From October 1995 to March 1996, dystopian mech anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the brainchild of filmmaker Hideaki Anno (Shin Godzilla), broadcast in Japan, eventually coming available elsewhere in the world. It told the story of an alt-Earth in which the population was severely reduced as a result of various incidents both man-made and heavenly, centering specifically on a 14-year-old boy, Shinji Ikari. Met with various issues (technical, budgetary, mental), the series didn’t end entirely how Anno devised, resulting in two attempts to close the story within his vision. Coming available in the U.S. for the first-time on both physical and digital formats, Anno’s final Evangelion story, 3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon a Time, closes out Shinji’s story and includes a bevy of materials that longtime fans will relish exploring. Be advised that there are three editions to choose from: 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital. The following home release review will seek to lay out all you need to know when making your selection.
If you want to explore the world of Evangelion, the original series is available on Blu-ray and digital from Shout! Studios and GKids Films or, currently, for streaming via Netflix. After watching the series, your next step is to watch the two films that make up a sort of abridged version of the series and a second stab at the original finale. The trick, of course, is that series creator Hideaki Anno released several versions of the first of the two films with the most easily accessible version of it being Evangelion: Death(True)2 (1998) and the second being The End of Evangelion (1997) (each of these are available on both Netflix and in the Shout!/GKids collection). The three films required to fully understand Thrice, however, are part of what’s called the Rebuild of Evangelion series that begins with 2007’s Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, carries on with 2009’s Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, and then 2012’s Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo (each of which are available to stream via Prime Video). These three films take the characters, concepts, and events of the series and explore the same ideas in a succession of small and large changes in order to take the tropes of child warfare stories common in anime and make them more realistic in execution, exploring the trauma that makes a child go to war, the trauma that helps adults justify the choice, and the resulting collateral damage left in its wake. All of this is, of course, wrapped in a religious context, making war an inevitability. With Thrice, Anno concludes the Evangelion series for good, ending the war and the series with about as much finality as we’d expect from the storyteller.
In most cases, if you’re coming to this, you have some sort of background with the Evangelion series. If you don’t, here’s what you need to know before diving in to Thrice.
It’s 2015, Tokyo, and the world is persistently on edge as wave after wave of giant figures called Angels continually attack the remaining human population. On the day Shinji Ikari is meant to reconnect with his estranged father, Gendo, who oversees a defense project called NERV wherein giant war machines called EVAs serve as the final defense against the angels. Upon learning that he’s compatible with Unit-01, Shinji fights alongside fellow pilots Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Sohryu to protect Tokyo-3; however, there are shadowy figures with plans of their own, aided by Gendo, who seek to protect humanity long enough to enact the Human Instrumentality Project. Through the events of the Rebuild of Evangelion series spanning several years, Shinji unintentionally sets in motion the events required for the Human Instrumentality Project, turning friends into foes as ideology and faith collide. The fate of the world is nothing that Shinji wanted to be responsible for, but, now, with so much at stake and so much to atone for, to make things right, Shinji will have to fight all the way to the end.
So let’s talk about the various home release editions before we get into my thoughts on the film, because I watched the whole series and all the features and shorts ahead of screening Thrice, and my head is spinning.
As of October 3rd, in the areas serviced by Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu, you can purchase either the subtitled or dubbed editions of Thrice. There’s no listed information regarding bonus features on the official Evangelion GKids webpage, so it’s unclear if any bonus materials are included with the price.
Beginning October 17th, two physical editions will come available via both the GKids webstore and Shout! Studios: a collector’s edition 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo set and a regular Blu-ray. As Shout! Studios kindly sent a 4K UHD edition for review, that’s where this will begin. (If you’d rather see than read, skip below to the brief video walkthrough of the set.) First, everything is encased in a bright white cardboard case that has a textured finish on all sides and the title of the film faintly etched into the front. Honestly, if not for the plastic wrap that keeps the typical packaging description attached to the back, it’s difficult to tell which is the front and which is the back as the title so easily blends in with the rest of the material. The artist rendering of the title design implies a rainbow/holographic design that ties into the prism depiction of the EVA suits worn by Mari and Asuka in the final battle, but it doesn’t appear this way in actuality. Admittedly, it does appear a bit more reflective and colorful on the tri-fold disc holder that contains the film and bonus materials (one black 4K UHD disc and two white Blu-rays (each appropriately marked)), but it’s worth noting the difference to assist with expectations. Speaking of, be advised that the tri-fold disc holder is little more than three individual plastic holders adhered to the tri-fold cardboard with adhesive and it doesn’t appear to be very sturdy. I’ve opened this approximately three times and the middle holder is already separating from the backing. As appropriate as the color and style is for the film, carrying forward an appropriate aesthetic, it’s not as sturdy as one may hope for a collection of this stature. Oddly, this is a similar design as the fantastic BELLE 4K UHD collector’s set, yet there’s a noticeable shift in stock in both the slidecase and disc holder, wherein BELLE is significantly sturdier.
