With its stream of consciousness storytelling, musings on the nature of interpersonal relationships, and a healthy helping of giant robots punching each other in the face, it’s understandable to be a bit confused by the ending of the final Rebuild of Evangelion film, Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time—especially after your first watch. So let’s break down not only what happened but also what it means on both a storytelling and thematic level.
This article contains major spoilers for Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time.
At the climax of the film, Shinji once again gets back into the cockpit of Evangelion Unit 01 to face his father within the “Anti-Universe”—a place where thought becomes reality. As they fight, they jump from location to location. Their surroundings, be they Tokyo-3 or Misato’s dining room, are recreations drawn subconsciously from their memories. However, without a conscious focus on building their reality, these locations are only “real” on a surface level—hence the live-action film set aesthetic whenever they push things too far. It is a way to visualize Shinji and Gendo’ powers of creation within the Anti-Universe. After all, what is the film-making process if not the creation of a new reality?
Of course, in such a place where thoughts become reality, combat ability doesn’t matter. Only mental strength does. Neither Gendo nor Shinji can be defeated until the other gives up. Realizing this, Shinji takes Kensuke’s advice from earlier in the film and decides to finally, after all this time, talk it out with his father.
Back in the normal universe, Misato, Ritsuko, and the crew of the Wunder start preparing to use the spine of the flying ship to form a new spear. While the Spear of Longinus represents despair and resets humanity to try again and the Spear of Cassius represents hope and elevates humanity to a new plane of existence, the new spear that Misato and crew plan to make will reject both—granting humanity the ability to continue on as is.
Inside the Anti-Universe, Gendo seeks to use the Spear of Longinus and the Spear of Cassius together with the Black Lilith, “Evangelion Imaginary,” to meld the world of thought inside the Anti-Universe with the real world outside in the normal universe. In this way, he will cause an “Additional Impact” and rewrite the world to make his wish come true: to be with his wife, Yui, once more.
As the end of the world begins on the outside, with the giant Lillith appearing to absorb the souls of those still living, Shinji approaches Gendo within the Anti-Universe. This causes AT fields to appear around Gendo but instead of fighting, Shinji returns the SDAT tape player to Gendo—the only gift he ever got from his father. This kindness easily penetrates the AT fields. Gendo reveals his past and motivations to Shinji—explaining how he suffered like Shinji when it came to forging relationships, believing that it was better to be alone.
Then he met Yui and she changed his entire world—showing his previous beliefs to be nothing more than lies he told himself to make life bearable. Everything was perfect as long as he had her. But with her death, his world fell apart.
Driven to get her back, he tried to resurrect her in the form of Rei but Rei never had Yui’s soul. Faced with that failure, he decided to go all out and co-opt Seele’s plans for The Human Instrumentality Project. And now, having done that, he plans to use the Additional Impact to make a world free of strife, filled with nothing but purified souls. It is here his soul will be with Yui’s once more.
Gendo’s musings are interrupted as Misato, back in the normal universe, sacrifices herself and the Wunder to get the newly created Spear of Gaius to Shinji. In her last moments, she stares at the picture of her two “sons,” the one she birthed, Ryoji, and the one she raised, Shinji—knowing that they now will have a chance to live on.
Back inside on the all-too-literal train of thought, Gendo reflects on his relationship with his own son. He believed Shinji’s life would be better without him in it. But now, in the face of the unwavering love of a mother for her children, Gendo realizes that he was wrong. And in the process, he understands that Yui’s soul was inside Shinji all along. To get the human connection he was longing for, all he needed to do was not abandon his son. Shaken profoundly, Gendo gets off the train, fully relinquishing control of the Additional Impact to Shinji.
It is then that Shinji is joined by the soul of Kaoru who asks Shinji for his wish.
When this moment happened back in the End of Evangelion, Shinji’s wish was to be alone so that no one could ever hurt him again. However, after that came to pass, he reflected on all he had experienced in the TV series and decided human connection was worth the emotional pain it would cause—leaving him and a disgusted Asuka on the beach in the film’s final scene.
However, the Shinji of Thrice Upon a Time has learned a far different lesson thanks to his time in Village-3 earlier in the film. You shouldn’t give love expecting love in return. You should give love selflessly because you care about those around you and want them to obtain happiness. Thus, Shinji’s wish in Thrice Upon a Time isn’t for himself, but for those he cares about—starting with Asuka.
