Tag Archives: Evangelion

Evangelion at 20 – That (Brutal) Age

01

Being young hurts. Never let anyone tell you different. We can wax nostalgic all we want, but youth is the place where all the muscles get their first taste of resistance in the form of daily life. From lessons about co-existence to the heartbreak landmines one must endure, it’s no wonder so many retreat headlong into realms of fantasy. It’s a fundamental reaction to a sometimes relentlessly harsh world, devoid of many things to depend on. It is this core truth for so many that lies at the heart of Hideaki Anno & Gainax’s great claim to fame. Looking back two decades into not only Evangelion’s strange, and world-altering history, but also of my own personal tumult, it isn’t hard to see why it all mattered so much when it was first unveiled upon an unsuspecting public in the fall of 1995.

I can spend erudite paragraphs extolling the virtues of this still celebrated and debated piece of anime iconography, but it felt like something more was required. After all, art tends to connect best with a public that is ready to embrace it. So many factors play roles here that it can often be dizzying. But the goal here is to help best understand what happened so we can at least cursorily chart what has happened since. So with this in mind, let’s look a little into the era which inspired the series, and perhaps unearth why it still connects so well with old as well as young fans. Unexpectedly, or perhaps expectedly if you are sensitive to the state of the world, the realm where we should most prominently look is no further than economics.

It’s often bandied about on many a Japan enthuisast’s site that the 1980s was a time of economic potency. Credit had become shockingly easy to come by, and the banks didn’t seem too concerned about quality. And access to even shades of the high life seemed within reach for many average families. So when things took a turn for the worse come the end of that decade, and a malaise began to set in come the early 1990s, it was in many ways a crushing spiritual blow to all who had grown accustomed to that level of plenty. Notions of familial expectation were raised, only to see these notions come to a halt when the youth of that era saw harder times, especially in regards to employment prospects. Not unlike the effects of the Stock Market crash of 1991, the idea of growing up between expectant parents and the realities of the world outside began to gleam like a sun impacted prism. The break between adults and kids found itself burrowed deep within what the US experienced in the Seattle grunge music scene. After all, what was the point of a future if it was so out of reach?

Such notions were not lost on other forms of art, such as in film and animation, which suffered immense blowback from the ensuing loss of production funds. No strangers to such concerns, was the fledgling anime Studio Gainax, who had been practically buoying themselves to safety since the middling box office of their robust raison d’etre in Royal Space Force (1987). After having entered the direct-to-video market with titles like the jiggle-parody-goes-space-opus, Top Wo Nerae! Gunbuster(1988), and their risky, self-shotgunning pseudo parody Otaku No Video(1989). And soon after, riding the NHK train with the Jules Verne & Miyazaki hybrid, Fushigi No Umi No Nadia(1991), the limping bunch of ragtags with “no business sense”, found themselves in need of a hit. And badly so. Enter, Neon Genesis Evangelion. A title shrouded in veils of so much mystery, that it could only spell disaster from opinions inside and out.

It’s completely needless to elaborate what happened afterward, but it might be good to consider the implications of Evangelion’s arrival, and what has come in the wake of it. Twenty years of anime bubbles and bursts, twists and turns, often reaching to the best of any studio’s ability to harness some of the show’s all consuming fire. Despite chasms in budgets, and often harshly idiosyncratic turns by established icons, few to no series reached such thematic highs. It was, and continues to feel as if Anno’s rollercoaster met a collective wavelength that had little to no room for other serialized series. All it took, was a creaky premise, stark portrayals of archetypes that would inevitably become a license to create thousands of merchandise-worthy knockoffs, and an unerring sense of synergy with the minds behind it. Anime, had suddenly become the mirror image of a once high society’s less considered population. At long last, the disenfranchised youth of a hard driving, win-at-all-costs generation found itself an identifiable icon, and a punching bag for those less willing to acknowledge it.

Shinji, for all his emotional instability and sullenness, is the part of us that we often shove in a broom closet for fear of feeling disposable.

So when the series’ still-debated finale came to pass, to the often exasperation of a first wave of disgruntled internet fans typed furiously. In a great many ways, it was the first show of what would become a cliche in the fandom today. To this day, there isn’t an hour that doesn’t go by where some Twitter war has trails of smoke coming off of my feed, or memes concerning what character trait is the most chuckle inspiring. Yet few television shows have created such a ravenous fervor to the point that the chance opportunity to produce a feature film rendition of the finale would be a blood-smeared retort the likes few franchises have ever inspired. The bile of the complacent fan was about to come face to face with the full-fisted reciprocity of the medium.

All things on the table, for me ,Evangelion ended with the now-laughably titled, The End Of Evangelion (1997). A film that takes the Up With People finale of the show, and vomits it back in fans’ faces. An alternate ending that reduces the heroes into something a lot less palatable, and without redemption. And while other shows have tried valiantly to play the “fans have no idea” hand, rarely has it ever been so eloquently executed. Beyond the works of Tomino, and various others, EoE forces viewers to face these less than flattering elements, and to decide for themselves or not to proceed with the attitudes they espouse so heavily in their incessant commenting. It remains my personal favorite ending, not so much because of its overwrought nature, but it’s will to lay an entire mythos on the line for an exploration into the grandest question of all..

“Why the hell am I here?” – Without offering anything clearer an answer than, to grow.

Beckoning the public to not allow themselves to be prisoners of their own despair seems to be at the core of the best Evangelion has to offer. Any “deeper” interpretations feel lacking to absurd in comparison. What many imitators failed to understand about it was that underneath all the gloom & doom, lies a sincere leveling. Using a largely escapist medium the way it does can be considered verboten, even today. And yet there it defiantly remains. The show understands that youth is but a temporary place, even as so many of us pretend that we never left.

Growing up over a hundred miles from any city in either a northern or southern direction, couldn’t not have a profound effect on how a younger me viewed the world. Being from a desert area, where the expectations for a local kid were to either become a fixture in the local resort industries, or escape at the earliest opportunity, it was easy to find onesself locked in one’s own mind. Unable to connect due to a certain lack of philosophical diversity, and an overall state of economic gridlock, seeing past the world presented, made it hard to envision possibilities, let alone feel motivated to change anything. The pressure did not come from overbearing parents, but of a location’s disgust for its future generations, and a nostalgia that bordered on toxic. But as long as many of us desert children were able to embrace the arts in one form or another, and not find ourselves in the throes of early parenthood or chemical addiction, hope seemed to at the very least be a flat tire fix for a realm rife with shattered glass filled ditches.

But art & words remained my sanctuary, and continue to help shape who I will become, even as these forces can continue to beckon me into a form of submission. One can either be dictated by your passions, or sparked by them. Addiction beyond those that plague our veins is a very real thing, and it can be hard to consider the world and its ever illusory weight. But looking through the very works that helped us process our mutual evolutions rather than ensnare them, shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion remain powerful because they speak to difficult trials many of us face during that most challenging of life periods. To acknowledge the abyss, and to allow onesself to be transformed by expression, is one of the great gifts that art can provide. Being a kid is fucking brutal. Especially when one has little to no what to process what is happening all over. Thankfully, even an often derided form of entertainment can cast a healthy light to help all this madness make a lick of sense. And for this, I am grateful for The Children.

finalayanami

Upon starting this piece, a part of me wanted to talk a little about the Rebuild feature films, when it hit me that the films themselves seem to be less about character, and more about the series as a whole. Which creates something of a distant echo. Something that works more on a curator level than on a personal one. And while that has its admirers, it simply lacks the cutting immediacy and urgent voice. So, forgive?

