Whatever else one thinks about the flood of revelations from Japan following 3.0's premiere one thing can be safely said: no one saw most of this stuff coming and both Japanese and foreigners seem to be equally shocked and dumbfounded by what was thrown on their face. Anno's lets-change-gear-midway-through-series trolling urges are still intact.
With initial rush of emotions, cognitive dissonance and puzzlement receding I think I'm starting to see how this still is overall very much Eva and not - for example - Gurren Lagann or Aqua Lion masquerading as the pre-eminent broken teenagers and mechas franchise. This acceptance of 3.0 as "Eva" just like earlier parts however gave birth to question:
How despite years of theorizing and speculating fans couldn't predict pretty much anything about film's storyline and the extent to which it would deviate from tv series?
Sure, the community in general was frequently going "lol man, you can't know what Anno does after 2.0", "series is off the rails so we don't really know", "it could end up in pretty much any kind of form" but if we're honest about it I don't think any of us truly ment it. We were now sure we wouldn't get same story in HD with cosmetic changes but I think everyone was still at least subconsciously clinging to idea Rebuild was going to be creative rewrite of the essentially same storyline - not a new storyline build on old Eva's foundation as it now seems to be. How better explain all the "this is not Eva", "you can't do that", "there was no reason to take Eva to so different place" mumbling?
After hours of stalking web for spoilers and translating them what I think is the answer just came to me suddenly:
Our frame of theorizing about 3.0/focus on 2.0's climax was focused on part that was fundamentally less important.
The key to that is this: We didn't take RoE's Third Impact seriously enough and all the implications using 3I term implied
2.0's climax was a fusion of two very different major narrative threads from NGE. One was Zeruel showdown of episode 19 and another was Third Impact from End of Evangelion. It was the first narrative thread that coloured the discussion for most part and our interpretation of "how far" the storyline had progressed. Essentially we acted and thought as if Rebuild had caught up with and exhausted the NGE narrative up to episode 19 - it was just done in flashier fashion and filled with odd plot elements that would have some impact on what would come later. Nevertheless we were generally expecting something akin this:
3.0: Rebuild of 20-24
4.0: Rebuild of EoE
We didn't give serious enough consideration for the fact 2.0 had ALSO reached the penultimate culmination point of NGE's narrative. Third Impact.
Certainly there were many good reasons for this mistaken focus of ours (for one RoE 3I was Impact Interruptus and as such not as "final" in feel) but mistake is a mistake. Evangelion's storyline is pretty simple thing and a beautiful arc framed between two cataclysmic events. All the essential (sans backstory leading up to the beginning point as seen in eg. NGE ep 21) can be boiled down to this:
1. 2nd Impact happens and breaks the world as we knew it and leaves it waiting for the final apocalypse/resolution to its sad post-apocalyptic state
2. In 2015 Angels start to attack Neo-Tokyo 3. Against them fights organization called NERV whose backers SEELE have their own secret plan Human Instrumentality Project. Aims of both sides culminate in the prophesized Third Impact.
3. At this same time boy named Shinji Ikari, hoping for some change in his life/himself, moves to Neo-Tokyo 3 and becomes pilot of Eva-01 for NERV. Along the way he comes to meet many people and encounter many events, form bonds, feel them break, fight against Angels etc. all driving him towards point where he holds the key to Third Impact in his hands.
4. Eva's storyline exhausts itself/inevitably culminates in apocalyptic Third Impact and its meaning (particularly in life and worldview of the main character Shinji Ikari)
You can modify, take out or add characters, events, settei elements etc. however much you like and they'd nevertheless be nothing more than pieces through which story hops its way from 2 and 3 to 4 (which in turn has been predetermined as conclusion all the way back at 1).
Rebuild hits 4. in end of 2.0 already and thus exhausts NGE's main narrative. That there are many unexplained settei elements (key of nebukanezarr, Adams etc.) and unused events from original show (Asuka's mind rape, Shinji/Kaworu homo homoing etc.) left doesn't really matter because those all are nothing but instruments for reaching 4 as far as story is considered. It's like complaining you haven't yer arrived home from work because you took alternate shortcut you usually don't take because you enjoy the scenery on the longer road and you haven't got to see that yet.
I'm not saying Final won't probably resemble quite much more EoE than 2.0 did (certainly Shinji has only now hit the emotional low point he had after ep 24') or that they won't continue to use elements from original show past ep 19 like they did with bonding with Kaworu plotline. It's just that these elements are reused as part of new narrative leading to conclusion X (Final Impact most likely) instead of remaining as rearranged pieces of old NGE storyline (no matter how creatively retooled).
