Shin Evangelion: Enjoying the Wait

Shin Evangelion, the last Evangelion movie to be directed by Hideaki Anno (the original creator and director of Neon Genesis Evangelion) was released worldwide through Amazon Prime Video on August 13th 2021. As of writing this, that’s just over a month ago. But although I’m a fan of Evangelion, I haven’t yet gotten round to seeing it despite how little effort it would take on my part.

While I’d normally chalk that up to the kind of absent-minded laziness that has me forgetting to watch films like The Sky Crawlers, The Wind in the Willows and Persepolis even though they’ve been sitting on the shelf across from me for years, this isn’t the case here. I’ve made something of a deliberate choice to not watch it. Not until I wrote this article. Because I have something that I want to say, and that I want to preserve somehow.

(Before we carry on any further, I will be referring to this movie solely as Shin Evangelion. I could use its western title of “Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon A Time”, going with the number or the subtitle for shorthand, but I’m going with Shin Evangelion as it worked well for the article title and it’s slightly less awkward to insert into the middle of a sentence.)

Shin Evangelion is a film that’s taken a very long time to come out. From the 2012 release of the previous film to its eventual theatrical screenings in 2021, Shin was infamous for its delayed production and distribution. For years, this was the one thing anything could be even remotely certain about – no matter what actually happened in the movie, it would take years for us to see it.

Now that the film’s out, I felt it best to maybe talk about that, and my own feelings on the subject. Because, despite how long it’s taken to come together, I haven’t minded the wait at all. In fact, it was often comforting. But I’m getting ahead of myself – our story actually begins long before Shin Evangelion, many eons ago…

(No, this won’t be heralded by a gospel choir, but it should be.)

I became a fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion back in early 2012, mainly through watching the TV series out of order, reading up plot summaries and fan analyses on the EvaGeeks fansite, and listening to the soundtracks a lot. I talked about much of my history with the series on a YouTube video I made some years ago, but the long and short of it is that Evangelion changed my life for the better.

2012 was also the year that Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo was coming out. It was the third movie in the new series of Evangelion movies (unofficially known as “Rebuild of Evangelion”) that had begun back in 2007. Originally a straightforward retelling of the TV show, the movies gradually deviated from their source material and it looked like this latest film was going to entirely be its own thing.

As I was getting into Evangelion in general at the time, I was curious about this new film and paid a good bit of attention to the reaction on EvaGeeks and what it reported from elsewhere. This was nearly nine years ago, almost an entire decade, so it can be easy to forget what it was like if you weren’t there to see things for yourself. But the reaction was… well, something.

You Can (Not) Redo is a deliberately alienating and isolating movie, taking protagonist Shinji Ikari far away from the characters we’d spent time with in the previous films and not explaining much of anything to him. Unlike the first two movies, we’re stuck with Shinji for the entire thing – we never cut away to other characters and get a better understanding of what’s going on. We’re as much in the dark as Shinji, and all we can do is watch him react to that isolation in ways that don’t end well.

It was a drastic shift in tone, especially after 2009’s mostly light-hearted and boisterous You Can (Not) Advance, but it was just as drastic in how different its setting was. But we weren’t allowed to see any more than Shinji, only offered glimpses of a deeply strange and unnerving world far different from anything we’d known before. Considering how little of the movie was shown prior to its release, it shouldn’t be surprising that it became a hotly divisive film.

Many were upset by how infuriatingly little was explained, Shinji’s enforced isolation and the choices he makes, the seeming abandonment of everything from the previous two films, and the much darker mood overall. While that reaction has since quietened down and plenty have come to appreciate what You Can (Not) Redo was trying to do, even if they still don’t like it, opinions were all tempered in some way by the potential resolution offered by the final movie.

At the time, people figured that would be soon enough. Although the series was planned to be done and dusted back in 2008 when it was a straightforward remake, the Evangelion movies had managed to come out pretty consistently with a new film every two or three years. Surely, there’d be a new movie in the not too distant future that would address fans’ criticisms and curiosities. Right?

