Begun as a way to reconfigure the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, freed from budgetary and technological constraints, Hideaki Anno and Studio Khara's much delayed Rebuild films betray a perspective unwilling to simply repeat their greatest hits, twisting and turning the story of Shinji Ikari far beyond the terrifying apotheosis that concluded TV Tokyo's serial a quarter of a century ago. Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo examined Ikari in terms of redundancy, a spectre haunting shattered barracks, shunned by the two parties battling over the scraps left of Earth. A few throwaway exchanges within the film queried if the little boy rescued from an orbital prison was even the real Shinji - a pressing concern, given that the manufacture of disposable teenagers is standard operating procedure in this universe.
Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time initially puts Ikari to one side, the child experiencing a catatonic depressive episode in which he struggles to come to terms with a world he believes he has destroyed. Surprisingly, several of his school friends have also survived the apocalypse and the tumultuous years since, growing to adulthood - an emotional, as well as biological, state denied to the plug suit children. These survivors live on a partitioned scrap of Japan, an agricultural village, protected by fantastical fencing technology, that works in concert with Miss Misato's massive war machine. Unlike the crew of the battleship Wunder, Shinji's Tokyo-3 High School classmates are welcoming, allowing the young man the time and space needed to reach some sort of emotional equilibrium. While Asuka withdraws - convinced that she no longer has a place amongst non-mutated humans - Rei flourishes.
This Ayanami, a clone birthed from the depths of a death cult laboratory, isn't the same Rei that Shinji tried to rescue in Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance. She's newer to human interaction, exhibiting a robotic baseline tuned to expect, then follow, orders. Freed of NERV's withering expectations, this Rei is able to potter about and enjoy a life of her own - attending school lessons or mucking in with the middle-aged settlers to plant seasonal crops. She's curious too, firing off questions about basic human interaction or oblique interpersonal shorthand. This Rei also gravitates to the infant daughter of Shinji's schoolfriends Toji Suzuhara and Hikari Horaki, shadowing and standing guard over the baby like a faithful family retainer. Miss Lookalike - as the villagers dub her in deference to the fact that this isn't the Rei they knew, no matter how much she looks like her - is allowed some measure of a happy ending; a self-determined teenager, no longer forced to be a sexualised prop in the machinations of a middle-aged man.