Upon catching up with the news via Twitter, among all the other amazing things happening yesterday, news came that Animeigo’s ambitious Blu-ray Kickstarter had ended to incredible success. More than excited to hear that the final numbers absolutely crushed the proposed $40,000 goal with a whopping $102,869, the upcoming release plans will likely live up to and beyond initial promise. And now that the initial crowdfunding leg of this particular tour is at an end, Paypal will be open to those late to the party. Sure, goodies that were set up for those who participated won’t be available, but do not feel too left out. The hallowed Secret Master Of Otakudom edition is jam packed with celebratory sweetness for even the most pokey of supernerds.
The recent Japanese release contains not only a lovely transfer, but also an all-new commentary track featuring Shoji Murahama, Kikuko Inoue, Hiroyuki Yamaga, & Yuki Sato. The Animeigo release also promises an english commentary track by none other than Gilles Poitras!
All these bells, whistles, and glory for what exactly? Well in case you’ve been on these intarnutz over the last two decades (strangely an equivalent to being under a huge rock), Gainax’s Otaku No Video remains a poignant, and often self-effacing document on an era of anime fandom that deserves remembrance. And while we certainly have evolved into forms far beyond in that short span of time, the roots remain as relevant, and possibly as dangerous – as ever. For those with a need for that added nudge, please read.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Well there’s a feeling I haven’t experienced in an age. Looking back at the first piece I slapped together regarding Studio Trigger’s initial leap into the television series gauntlet, I’m pretty sure there was no awareness of what would happen. In fact, one could say that I was a bit of an unabashed naysayer regarding Kill la Kill. On its face it seemed like just another hyper-referential Imaishi noisefest. And while it maintains this facade throughout the 24 episode run, I sincerely didn’t expect to love it as much as I do now. Now, the mental drifting goes back toward his previous works, and it is clear that this is a show that required a few big warmups before happening. This is a refined and wisened Imaishi & Co., taking on roughly 40 years-plus of a medium’s history, and coming up with one of the most satisfyingly warped serial experiences I have ever witnessed. And just because they are wisened, this in no way implies matured. As far as wacky shows go, Kill la Kill is unrepentant, even as it treads classic alpha vs. omega stories with aplomb. (and that is exactly why it works.)
We can talk all day about the show’s referential nature, but to do so would mean to undermine what Imaishi & Nakashima have fashioned here as pastiche. In order to do this, one has to grasp why this is so. When one thinks of not only anime, but film in general over the last several decades, we must consider the role of post-modernist works, and how they succeed beyond the obvious. And to do this, we must think of some of the most effective uses of direct filmic response over this time period. Star Wars, Matrix comes to mind. The point is, it doesn’t matter how referential your show becomes. What matters is if it is in service of a larger story. And this is where KLK pretty much wins across the table. There is an inherent knowing behind all of the creative decisions. One that might not be as clear to some viewers, but it is present throughout the posturing and fighting.
The goal here is one of deceptive restraint. (Yes, I said “restraint” in a Kill la Kill discussion.) This is where we see a visual nod to a classic work of the past carefully embedded in service of the project’s larger themes. Not merely apparent for obvious reasons, but more as a direct symbolic response. And this is but one place where this show succeeds. It rarely to never feels superfluous, nor tacked on merely for nostalgia reasons. There is a more aware, more heightened reason as to why. Confession: upon my initial viewing of Gainax’s Top Wo Nerae! GUNBUSTER in the early 1990s, there was a feeling that something was being missed in my neophyte mind. I earnestly was not aware of all the anime & classic science fiction nods that were happening throughout, and I was taken by it regardless. THIS – is precisely the kind of effect that is happening here. It does not require us to be medium junkies in order to appreciate it. It’s just enough a melange of past and future, that it hardly seems to be issue-worthy.
