Rebuild of Evangelion: Likes and Dislikes
Spoiler Warning: Contains Spoilers of Rebuild Movies 1-3, The Original Evangelion Series, and End of Evangelion the Movie
Rebuild of Evangelion represents a series of movies (three as of writing this article) made much later after the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series ended. The original series suffered from a waning animation budget and the depression at the time of its creator, Hideaki Anno. So while Evangelion the original anime was for us depressed anime kids a kind of chicken soup for the existentialist soul, to everyone else it was just too whiny and confusing. Fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion praised it for many things other people hated about it. These include Shinji being emotional and weak, which subverts audience expectations and usual anime tropes. Neon Genesis Evangelion was originally character-based. All the characters in it were psychologically damaged, some irreparably, and a consistent theme in the show was how hurt people hurt people. Unlike other anime that focused on action and adventure, Neon Genesis Evangelion was like an art house film; deep and brooding and poetic.
Rebuild is almost the complete opposite of that. It's like Sailor Moon Crystal, Star Wars Episode 7, or the Star Trek movies directed by J.J. Abrams; they took the original source material, put in hot new visual effects, and robbed it of quirks that made it stand out as special.
With Neon Genesis Evangelion, one could surely argue that these types of changes were necessary in order to make the story more relatable to general audiences. It's kind of like taking a book of Zen poetry and making a Michael Bay movie out of it. At first, Rebuild felt like a betrayal of me as a fan of the original. But then again, there are things that make the second and third movies enjoyable, and even the first one is okay, even though it's just a re-animation of the first few episodes of the series. So I made this list to detail things I liked and disliked about Rebuild of Evangelion.
Like #1: Animation and Visuals
Chances are, when someone complains about Rebuild, they're not talking about the animation. I'm a fan of anime from the 80's, 90's, and early 2000's, but sometimes the old animation and visual style from shows I like just does not age well. This is a problem that shouldn't be overlooked, because anime is a visual medium. I actually like when an old anime I love gets a reboot that just reanimates it, because looking better is nice. Looks aren't everything, but I will say that Rebuild looks damn good.
Like #2: The New Eva Units and Powers
The old system was more psychologically interesting, but from an action standpoint, the old Evas didn't have enough in terms of cool abilities. They were big, clunky, energy-sucking, brutes that dealt way too much collateral damage. In Rebuild, they get new powers like Beast Mode. It was interesting before that the Eva units went berserk and in that mode could not be controlled, but it just meant that Nerv was playing with fire by using them. To use a unit so powerful that could go berserk is too risky from a tactical standpoint. The Evas in Rebuild not only look cool, but they fight cool.
Like #3: Action
In original Evangelion, it felt like the beginning episodes set you up for one kind of story (an action mech fighter show) and then it becomes something completely different. Often in Neon Genesis Evangelion, the plot and the action were on the back burner, while the characters' emotions and back story were given most of the spotlight.
Basically, Rebuild delivers on the promises made by the first few episodes of the show. It offers more excitement. It feels less like a tedious old novel you might have been assigned to read in high school literature class, and more like what most people want in anime; action and adventure. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The movies are enjoyable and fun, while still maintaining the mysterious and scary feel of the original.
Like #4: Yui Ayanami Makes More Sense (3.33)
The Rebuild movies make a lot of changes to the Evangelion canon. I find most of them pointless, such as giving Ritsuko a haircut in the time skip, adding new forgettable bridge bunnies, or changing Asuka's last name from Sohryu to Shikinami. But one change I do think is positive is how Rebuild explains more about what happened to Shinji's mother Yui.
In the original show, Yui's last name was Ikari, same as her husband Gendo. We didn't know where the last name "Ayanami" came from, and while it was said that Yui died in a Nerv experiment and Rei might have her DNA and that of Lilith, it wasn't explicit or clear. In Rebuild, Fuyutsuki explains that Yui died, Rei is a clone of Yui, and that Yui' last name was "Ayanami". This ties up the loose ends so we're no longer left wondering about where Rei Ayanami's name came from (Rei meaning "soul/spirit/ghost", her full name means "soul of Ayanami", soul of Yui). It also gives Fuyutsuki a new role as a possible mentor figure to Shinji, whereas originally, he rarely interacted with Shinji directly at all. So this change not only explains things that were only before hinted at, but it also give Fuyutsuki a new and better role in the story.