Sense Impressions: NGE 20th Anniversary Celebration at AX 2015

2015

If you had asked me two weeks ago if I was headed out this year toward the Los Angeles Convention Center for the anime celebration of the west coast, I likely would have given you a proud “no”. Truth is, that after last year’s record attendance, and a lack of compelling guests or panels, it has become harder and harder to keep this convention momentum up. After nearly two decades of this one has to pick and choose their battles, and last year left me parched in the desert save for another chance to catch up with old friends, industry and beyond. So this year was meant to be something of a vacation from what used to be a popular personal vacation destination. I know, sounds pretty silly now, but considering what the medium has meant to me in the wake of Evangelion, one would hope noone would begrudge me the will to catch a breath. So when the grapevine juiced up with the promise of a twentieth anniversary featuring none other than NGE’s pop muse herself,Yoko Takahashi, it felt like something that just wouldn’t allow for my smug avoidance of this now major, mainstream gathering.

So in natural Winter form, I arrived at Hall B far earlier than I had any right or need to. Not a line had formed as staff had informed me that nothing would be happening until roughly 12:30p, with the show starting at 1:30. It was 10:15. Fine. It’s alright. Not feeling terribly materialistic, so Exhibit Hall is out. Nor am I hungry for overpriced poison, so forget eating. Brought a book with me that I long to finish, so the wall of waiting it is!

How little did I know that the background sounds I was hearing behind me was going to keep me from finishing that next chapter on the densha attendant who moved the packets of sarin gas out of a train in 1995, and that the singing I was hearing was Takahashi herself. My book closed as I leaned over to my back left in disbelief. She had just finished “Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze”, and had just started with “Fly Me To The Moon”, Wait-is that the Laputa theme? Suddenly, the reality of where I was, and the significance of the whole event began to take a severe kind of hold over my body. A little over 18 years ago, these songs were just beginning their swirl throughout my consciousness like a larva burrowing deep into me in search of a home filled with food and warmth. The songs from Eva have within them a sort of emotional knowing that composer Shiro Sagisu and Takahashi infused within them that seem to understand the unspoken heart of a series that would come to define not only its director, but a generation of myth enthusiasts. The songs become iconographic, kin to GAINAX’s visual presentation and Sadamoto’s character designs. They are an indispensable part of Evangelion’s entire spirit, and every bit as important as the animation.

There was something very intimate, very curious about listening in to the rehearsal that again let me into the show’s own penchant for process. I could just ignore it, and crack open my book again, but this is process. It’s what attracted me to the entire series in the first place. A feeling of “in progress”, never perfect, always seeking the better. I never expected to be treated to such sounds, even if it was clear that the singer was taking it easy on her voice for the moment. This didn’t come with admission, and yet, this is perhaps the highlight of my afternoon.

A few chapters later, the staff at last led us out back to line up for the show which ended up lasting all of about twenty short minutes before we were corralled into a red-tinged Hall B, where the suspense built in spite of itself. And I say in spite of because the 1:30 show had soon become a 1:53 show due to one delay or another (which is expected of AX, but not accompanied by endless loops of Angel Attack–a song that will now gnaw at my brain should one note be uttered again). So when the lights finally went down, and our emcee at last revved the 3000+ crowd up for the afternoon’s festivities, all felt more than ready to experience what I had already done so, this time at 150%.

And what a sweet demon it is..

In truly top form,a winged & horned Takahashi was both deeply friendly and commanding in her performance, which included the aforementioned songs. (with a side of “Tamashii No Rufuran” – a personal favorite) And while she was given a little time to explain with translation help, the video presentation supplied by Shiro Sagisu’s company (a public premiere), and her upcoming compilation album, her appearance was meant to be but part of a larger whole presented by the folks at Bang Zoom! Entertainment. The prolific dub studio also hosted a charming cosplay contest, a voice acting demo featuring ADV dub veterans, Tiffany Grant, Matt Greenfield, and the inimitable Amanda Winn Lee, and music by ALICE Underground & Eru. And while I couldn’t be happier to see such personal favorites come by for a spell, it was Takahashi’s presence that hinted at an event that never truly materialized. But one can just call this me being greedy, which is more than likely true.

In all, the music was powerful yet brief, the appearances sweet but fleeting. And while I could certainly appreciate everyone for pulling this together with the resources they had, one could also make the case that we at Anime Expo were getting something more akin to a digest celebration. A series of tasteful morsels without going full banquet. Even when the crowd chanted for an encore, the repeat of “Thesis” only hinted at something that could be just that more involved. Or perhaps again, this is my curse of Evangelion. It always leaves me wanting more. Not so much more of the same, but more of that human touch that allows Hideaki Anno’s spirit to reach more of us.

As it is, I felt like all we received was a heartfelt, yet still passing glance as opposed to an intimate glimpse into one of the great modern myths.

The Anno Age: Moving On From Hideaki Anno (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

IV: His, Her, and My Circumstances

Anno’s burnout after Evangelion is well-known. Many fans have interpreted the last half of the End of Evangelion as nothing less than a raised middle finger at fandom, the product of a cynical and angry mind sick of otaku pandering and the merchandising juggernaut that the franchise had already become. Death threats that were emailed to the studio, along with graffiti sprayed outside Gainax offices, flashed by in the film. The suicide anthem “Komm, Susser Tod” played over scenes of the earth’s destruction told of a level of suicidal self-hatred that is still unsurpassed to this day in anime songs. Reputedly, Anno wrote the original lyrics in therapy.

yukinomiyazawa

So when Anno decided to follow up this festival of nihilism with a high school love comedy, adapted from a shoujo manga, fans like me must have been puzzled. Moreover, he interviewed dozens of high school students in preparation for the project, in order to get in touch with the youth he felt alienated from in his time as an animator.

The result, Kare Kano (or His and Her Circumstances), is both a masterpiece of genuine comedy, genuine emotion, and genuine wasted potential. It was even more ragged than Evangelion in its production quality, littered with lengthy recaps, animation lapses, and later a resorting to figures mounted on popsicle sticks. Anno was fired two thirds into its production, under pressure from the unhappy manga-ka. The ending was essentially still shots from the manga with voice overs.

kk1

And yet: I felt transported back into high school once more, with all of its highs and lows, as I watched Kare Kano. Jon, who had given me Evangelion in the very beginning, commented: “this is just like our school.” We had been in the International Baccalaureate program, which was filled with overachievers like Yukino and Arima, perfect on the outside but seething with vanity and insecurity on the inside. The types were immediately recognizable to us. I laughed heartily at the way Yukino’s perfectionist mask slipped at home, and felt heartbroken over Arima struggling with never feeling good enough in front of his distant, formal family. They are perfect for one another in a way few anime couples are, and it was easy to root for them.