If we interprept 2.0 not only reaching Zeruel fight but what was the previous culmination for Evangelion storyline it's completely expectable and predictable that we're essentially getting entirely new storyline with its great shift in story focus, settei elements and even new characters. When you're forced to write a "sequel" to Eva in a sense you can't help but bring in new narrative as the old one is done for. It also settles the issue of Shinji's actions in end of 2.0, finally.
Phew, now I can finally turn back to 2.0's climax and "meat".
Zeruel Skirmish and Third Impact in 2.0
First a very general note on the outline of Zeruel fight in Eva in general because it is very important for interpreting 2.0's climax correctly. I know it has become tremendously unsexy to talk seriously about "subversion" in anime ever since year worth of Madoka discussion and trolling combined with general TV Tropes idiocy finally threw the term "deconstruction" on trash heap of trolled to death ideas/shows/concepts, at least on /a/. But nevertheless we do injustice to NGE ep 19 if we treat how it goes about the fight as anything else than subversion of general storytelling tropes.
Both in NGE and in 2.0 Shinji reaches the moment of choice between responsibility and "growing into man" and running away during Zeruel attack like countless other heroes have in thousand stories of their own after their own moments of temporary rebellion/turning away from their duty/fate that comes calling. It's more blatant in NGE thanks to Kaji's wonderful and classic watermelon patch speech
whereas Rebuild seems to convey the same decision and internal movements Shinji goes through more subtly through visuals and certain famous motif
This is great moment of personal growth for Shinji in both NGE and RoE and the intentional parallels to ep 1/1.0 really drive the point home:
It's here when Anno's meanness and time-to-force-kids-to-face-reality spirit comes through. Any other mecha anime up to NGE would've had Shinji beat up the Angel and emerge as a powerful hero who has just overcome his biggest challenge so far. Not so in Eva. Shinji runs out of time and fails. He starts to scream and lose it completley in desperation and what follows is one of the most infamous moments in anime history: Eva-01 goes berserk and proceeds to brutally kill and eat the enemy. Shinji regresses beyond point of human contact and back into his mother's "womb" which is exactly the opposite of the point such challenge for hero. What starts as heroic thriumph ends up in devastation and failure by Shinji and action show turns into horror. In reality things don't proceed like in stories and don't expect success just by acting like hero.
You could break the process down like this: up to the point Eva-01 runs out of power Shinji is taking names and doing the hero thing. After that everything goes wrong and the usual meaning of such sequence is twisted beyond recognition.
After 3.0 spoilers I think it's finally safe to reach this conclusion: same pattern holds for RoE 2.0 (except it may be even more cynical). Certainly this position has had as its support the general tone and abject horror everyone treats what happens after Eva-01 goes BSOD, ReixShinji ship being orchestrated partly by Gendo's in any case malicious plan for this purpose and what kind of behaviour from Shinji's part was key to Third Impact in EoE (as well as countless other things endlessly debated during past years but those were a subject of debate and as such not clear evidence).
Shinji's treatment in 3.0 and equating 3I in NGE and RoE much more strongly like we should've done all this time answers the question about character of Shinji's actions.
RoE Third Impact: Subversion of Hero saves the Girl trope and escapist/selfish nature of Third Impact stays the same...or not?
Woof! Woof! GIVE ME MY KUSO ONNA!
Eva fans have been debating for years fiercely Shinji's actions in Rebuild's then cliffhanger climax. To offer a crude (but accurate where it matters) caricatures of the two positions:
Team 1: R-S / Shinji grew balls: Takes the "Shinji moves in to save Rei with no care for his safety and heroically saves the girl" part of the scene at face value - thinks this is the great moment of growth for Shinji into heroism the original show subverted with all the S2 engine munching and Shinji sobbing. Shinji's pure intention was just to save Ayanami and bring her back to this world, Shinji didn't actually mean he doesn't care what happens to world as long as he gets Ayanami - it was just some heated words without real meaning. Third Impact was unfortunate, unintended accident from his part he would've not gone along with (unlike in EoE) if he knew what he was doing. Those who disagree are overtly cynical/negative/nihilistic/stuck to NGE storyline/buttmad Asukafags or are just plainly unromantic.
Shinji's motivation was pure, genuine selfless love towards Rei.
