately, like most things Evangelion, there’s little debate about the fact that all of the changes are for the better—no one is questioning who shot first in this case.
Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo appeared three years later in 2012, and it’s the point at which the Rebuilds openly forge their own path. The Human Instrumentality Project continues, but an aborted version of the Third Impact has already occurred, so the world of Evangelion has changed irrevocably. Fourteen years have passed since the finale of Evangelion 2.0, and there’s a new player on the global stage in conflict with NERV and SEELE: WILLE, a rebel group that stands in open opposition to their plans. Mari Illustrious Makinami returns, along with some other new characters, and all of the old characters have been radically altered by their experiences. If Evangelion 2.0 had humanized and softened them, Evangelion 3.0 hardens and dehumanizes them again. Rei has returned to her ambiguous nature, once again a seemingly passive participant in the game, while Asuka has turned sour and hateful. She’s not the only one who has been scarred by what occurred fourteen years earlier, and the new world order is one that’s filled with bitterness, anger, and recriminations. Much of that is directed toward Shinji, who no longer seems central to the narrative—at first, anyway. As the story progresses, the character who was teased back in Evangelion 1.0 reappears, and his relationship with Shinji becomes the primary thing that drives the narrative toward its explosive conclusion.
Appropriately enough for a film that broke decisively with the past, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo also marks that point at which the Rebuilds completely turned their back on the old animation and artwork, openly embracing the world of 3D digital animation instead. Yet if you think that means that Anno was satisfied for once, you haven’t been paying attention. Evangelion 3.0 was revised for home video release as Evangelion 3.33, and later as version 3.333 for a theatrical re-release in order to have the visuals better align with the fourth film.
That grand conclusion to the saga finally appeared in 2021: Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time. Regardless of any further tinkering that Anno has done to it (or may continue do in the future), Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 really does feel like his final statement on the world of Evangelion and all of the characters that he has shepherded through decades of trauma and growth. The conclusion of both Evangelion 2.0 and 3.0 may have teased at the events from The End of Evangelion, but this time the true Final Impact arrives, as well as the endgame to the labyrinthine plans that NERV, SEELE, and Gendo Ikari himself have made regarding the Human Instrumentality Project. WILLE does its best to prevent all of this from happening, but the real key either to bringing these plans to fruition or stopping them in their tracks lies where it always has: in the complicated psychology of a boy who has struggled with the process of becoming an adult. The actual endpoint of Evangelion is something that Anno has been reworking ever since the original television series aired, and this rendition incorporates bits and pieces of everything that he has done previously, shaken and stirred into a new whole. (There are even repeated references to the oft-maligned episodes 25 and 26 from the series.) It all truly ends here.
Yet while the previous films had rushed through the other events of the series in sometimes elliptical fashion, trusting that fans could fill in the gaps, Evangelion 3.0+1.0 takes its time to stop and smell the roses. There’s still plenty of fast-paced action on display, but much of the generous 155-minute running time is used to allow all of the characters to find closure in their own unique ways. Even Rei finally acknowledges not just who and what she is, but also what she really wants to be, and she finally discovers peace in the process. Of course, this is still Shinji’s story, and he’s granted the opportunity not just to find closure for himself, but also for his relationships with nearly every other major character in the saga. As grand apocalyptic as the events of the finale may be, the core of it still comes down to having Shinji finally come to terms with the fractious relationship that he’s always had with his father. It’s only once that lifelong pain has been resolved that Evangelion can offer the hope for a brave new world of the future. After more than a quarter century of everyone (fans included) telling Shinji to get in the damn robot, he finally gets to grow up and put the past behind him once and for all. Godspeed, Ikari Shinju-kun, and may you find true happiness as you forge your own path for the rest of your life.
Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time didn’t even make it to home video before being revised as 3.0+1.01 for a theatrical re-release, and then later as 3.0+1.11 for Blu-ray. The tagline for the theatrical posters had read “Goodbye, all of EVANGELION,” but clearly that wasn’t quite true for Anno. Is he finally finished at this point? Time will tell, but there have already been hints that he may not be. Hold onto your seats.
Evangelion: 3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon a Time was rendered digitally at 2K resolution using a combination of 2D and 3D elements. It was completed as a 2K Digital Intermediate framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. This 2K DI was eventually upscaled to 4K for a later IMAX release, and presumably that work formed the basis for this 4K master. No High Dynamic Range grade has been applied, but the SDR grade here does take advantage of the Rec. 2020 and 10-bit color capabilities of the UHD format. (The Japanese UHD doesn’t appear to offer HDR either, so that’s not an omission on this North American release.) The image is crisp and clear, even if it’s lacking in true 4K detail. There’s some occasional aliasing resulting from the upscale process—for an example, watch the windows and roof lines in the overhead shot during the reconstruction of NERV Paris at 13:34. For the most part, it’s not too distracting unless you’re looking for it. The overall image still looks sharper than the 1080p Blu-ray does even when upscaled to 2160p, and thanks to a healthy bitrate that averages around 75mpbs, there are no compression artifacts of note. There’s a broad spectrum of vivid colors on display despite the lack of HDR, and the contrast range is strong. While a good HDR grade might enhance the colors and contrast even more, there’s nothing to complain about here.