Some of the best moments in the series, though, are the quieter ones, where they are in clubs, preparing for the festival. I felt the joys of slice of life, a genre that had yet to fully coalesce in anime at the time. The two of them were not always obsessed about their relationship; they had lives outside of each other and I felt that, as imperfect as it was, Kare Kano presented the most comprehensive emotional account of high school I had seen. I still feel the same way.

Though Anno was only partially involved in a way, his work had once again opened a door: a realization that beyond the emotional trauma of Evangelion and the heroics of Gunbuster, anime could also simply depict ordinary life well too. Other titles would continue that tradition—Honey and Clover, Toradora, the good parts of Sakurasou, to name a few—but Kare Kano arguably helped make that possible.

shot0006
Doesn’t that pose look familiar

V: Interlude

Kare Kano was Anno’s last anime for many years, as he began to experiment with art house film, to varying degrees of success.

After college, I began to drift from anime fandom. There were only so many times one could rewatch Evangelion, Gunbuster, and other titles. The new titles that were being released at the time, the early 2000s, were of only sporadic interest to me. It was the golden age of the harem and dating sim anime, with the slice of life age waiting in the wings, and while I watched and enjoyed some of them, no title ever captured my head and heart the way Evangelion had. Fullmetal Alchemist came close, but was compromised by a muddled ending. I watched part of Ideon to see the inspiration Anno had taken for Evangelion, but I got a formulaic robot show instead. RahXephon is a polished show and compelling in its own right, but it is still just a response to Evangelion at the end of the day. It cannot exist independently from it: for one, Anno and its director, Yutaka Izubuchi, are good friends….

Shiki-jitsu: that's so Anno
Shiki-jitsu: that’s so Anno

I remember trying hard to track down a copy of Shiki-jitsu, Anno’s second live action film. I remember little about the film itself, other than a red umbrella and Anno’s continuing obsession with trains. The wild creativity that had fueled such emotionally intense experiences in animation felt tired and even tame in the much larger world of film. As a fan of arthouse cinema as well, and judged on those terms, I found Anno’s work lacking in emotional resonance. The symbolism was clumsy. Not even Shunji Iwai, who starred, could save it. The idol was toppling.

Welcome to the NHK and Honey and Clover brought me back into anime fandom. I remember thinking that the former title was as intense as my memories of the latter parts of Evangelion, but this time grounded much more closely in real life, in the ennui of being in your 20s and the desperate search for meaning. Honey and Clover also did that, in a more poetic and gentle way. Looking back, there was something very teenage about Evangelion’s angst, one that I couldn’t identify with anymore: the raw wound of youth mellowed with age into wistful melancholy, a mood that H&C and the best slice of life shows capture so well.

So by 2006, arguably the last golden year of anime in the past 10 years, I was back in anime fandom once again. But my Age of Anno was over.

Is this what we've come to? (Then again they once did sell
Is this what we’ve come to? (Then again they once did sell “LCL Fluid” OJ…)

VI: You Can (Not) Return

It was announced not long after that that Anno would return, to remake Evangelion. Nostalgia stirred within me when I heard the news. By this time, Anno had married, inviting his mentor Hayao Miyazaki to his wedding. He had given a controversial interview with the Atlantic decrying porno manga readers, Japan’s lack of military forces, and the overall lack of maturity in society. The article praised Evangelion as being as influential in Japan as Star Wars was in America. I was amused, and wrote a commentary article in the early days of Anime Diet about it. Anno, my old hero, still had a whiff of the orneriness that had created those unfiltered works I had so loved, once. But it was now directed toward the outside world, and in a way that was utterly conventional: the opinions of an ordinary center-right middle-aged individual in Japan.

Which is why, despite their flash, polish, and excellent choreography, there seems something exhausted and lifeless in the Evangelion remake movies. Maturity, age, and happiness appear to have smoothed out Anno’s edges. Shinji is still confused and hurt, but not for too long. Asuka is no longer tortured with feelings of inadequacy and rejection, just angry. Rei wants to cook now. The only element that is original to the series–the new girl Mari–is hardly even a character. An attempt to steer the story in a new direction in the third film falls flat by no longer being focused on the vital heart that beat throughout the original series: the search for identity and place to belong in a collapsing world that places impossible expectations on you. The operative emotion in the new films, instead, is guilt: after everything is already collapsed, how do you put the pieces back together?

Anno, reputedly, felt tremendous guilt after having finished the lengthy Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water series in the early 1990s. He thought he might be wasting his life making subpar children’s entertainment, though the amount of creative control he managed to wrest from NHK in the concluding episodes still surprises me: it is almost a direct foreshadowing of Evangelion in every aspect. The darkness had already begin to creep up on him, but he used that darkness as fuel, which propelled him toward his masterwork.

Yes, this is from Nadia.
Yes, this is from Nadia.

The problem is that he stopped there. Anno would never make another original work after Evangelion: everything since then has been an adaptation (Kare Kano, Love & Pop, Shiki-jitsu) or remake (Cutie Honey, Eva). It is as if he had only one story in him, and left with nothing else, he has returned to that story to try another variation. Now older and wiser, presumably, but Evangelion was and is not supposed to be a work of age or wisdom: it was a cry of frustration that resonated with an entire generation of frustrated Japanese youth in the 1990s. That, more than pictures of Ayanami Rei, or merchandising, was what made Evangelion so enduring and popular, even outside anime circles. No anime had been so emotionally and psychologically raw, capturing the zeitgeit of the post-bubble years.

And no anime had so spoken to me so directly, in those weird drifting years between childhood and adulthood, a time that is now wrapped in emotional gauze by the anime nostalgia masters like PA Works, Makoto Shinkai, and a million lesser imitators. Otaku today, it seems, prefer the safety of such works, and there is a place for them: I enjoy many of them myself. I watch a story penned by Mari Okada and recall the more melodramatic moments of my teenage years, when every emotion is new and explosive; I watch Makoto Shinkai or Ano Natsu de Matteru and remember the yearning romanticism of those days.

nge_09

But it was Anno who spoke to the fear, the shame, and the self-loathing: the parts of life that cannot be borne for too long by anyone, but need to be brought to light and confronted. A human being cannot live in that state forever, which means that a show like Evangelion, and the Age of Anno, has a built in expiration date for a fan. We all, hopefully, grow out of it, as Anno himself has. Now he’s a successful husband, voice actor, dramatized character, car salesman, and more. But he was our companion once, the one that understood, and thus, in its own way, gave real comfort.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

–Leonard Cohen

The Anno Age: Hideaki Anno and My Early Fandom (Part 1)

I: Insufficient Depression

The problem with Hideaki Anno these days is that he seems too happy. At least that’s the impression one gets from reading his wife Moyoco’s account of their life together, Insufficient Direction, which was only recently released in English translation. Granted, the manga is actually about a decade old in reality, but if the account is true, Hideaki and Moyoco share about as tender and settled life as two insiders of the anime/manga industry can be. Anno freely does Ultraman poses at home. He plays CDs full of anisons in the car and sings along, at the top of his lungs, the words to various tokusatsu series. The couple’s dialogue is peppered with references that require a lengthy glossary in the back of the book to understand. Moyoco makes Hideaki lose weight, after living a well-documented diet of pizza and beer in his Gainax days. He acts like a big baby sometimes, but then again, so does she–she even portrays herself as one, nicknamed Rompers.