Team 2: Shinji you son of a bitch don't you dare go all EoE on our asses again: Takes the "Third Impact is happening and Shinji doesn't seem to care" aspect of scene at face value. After his blatant two failures* in a row (Bardiel fight, stopping Zeruel) snaps for real and his desire to save/bond with Ayanami ends up synchroing with typical Eva-01 magic and the bozo mode starts as his NEED TO GET Ayanami BACK crosses the treshold of flame eyed batshit insanity. No clear involvement here from Yui's part He's sick of the world of pain and hardship Tokyo-3 has provided for him and all he really wants to do is to get back to his feel good doll and feel safe and warm again. It's not necessarily that Shinji doesn't genuinely care about Rei but right here it's the same thing as with Asuka in EoE: he just wants to run away from all the pain to comfort object closest to him at the moment. Shinji in his egoistical, not well off emotionally tantrum mode just wants his Rei, everything else be damned. It's not that he necessarily wants world to end like in EoE but he couldn't care less either way and if it's required sacrifice for him to get together with Rei (and unwittingly become new pseudo-god lifeform wtf) so be it. In essence Shinji's doing the spiteful, selfish kid act he pulled in EoE and just like in EoE he pulled it at time when he really shouldn't have done that: when they were under attack by enemy. Those who disagree are wishy washy shippers/Reifags/don't pay enough attention to devil in details/forget this is Eva and not some generic super robot show.
Shinji's main motivation was just to get his hug object back.
(*alternate, even more damning and I'd say even more plausible interpretation: Shinji never acted the altruistic, responsible hero part in RoE's Zeruel fight. He really might've done that even without Kaji's speech - just look at how horrified he is thanks to how the world looks outside the bunker - but what ultimately gets him to haul his ass to NERV to begin with is Rei getting swallowed by Zeruel. Saving Rei is his main motivation from the start with saving the world secondary object he fundamentally could discard as long as he got Rei back. The use of blood-on-hand motif can be seen as reinforcing this interpretation (allusion to role his sympathy for Rei played in him choosing to pilot Eva in the first place) as well as the suspicious choice in framing when Shinji makes the decision and he is running to NERV. In both shots Eva-00's head is framed behind him. The shot he makes his decision parallels the Kaji's watering can above and in that shot the can symbolizes the weight of Kaji's words pressing down on him. In 2.0 the dominating element in his decisionmaking is 00's head. Again, furthening the Rei monomania from the start. In this light Shinji was probably quite excl. wanting his girl back from the beginning. )
This interpretation has been immortalized in Reichu's hilarious (and now: deadly accurate sans the lulz) comic on 2.0's ending:
As a softening blow Team 2 can make concession that Shinji probably would've given his own life too if it would've brought Ayanami back (taking his words at face value - and since DickShinji folks do just that with fuck the world part it is incoherent and dishonest not to take his line immeaditly before just as seriously) - this however would land him even further into intentional Gendo parallels and, well, what comes later meshes better with just-wanting-to-escape-the-world-to-rei idea. But this point can be, under pressure, conceded without damaging the overall case because anyone thinking Gendoism is romantic instead of fucked up hasn't thought things through till the end and in any case Shinji just wants to forget his pain.
I should now also deal with Misato question, namely his supposed hypocritical "support" for Shinji vs her now scorn for him. That's easy to debunk:
Misato at this point isn't aware of what's going to happen. Her point is simple enough: Shinji is doing something as autonomic individual and not in order to please someone or be a fucking tool. That's worth cheering for.
When she realizes what exactly the kid is going to do though:
So no, Misato obviously was not in favour of Shinji triggering Third Impact.
But which Team is (more) correct?
After 3.0, universal condemnation Shinji receives and his own actions in 3.0 all pretty much seal the deal for Team 2 being closer to truth. In addition to that we can add as further evidence all the numerous things speaking for Team 2 mentioned before. To bring up few:
- this interpretation is in line with subversive spirit of Zeruel showdown and its more "eva" generally
- this interpretation is the only one that fits the title for second film and thus its main theme as far as Shinji's development goes. If his Rei saving antics were positive thing he would've advanced quite bit indeed as character despite temporary setbacks earlier in film with Gendo relationship etc.
- this interpretation actually pays attention to the subtext going on in the scene
- this interpretation fits Third Impact, what it represents for Shinji and what have always been Shinji's motivations for triggering it
- this interpretation doesn't end up in moral conundrum of celebrating "pure love" that results in countless death, including nearly everyone in Tokyo-3 - including Touji (and Kensuke and Hikari) with almost certainty
For more indirect evidence we can take a look at lyrics of Tsubasa wo Kudasai and the longing for escape they detail (no, this doesn't fit EoE's "Third Impact reality escapee" deal at all):
In this huge sky I wanna
Spread my wings and fly
Towards the free sky without any sadness
Or the return of Shinji's solipstic light blue womb world of no pain:
OR the suspicious closeup cuts to Shinji's SDAT of reality escape when Shinji's withdrawal into Third Impact and his blue blue Rei world goes further and further (it happens twice at key points in development of Impact intensity):
and what is Third Impact thematically and for Shinji to begin with?
