Would chance to direct boyhood favorite franchise convince Hideaki Anno to push back the release of his seven-years-in-the-making Evangelion finale?

There’s been a slow trickle of good news for fans of landmark anime franchise Evangelion over the past several months. Last summer, rights-holder Studio Khara announced that the fourth and supposedly final chapter in the Rebuild of Evangelion film series will be released in 2020, eight years after part three. This was followed by a brief but gorgeous teaser trailer, and at the end of January came perhaps the most encouraging development yet, as members of Eva’s all-star voice cast gathered for a formal ceremony/party to celebrate the beginning of in-earnest production work for the highly anticipated theatrical feature.

▼ The teaser for the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie

But now there are some dark clouds showing up on the Evangelion release forecast. Japanese entertainment industry Internet portal Nikkan Taishu, quoting unnamed industry insiders, says that Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno will be involved in the production of a live-action movie based on seminal tokusatsu special effects series Ultraman, to be called Shin Ultraman.

The scenario sounds plausible, as Ultraman, along with Godzilla, was a series that Anno grew up watching and loving, and Evangelion’s weighty, methodical action direction owes more to those two live-action series than it does to the routinely fast and sleek movement of other giant robot anime. In 2016, Anno got a chance to live out one boyhood dream by directing Shin Godzilla, which was a surprise hit that grossed 8.25 billion yen (US$74.3 million) at the Japanese box office, largely thanks to the infusion of Anno’s personal style and sensibilities, so he’d definitely be a popular choice to give the Ultraman franchise a similar theatrical shot in the arm.

▼ The rumored Shin Ultraman is not to be confused with the new CG Ultraman Netflix anime, seen here, with which Anno has no involvement.

However, Nikkan Taishu’s sources also claim that Shin Ultraman’s producers want to start filming this coming winter, and while a chance to leave his mark on the Ultraman franchise would no doubt be an exciting development for Anno, it would be considerably less so for Eva fans. Anno serves not only as the chief director for the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, but also as their sole scriptwriter. In other words, if Anno, who isn’t the speediest filmmaker to begin with, isn’t focusing on the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion movie, odds are the project’s progress is going to grind to a halt, since it’s inconceivable that he’d turn the heavy script or direction responsibilities over to someone else for the anime that’s so connected to his personal thoughts and feelings. Anno even apologized at an event in 2016 commemorating the completion of Shin Godzilla about how his directing the kaiju movie had required slowing down the fourth Rebuild movie’s still-incomplete march to theater screens, and given his stature in the entertainment industry, it’s unlikely Anno would be brought in to do anything less than direct Shin Ultraman, which would require a major time commitment.

If there’s one thing anxious Eva fans can take heart in, it’s that there’s yet to be any official announcement of Shin Ultraman or Anno’s involvement. So maybe the director won’t make a second foray into live-action movies, and the fourth Rebuild film will actually come out in 2020…or maybe the third possibility, that Anno neither directs an Ultraman movie nor meets the 2020 target for Eva, will come to pass.

All we can do is wait, which is something Evangelion fans should be pretty used to by now.

Source: Nikkan Taishu via Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/KING RECORDS
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