2014030415181

“Her manga accomplished what I couldn’t do in Eva to the end,” he writes in the foreword, with the hyperbole only a loving husband can summon. “I’m amazed by my wife. I feel like she has more talent than I do.”

And I think, reading this affectionate tribute: great for him. Isn’t this what we all want in our lives, to find someone who not only understands but even shares our deepest loves and passions, and redirects them for good? Hideaki Anno is living the otaku dream, the one that seems so unattainable for many that 2D is the alternative: fiding an ota-wife and being fans together.

Yet. Just a few lines later, Anno writes:

After Eva, there was a time when I wanted to stop being an otaku. I was sick of the stagnation of the anime industry and fans. I was filled with self-hatred back then. I was desperate.

He writes of that time in the past tense, of course. But it was that Anno who created that work of self-hating desperation, that classic pile of frustration and chaos that we call Neon Genesis Evangelion. It was that Anno and his work that drew one 18 year old kid, just out of high school and on his own for the first time in college, into the world of Japanese animation at the turn of the millennium. That kid would search the nascent world of anime websites searching for all the theories about the meaning of Eva’s ending, the Kabbalistic and Jungian references mixed with the ersatz Christian symbolism, about the controversies it stirred throughout fandom, and most of all about the man who had created it: that crazy director who put his name in huge block characters in the credits, HIDEAKI ANNO. He was my first anime hero.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 12.37.15 AM

II: Neon Genesis Evangelion is Too Bad

It was my high school friend Jon who gave me those two CD-ROMs, with faded silkscreens depicting Rei, Shinji, and Asuka. They were packed with all 26 episodes of the TV series, as well as the Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion movies, in the now dead VIVO format. The video playback, by our standards, was choppy and blocky, the subtitles sometimes barely readable.

The year was 1999, and I had just entered college. I had picked, not entirely willingly, computer science as my major. Every once in a while, in between classes in the engineering building or at late nights in my dorm room, I’d sneak in a few episodes to watch. I’d also watch them occasionally at home on weekends, where my mother seemed rather non-plussed by this new phase of watching Japanese cartoons.

The show seemed fairly ho-hum to me at first, a typical boy-meets-giant-robot tale. I vaguely noted the rather prominent notes of parent-child conflict and the slightly non-linear way the story was being told, but it was really episode 6—where Rei almost sacrifices her life for Shinji, and he rescues her in a way reminiscent of his hated father, that stood out to me. Here was a bit of character complexity that I was not expecting from animation.

wpid-nge-remastered-ep06a2000adivx-ac3-01

I kept watching, laughing at the clumsy symbolism, the lack of technical knowledge. Soon, the end of the year and the end of the millennium loomed. We went to Chicago to spend the rest of the year at a Christian retreat. The youth speaker there tried to make us anxious about Y2K. I carried, pretentiously, carried out a copy of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death with me during most of the sessions. I had also brought my laptop, my very first, to the retreat, and it was either on December 29 or 30, 1999, that I saw episode 17.

My relationship with animation changed forever after watching that brutal, bloody episode. Up to that point, I had seen Evangelion as a compelling, interesting character study of a typical Asian teenager: buffeted by distant parental expectations, forced to bury his feelings much of the time, wanting to run away but being unable to escape. Shinji is desperate for even a scrap of praise from his father. But the betrayal in episode 17, as he watches his own Eva tear his friend apart, was on another level altogether. It cemented the feeling of powerlessness and despair that had I had yet to put a name to in my overly busy high school years, being alone with only my putative writing talents and chuunibyou imagination to give me solace. The screams of Megumi Ogata, Shinji’s seiyuu, chilled me both in its intensity and its resonance.

tumblr_inline_nd9xubA45A1qi19p2

From that point forward, I was a fan. How much of one? I even loved the original ending. For many, it was no-budget pretentiousness. For me, it was therapy, words that I had longed to hear.

Who made this masterpiece? I had to know. Gainax, Hideaki Anno: the new stars in my constellation, next to Orson Scott Card and Terry Brooks and Isaac Asimov.

gunbuster2

III: Buster Beam

In the early 1980s, Hideaki Anno was a student at the Osaka University of the Arts along with his friends Hiroyuki Yamaga, Takami Akai, and later Toshio Okada (the Ota-king). He loved Ultraman and loved sci-fi and loved Space Battleship Yamato, and Space Runaway Ideon. He had a remarkable ability to draw dynamic animation scenes, the talent that is wildly on display in the Daicon III and IV films as well as his early key animator work for Nausicaa and Macross. But before that, he was a fan, an otaku, a connoisseur.

My interest in anime and especially Anno’s anime ignited, I began to search for his other work. The first one I tried was his directorial debut, the 6 episode OVA Gunbuster. Gunbuster, which was written in part by Okada the Ota-King, is nothing if not the work of otakus and connoisseurs. My knowledge of anime and manga being limited at the time, I did not recognize the Gundam references, the Ace wo Nerae parody, or the other cliches that were lovingly sent up in the series’ first half. Or rather, I had read about them, but I did not feel them in my bones with way Anno and his comrades surely had. Like many things in my life, my intellectual knowledge of anime outstripped my experience.

Nevertheless, the story of Noriko’s evolution from clumsy crybaby to self-sacrificing heroine was as moving as it was traditional. I remember sitting slack-jawed at the ending, as the screen filled with the lights of homecoming and the black and white became color. Then I cried.

acgp18o

Years later, when I watched it again, I still cried. Who doesn’t want to be welcomed home after a long, long time away?

And at the very end, in almost modest small lettering:

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 1.03.22 AM

That man, again. I’m not sure how much he had to do with the directorial choices in the final episode, but his name was cemented in my mind as the author of this masterful conclusion. After all, he was arty, with the strange angles, the Godardian flashing text in Evangelion. From black and white to color, that was like The Wizard of Oz. It had to be him.

It also showed that there was a time when he was so earnest, so hopeful. The heart of darkness in Evangelion had spoken to my own darkness at the start of my anime journey. But now, moved back several years, it seemed that the young Anno had something to say to me too, that sacrifices were worthwhile, and that there will be someone waiting for you when you come back.

To be continued: Kare Kano, and what comes after Anno.

O Captain! My Captain! Wherefore Art Thou, Captain Earth?

Captain Earth, Studio BONES’ and Yoji Enokido’s latest mecha series, stands at the end of a line of anime that began with Neon Genesis Evangelion and continued through Bones’s earlier mecha output, from RahXephon to Eureka Seven to Star Driver. That it suffers by comparison to the earlier titles seems not only an indictment of the show itself, but of the decline of the sub-genre of anime it stands in. After nearly 20 years, is it time to bid farewell to the Mystical Mecha Series?

The_End_of_Evangelion_shot
Would you have guessed this started as a giant robot show?

The Mystical Mecha Series

By Mystical Mecha Series, I mean anime that feature (often) bio-mechanical mechas under the control of troubled teenage pilots, who undergo abstracted moments of introspection laced with religious, psychological, and mystical symbolism. There is often an aspiration towards philosophical profundity, where characters will openly discuss the meaning of life, identity, and courage. An stoic-but-cute girl is often instrumental to the mystical elements of the plot. The scale usually ends up being global or cosmic by the end, with the whole world or all of humanity at stake. The ending often reaches toward some grand fusion or harmony.

