ZombieTrex’s review published on Letterboxd:
Hideaki Anno was originally unsure on how to properly end Neon Genesis Evangelion during its production. While he experimented with a few ideas on how the show could end, what ultimately came of this deliberation was a decidedly bizarre final two episodes that served mostly to conclude the character arc of the main protagonist, Shinji Ikari. This ending was accomplished through very experimental methods, going as far as to implement new animation styles. This, along with the ending somewhat failing to wrap up the overall story of the show as well as the arcs of the side characters, left many fans dissatisfied with the ending of the series. Through all the fan backlash, Anno stayed firm on that his ending was the one true vision. However, in a move that many speculate was an act of retribution against his detractors, Anno came back to the directors chair one year later to direct The End of Evangelion, which served to reimagine the original ending of the show. And while it does take a slightly more literal approach to its storytelling, it nonetheless doubles down on the mystifying, celestial imagery showcased in the original show and successfully concludes both its story and its characters’ arcs. It is simultaneously hopeful yet heartbreaking, and requires the viewer to dig deep, not only into the messages of the film, but into themselves as well.
Before going into more detail on the film The End of Evangelion, I first want to touch upon the original ending of the show that came with the final two episodes. As I alluded to above, I do believe that this ending failed to properly conclude many of the other characters' arcs and the larger story as a whole. However, Evangelion was always Shinji’s story, so these episodes’ focus on him is only natural. Over the course of the story, Shinji has become psychologically broken, as his relationships fall apart and he becomes increasingly unsure about his place in the world and whether he deserves to exist within it. After a certain event causes Shinji to have to retreat inside his mind, through the advice and memories of others, he learns what I believe to be the ultimate lesson of the show: though life naturally entails painful feelings such as loneliness and depression, it is ultimately the better option than to feel nothing at all. Though these feelings hurt, we can’t just run away from them through escapism. At one point or another, we have to recognize our emotions and deal with them, as these emotions are what fuel our individuality and make us who we are. The show ends with Shinji finally realizing this, and the show takes a brief moment to celebrate this revelation with him. Though the final scene may come off as anticlimactic to some, the show absolutely earns this endearing moment of catharsis as it successfully pays off all of Shinji’s well-earned development.
When I hear people comparing the two endings of Evangelion (episodes 25 and 26 v.s. EoE), I often hear them label one as “the happy ending” and one as “the depressing ending”, as if these endings accomplish fundamentally different things. However, I don’t agree with this interpretation. I firmly believe that what happens in The End of Evangelion is a more literal representation of the events of episodes 25 and 26, but they both set out to do essentially the same thing. In both, Shinji has to learn the ultimate truth and symbolically choose between running from his problems or confronting them head on. A good way that I’ve heard the differences between the two endings described is that the TV ending tells you Shinji’s thought process, but EoE shows it to you. The TV ending is much more direct in how it portrays Shinji’s experience, whereas EoE leans heavier on interpretive visuals to complete his arc, and I think that both versions have their benefits. While the “tell” aspect of “show, don’t tell” has been widely criticized, I do somewhat prefer the more direct approach the TV ending takes, as it provided a much clearer way of feeling what the characters were feeling.
However, what The End of Evangelion brings to the emotional storytelling cannot be overlooked. The film version elects to express its messages more so through imagery rather than narration. After that same certain event that happens in the show happens in the movie (only this time the event is actually shown to the audience in a glorious fashion), the film assaults the viewer with a bevy of distinct, sometimes psychedelic images and scenes that evoke a sense of progression with the character of Shinji. We see him actually work through his problem rather than being told that he is. This section of the film even manages to break the fourth wall and directly address the audience backlash to the original ending. And while the culmination of this character progression isn’t quite as triumphant as it is in the show, the way in which the movie portrayed these events will always stick out to me as the more memorable version. In this way, neither ending truly trumps the other, but they instead serve as interesting companion pieces to one another, with a viewing of both being required in order to obtain the full effect. The original ending is more emotional in my opinion, but the film’s ending is far more immersive, and it’s certainly hard to pin down which version is truly better.
While Shinji might be the main protagonist of the show, he was far from the only character with hidden depths and an arc that needed to be completed. This was unfortunately another area where the last two episodes came up short. I do approve of the decision to focus mostly on Shinji, as he was the most compelling character in the show, but I can’t help but wish we had gotten more conclusive endings for some of the great characters such as Asuka or Misato. Thankfully, in this film, everyone gets their time to shine, while still keeping Shinji in the central light. The completion of their arcs might not be as thorough as Shinji’s, but they instead serve as more subtle conclusions that provide the characters with just the right amount of closure. Scenes like Misato’s moments with Shinji or Ritsuko’s final standoff with Gendo are really impactful, as we see these broken characters finally realize who they really are. It’s also great to see certain characters receive their comeuppance after 26 episodes of being absolutely deplorable.
This film also seeks to address the common complaint against the last two episodes, that being that they feel anticlimactic in the grand scheme of things. And this is something that I do somewhat agree with, at least when it comes to the show’s intense kaiju/mecha action. For a series that delivered on both the emotional and excitement side with its action-packed robot fights, there are none to be seen in the last two episodes of the show. There really was no “final battle” to speak of, and while I do believe that the choice to focus more on the characters was the right decision, it did leave the finale feeling, well, anticlimactic. Thankfully, The End of Evangelion absolutely delivers on the action front, delivering one of the best fight sequences the series has seen thus far. Seeing Asuka finally get to prove herself after all the trauma she went through previously by pushing back the enemy forces was incredibly satisfying to watch. It did a fantastic job wrapping up her character arc, which is, again, something the original ending didn’t do as well.
These fights are brought to life with the best animation to come out of this franchise thus far. Now that Evangelion is in the feature film format, the restraints of the television format have been cast aside. The 4:3 aspect ratio is replaced with a beautiful widescreen view that captures so much more of the action. The financial difficulties that plagued the original show are now non-existent, as the filmmakers can now give the series the animation it deserves. It truly makes the action of this show a spectacle to behold, as there’s a constant fluidity to the movement that was rare for the original show.
However, giant robots punching each other isn’t the only thing this animation is used for. As I stated above, there’s a certain event that happens in the TV show that is only ever talked about; we never actually get to see it happen. It’s a pretty important event, being the catalyst for both Shinji’s development and the end of the show. While I was personally fine only hearing about it, The End of Evangelion decides to fully showcase this astronomical event, and it is, in every sense of the word, breathtaking. My jaw was hanging open in awe throughout the duration of this elongated scene. There are no words to describe what is shown (especially ones that wouldn’t spoil the film). While the original show had indulged in reality-bending visuals before, the film takes it to a whole new level. It is a perfect example of the power animation has to depict stories that live action just isn’t able to.
Hideaki Anno took what worked about the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and was able to channel both his own ideas and the fan backlash into something truly special with The End of Evangelion, without compromising the messages or meaning of the original ending. In some ways, it feels like an act of revenge against the fanbase, and in other ways, it feels like a love letter. It takes on the near-impossible task of concluding so many concurrent character arcs and story threads, and somehow manages to deliver on nearly every front. Though I will always have a soft spot for the original TV ending, I can’t deny how well EoE puts a cap on the entire series. It’s a film that demands a lot of the viewer, as it lures them into a never-ending web of different interpretations and speculation, bombarding them with imagery only a nightmare could conjure. But if you’re willing to truly dissect this film and find out what it means to you, then I promise you, The End of Evangelion and Neon Genesis as a whole are well worth your time.