Audio is offered in Japanese and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH, English, Spanish, and French subtitles. (Note that the SDH subtitles follow the English dub, but all of the rest are based on the original Japanese language version.) While fans have been debating the relative merits of the dubs vs. the original language versions for decades now, after comparing the two to verify the subtitles, let’s just say that I can’t imagine anyone preferring the English voice cast. Different strokes, though, so the choice is yours. Either way, it’s not the most aggressive 5.1 mix out there, but there are still plenty of strong dynamics, deep bass, and surround activity during the action scenes. The immersion is much more subtle during the quieter moments, but it’s still present. Composer Shirō Sagisu’s work on the score is as memorable as ever, and it’s supported well in this mix.
The GKIDS/Shout! Factory 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Edition release of Evangelion: 3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon a Time is a 3-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, as well as a second Blu-ray with all of the extras. There’s also a 28-page booklet, 5 art cards, and a 16.5”x21.7” poster. In what may be a first, there’s actually a replacement program for the art cards, some of which were apparently printed at low resolution by mistake. There’s a submission form on Shout! Factory’s website:
“We have identified an issue with the first run of art cards that were shipped with the Evangelion:3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon a Time Collector’s Edition. As a result, we have manufactured corrected, high-resolution art cards. If your order was affected, please complete the form below and checkout so that we can ship you the corrected card set.”
Everything is housed inside a rigid keepcase. The following extras are included on the second Blu-ray, all of them in HD:
- Special 01
- Teasers (2:53, 5 in all)
- Trailers (6:04, 4 in all)
- Additional Trailers A and B (2:56, 2 in all)
- TV Spots (1:59, 7 in all)
- :3.333 Updated Trailers (1:41, 3 in all)
- Promotion Reel for SNS (2:27)
- Special 02
- Character Promotion Reel (2:06, 6 in all)
- [Current Evangelion] (1:34)
- Message for Kinro (1:32, 3 in all)
- Message for ANN (29:41, 10 in all)
- Special 03
- Stage Greetings (17:30)
- :1.11, :2.22, :3.33 – Trailer for 4D (:31)
- Rebuild of Evangelion 3.0+1.11 (16:02)
- Evangelion: 3.0 (-46h) – 5.1 audio (10:42)
- Evangelion: 3.0 (-46h) – 2.0 audio (10:42)
- Evangelion: 3.0 (-120min) – 5.1 audio (6:59)
- Evangelion: 3.0 (-120min) – 2.0 audio (6:59)
- :3.0+1.11 – TV Spot (:17)
- :3.0+1.11 – Promotion Reel (2:47)
The extras are divided across three separate pages, with the first one focusing on trailers and other promotional materials including social media advertising. The second page broadens the scope a bit to include various other program material that was used to hype the film. Message for Kinro offers three separate reels that were broadcast on Kinyo Road SHOW!, featuring different voice actors apologizing for the fact that the release date had to be delayed due to the pandemic. Message for ANN includes pre-recorded messages from ten different voice actors that were all broadcast during the radio program Evangelion 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time All Night Nippon. They talk about the film, their characters, and their legacy with the franchise.
Finally, the third page of extras expands the content even further. The Stage Greetings are essentially a Q&A from a showing at the Shinjuku Wald 9 Cinema, featuring Hideaki Anno and Shinji voice actor Megumi Ogata, as well as directors Kazuya Tsurumaki and Mahiro Maeda. Rebuild of Evangelion 3.0+1.11 is a reel that breaks down the animation process, comparing storyboards, animatics, rough animation, and final animation. It also shows some of the live-action reference material that was used. Evangelion: 3.0 (-46h) is an OVA that takes place 46 hours prior to the operation at the beginning of Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, featuring one of the characters flashing back to her own experiences as a child during the events at the conclusion of Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo. Evangelion: 3.0 (-120min) is a motion comic that animates panels from a prequel manga that was distributed before some screenings of Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time. It takes place 120 minutes prior to the beginning of Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo, and members of the original cast returned to provide the voices. Both the OVA and the motion comic are offered in separate versions with either 5.1 or 2.0 audio.
It’s a decent quantity of extras, although the utility of much of it will be a matter of taste. It’s nice to have a collection of all of the variant trailers, teasers, and TV spots, even though most people are unlikely to watch all of them. Evangelion: 3.0 (-46h) and Evangelion: 3.0 (-120min) provide glimpses into the wider Evangelion world that’s not seen during the films themselves, while Message for ANN, Stage Greetings, and Rebuild of Evangelion 3.0+1.11 do offer a bit of behind-the-scenes content. The whole saga of the making of the Rebuild of Evangelion series does deserve a comprehensive making-of documentary, but that may never happen, and this is the best that we have for now. Most importantly, the video quality of this 4K presentation does offer a slight but noticeable improvement over Blu-ray, so this GKIDS Collector’s Edition is definitely the set to own for anyone who wants to experience Evangelion: 3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon a Time at its best.
- Stephen Bjork