Experienced anime watchers, of course, will instantly recognize the root template of these series: Evangelion. Screenwriter Yoji Enokido, fresh from having written several seasons of Sailor Moon, was a junior screenwriter for Eva. Having cut his teeth with Hideaki Anno’s mad mess, he would go on to write some of the most original stories in anime, from Revolutionary Girl Utena to FLCL, but he would also end up contributing heavily to Evangelion’s most direct imitator, RahXephon. RahXephon would attempt the same serious, high-flown tone as the earlier series, exchanging the loosely assembled Kabbalistic and Jungian imagery of Eva for Meso-American mythology. Whether it succeeded is up for debate—I personally think it is severely underrated—but what it helped to solidify was an approach to doing mecha series that Bones would return to in Eureka Seven and, a bit later and to a lesser extent, Enokido’s own Star Driver. Other studios, of course, have done their own purpoted responses to Eva, from Yoshiyuki Tomino’s failed Brain Power’d and more comedic franchises like Dual: Parallel Trouble Adventure, and more distant series like Gasaraki essentially won permission to be more mystical than before: but it is Bones’s series that have kept faith with the vocabulary, approach, and direction of mecha anime that Evangelion began. And Enokido was involved as a screenwriter for many of them.

captain-earth-episode-1-7

Captain Earth and His Problems

Which is why it was a disappointment to see the jumble that Captain Earth became, after a strong start. It begins by invoking some of the most time-honored giant robot tropes, old and new: the teenage boy with the special ability meets the stoic, possibly mystical girl. He has a unique, biological bond with not so much the robot (Earth) but the living weapon he summons, the Livlaster. An elaborate, high-budget transformation sequence occurs in nearly every early episode, all the way to its midpoint. For the first third of the show, when it begins to descend into monster-of-the-week monotony, Captain Earth had a real vitality to how it applied these old archetypes, with a great score and initially excellent battle sequences to match. Even the designs of the computer screens and the Globe font was stylish:

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 12.58.43 AM

Also in keeping with the Eva tradition was the haphazard use of literary references, in this case Shakespeare’s plays “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Macbeth” with a splash of “Hamlet,” not to mention the use of the “Globe” Theater. Mostly names, rather than plot elements, ended up being used. A psychological edge was conferred by using the terms “libido,” “ego block,” and “neoteny” in rather novel, perhaps incoherent ways, on top of the other invented jargon that is a hallmark of Enokido’s anime. The window dressing of these seemingly intelligent terms was particularly threadbare in this series, however. There was little or no connection in the Shakespeare name-dropping to the story being told: does the evil AI have to be named “Puck,” the trickster character who mostly messes up romances in the play?  (Puck does sort of do this in the show, but still.) What does the big corporation that designed the Designer Children have to do with Macbeth? And if libido energy really was what was holding humanity together, then Aquarion EVOL did a far better job exploring the similarity of giant robot unity with orgasm than this rather emotionally forced series. To be fair, such things have always been window dressing, but when combined with odd organization names like “Salty Dog” the lack of seriousness in the show’s approach makes its artificiality even more glaring.

A serious man in a serious show.
A serious man in a serious show.

Unseriousness and artificiality: perhaps those are the two chief flaws of Captain Earth. By unseriousness, I do not mean the presence of comedy, fan service, or jokes. Eva had plenty of all three. Instead I mean the willingness of the story to give its own concepts and characters the consideration and respect they deserve. When a series takes its ideas seriously, it will not throw around names and jargon willy nilly. It will not casually violate previously established rules of the world. It will not wink excessively at the audience at how silly it all is. (Of course the latter is fine if the main goal is comedy, and Enokido got a better sense of this in Star Driver, which with its Galactic Bishounen was appealingly ridiculous.)

The problem is that, especially at the end, Captain Earth asks the viewer to accept vague handwaving and “the strength of our feelings transforms into power” as the answer to all the plot holes and inconsistencies up to that point. Enemies are dispatched with ease and casualness until the very end, despite rhetoric about their fearsomeness, and they simply do not behave or even look that menacing, despite how in theory they could instantly destroy the world. This renders all the pseudo-profound jargon and illusory world building up to that point meaningless, especially when the plot can be boiled down to: big AI becomes evil, takes possession of love interest, former enemies must unite with protagonists to defeat big baddie and save love interest. All the mumbling about transfers and ego blocks are unnecessary and the deliberate ambiguity of Hana and Daichi’s fate at the end is maddening rather than pleasingly mysterious. That is a fundamentally unserious approach to storytelling.

The risk, of course, in taking one’s ideas seriously is pretentiousness—there are moments in RahXephon when the mystical hoohah level is off the charts. Yet, by the end, while not all things are fully explained, the basic ideas are clear and there’s a sense of satisfaction that at least emotionally, all the important threads are resolved. In a way, RahXephon worked in part because it was not ashamed of seeming ridiculous in its fusion of Aztec and Mayan myth and crackpot theories: it followed them through all the way. The sheerly imitative parts of Eureka Seven were mitigated by genuine emotional sincerity and likable, well-developed characters who changed over time: basic storytelling virtues that overcame some unanswered questions at the end.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 1.05.39 AM
This is not my beautiful house, these are not my beautiful designer children

This Weak and Idle Theme, No More Yielding But A Dream

For me an emblematic episode that illustrates Captain Earth‘s flaws was the 23rd episode, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (for once, an thematically appropriate Shakespeare reference) where Daichi is trapped in a dream state by the various Designer Children. Interestingly, there is a similar episode of RahXephon that portrayed the same dilemma for the hero: whether to return to the illusory comforts of home or to continue on the mission (episode 11, “Nightmare,” written by the screenwriter of Serial Experiments: Lain, Chiaki J. Konaka). The RahXephon version, however, was emotionally potent and agonizing for the protagonist. It used his mother, Reika, and his friends to tempt him back to his previous state, and the viewer sees how difficult the choice is.

In the Captain Earth version, Daichi remains fairly emotionally flat, the only sign of anything wrong is his feeling that he’s “forgotten” something. Rather than using familiar people, the Designer Children—his opponents and enemies in the show—are everywhere, which defuses any tension for the viewer because we are immediately tipped off that this is their attack. Moreover, the moment he realizes what is going on, Daichi shows no struggle or hesitation: he knows he must go back to his mission. He has not one hint of self-doubt afterwards.

Perhaps it is the fact that I came to fandom through Evangelion that puts me off this current trend toward super-powered, stoic, unerring heroes: the Tatsuyas and Inahos and Daichis of current anime. The Evangelion template worked in part because the heroes were flawed and struggling people, and doing away with that cuts out the emotional heart of what made those stories compelling. The half-hearted romances in Captain Earth do not make up for the flat characterization of all the main leads. Only Teppei shows even a smidgen of it due to his dual nature, and Daichi shows a spark when seemingly forced to choose between his friend and humanity: but, of course, he ends up winning both.