Answer is simple, whether we're looking at EoTV, EoE or RoE: it's what Shinji chooses when he has given up on the world of pain, the cruel reality, and decides to dive for comfort in bosom/womb of Rei/Lilith. Thematically it represents all that is wrong with escaping from reality and for Shinji it's trial he must go through to realize existence in world with others is worth it after all (in RoE this process never goes through because Impact never gets through, thanks Kaworu). Shinji aims for 3I when he's desperate and wants to escape from reality. Pure Love randomly triggering 3I would fly against everything EoE established about 3I. Team 2's interpretation doesn't and fits rest of the details better too.
In case it isn't strong in your memory, at this point Shinji really didn't have much warm feelings left for the reality:
I think I've done enough to establish that Third Impact in RoE doesn't differ significantly as far as Shinji's character and motivations go and as such Shinji's storyline (and with that whole series's) reaches the point far beyond NGE ep 19. 3I was aborted in 2.0 but there's no significant difference in what makes the two desirable for Shinji and as such Shinji ended up pulling same shit he did in EoE - thus being fully deserving of the scorn he gets in 3.0
and this, folks, is where the key to 3.0 and real interesting stuff lies as alluded to in preface. We've reached the culmination point of NGE's storyline already (it was aborted before world could tang and/or Shinji eventually reject it so no moment of enlightement for Shinji either) and NGE/EoE doesn't move much beyond this point storywise. Rebuild has exhausted story material provided purely by NGE and from now on must truly become "New Eva" and the new chapter in Shinji's depiction in Evangelion
Evangelion 3.0 as "post-EoE" film and major turn in depicting Shinji's character
I can summarize the case for post-EoEness simply:
1. Radically new story elements (much moreso than in 2.0) mixing with some old ones (Kaworu bonding) that forms a whole that moves far beyond constraints of original Eva plotwise
2. Post-Third Impact setting. Being Post-Third Impact colours everything about film and as such is obviously going to places original Eva could've only gone to in literal sequel to EoE
3. Shinji's character arc is in one respect crucially different from anything before and is most feasible in post-EoE fuck I caused Third Impact moral hangover (which, incidentally, is the state into which Shinji regresses into)
4. The final scene allusions to One More Final are so strong visually it's no question what impression on the setting it wants to give. EoE/post-EoE one, that is.
As long as EoE/2.0 parallels I've gone to great lenghts to establish hold it can't help but be post-EoE film no matter what in quite few respects
how blatant you can get?
The most interesting thing about this post-EoEness to me (and what I noticed thanks to one Japanese blogger and his lenghty post on the subjectl) is what they've done to Shinji's position in narrative. It's something Eva has never done before. While there are times when Misato has (justifiably) slapped him silly as a general rule Shinji's position in story is that of a victim and object of sympathy. He has helluva shitty life and he's victimized by Angels, adults and their schemes etc. most of the time. Most cast members tend to feel sympathy for his plight like the bridge bunny crew in Bardiel incident and Misato's motherly love for him through the series. It's only at the very end of show when he's been reduced to dysfunctional human wreck he starts to lack any support at all.
3.0 for first time ever turns that setup around. Shinji is reviled as borderline criminal and perpetraror of worst catastrophe possible. It's not the world around Shinji that ruins his life, it's he who ruins the world around him. No wonder he feels desperate need to atone for his sins to the point of almost setting off Fourth Impact (I can't honestly be too hard on him for that in comparison to 3I: under such circumstances one is tempted to take chances at magical History Eraser button no matter how slim the chances)
Shinji seems to be in denial over, uhh, destroying the world for most of 3.0 but nevertheless this provides a new phase for him and the story: he's responsible for massive destruction on scale unimagined and he needs to deal with this responsibility. It's exactly same thing he presumably needs to deal with in EoE's end. This is very interesting because the position where Shinji is universally hated for reason (instead of being more or less unjustly stomped on) is new and does, indirectly, act as sort of "coda" for EoE Shinji too, even if this isn't direct sequel.
I can't wait to see how they're going to resolve Shinji's storyline for Final after the development so far. Looking at film names there's very meaningful pattern here. The names without bracketed part every time spell out what Shinji thinks while the bracketed negation reveals the truth. Going through Shinji's journey.
You are (not) alone
Shinji thinks he is all alone in the world but in this film he gains human connections with Rei, Misato, Touji and Kensuke etc.
You can (not) advance
Shinji thinks he can advance in his relationship with Gendo etc. but that all comes to naught. Guy throws a huge tantrum and regresses.
You can (not) redo
Shinji, witnessing all the shit that happened due to his tantrum in previous film, wants to fix things and undo his mistakes instead of accepting them and bearing the responsibility. This leads to hopeless attempt at changing the past and utter breakdown for the guy.
Who knows? No clue in name this time