Within Unit 13, Asuka’s soul dreams about her past where it is revealed that, like Rei, she is a clone and is but one of many. But out of all the other Asukas she was the one to stand out—to become the final remaining Asuka. However, even then she couldn’t get the love and recognition she wanted—the love she saw from families all around her. However, in this dream she finds herself comforted by Kensuke, the man who sees her only as “Asuka,” the woman he loves, and nothing more.
Asuka awakens beside Shinji on the beach from The End of Evangelion. In that film Shinji brings Asuka back to life for his own personal gain—i.e., gives her life for the sole reason that he doesn’t want to be lonely. However, the Thrice Upon a Time, Shinji only wants to tell her his feelings before he lets her go to claim the happiness that awaits her. He thanks her for liking him back when they were kids and admits he liked her too before recombining her body and soul inside Unit 13’s entry plug and ejecting her out of the Impact so she can be with the person she actually loves: Kensuke.
Then comes Kaoru’s turn. In the midst of the Additional Impact with the Spear of Gaius in hand, Shinji can see that the story of Evangelion has happened again and again in various ways. Kaoru, on the other hand, has actually experienced all of these timelines. His existence has been to live these events over and over for all eternity. And while Kaoru has claimed it is his wish to make Shinji happy, what he really longs for is to be happy himself. So Shinji places Kaoru within a timeline where he, Kaji, and Misato can retire in peace.
Lastly, it is Rei’s turn. In her arms, she holds a doll with the name of Toji’s daughter, “Tsubame,” written on it. Shinji takes this as a sign and decides to create an entirely new world for her: a world without Evangelions where Rei can learn the pleasure of a normal life like her counterpart “Rei 06” did at the start of the film. He ushers her through the gate into this world as it’s being created, telling her that he’ll catch up with her as soon as Mari arrives—as he had promised to wait for her.
However, Shinji soon realizes that to create this new world, he must first eliminate Evangelions from the equation, impaling both the Evangelion and himself with the new spear. This in turn means he will not be alive to enter this new world himself but it is a sacrifice he is willing to make for humanity.
However, as he tries to impale himself, the spirit of his mother stops him and ejects him from Unit 01. With her in Unit 01 and Unit in Eva 13, they make the sacrifice for him, ensuring that their child will be able to find happiness in the world he has created.
With this done, the Additional Impact starts to end and the creation of Shiji’s new world begins. As the souls of all those who have died are reformed into the people to populate the new world, Shinji sits alone on the beach from The End of Evangelion—though now with a bright sky and beautiful clear water.
The animation degrades, first losing color and then becoming nothing more than keyframes as the new world is completed and the imaginary one disappears. But moments before it does, Mari arrives in her Evangelion—which has survived for so long because it is not one Eva but many in a single body. She leaves it as it disappears and moves to join Shinji on the beach—to be his companion in the new world.
This is in direct contrast to The End of Evangelion where Shinji forced Asuka to be his companion—literally making this the reason for her existence (regardless of whether she loved him or not). In Thrice Upon a Time, Mari has chosen to accompany Shinji of her own free will.
Now to be clear, Mari doesn’t really know Shinji. They aren’t friends. In fact, this is the fourth time they’ve ever met. However, his selflessness for those he cares about has shown her what kind of man he has grown up to be. And that is someone she wants to be with (not necessarily romantically) in this new world.
And so the pair appear in the new world. Shinji, the boy who has been 14-years old since we first met him in 1995, has finally grown into a man. He sits in a train station. On the opposing platform, he sees this world’s versions of Rei, Asuka, and Kaoru. Behind him is Mari. Covering his eyes, she repeats what she said to him earlier in the film—showing that she, like himself, still remembers the world they came from. Filled with happiness, the two of them run smiling into the new world they created, the “Neon Genesis without Evangelions.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/d8mf0qDD3Qg?feature=oembed
As the camera pans out, the animation falls away and becomes live-action—showing a random piece of this new world—our world. And moments before the film cuts to black, Hikaru Utada’s “One Kiss” speaks the final words of the film: “I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
This echoes the message of the film—the moral that Shinji learned over the course of the story. If you selflessly love those around you and strive to help them attain happiness, you’ll never be alone yourself. People will respond in kind. This is how we can all make our lives—and our world—a better place.
And I don’t know about you but to me, that’s a damned hopeful note to end a franchise on.