Also included with this set is a 16.5 in x 11.7 in film poster featuring all the EVA children on the shore; a title-marked envelope with 5 art cards depicting six of the central characters (Mari, Kaworu, Asuka, Rei, and Misato & Shinji); and a 28-page booklet that begins with an introduction to the set, an explanation that 3.0+1.11 a tweaked version from the original 2021 release of Thrice, a detailed list with times and descriptions of all the on-disc material, storyboards with technical explanations of various scenes, and character art for Thrice and the two included shorts.
According to the Shout! Studios Thrice Blu-ray page, that edition includes two discs that contain all the included on-disc materials of the 4K UHD set and nothing else.
Longtime fans of Evangelion are likely to have already decided on which version that want and will opt for the 4K UHD edition. Of the two, the Blu-ray is far more affordable, includes all the same on-disc materials, and comes in a traditional blue plastic case that is easy to swap out if it gets damaged. On the other hand, the 4K UHD edition offers the better visual presentation for this culminating adventure and the only way to get the 4K UHD disc (as of this writing) is with this set. For some, this alone is going to be the deciding factor, therefore allow me to tell you that the 4K UHD edition is dazzling. This film, even more than the first two films, features a great deal of scenes in the natural world, specifically areas that have been cleared of damage from the Near Third Impact and where humanity is able to rebuild a bit of their lives through natural resources. The 4K UHD does little in these scenes that the Blu-ray cannot; however, the increased depth of color on the 4K UHD disc makes the scenes of conflict, especially as Gendo is closing in on completing his goal and the animation mixes 3D with 2D (specifically the scenes in leading up to the anti-universe), it’s as though the colorists threw in every color they could and each one makes an impression. Both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray presentations offer DTS-MA 5.1, so there’s no difference there to address; however, it’s worth noting that the sound from the 4K UHD disc is incredibly immersive due to smart balancing that makes great use of the surround speaks to only enhance the action, making one feel enveloped when all hell breaks loose.
The decision of which one to snag is entirely up to you and the large cost differential between them is likely going to price out most folks. The Blu-ray is still a sharp presentation and will be given an up-conversion kick by players with that capability. Therefore, you have to decide if the additional pieces (the poster, art cards, and booklet) will really make the difference as add-ons for you to purchase the 4K UHD set. If you dig the look of You Can (Not) Redo, which is available on Blu-ray through various online sources, then I doubt you’ll be disappointed in the Blu-ray presentation here, should you go that route.
If you’ve made it this far, chances are that watching Thrice on home video is not your first time (it has been available to stream via Amazon Prime Video for some time) or that you’re at least versed in the series. As such, you’ll recognize that the above summary is a severe over-simplification of a series that’s 26 episodes long and retold across two different versions via six feature films and two shorts. In preparation to cover Thrice, I asked everyone I knew who had seen this series if starting with the first film of Rebuild is enough and was given an unequivocal “no.” With so much adjusted from one version of the series to the next, with so much replicating done in the run-up to Thrice, I didn’t really believe this to be true until completing Rebuild, in which case, I have to agree — the only way to really get the weight of the Rebuild series and its finality is to have seen the original series and the two films that followed. It’s a great deal of homework, but that’s also what happens when you come extraordinarily late to a series that’s nearly 30 years old. In the booklet, the opening introduction points out that, “Eva is a story about repeats.” The story is repetitive with the same characters fighting the same battles, making the same choices, again and again. Except, not really. In each retelling, the internal struggle is the same, but due to a few different choices, pieces of dialogue, the inclusion of a brand new character in the Rebuild series (Mari), the ending is not the same. In this way, the whole of Evangelion isn’t just an exploration of humanity’s fury at G-d and the children adults put in harm’s way for their own personal gain, it’s about how the choices we make define us and how it’s up to us to break the chains of the cycles that humanity continually holds so tightly to. In the first two tellings, it’s a little difficult to understand the Shinji/Gendo dynamic, especially when there’s so much to unpack about the trauma that surrounds all the characters (Rei is a clone of Shinji’s mom, Asuka is rejected by her parents and seeks validation from others, Misato is full of self-loathing, Shinji does nothing for himself and only for others in order to receive praise and feel worth). By the end of