So what we’ve just discussed, factors greatly in why the show ends up becoming as multifaceted, and exciting as it is. As much as a lot of it is TRIGGER’s way of respecting their sempai, and doing good by what they learned from their elders at Gainax, it is also a story of generational strife, and what it often does to families. Threads that find themselves at odds by reinforced beliefs between the generations lies burning at the heart of the show. There is a genuine concern for this tension between parental expectation, economic interests, and independent thinking. Even as the world is at last briefly shown as a complete, naked, and honest entity, the show implies that this is a constant struggle. One far beyond one massive spacebound battle for the soul of humanity. With this playing itself out in the most ridiculous, visually assaultive manner possible, the series kind of gets at the heart of why I love anime in the first place.
Before being whittled down to a calculated series of tropes and ideas ready for market, anime was far more emotional, far more unrestrained & far more surreal than it has been for years. And while many may argue that it is only in the post-1990s that we have come to a place where indeed everything and anything could happen within the form, it has long become something synthesized. And by this, I mean..controlled. Kill la Kill is kind of a kiss off to the current model and is also keeping the best elements of the past slung happily around its shoulders. The legacy of many a young, hungry, intense artist is at the heart of Ryuko Matoi’s battle for familial understanding. And even though we can see the initial episodes as being a perpetuation of oh-so many expectations based on toy and hobby item sales, the remainder goes out of its way to see well past all this to become its own, wild, restless entity. By the end, so many of the show’s more questionable qualities become moot, and the focus becomes resoundingly clear for all anime studios to see. Uniformity as an end goal – quite the terrifying prospect to the heart and soul of this project. It sees what has happened, and is daring more fans and makers to alter course.
This is exciting stuff.
So where to now? Where does one go after such a profoundly crazy ride? I could lie, and say that Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan could serve as a happy methadone for the days and weeks ahead, but seriously. This was a show (let me correct myself, IS..a show) that makes careers and possibly leaves a well-planted mark in the story of anime. Whether one finds personal value in the madness inherent or not is beside the point. As a production, it is all something of a miraculous thing to exist. Like a stubborn weed amongst forests of uniformed concrete, the tale of the Kiryuin family, the Makanshoku family, the Elite Four, Nudist Beach, and others find themselves as singular in a medium landscape that will continue to feel fresh and exciting for a long time to come. If TTGL was a loving appetizer, then KLK is that obstinate, scrappy main course that can make one want to be a punk chef of their very own.
Twists at breakneck speeds, revelations abound, and allegiances reversed. There seems to be no stopping the heartpounding freight train that is Kill La Kill’s final stretch of episodes. Common cause has been unveiled, leaving it a war of nudes versus clothed avatars of shame, and former enemies now aligned with the once thought only rebellion. With many of the principle roles now falling perfectly into what could be considered destined ones, only one element remains dangling precariously; heroine, Ryuko Matoi. Traumatized, distraught, and more than a little angry about the truth of her origin, her rudder is all but completely broken off. Unwilling to see herself as part of any side other than her own, it is up to a most unexpected ally to make a grand leap in hopes of her salvation. (even if it means beating the tar out of her first..)
Contrary to what the internet would like you to believe, it’s often a great pleasure to be wrong. Looking back at twenty episodes of Studio Trigger’s grand kiss-off/GAINAX love-fest, Kill La Kill, one couldn’t truly be faulted for being a tad presumptuous after years of often disheartening material. So what happened to make this jaded naysayer hit the about-face button so violently? Well, the show as it has been thus far owes much of its success to not only understanding the so-called Gainax formula so well, but to how well it eschews so much of what often hobbles many of the mother studio’s shows. More about playing with form, rather than clumsily taping together with function. What Imaishi and company have successfully fashioned, is the first truly post-Gainax series. One that takes everything since Top Wo Nerae!, and amps up the levels to near murderous methedrine levels, complete with hair-raising cliffhangers every week. Honesty time, it has truly been a long, long time since I have felt this way with any show.
