Like all entertainment media, there is a lot of trash in anime. From shounen made by committee to moe whose fans are sex offenders, anime is mostly crap with a minority of exception. Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Ghost in the Shell are a few titles I like, but my favorites are of the mecha genre. For as long as I can remember, giant robots have been the best ever. I do not know what it is, but they are awesome and nobody does it better than the Japanese. Gundam is where I started before I discovered Neon Genesis Evangelion.
To put it simply, Pacific Rim would not exist without the depressing story of Shinji Ikari. In a not too distant future, the world battles aliens known as Angels, giant monsters whose goal is to assimilate with the being Lilith, and shepherd the apocalypse. Humanity’s only hope is the Evas, robots biological in nature. As the pilot of Eva Unit 1, Shinji must contend with the burden of everyone counting on him and mounting depression as he learns the truth behind the Evas and his estranged father.
Neon Genesis was ground breaking for the mecha genre, presenting a world with characters that deal with real problems. Shinji is a socially awkward teenager forced to pilot Unit 1 at the behest of his father, who sees him as nothing more than an instrument. It proved a show about giant robots could be emotionally provocative and compelling.
Years later came the Rebuilds, a series of films anthologizing a number of episodes with updated visuals and story changes. Some fans like them, others say they cut too many corners and leave out the more compelling themes, but I adore the improved action, visuals, and mecha violence. There is large-scale destruction, gore, and everything anime can get away with.
Watching the Rebuilds is difficult unless you have knowledge of the original series. You cannot appreciate them as much because a lot of detail is gone or changed. You can almost turn your brain off like with Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann, but when you are questioning why Shinji listens to a cassette player on repeat, why the ocean is red, and what is the deal with Kaworu, it can be hard to enjoy the movies when robots are not eating each other. This issue, however, is more or less non-existent in Evangelion 3.0.
Picking up 14 years after the end of 2.0, the world has been devastated by Near Third Impact. Nerv is fully controlled by Seele in their ambition to begin Human Instrumentality. The remaining survivors, still intent on protecting the world, formed Wille headed by Colonel Katsuragi, voiced by Allison Keith. In their fight against Nerv, Wille conducts a mission to rescue Shinji, voiced by Spike Spencer, who has been in a coma since he initiated Third Impact.
I imagine none of that made a lick of sense. I could explain all of it, but that would mean spoiling the last two movies, detailing the minutia of the world, and then we will be here all day. When it comes to recommending 3.0, it is definitely a fans only situation like the Entourage movie. If you go in completely cold you will have no idea what is going on. To fully understand the Rebuilds, you need to have seen Neon Genesis. This makes going into further detail an exercise in futility, but I am going to finish the critique anyway.
It is important note 3.0 was originally slated to come out on DVD (the format in which I watched it) after its English theatrical debut in 2013. Then Funimation, in their infinite wisdom, decided to keep it in circulation, and for three years there was no word on when it was coming out. While some otaku think otherwise, I say it was worth the wait.
Many of the details that went unexplained in the previous films are explained in the most blunt fashion possible, clearing up a lot of confusion first-time viewers will have trouble understanding. Some of the more important points are still left in the dark, but that was probably intentional, being a series that is not finished. Also the “science” behind why things work is better left nebulous. It is an anime about giant robots fighting aliens after all.
One aspect fans will take issue with is the characters are not themselves. After rescuing Shinji, they immediately hate him, tell him he is useless, and put a bomb on his neck that will detonate if he enters an Eva. Katsuragi is an asshole, Ritsuko is antisocial, and Asuka is less boisterous about her superiority. Long-time fans will find all of this wrong before you realize the film takes place 14 years in the future, during a time in which the world is just about dead, and the survivors are fighting a lost cause. There is a reason behind why characters are not themselves and it is just a matter of paying attention.
The fight scenes are incredible as always, if not a tad jarring thanks to the reliance on CG. It is becoming standard practice in anime to use computer-generated assets with hand-drawn animation. This paradigm shift is alarming because Japanese CG looks like Claymation if it sucked. Animations are jerky and they never fit with the backgrounds and other hand-drawn details. Some do it right like Ghost in the Shell SAC where vehicles and larger robots are CG, while others use it as a crutch. In 3.0 it is pretty bad early on, but it improves afterward.
The voice acting was great with the cast from the movies and show making their return. Nobody skips a beat with a 47 year-old Spencer belting out like he usually does as Shinji. While they do not have much screen time, Keith, Colleen Clinkenbeard, and Tiffany Grant were right at home. The standouts were Trina Nishimura as Mari and Brina Palencia as Rei. Palencia was good in the first two films, but Nishimura has really come into her own since 2.0.
If you are a fan of the show, your mind is already made up. For everyone else, if you are interested, I recommend watching all three films, one after the other so you get the full story and all the available details. Coming in at 3.0 is not a good idea unless you just want to see robots murder each other.