Thrice, it all comes into focus: Gendo wants to enact the Human Instrumentality Project because he went from being someone whose parents essentially abandoned them, thereby necessitating isolating behaviors that were discarded upon falling in love with Yui, to only finding himself shattered upon her death. He wants to be with her again and he’s willing to destroy life as we know it in order to fill the hole of grief. Thrice gives us a reason to understand Gendo and, in Shinji coming to realize what he wants and learning this, recognizes that he’s the way that the cycle stops: he can remake a world without Evas, thereby giving all a chance to rebuild themselves into whatever version of life would make them happiest; restoring personal autonomy to the ones who’ve had that striped away from them all because Gendo didn’t get enough hugs and refused to care for his child, the caretaker of Yui’s memory. In the parlance of the day, Gendo would rather destroy all life everywhere than go to therapy, but that’s the trouble with religious zealotry when it meets high science. Credit to Anno for making Gendo into even more of a monster than we thought possible by not only treating Rei as a disposable thing, but also through the realization that all the pilots (except maybe Shinji) are clones, shifting everything we, as audience members, know about a character’s storyline and their sacrifice. To Gendo, the pilots aren’t anything more than replaceable pawns to check boxes until he can remake the world. Thank goodness that, in each ending, Shinji gets some kind of peace and stops him. Thankfully, with the ending in Thrice, things appear far more permanent and joyful.
But, seriously, if you haven’t watched the original series and just tried to jump into Thrice via the Rebuild films, then that whole climatic fight that starts with the usual mech fighting until that gives way to conversation is just going to be the beginning of your confusion. Especially regarding the structure and execution of this conversation that utilizes many series self-referential aspects. In order to get what Anno is doing, to understand what it all means, you need to have seen the final two episodes of the original series so that when Shinji and Gendo break wall after wall of reality, journeying through memory after memory, and all that really remains is an empty broadcast set upon which any reality can be formed and shaped, you can grasp the circular nature of the reveal. Also why it matters that Shinji is left to sit on a shore, the CG animation giving way to hand-drawn art, deteriorating down to the most basic sketching. One will only be confused, seeing it merely as representation of the world as Shinji knows it disappearing, unaware of the connection to the visual style of the TV series finale and what that shore means to The End of Evangelion, as well as the lack of violence it brings out in Shinji now. One does not expect to be quite so moved and, yet, without having experienced it all, the weight of broken chains and cycles doesn’t hit nearly as hard.
My adventure with Hideaki Anno began this year with preparation to review the home release of his 2022 live-action tokusatsu film Shin Ultraman. Since this summer, I’ve watch the other two Shin films (the aforementioned Godzilla and Shin Kamen Rider (2023)) and covering Thrice means I’ve seen the final fourth entry. The word “shin” translates a few ways with one of them being “new,” and each of the live-action films certainly fits that description. Thrice *is* something new, packaged within an old, familiar story, which nonetheless knocks your socks off. Unlike the other three Shin films, you need to have at least watched other projects to understand the characters, the world, and the stakes, and, should you embark on this journey, allow yourself time to process each choice that these characters make. Don’t mainline them as it may cause the three timelines to overlap, muddle together, and make difficult sorting one choice from another. However, whether you’re coming to Evangelion fresh or as a veteran, there’s little doubt in my mind that audiences will agree that Anno stuck the landing, finding a way to end not just on a positive note, but a life-affirming one.
Now it’s time for you to decide: which version will you go with?
Evangelion:3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon A Time 4K UHD Special Features:
- Art Cards
- EVANGELION:3.0(-46h) (10:42)
- EVANGELION:3.0(-120min.) (6:59)
- Rebuild of EVANGELION:3.0+1.11 (16:01)
- [Current EVANGELION] (1:33)
- Message for Kinro
- Message for ANN
- Stage Greetings
- Promotional Reels
- Trailers & TV Spots
Evangelion:3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon A Time Blu-ray Special Features:
- EVANGELION:3.0(-46h) (10:42)
- EVANGELION:3.0(-120min.) (6:59)
- Rebuild of EVANGELION:3.0+1.11 (16:01)
- [Current EVANGELION] (1:33)
- Message For Kinro
- Message For ANN
- Stage Greetings
- Promotional Reels
- TV Spots
Available on digital October 3rd, 2023.
Available on 4K Collector’s Edition and Blu-ray October 17th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official GKids Films Evangelion:3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon A Time webpage.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.