Say what one wishes about previous Imaishi efforts, this is the first truly breakthrough series from a director who’s style has often overridden any semblance of meaning within and without. As great as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan is, there remains a feeling there that is more akin to a dry run at “Hero’s Journey” territory. What KLK offers up, is something both representative of his powers as a stylist, and as a fledgling visual satirist, doling out both incredible energies and sneaking wit beneath oodles of crimson chaos. Even when the show hits an occasional iffy note, more often than not it is countered with something far wilder and more insane that what had come before. Always on the brink of total collapse, the show flirts so often with the bad, and yet it corrects course as if performing a high-wire act, knowing full well that the key to a successful display of showmanship, is the semblance of fallibility. KLK seems to know very well that it’s playing matters quite close to the wire, and yet it never steps away from the edge of that ravine.
And it’s all in the service of some very real concerns regarding the delicate balance not only the young must maintain in life affairs, but everyone. Even as the show has made it alarmingly clear that issues are to be approached in grandiose, broad strokes, it does so with such a deft, visual manner that it almost becomes a moving political mural. A warning, not only to the elder otaku set, but to all passionates that the moral standings we take are often of a musical chairs nature. One of the show’s biggest stylistic triumphs is in how it eschews a lot of the typical muddled anime thematic posturing that bogs most series down, and allows action to dictate more. Even as characters spout out about their requisite viewpoints, it is often within battle that their truest intentions for the world are made clear. Imaishi seems to finally have grand control of his best strengths(visual hyperbole and overt visual metaphors), and is hitting far more than missing this time around. And Nakashima’s story supervision has kept the story developing at such a uniquely effective clip, that one doesn’t mind so much when grand escapes happen, and one is asking questions as to how. This particular story is about the language of action, and what happens when we run so hard against another that we begin seeing the other side’s attributes. That there is more than one justice in the world, and in life we find ourselves dabbling in more than one to see what fits. The origin of community as we strive toward larger goods despite differences. While some of these were indeed explored in TTGL, it feels so much more refined and singular here.
And yes, I realize the absurdity of using “refined” to describe a series that largely consists of largely disrobed teens fighting to the tune of immense collateral damage. But despite all the anarchy and unisex debasement on display, it all seems to be in the name of greater ambitions for anime on television. Even if Kill La Kill’s final stretch turns out to be a typical series flameout, it will no doubt be spectacular. I can’t imagine the staff behind this having it any other way.
(Oh, yes. And I have to remark here that I kind of geeked out about those flashbacks regarding a younger Ragyo & Soichiro Kiryuin. Their hair. Maaaan.)
Having traveled far, with a small hill of defeated enemies behind her, sailor fuku sporting toughie, Ryuki Matoi may very well have found those responsible for the death of her father in the brutal regime known as Honnoji Academy. With the net abuzz post pilot episode, it looks very well like the spirit of Ryoko Ikeda is alive and kicking with a perverse blood transfusion via Studio Trigger’s Kill La Kill. The latest series directed and written by the same team responsible for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan, Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima. A project that retains much of the predecessor’s warped yen for riff, with production to spare. And what the pilot episode seems to give off, is in many ways a return to Gainax’s classic formula where tried and true staples of the past is given an often hyperbolic, occasionally hypersexed sheen.
As for whether this debut works or not, perhaps it’s best to admit that outside of style, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal beyond the expected wild imagery and occasionally awkward sexualization of action tropes. While it is everything one would expect from Imaishi and crew, there is not a great deal more here beyond the establishment of the lone fighter versus the totalitarian school and their gallery of student council weirdos. Yes. There is certainly a masculine Utena at work here as posturing is fiery, and bold text is whooshing across the screen. The presentation is brutal and vibrant, but there is something clearly already missing from the proceedings. While one can be considered grateful that the scatological fetishism of Dead Leaves remain long gone, there remains an ever present “why”, in regards to making jokes at the expense of a character being assaulted. There is no good reason, outside of some strange aim to be humorous- which is tricky to get behind.