Sound and Fury

In some ways we have come full circle. Captain Earth has a lot of the trappings of the Mystical Mecha Series: the references, the world-shaking plot, the alien instruments and the girl to match, and even a bit of the abstraction—but little of the heart or the boldness that characterized the best of those shows. Enokido knows it’s fundamentally silly, so he has Salty Dog talk on cans with a string. He knows audiences today go for less self-doubting heroes, so Daichi is not allowed to wrestle much even in his own internal dream states. He was present with Anno at the creation of this genre in the 1990s, but even he can’t seem to summon it any longer—and, for that matter, neither can Anno himself, whose Evangelion remake films have sacrificed character and introspection for glossy action too.

Maybe that is the true marker, then, of this era’s end, the curtain call for this type of mecha anime. It was what got me into anime, but times change, as do tastes.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done.
–Walt Whitman, “O Captain! My Captain!

Hidenori Matsubara: Interview at Otakon 2014

HMatsubara

We had the privilege of interviewing longtime animator, character designer, and animation director Hidenori Matsubara. A longtime colleague of Hideaki Anno, he’s worked on most major Gainax projects as well as the recent Evangelion Rebuild movies. His work goes back to the late 1980s and includes titles like Oh My Goddess, Steamboy, and the upcoming film At the Corner of the World.

This transcript is based on the on-site translation, and has been edited for clarity.

Computers have changed the animation process a lot. What are some of the benefits of using digital and what was it like using a computer to do animation for the first time?

[With digital processing,] I guess there is less deterioation in the final processing. Before, when art was transferred to a cel, there would be some decay. That’s the best part [of using digital]: there is no more shifting of the art when it’s transferred to celluloid. There’s no more dust, no more scratching. Before, there used to be this gigantic camera that takes a picture of the cel, but with computers there’s a lot more freedom of expression.

As for modern techniques, it’s more like I didn’t have a choice, so I just went along with it.  One day in 2000-2001, when doing illustrations for magazines, I was given the company’s final celluloid. That was it for cels; there was just no choice.

Has the use of digital processing changed his own day to day work greatly?

It hasn’t really changed. For me, it’s still pencil and paper. Some people work on tablets and with the computer, but I haven’t. I never tried it, so I don’t even know if it it’s easier or not.

Do you think one man animation projects like Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star are where things are headed in animation? Or is this a temporary thing?

That type of person and production exists, but there’s a variety of productions out there too. [After all], Shinkai works on regular anime now. Everyone’s different; like, Shinkai is really into doing backgrounds himself, whereas [Hideaki] Anno likes doing the layouts himself. Each director has a way of doing things. It’s not like a self-animation would be the only thing out there.

Speaking of Anno, you’ve worked with him for a long time. How has Anno changed or stayed the same over the years?

Nothing’s really changed. He’s like a big shot now, but basically nothing’s changed.

What was it like working for Gainax in its early days?

I started [at Gainax] on Wings of Honneamise; I was a total newbie back then. Then I was an in-betweener, and promoted to key animator for Gunbuster—which was Anno’s first directorial work. After that there was Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, where I became an animation director for the first time. And after that was Otaku no Video.

Since Nadia was a TV series, I was one of many animation directors. But for Otaku no Video, there was only 2 animation directors, so I was happy to be chosen for that one. As for the Evangelion TV series, I was busy with a lot of other things, so I only contributed to a part of it, but I did have a lot of fun.

So just how accurate was Otaku no Video as a depiction of Gainax then?

It’s not wrong! Maybe it softened up our image a little. [Gainax] basically started as people in their early 20s in a nameless company making a movie, and all those people are basically big shots now, so that’s impressive.

You mentioned in an earlier interview about how courageous Wings of Honneamise was and how perhaps a project like that wouldn’t have been greenlit now. Do you think courage plays a large role in the creation of anime?

It’s really up to the individual, to personal feeling. Maybe I did have courage back then, but when you’re young, you just don’t think about things like that.

RahXephon: Ten Years Later

 

 

And so an unprecedented little thing came to a satisfying conclusion ten years ago today. Even when it was by no means a runaway hit, as a TV anime, it was the kind of high romantic/artistic response many just didn’t see coming. In a year where former Patlabor mecha designer, Yukata Izibuchi is undertaking the mother of all anime remakes with the cross-media event, Yamato 2199, it might be great to also celebrate his first foray into anime direction, RahXephon– A series many seem to have forgotten, but in many ways put a nice, eloquent bow on a most interesting run of experimental (and occasionally broken down mid- process) shows that began with Shin Seiki Evangelion. Taking pages from Yusha Raideen & Megazone 23, RahXephon told the tale of 17-year old Ayato Kamina, and his travels beyond the confines of his once-thought-to-be comfortable life, and into a larger world (literally). Sharing many of the tropes of the ever-reliable “boy fights alien threat with pop’s robot” plot, the series is also very notable for taking many narrative cul-de-sacs, and is more interested in the lives of its characters than merely mecha fighting. It was a series with a large pedigree behind it, and yet was far more novel-like in minutae, and elegant in presentation.

 
With Ayato suddenly thrust out of the world of Tokyo Jupiter, he is soon acquainted by a number of individuals claiming to be part of a paramilitary initiative combatting alien invaders known as the Mu. This shocks our protagonist, as he had long thought the world nearly completely depopulated, and Japan one of the remaining nesting grounds for humanity. And in his shock, many within his previous life are suddenly suspect as the new world he is beginning to understand seems primed to strike at the bizarre sphere now surrounding what was once Tokyo itself. Alongside operative, Haruka Shitow, and various others, Ayato must come to grips not only with his “destined” place as the operator of a mysterious mechanical god, but of those he loves left behind within Tokyo Jupiter. An often beautiful, and beguiling mixture of eastern and western myths, and a paen to human expression, Izibuchi’s collaboration with writers, Chiaki Konaka and Yoji Enokido remains something of a last remnant of TV anime’s previous generation.

 
During, and immediately after its initial run in 2002, it was more than easy to see why so many viewers would have dismissed it despite its ambitions. Firstly, as previously mentioned, Evangelion had only ended a few short year before, and was easily the first thing that came to the minds of many upon first glance of this series. Second, it was presented with an unusual color and line palette that was unusual, even when anime budgets were suddenly beginning to rise after years of decline. And third, for a mecha drama, it certainly lived up to the “drama” part of it’s general label. There was indeed a dedicated following on both sides of the Pacific, but it in no way came close to what many would consider a runaway success- cable TV runs, or no.

 
But beneath the similarities between RahXephon, and the aforementioned television phenom, lies something that while casual anime fans might not catch, tends to hit others square in the heart; an artistic response with a lot on its mind about Anno’s final analysis. What comes together in RahXephon, is something of a directly converse retort by way of revealing the value of acquiantance. Togetherness & diversity versus self-imposed isolation, and additional themes of a collective need for inspiration play heavily throughout. There is a certain pluralism that acts as a mirror, thereby offering up the reasons why certain works find themselves capable of transcendence. And it also (personally speaking) remains a television series capable of inspiring a sense of awe.

 
So did Izibuchi succeed in what he initially set out to do with RahXephon? Yes, and no. Anime has been playing matters almost wholly safe for the last several years. And even as certain shows flirt with becoming more than mere product, it’s been a long time since any series has been able to reach well beyond the familiar to tell a uniquely human tale. More often than not, the best shows of the last several years have been either too remote, or too knowing of their inspirations to reach that raw barrier. Even Izibuchi has had to do a straight-up remake. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t still possible to deliver both the ability to absorb, and provoke discussion.