A lot happened. For a start, Hideaki Anno had fallen into a depressive state as a result of spending six years on the project, to the point where he felt unable to even visit Studio Khara (the production studio he’d set up for this project) for an entire year in 2013. He needed a break from Evangelion, and took to working on other projects. He voiced main character Jiro Horikoshi in The Wind Rises (directed by long-time collaborator and friend Hayao Miyazaki). He acted as executive producer for the Japan Animator Expo series of shorts between 2014-15. Most famously, he wrote and co-directed 2016’s Shin Godzilla alongside Shinji Higuchi.

For that span, there was effectively no final film in production beyond a script that had been written, as Anno and Khara worked on other projects. When Anno felt ready to return to Evangelion around 2016, the actual movie was put together within a few years, but its release suffered delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic that dominated much of 2020. However, it finally came out on March 8 2021 in Japanese theatres, and everywhere else on August 13 through Amazon Prime Video.

I said way back at the beginning that I hadn’t minded the wait for Shin Evangelion. On some level, perhaps that’s because I wasn’t anxiously awaiting its release. Despite loving the original series, I don’t have a close attachment to the “Rebuild” movies. They’re very well made movies; You Can (Not) Advance is supremely confident in what it manages to pull off, and You Can (Not) Redo‘s middle section contains some of my favourite filmmaking in animation. The piano pieces for the latter film were very influential on my interest to start playing and composing music, which has directly impacted what I’m doing right now.

However, they simply don’t mean as much to me as Neon Genesis Evangelion. So the idea that the conclusion to that series could take a bit longer than anyone expected didn’t really bother me. I suppose this was tempered by the fact that I was waiting for the English home video release of You Can (Not) Redo – a ridiculous farce where its distributor FUNimation cancelled it indefinitely, without offering any official explanation then or now, until they suddenly announced its release nearly two years later.*

*The explanation heard through the grapevine was that Khara was not satisfied with the English dub and subtitles FUNimation had done. FUNimation redid their dub, and Khara provided an entirely new set of subtitles which would be featured alongside the original set. The problem was that FUNimation never clarified or explained any of this on an official scale beyond a pithy extension of the theatrical screenings. They basically let a high-profile release become vaporware for, as far as people who didn’t know any better could see, no reason. And folks wonder why anime piracy is still a thing.

By the time You Can (Not) Redo had finally been released on home video in English-speaking countries, it was already 2016 and Shin Godzilla was coming out soon. So for me, the wait only really ended up being five or so years instead of nine. But even then, this was tempered by the fact that any particular delay had an understandable explanation that I could empathize with.

I’d read plenty about Anno’s struggles with working on Evangelion again, and felt that he should have as long as he needed to do what was best for him. I was happy to hear when he was ready to come back, but only for his sake and not mine. The delays to Shin Evangelion‘s theatrical release due to the COVID-19 pandemic were also understandable, since it’s always, always, always more important to prioritize the safety and mental well-being of the production staff than to get a cartoon film done in time.

If Shin Evangelion came out now, that’s great. But if it came out later, that’s great too. For whatever reason, I was never in doubt that it would exist as an actual movie that people could sit down and watch. And in a weird way, that brought me a very peculiar sense of comfort. 

“No matter what happens to me, to the people I know and love, or to the world, Shin Evangelion will come out and I will watch it.”

I’ve had terrible bouts of anxiety over the last few years, but that thought – that mantra – helped to get me through those times. It kept me grounded, made me content to just exist for a little while, when I got overwhelmed by it all. I’ve even had dreams about watching it, which genuinely made me feel at ease and even happy when I woke up. If it’s there in my dreams, it’ll be there in my reality one day.

And now, it’s there. Shin Evangelion has come out and I can watch it.

Just a few button presses away. So why haven’t I watched it?

As silly as it sounds, I’ve had that comfort of not yet seeing Shin Evangelion for so long. The thought of not having that feeling anymore… it doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t even really concern me. It just makes me feel a little bit… sad.

And I’d like to hold onto that comfort for just a little longer, at least for sentimentality’s sake. I might as well; I’ve already waited over half a decade for this movie. What’s the harm in waiting until I’ve put this article online, and rewatched the first three movies to be caught up on things?

I’m happy that Shin Evangelion has finally come out, and I sincerely hope that everyone who’s worked on all these films are doing well. But I will miss waiting for it.

Special thanks to Blues from the World Animation Discord, who gave some feedback on the article and helped to assure me that maybe there is some worth to an article like this.

FrDougal9000 writes for as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

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