With a “boyish” attitude, and readiness to take on a seemingly invincible army of single-minded stormtroopers in strength enhancing uniforms, the show’s apparent bent comes at the latter half of the episode when Ryuko stumbles upon, and is accosted by a talking, animated (!!) seifuku known as Senketsu. And what ensues, is best described as an attempt at a humorous rape scene, which ends with our heroine becoming near-invincible. (again, interpret as you will) And while one can also see the episode’s remaining minutes as something of a sideeye to such a creative choice, as Ryuko seems to maintain her aim as unyielding avenger, it is pretty hard to shake off. Also in the choice’s defense, is a reminder that a lot of Gurren Lagaan’s more playful subtext involved the occasional homoeroticism that tipped the balance in a fun sort of manner. And it isn’t hard to see how this is element is going to play out with the first episode’s head baddie in masculine-dressed student council president, Satsuki Kiryuin. Not sure how to feel about that one.
So for what it’s all worth, Kill La Kill debuts with a great deal of the expected immature machismo & penchant for bending the classics. Will I be able to weather it’s storm of usual suspects throughlines, as well as its clear “clothing is weakness” trajectory? Only a few more courtesy viewings may tell.
Oh, and did I happen to mention that Ryuko wields an extra large half of a pair of red scissors?
When we last left Tokyo-3, the world had suddenly reached critical mass as one Shinji Ikari took it upon himself to break the confines of possibility to rescue a thought-lost Ayanami, to the impending destruction of all around them. But alas, Third Impact is thwarted by the surprise appearance of one Kaworu Nagisa, who contends that this time, it is he who will grant the always hapless Ikari “Happiness”. Flash forward, and Ikari is now at the center of a spectacular rescue in orbit by Mari, and a now one-eyed, and very much alive Asuka. It is after this that Ikari comes to realize that he had been in suspended animation for roughly eleven years, and that the world and friends he once knew have taken an almost completely new tack. With the newly-formed organization, WILL-E, Misato, Ritsuko, the lieutenants, and the rest have taken it upon themselves to rebel against Shinji’s ever resolute father’s still forging-ahead NERV. And this is far from all, the boy’s role in what could have spelled the end for all involved has made for some startling new revelations involving his choices, and everything he holds dear.
Only made worse by the turn that he may have in fact, done all of this before..
Enter Evangelion: Shin Gekijyoban “Q”, part three of the four-part Rebuild Of Evangelion film series.
Things I Liked About Evangelion 3.0 1. The Bold Setting
The choice to break completely free from the confines of the familiar is among one of the most exciting things about the whole affair. It’s no secret that this is very much what has kept me most involved in these films since 2007. If there is anything that Evangelion has successfully offered up in regards to lasting impressions, it’s in the design works of the world, its characters, and the overall texture. And in the case of Q, we have a bounty of spaces and ideas to play within during its running time. While the previous two largely flirted with bringing the design aesthetics into The Oughts, there was still quite a bit of retro-future still working as a mid-1990s filter for consistency. And here, we get ships, buildings, entire geographic structures & machines with an almost fine art feel coming off of it from nearly every frame. It, along with the film’s aggressive editing all proves intense to the point of fetishistic at times, and often dizzying to absorb in one sitting. Q wants to be an explosion of pure-anime nuance, and while other elements may lack, it is here that the film impresses.
2. The Animation
Since the film was delayed a few times during its troubled production, there are action sequences here that are about as dumbfounding in their animated prowess that it could only have been made by obsessives. From the disorienting, and eye-raping rescue sequence at the opening, to the bizarre finale, there are details that will perplex, and perhaps inspire those into the integration of computer, and old fashioned cel animation. Cameras do the impossible, while titans and aliens clash, leaving little to chance. Clearly, extra time was devoted to making this an ultimate demo reel for some very talented artists under Anno & Tsurumaki’s wings. It’s like Disney on a bad trip.