 

Bridging The Gap: Anticipation 2012

Whoa. 2012 is has been off to a brisk start, and Spring seems to already be in the air. And even though the year has started off without a surprise breakout a la Madoka, one cannot help but feel like some greatness in the form of old favorites, the long awaited return of a genre-bending master, and more seem to be on the horizon. And not merely in regards to shows and films (although there are a few worth making noise about here), but in ventures that could very well change the anime market landscape for the better. To be completely honest, it has been a truly long time since someone like me has felt any real modicum of excitement about the coming months.

So let’s give a few moments to consider these potentially mark-making projects, and what they could possibly offer.


1. Uchu Senkan Yamato 2199

You guys have no idea how thrilled I am for this massive revival project. Far better than any of the previous movie attempts to resurrect Nishizaki/Matsumoto’s science fiction allegory classic, this big budget retelling of the Voyage To Iscandar has an equally large pedigree of talent and familiarity. It’s a project so large in ambition, the first 50 minutes of the series is to be premiered in a few weeks in select theatres in Japan on April 7th. Sporting modern animation, featuring some unique takes on all-time favorite characters via Nobuteru Yuuki (Escaflowne, Harlock Saga, X/1999,etc), and impressively updated mechanical works by way of Makoto Kobayashi (Super Atragon, Last Exile, Steamboy). For seiyuu fans, seeing Daisuke Ono cast as Susumu Kodai was definitely an eyebrow raiser. And most standout is the appointing of former mecha-design icon, Yutaka Izibuchi (Patlabor).

This is perhaps one of the more standout decisions for me as I remain in that cult of folks who happened to deeply enjoy his directorial work on RahXephon, so when considering such a huge heritage inheritance, this in many ways feels very appropriate. And even if the rest of the series won’t be seeing TV screens until next year sometime, there is no shortage of high hopes for what could very well be a stellar reinterpretation of one of anime’s greatest sagas. Among the recently developing news regarding the project continues to come in, noted fans like Tim (www.starblazers.com) Eldred , and August Ragone have been doing a bang-up job keeping English speaking fans up-to-date. Most recently through the pipeline is an announcement that the upcoming Blu-ray release of the first two episodes will be coming complete with English subs!

Yamato remains to many as one of the medium’s most heralded mythologies, and it looks like no expense will be spared in the months to come—all in hopes of bringing such a universal story to an entirely new audience while being deeply reverent to fans of the past.


2. Sakamichi No Apollon

A long injustice seems primed to come to an end. Despite a few scattered projects where his hand could only be seen in select areas (Star Driver, Michiko To Hatchin), director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) returns with a secret weapon for this period series centering on young jazz lovers during the 1960s.

There isn’t a whole lot to report regarding this at the moment, but mere words cannot express just how long the medium has felt something wholly missing. And while the criminally underseen Hatchin contained a great deal of Watanabe’s signature touch, there simply hasn’t been much of a truly international flavor to anime in a while. Budget concerns from studios aside, a void has certainly been there without Watanabe’s knowing, confident vibe permeating through a television work. Not to mention that his last big series, Samurai Champloo, despite its deserved place in the pantheon of wildly original pieces of “ought” anime shows, was also missing an element that made Bebop such an iconic achievement: Yoko Kanno. The very idea that Kanno is hard at work complimenting the aural space of Apollon is reason enough to celebrate. But to consider that they haven’t worked on a major project since Cowboy Bebop: Knocking On Heaven’s Door (2001), is just plain perplexing as their styles feel synergistic to a fault (even going back to their mutual work on the OVA favorite, Macross Plus), and considering the source material in Yuki Kodama’s manga. It’s very possible that we’ll be witnessing something of a mutual labor of love, which can translate into some truly unique, personal work.


3.) Feature Films

There’s also feature films waiting in the wings, such as the latest from Mamoru Hosoda, as well as the return of a massive revival which seems primed to delve into uncharted territory.

Well, the early teaser pretty much confirms it; Hosoda is ready to assume the populist throne from Miyazaki with his latest movie effort, The Wolf Children Ame And Yuki, a lushly animated tale that takes place largely in the countryside, centering on a single-parent family with a pair of wolf-children. It’s really hard to say where it will be going, but there is definitely a Tonari No Totoro vibe going on here, which is interesting. Being almost completely bereft of technological imagery does give off a feeling of newness to Hosoda’s usual repertoire, so it can go either way quite easily.

And we don’t really have to spend too much time left speculating what Studio Khara has in store for Evangelion fans when the third Rebuild film, Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo comes this Fall. And in lieu of very real disaster, it will be truly fascinating to see where this rendition of the mecha classic will go. Having pretty much obliterated the original story with the finale of 2.0, we(and the creators) will now be in completely virgin territory which can only remind one like me of the days between episodes of the original series, which seemed like a painful eternity. So, magnify that by a couple of years…I’ll wait..


Lastly-

Is the stunning, hint-laden bombshell that was shared over at ANNCast last week. It was dropped by anime simulcast translator & subtitler Sam Pinansky, who also shared quite a bit regarding the process of keeping up to speed with bringing anime to streaming screens. But what he could only talk around at the moment hints at a future of not only anime, but media in general that could very well take a large, positive leap for a more democratized media sphere.

For the whole thing, click me!

For those looking for the jist? (Skip to 31:00 minute mark!)

Mr. Pinansky is hard at work preparing for an ambitious undertaking that is happening via Yomiuri and several other media entities. This group of companies are looking to take a giant step forward by creating a one-stop streaming/Kickstarter business for not only recent, but classic anime, as well as television shows and movies! Pretty much open to redefining what we know as the classic distribution model, fans from all over will be allowed to put their money where their mouths are, even going so far as to allowing more independent artists and personalities to be supported for potential projects. And as mentioned at the beginning, a streaming home for many an older series that had yet to ever see the light of day in subtitled form. A hybrid site akin to Youtube and Kickstarter sounds like an idea too ambitious to be true, but it seems ready to roll out come late summer/early fall.

Think of it: all content, all directly supported, and zero middle-entity. This is the kind of thing that many have long feared that the Japanese networks and studios were completely unwilling to venture into, and it suddenly seems near time when the other shoe finally up and drops. If this risky gamble works, it could help rewrite the media market narrative, and that is simply thrilling.

So that’s what I’m most eager for this year thus far. How about you? Anything on the path in the anime/manga worlds that has you owned for the year?

Diary of an Anime Lived: The Slice-of-Life Age, Part 1

Or, a caricature of how anime has evolved in the last 15 years.

Today, many of the most popular, acclaimed anime TV series are labeled “slice-of-life” shows: tragicomedies about the ups and downs of ordinary life like Honey and Clover, or quirky, plot-light ensemble comedies like Azumanga Daioh or K-ON!. It’s quite a shift from the kind of SF/fantasy anime that were being held up as exemplars in the late 1990s, back when I first became an anime fan, and it’s a shift that seems to track with the way my own life has changed since then.

