Impressions: WTF. Yes, much like others, I was left speechless. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what the hell I saw. The last time I had that disconcerting feeling was the first time I watched End of Evangelion. Given the amazing levels of awesome Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance reached, I was geeked for more of the same, but I was left reeling with confusion, full of questions, and a slow burn that ended in anger.
Spoiler: Shinji wakes up 14 years later, and practically everything has changed. Everything – the NERV organization has splintered into two factions (one led by Katsuragi and the other, Ikari), the Near Third Impact obliterated the rest of the world, etc., etc. Well, except for the pilots themselves – they’re still in their 15 year old bodies. How convenient for merchandising. However, nobody in Katsuragi’s faction gives Shinji the time of the day, which alienates him and drives him to NERV where he befriends Kaworu Nagisa. They attempt to resolve the Near Third Impact, but with disastrous results.
Analysis: What worked was the general disorientation that Shinji felt, which translated to the audience, throwing us all for a loop. Nobody would explain anything – except the worst possible person. The last angel.
What didn’t work? The entire narrative was a colossal failure. When the audience smells calvinball, the audience rebels. I sense the creator Hideaki Anno juggling more ideas than he can handle at once, pretending to know what he’s doing but he’s only making it up as he’s going along. Hint: none of the scenes from the preview at the end of Evangelion 2.0 are in 3.0, which implies that Anno changed horses mid-stream. That may explain why he left GAINAX, home to Evangelion from the beginning, and set up a new studio, Kahara.
Every character that stepped up in Evangelion 2.0 regressed in Evangelion 3.0 Rei, no longer a doll, reverts to her baseline personality-free character. Asuka, matures and accepts otherness, then reverts to pure Tsundere. Worst of all, Shinji, who had discovered a fighting spirit by the end of 2.0, lost it all and backslid to his default Wimpy self. This is easily understood if and only if there was plausible explanation – but none was given, which sabotaged the story’s intent. Bad characterization.
Bottom line: Compared to the classic TV series and the heights that Evangelion 2.0 reached, 3.0 was a failure. Compared to the WTF of End of Evangelion, 3.0 was an unqualified success. It matters how you judge it – consistency, transcendence, fidelity – and I choose to judge it by its own standards. It succeeded and failed. Magnificently.