3. Shiro Sagisu’s Score
With sounds ranging from the operatic, to the quietly emotional. Sagisu unleashes his greatest arsenal here, while not forgetting what I consider to be major characters in the Evangelion universe, the lone piano and brass. It’s clear from the offset, that this is Evangelion with all the stops ripped out as familiar themes(From even more Gainax/Anno collabs- As 2.22 contained a lot of Kare Kano, there is a lot more updated non-Eva stuff this time. ) weave into some truly evocative refrains, and updates to previous movements. The addition of electronic pulsing, raging guitar, and the return of the lonely analog sounds from the original series makes for a bit of an emotional ride outside of the film. It’s easy to see how many rushed to catch the film in theatres just for the packaging alone.
4. The Promise Of Upping The Ante (Between Generations)
The idea that one generation of Evangelion seems primed to duel it out with the previous is a compelling impetus for this series. Q is the unveiling of a deep divergence, and as such, it surely has the feel of creators more than ready to take their classic into uncharted territory. The challenge (of course), is figuring out how it can rival the original whilst making a name for itself by itself.
5. The Cast
As always, one of the biggest highlights of the Evangelion franchise is the cast. And here, there’s zero exception as everyone brings their game to the event. Still shocks me to this day how much Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, and Yuko Seki still sound their parts after all these years.
What I Didn’t Like?
Just about everything else..
Let’s call this as it all really has been, a battle of wills (both for and against) between father and son.
To the complaints that immediately arose from early screenings, on one hand, they seem to be right on the mark declaring the film overwrought and more than a little strange considering all that had come before. On the other, I can see what was the creative germ was for such a choice. To do away with the TV series’ voice-over therapy session, and to present Shinji in a world that literally doesn’t need him, is a conceptually visceral one. It’s only that when the film is tasked with giving us more in regards to the whys, hows, and whos, that the whole thing feels less like a continuation of the series, and more like a crew yearning to do something else. It attempts to be the more contemplative section to the series, but frankly isn’t patient enough to follow through. Rebuild Of Evangelion, if taken as a four-section story, we are at what is meant to be gap between the second and third acts (often known as “triumph of the villain”, with Shinji being his own worst enemy), and as such, it requires some much-needed information regarding the world we are now in, and the status of all the major characters. And even though Shinji’s meeting and subsequent burgeoning relationship with the ever mysterious Kaworu Nagisa is given a fair amount of coverage, there is nowhere near enough granted to anyone else. Things just happen, and we’re expected to follow along without any real context.
In all fairness, the setting choice is something that Anno & Tsurumaki have tackled before. In fact, thrusting the world forward near the finale is something of a GAINAX staple that goes all the way back to Top Wo Nerae!’s last two episodes. Even Imaishi’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagaan resorts to this flash-forward technique. (Sagisu’s gargantuan renditions of tracks first used in the latter section of Fushigi No Umi No Nadia should prove to be the largest tip-off) This is perhaps the first time in which it is employed with Shinji’s (and in turn, some fans’) villification in mind. Instead of discussing his neuroses, and legendarily touchy relationship with his reality, we are dropped willy-nilly into a world that is the polar negative of the one he chose to undo, thereby illustrating his growing need to become something he had such a hard time grappling with back in the original timeline. It’s a purgatory of his own making, and the entirety of 3.0 is merely a shallow representation of it, punctuated by two grand scale action pieces that seem far more interested in the engineering wizardry of the staff than in telling a comprehensible story. The machine fetishization leven in these sequences are so detailed, and even surreal that while all of it unfolds, one realizes that so much more story could have been covered. (shades of STEAMBOY) There is even this lingering feeling that this was not the film as initially planned. The whole affair feels like a troubled production, real-life natural disaster notwithstanding.
Another film that comes screeching to mind, is Back To The Future II, which also dealt largely with awakening to a parallel world that houses the protagonist’s worst possible fears. In the world of Evangelion, even doing nothing remains a choice. And what we have here is the end result of several iterations, temporal choices that have led to this point where virtually every road going forward presents unwelcome consequences. The caveat here, is that there is no simple Macguffin with which our heroes can find themselves out of this bizarro realm.