Part 1: F&SF&E(va)
I have been a fantasy and science-fiction fan all of my life, and I started writing my own stories in those genres in elementary school. Being a stereotypical kind of nerd, complete with the thick glasses and the social awkwardness, the book that most moved and reassured me was Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Ender was both brutalized and brutal, a child praised and cursed with his gifts and the responsibilities they carried, and unable to relate to other children normally as a result. Card, at his best, portrayed characters with both compassion and hard-edged honesty about their flaws, particularly in the sequel, Speaker For The Dead. Despite my voracious appetite for novels by David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and Isaac Asimov, I never could find another SF writer who quite managed that balance in my younger years. His stories were not just cool, but moving, and true to the human condition as I understood then.

Would the Ender's Game manga look like this?

My attraction to anime was, at first, an extension of my love of SF and fantasy. Record of Lodoss Wars was actually the first anime I watched all the way through—and despite its rather elementary plot, it fulfilled my appetite for a different take on traditional Western fantasy. Ghost in the Shell of course fit the cerebral SF mold, not too unlike stories by Arthur C. Clarke or the movie Blade Runner. Akira at least had spectacle and the post-apocalyptic mood.

As many of you know, though, none of those shows captured my heart the way Neon Genesis Evangelion did. The words I used back then was: “this is a Japanese Ender’s Game.” On some forum in the deep recesses of the Internet, in 2001-2002, there are posts by me arguing the very same. While Ender and Shinji are very different characters, the situations they are thrust within are very similar: world-consequential battles where they have little say in their fates. Shinji, though, was much more “Asian” than Ender, the product of the parental neglect and tyranny endemic to many Asian and Asian-American households. It was easy for me to identify with him, and more closely than I could with Ender. And Eva at its best also had the same mix of brutality and compassion which I found so compelling in Card’s novels, though perhaps Anno was harder on his protagonists than Card ultimately was. There was a sense that he was expiating his own sins and trying to warn otaku of going down the same road in the original series and movies, a raw confessionalism that the polished remakes seem to lack.

I needed that hardness, that unflinching glance at the depths back then. Catharsis isn’t supposed to be painless. It felt like a new experience, to see a ”cartoon” do the sort of thing that Ender’s Game and Speaker For the Dead had done for me years before. And while it was new, it was also deeply continuous with my love of SF/F. Anime wasn’t really a separate thing for me then. It was one more notch alongside my copies of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Lord of the Rings and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

My voracious search for information about anime began around that time, and I discovered an entire world of anime and gaming that drew upon Eva’s well of dark, psychological SF. There was the story of Final Fantasy VII, Serial Experiments: Lain, and the later homage RahXephon. There were parodies, like Martian Successor Nadesico and Vandread. And if I wasn’t in the mood for SF, most anime series contained some fantastical elements, and not necessarily of the Western medieval variety like in Slayers or Lodoss Wars. Even the romances, which I was just beginning to discover, had overt fantasy elements: Ah My Goddess!, Kimagure Orange Road, Video Girl Ai, to name a few.

There were, in short, few shows that had no fantasy or SF elements on the radar of my fandom then. Little did I know that in those days, from 1999-2003—my college years, and the first period of my fandom—the ground had already begun to shift in the anime landscape.

To be continued in part 2: the hinge years


This is part of 21stcenturydigitalboy’s ongoing Diary of an Anime Livedseries, which is a blogosphere-wide series of articles about the intersection of anime and personal life.

 

Anime Diet Radio Episode 47: V-Day is D-Day

…because a new, Valentine’s Day appropriate, episode has just landed on your virtual shores to invade your ears. It looks like we’ll probably be sticking to a monthly release schedule for this main podcast for the time being, though of course you’ve probably noticed how much more active our podcast feed has been as of late with audio columns, videos, and even songs. We want to keep giving you only the good stuff and showing you all our love!

In this episode, we tackle some juicy, loving news items, including the Evangelion live-action project and its refusal to die, making your own clone, and of course, flying flocks of female underwear courtesy of Sora no Otoshimono–made real! There’s a mailbag section, at last, and to top it off, a roundtable section about what lonely male otakus can do on Singles Awareness Day.

Finally, we would like to again remind everyone that Pam of Makenai’s dog Hachiko needs money for life-saving surgery. Please see this link for more information, and click here to donate.

Technical note: there were some audio issues here and there, namely the lack of my good microphone and some increased fuzziness from time to time. Don’t worry, it’s still very listenable–well I think so, anyway. Complaints will be put on file–the circular file!

Show Order

  • (00:00) Introduction
  • (05:12) News 1: Live Action Evangelion Project Still Alive, Somehow
  • (13:50) News 2: A Robot Clone of Your Very Own
  • (22:32) News 3: Panty Flocks, Flying in the Air
  • (30:50) Mailbag
  • (44:40) Roundtable: Tips for Lonely Otaku on Valentine’s Day
  • (55:52) Conclusion

Show Notes

  • OP: “Perfect-area complete!” by Natsuko Aso.
  • ED: “Baka Go Home (バカ・ゴー・ホーム)” by milktub
  • The story about the live action Evangelion project’s continuation was at Anime News Network [http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2010-02-04/producer/live-action-evangelion-project-still-active].
  • The story about the robot clones is at Weird Asia News [http://www.weirdasianews.com/2010/01/13/japanese-store-offers-robot-double-deal/]. An article about Roxxxy, an adult entertainment robot girlfriend, can be found with pictures at HuffPo [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/10/roxxxy-sex-robot-photo-wo_n_417976.html].
  • The flying panties story was originally reported on by Canned Dogs [http://zepy.momotato.com/2010/01/30/flying-panties-to-go-on-sale/], which includes a picture of one of the flying contraptions.

The Zen of Eureka Seven

Freedom writ large.

Take one gangly kid, one cooldere, and a bunch of heroic rebels who just want to live free. Put them in a dystopian future where an almost-magical element, trapar, generates lift forces and enables them to defy gravity. Mix in mecha, a threat to the world, and an uneasy peace. Serves seven: Eureka Seven.

Continue reading The Zen of Eureka Seven

Because I Can’t Resist Pointing This Out

Many of you are no doubt aware that Gainax is not actually responsible for the Evangelion Rebuild movies. Instead, an Anno-created outfit called “Studio Khara” is the actual production company. I was wondering what “Khara” actually meant…until I saw a storyboard from the production. “Khara” is actually a Greek word (this might look funny if you don’t have a Greek font):

χαρα

(The first letter is a “chi” pronounced like “k.” Normally, it’s romanized as “ch” so had they said “chara,” I would have been tipped off earlier.)

“Chara” means “joy” in Greek. Being a seminarian with a tiny bit of knowledge of New Testament Greek, I checked my lexicon to see what NT passages would contain a prominent use of this word. I found a rather famous one, actually, in Luke 2:10:

γαρ ευαγγελιζομαι υμιν χαραν μεγαλην

Or, in English,

For I bring to you good news (euangelizomai) of great joy (charan megalein).

Euangelizomai, of course, is just the verb form of “proclaiming the good news (euangelion).”

So. Guess what project Studio Khara brings out first? That’s right, Evangelion. Coincidence? I think not.

Maybe Anno’s done his homework this time after all!

HT: KT + Anime, which inspired me to look this up.