Like #5: Shinji, Asuka, and Kaworu Are Better
The characters changed significantly between the original series and Rebuild. I think that Gendo is essentially the same, Ritsuko is less bitchy but also less interesting, and that Misato is generally less likeable. I don't like what the 3.33 movie did to Rei (more on that in my list of dislikes). But most people agree that Asuka, Shinji, and Kaworu at least change for the better.
In the original series, fans often hated Shinji. I thought he was realistic, because why not get depressed in a depressing life? But realistic or not, fans disliked him for moping, and for running away from his problems too much instead of dealing with them. New Shinji is not perfect either, and he still has his moments of grief. But he doesn't sound as annoying or act as wimpy and pathetic as the original Shinji.
Originally, to me at least, Asuka was just an unlikable bitch. She reminded me too much I guess of mean, stuck-up, bratty girls I'd had the pleasure of knowing in junior high. Her English voice was grating to me, and she said German words in such a shrill, insulting way, as if every word in German were a swear. Rebuild to me keeps the badass things people enjoy about Asuka, while taking away things that made her annoying, like being a know-it-all and being harshly abrasive all the time. While new Asuka questions things and stands up for herself, she models the difference between being confident and assertive and just being mean.
Kaworu is a different story. In both versions, Kaworu is basically the only one who treats Shinji well. But in the original, he seemed more predatory and mysterious. In 3.0/3.33, Kaworu ends up being more helpful and supportive, when a post-time-skip Shinji has to confront the horrors of his past and the mysteries and secrets that dwell around him. Only Kaworu and Fuyutsuki help him, his father, Misato, Ritsuko, Asuka, Rei, and Mari do nothing to help him, either because they're unable or unwilling. Kaworu takes time to help Shinji heal emotionally, and the infamous "gay piano" part is basically just music therapy, which Shinji desperately needs. In the original, Kaworu was more creepy, even rapey. In this version, Kaworu comes off as gentler and more romantic. He also sacrifices himself for Shinji. The first time Kaworu dies, it's because Shinji is forced to kill him. This time, Kaworu instead sacrifices his own life for Shinji's.
Dislike #1: The Time Skip and Curse of the Eva
No matter how you slice it, explaining Asuka and Mari not aging for 14 years because of something called the "curse of the Eva" seems like an ass pull. Ritsuko and Misato also don't appear like they've aged much, and giving people new costume designs doesn't really prove to me that 14 years have passed. It seems like a lie.
The whole time skip thing brings about a ton of changes that are not resolved or explained. It created a rift between Nerv and a breakaway organization called Wille, splitting the main cast into fighting factions. Ritsuko calls the new Shinji a "replica". It's unclear if he is a clone, an android, or something else. Shinji's synch ratio, they say, is down to 0%, but that doesn't stop them from attaching a fucking death collar to him and threatening to kill him if he gets into an Eva? That makes little sense; if he is incapable of piloting, why do they go to such great lengths to prevent him from trying? 3.33 introduces a ton of changes without showing us the audience how or why they happened. Hopefully, the next movie explains a bit more, but I'm not holding my breath.
The time skip part also made Rei's story arc worse, but I'll talk about that in a separate "dislike".
Dislike #2: New Characters Who Aren't Interesting, No Back Story
When I first saw Mari introduced in 2.0, I wasn't thrilled. No longer were the pilots a tricolor, no longer were they id, ego, and supergo, no longer were they freeze, flight, and fight. I was worried that the new Evangelion was no loner interested in exploring the duality archetype of Asuka and Rei. I was right, but 3.0 introduces a new kind of duality, Nerv vs. Wille. This keeps everything interesting and fresh.
But Mari just still seems like a second Asuka, or just like a fan service character with no major purpose in the story. People like her because she's upbeat, but the horrible situations through which she maintains an air of optimism would make anyone depressed, so it comes off as unrealistic.
But the main issue with Mari is that she was not introduced well. For comparison, let's look back at how the original show introduced Asuka. In "Asuka Strikes", just one episode tells us a lot about the character; she's prideful, she thinks highly of herself, and takes great happiness from being a pilot and pride in her Eva Unit 02. She's also not afraid to fight back when sexually harassed. And she thinks lowly of Shinji.
With Mari, I couldn't say a damned thing about her. She's playing the "mysterious secret agent" role Kaji already played in the original, and the "happy to pilot the Eva pilot" role already played by Asuka. So what was she that no one else was? A nice ass, and a nice set of tits? A figurine to collect? What?
All other characters introduced in Rebuild but who were not in the original series feel like that. They just sort of show up and start doing things, without the audience being shown anything about them. Now, the bridge bunnies in either version aren't terribly well-developed, but the third movie in Rebuild makes Toji's sister a major character, but like every fucking other thing to do with the time skip, a lot of her past is left without enough explanation. I got the feeling that she was really just a pretty action figure too.