Another of the most important casualties this series of films has yet to avert, has been that of the characters. While many might point out that with a film, it is expected that many would get short shrift in the name of pacing, it troubles me that so much of these movies offer up so much time to action, and so much less about character motivation, and expect spectacle to compensate. In classic summer movie fashion, this is rarely to never the case. And with a story as often technical and operatic as Evangelion, it’s a little sad to see such a rich cast get whittled down to a mere series of inflated cameos. It doesn’t help that everyone’s motivations have been changed without us understanding anything, but it only gets worse as new crises keep coming up, offering up very little in the way of consequence, or hint as to where these new aims are coming from.
The biggest offender of this is in the character of Mari, who has been fun to watch in action, but since her introduction in 2.0, has yet to show any agency but to be another figure to sell to the maniacal. With small hints, leading to a bizarre speech last time, to merely playing support to eyepatch Asuka, we continue to get nothing about her and her role in the greater scheme. While some fans may wish to point out that there is one more movie, to not do this in TWO films is pretty suspect. It only makes her look that much more superfluous. It’s pure pander-bait, and not the kind of thing one does in a big film series that seeks to be both grand and personal.
And speaking of pandering, this is pretty much where much of the biggest issues I have with Q reside. Instead of offering up a more dramatically sound summation of where Shinji has led us and his friends astray, once our lead meets the ever-angelic Kaworu along with a strange-behaving Ayanami with NERV, the film almost screeches to a complete stop–for fujoshi-baiting of the most egregious kind. From their initial meeting, to the beautifully animated piano duet, the oozing of the doujinshi-fueled grue puts the off-putting product-placement to complete shame. Had they figured out how to integrate their meeting with more actual story from both sides of this newfound conflict, it all might have been fine. But as it is, it’s largely distracting, and nowhere near as functional as it could have been. It seems to know what buttons it wants to push, and it’s clearly not buttons of those who prefer a little more meat to these fancy bones. It’s relentlessly disingenuous to the point of almost hearing the director(s) asking us “HAPPY NOW?” to the plunk of Comiket change.
But therein lies perhaps the saddest part of the whole Rebuild affair; that we are one film away from a series that wants to be a revealing status report on the minds behind one of the most important animated series of all time, as well as a commercial blockbuster. And as it stands, this has been the feeling that has dogged me since the first film. That the packaging offers up plenty of bang for the buck, but that it never settles down long enough to actually chew on its own ideas in service of making its points. One thing the original series was so astute about, was in how they made it clear that the trappings were nowhere near as important as what was going through the minds of all that were experiencing these psychological trials together. Evangelion at its best was always about relationships, and the blockage that can happen when intentions diverge harshly, even between family. Now Q was delayed, partially by the tumult caused by and around the Tohoku quake, and subsequent tsunami, and nuclear disaster. And as such, we can cut a tiny bit of slack in knowing that some things are unavoidable. But this can’t fully be what was initially planned. There is very much a feeling that the Rebuild series could have gone in a very different direction (the Next Episode break at the finale of 2 offered up some dramatically unique things). It all feels like a general throwing up of well-animated hands.
I have come to peace with the idea that the original Evangelion series was a failure that exceeded expectations, and worked simply because it was a deeply personal reflection of one person’s struggle against personal demons and production ennui. This time, we have a failure that just attacks without provocation, focus, or reflection. While I applauded when Anno & crew split off from Gainax in the name of creative freedom, this all feels reflexive, and not as impassioned about context so much as fan-jerking. Where the original stumbled almost- ungracefully towards a memorable conclusion, the new just falls flat on its face – and that makes me sad.
And so it turns out I come out of half-hibernation to reflect upon a pair of interesting announcements to come out of Day One of this year’s TAF (Tokyo Anime Fair). It seems as if a number of souls out in animeland see it the right time to revisit a pair of old favorites. Favorites that even now, helped establish the anime medium as a global contender for thoughtful & amusing science fiction storytelling. And while both touch heavily upon a period of time that is especially close to my heart, one has me giddy with delight, while the other kind of plunks onto the tile like a neglected piece of fruit. And while both are far from either surprising, or potentially earth-shattering, I find them amusing enough to fuel a few brief paragraphs here at least.
