If you are at all a fan of anime, you can’t help but have heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The series is famed for its visuals, characters, and storytelling. The series creator, Hideaki Anno, famously got his break working on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for Studio Ghibli, before going on to co-found Gainax and produce his own material. He proved a talented and imaginative writer, in addition to his already established flair for visuals.
The most highly-regarded of his anime is surely Evangelion, but it is also a somewhat controversial piece. The characters are almost all morally grey, and the decisions they make are often shocking. You won’t find many who disagree that protagonist Shinji is, as he describes himself after a particularly bizarre scene, “fucked up”. He’s also a perpetually-depressed school kid with low self-esteem and an overbearing, rather abusive father. Not your typical shonen hero, and unlikely to appear on many anime fans list of favourite protagonists. But you have to admit, he is at least different. Points for originality!
It is perhaps unsurprising that the writer of the series has a history of depression himself. Anno opened up some time ago about how he struggled with that mental illness while writing the original Evangelion, and how that struggle influenced his work. And his choice of protagonist. It is not hard to see the echoes of it in the grim, near-suicidal finale that the End of Evangelion movie offered.
It should be noted that End of Evangelion was not the original ending of the story. The anime itself ended with a somewhat confused and philosophical episode that left fans scratching their heads. Anno seemed to agree or at least sympathize with the general dissatisfaction, and released the movie to provide a more comprehensive and exciting finale to his tale. Even then, the ending proved divisive and confusing, sparking a storm of debate which has raged for decades.
With two endings on offer even back then, the seeds of a reboot or reimagining of Evangelion had already been planted. So it wasn’t that big of a shock when an older, less depressed Anno announced his intention to make the Rebuild of Evangelion back in 2007. The first two of the four planned movies were soon released, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the third came out. While we will, as always, avoid the hated spoilers, there is good reason for the delay.
A remake of Evangelion with more polished animation requires somewhat less effort than making a completely different story. While much of the first two movies is simply a more streamlined retelling of the original plot, with higher definition visuals, there comes a point mid-way through the Rebuild where Shinji seems to overcome his depression and makes a very different, more proactive, decision from those he made in the first Evangelion series. You might even say he did something heroic.
I’ll pause for a moment to let those familiar with Evangelion catch their breath. Shinji? Heroic? It can’t be! But it was. And this act of heroism sends the story off onto a completely different path, one that branches away from the first but does not replace it. Rather like the multiverses often depicted in shows like Sliders, or in Marvel’s recent Loki miniseries. This is not to say that everything came up roses for he and the rest of the cast. It may even be argued that things have turned out worst for some. And it may even turn out that things will turn out worst for everyone. Only watching the final movie will answer those questions.
What is already known is that when the Rebuild of Evangelion launched off onto that branching path, it become a very new show. Which might explain the long waits between new instalments. Fans had to wait until 2021 to see the fourth and final movie in the new series, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, which got its English language release on Amazon Prime this summer.
Now, at last, we will get to see what new ending the imaginative and now depression free Anno has in mind for his second telling of the Evangelion tale. However it turns out, it seems likely that the new Evangelion will cause as much debate among the fandom as the original did. Whether it will be as dark as the first remains to be seen, but we can say for certain that it will be different and original, as Evangelion and its protagonist always were.