Dislike #3: Less Depth
I mean, this is the most obvious difference. For me, it's the worst change, because it feels like they took out of Evangelion everything I liked about it, everything that made it special and not just another generic mech anime. Although I thought 3.33 brought back some of the original depth in the middle, the beginning of the movie was just 20 minutes or so of pretty explosions. I can watch lots of movies these days that have pretty explosions. Evangelion to me used to mean something different.
Although I can admit, on the other hand, some people may see this as a perk. Some people thought that Evangelion was pretentious originally. It's less so in Rebuild. That can be a good thing, since it lets more people get into this series. They also have less ambiguity and less pondering. But I liked the silence and the pauses and the philosophical inquiry of the original. I used to think people who didn't like those can watch a different show. Now, I guess, they can watch Rebuild.
Dislike #4: Lack of Exposition
Rebuild could have been done better in my opinion as a series, not a set of movies. In a movie, you don't have as much time for introductions, character interactions, and exposition. I felt like there was a lot of detail missing that you wouldn't know if you hadn't watched the original series, that the movies, while having a separate canon entirely, rely too much on the viewer's familiarity with the original characters.
In a movie format, they sacrifice exposition for action. When Fuyutsuki says he needed a pretext to talk to Shinji, it almost feels like they're blatantly saying "it's a movie, we need to be doing something, talking alone is boring to the audience". Many of the original interactions and scenes that get recycled are cut to much shorter version of themselves. As such, they convey less information about the characters' feelings and personalities. The original series had a lot of character-based exploration with less action, the movies sacrifice this interesting psychological probing of the characters for action. But the action doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
One thing I'm hoping for is that the next movie will explain a lot of the things that were left unexplained by the end of the third one. But knowing the way Rebuild HAS been going, it seems more likely that they're just going to keep throwing new shit at us without any sort of introduction or explanation. Because that's what they've been doing in 2 and 3.
Dislike #5: Rei is Worse
Now, I'm mostly talking about 3.33/3.0 and how they replace the Rei Ayanami in 2.0/2.22 with a new Rei clone who doesn't remember anything and has no personality whatsoever. This is tragically sad for me. Rei is one of my favorite characters in the franchise. And she's tossed aside in Rebuild, while Mari and her savage balloon breasts get much more spotlight, and why? Rei's role in the first two movies is minimized compared with in the original, especially in End of Evangelion, where she takes control over Third Impact of her own initiative.
To me, Rei represented empathy, the ability to bond with other life forms. She had a deep soul and a soft, motherly air. Rebuild took away her soft, whispering voice that had originally enchanted me. If they did that to Fluttershy in My Little Pony, I'd be just as pissed. In 3.0, Rei has become a mindless robot who just awaits and follows orders. There's nothing else to her personality at all. Old Rei was accused of being like that, but had a lot of rich complexity. And it's a terrible thing that 3.0 leaves the mystery of the old Rei's death completely unresolved. Did she even really die? Are there two Reis? Shinji believes he saved the original Rei. But she is nowhere to be found. The new Rei has none of the old one's memories. It's terrible and I really hope it's actually fucking EXPLAINED in the next movie, not just left in the building plot hole trash heap this film series keeps stacking sky high. And why is it that the old tank full of Rei's is now a kind of building housing only heads of the Rei clones? They show a lot of changes without explaining them, and no character is hurt more by this than Rei.
So, I'm not necessarily going to say I hate everything about Rebuild. The movies are fun to watch, and by themselves, they're interesting enough. But I feel like a lot of things I liked in the original series have been cut, and just to make room for new plot threads and new characters who feel like they don't belong. From a purely logical standpoint, Rebuild is a tangled jumble. From a standpoint of the Evangelion fan, it's disappointing, because it seems like they've taken away consequence and substance in order to deliver action, cheesy comedy, and fan service.
Ultimately, comparing Rebuild to Neon Genesis Evangelion opens doors that should be opened, and asks questions that should be asked. These questions lead to the truth about what audiences want, why they want it, and how much pandering to the masses is desirable. Anime is in some ways, a dialog between fans and creators. Fans like something, creators give it more attention. Fans dislike something, creators minimize it. But maybe it's a good idea to have some things that challenge and disturb the viewer intentionally as well. Original Neon Genesis Evangelion did that, and Rebuild does not. It doesn't make one better than the other, it just means that they represent different approaches to making art.