The first of these two, comes courtesy of long defunct creatorship, HEADGEAR, whom have delivered upon recent rumblings to bring us back to “Late 1990s” Tokyo with a new PATLABOR live action project. Just in time for Maiden Japan‘s announcement today regarding the DVD re-release of this hard science fiction comedy favorite.
Personally speaking, I could not be more ecstatic. There was something inherently grounded within the world of the SV2, that could translate well in live action. Unlike most projects of this ilk, it’s a choice that makes great sense if one is versed in the world of the series and its memorable cast. Even when the show was at its zanier points, one of the biggest strengths of it all was the interplay between the cops, the higher-ups, and even the mechanics as they struggled to maintain civil peace against ever troubling techno-creep. If HEADGEAR and crew play their cards right, this could very well be on par with the best adaptations of its kind. The tone of it gels almost organically with how Japan makes their big films these days anyway.
And while they haven’t yet specified as to whether this means the project will in fact be a television series, special, or a feature film, original co-creator, Mamoru Oshii was among the few who were hinting at this project weeks ago.
Elated hardly covers it for me.
Then comes the announcement from Gainax..
I never thought it would ever see the light of day, but it looks like early Gainax is ready to come back in a big way with Aoki Uru (AKA Blue Uru), the spiritual follow-up to their prolific, original raison d’ etre, Royal Space Force (AKA Wings Of Honneamise). This is a project dating back to the late 1980s-early 1990s, when the G-folk were looking to expand the universe of their feature film milestone, roughly during the time between Nadia and Evangelion. Re-ensliting the talents of studio head, Hiroyuki Yamaga, and famed character designer, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, the old copy once shared rough synopses of a more action-centric tale of a fighter pilot and his quest to rescue his girlfriend in a Streets Of Fire-inspired tale set in the Honneamise world of early space travel & flying machines. The announcement came ripping old memories from long thought forgotten chests of olde today, and to be completely frank, I’m not terribly sure if excitement is the first thing that comes to mind.
It’s simple if I just went ahead and laid it out like this; Age & zeitgeist often do not make for great bed buddies. In fact, more often than not, when a noted creator comes back to familiar territory, it is often a 70-30 proposition that it will not connect on the level that the original did. (One need only watch Prometheus for extended proof.) And while I am more than happy that some big names (and seeing Sadamoto take on something of this size again does make me grin ear to ear) are finally taking on something that does not involve a high school, or clueless teenagers, I cannot help but feel that this is another case of “way too late, man”. Royal Space Force, while not a blazing success upon its initial release, was done so in a time where experimentation was almost encouraged, and genuine alternate-world drama could in fact be made into a feature. A large part of that film’s success is mostly in its grandiosity, and almost tragic naiveté by a group of young animators who didn’t realize just how foolish their grand vision had become from an ambitious short, and a series of lush illustrations. Adding 25 years to this, and one cannot help but feel like this is also not going to have the reckless abandon that the world of Honneamise requires.
But who knows? Perhaps my concerns are for nothing, and Yamaga can finally find himself out of the dregs of projects past (Mahoromatic, anyone?), and back into a realm that best reflects his passions.
One day out of TAF already. Here’s hoping there are a few more squawks from the big wigs that can match these two, because it’s going to be hard to top.
“pictures came and broke your heart
we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far”
– The Buggles
After some time passing, along with some negligence on my side, I have come to realize that more than just the witnessing of the rise and fall of an entertainment enterprise, but of the tenth anniversary of a singular event of the anime otaku timeline. How any times can we say that we bore witness to blunt force trauma by guitar, teleporting robots via cranial space, satellite knuckleballs, John Woo bullet free-for-alls, wanton pop culture references, streams-of-consciousness musing on everything from Hideki Kaji to ironed brains as indie rock blares out like a psychedelic greek chorus from space all within its few scant hours of running time? Hideaki Anno‘s talented disciple, Kazuya Tsurumaki’s straight to video experiment, FLCL (Furi Kuri) was something akin to an end-all to the so-called “edge anime” boom that came on the heels of his senpai’s Shin Seiki Evangelion, a series for which many can consider the last great game changer for the anime medium. Of all the would-be landmarks of the post-Evangelion era, it was the legacy of this OAV that helped cement japanese animation as a propulsive force in contemporary creative media by looking at the walls laid out by masters of old, only to laugh in its face with a rare childlike glee by also introducing many fans to animation bad boys like Shinya Ohira, Mitsuo Iso & Hiroyuki Imaishi. And even if this particular force left behind a slew of forgotten experiments, and pale imitations, few shows ever found the mix displayed within a little tale of a boy trapped within a facade of his own making.
A product ripped from the blogs of recent days, The Analog Diaries is a series of recollections of a time before digital distribution. In the days when passion was gargantuan, and access was low. Created in memory of the days when all fans had on their sleeves were their desires amidst a media climate rivaling the Southern California Desert. It was a time of heroes, villains, fools & miles of tape. Welcome to the land of uncool.
How else could it have played out? A young life, within limited means.
There were only two real roads into the anime medium during those days. It was either what was provided for us on the tube, or at stores/swap meets where we could find an assortment of both authentic toy replicas as well as knockoffs emblazoned, “Made In Macau”. It was perhaps this one array of simple elements that led me down this strange road. And on that road contained a dozen or do bizarre detours, and speedbumps that only a few of us noticed. When you’re a kid, if it was cool to you, that’s all that mattered. And cable showings of edited & dubbed versions of Unico, or The Legend Of Sirius were rare. But when they came on, it was not unlike treasure landing at my feet. There was little keeping me from the tube when works like this were on. I even vividly remember catching the original Uchu Senkan Yamato feature on KTLA Channel five on a dreary Sunday morning at Grandma’s. Or how about the time’s I caught Gatchaman on mexican TV with much of the violence well intact? Better yet when Nausicaa came to cable in the form of Warriors Of The Wind? There was a quality to all of it that left me not merely surprised & inspired, but racked with longing for more.
Access…the ultimate dilemma.
And yet this very lack of access possibly even contributed to my later denial of admiration, and even disdain for it in just a few brief years later. Made all the more dramatic when my younger brother started on his weekly trips to the local video huts.
In the years I’ve spent writing about the anime medium, it has never been far away. The Neon Genesis Evangelion legacy is something akin to holy skrit in fan circles, as much as it is anathema to them. It’s the kind of show that can make or break you depending on the you that is watching it. And for my part, it has remained as one of the pinnacles of visual media for its boldness, means to thrill, and heartbreaking sincerity. So when I feel the need to further examine a more high-ticket, CG-drowned take on what was ostensibly one of my favorite shows of all time, you best believe that it is going to come with a little added baggage.
My love for the original television series knows few bounds. Far beyond the ruffage of endless message board debates, strange theories, and online fan one-upmanship, this was a story that despite all the problems plaguing it, connected with so many on a human level rarely witnessed in any kind of television series. It felt as if many of us had been shaken to the bones by it, and remained unsure as of what it was that stepped over our graves. And likely the older the anime fan you were, the heavier the whole thing felt. Evangelion was that perfect typhoon of concept & emotion, brought to a scathing boil by the tatters of feeling most human. And yet so many adhered to a need for mathematical cohesiveness where little of it was truly necessary. EVA was just that perfect melody at that perfect time when the notes seemed most desperate for change. A notion that possibly rings more loudly than ever, daring us to look deeper into infinity for inspiration.
It was a rally call to souls in need of affirmation, only to allow it to be recognized sans any real chance in taking the first steps. This is where Rebuild comes in.
ATTENTION: This Mostly Spoiler-Free Post Contains Some Delicate Speculation On Rebuild Of Evangelion, as well as on the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series and films. (You’ve Been Warned)