"Evangelion is my life and I have put everything I know into this work. This is my entire life. My life itself." -Hideaki Anno (translation from 11/96 Newtype in Protoculture Addicts #43)
As we conclude Evangelion tonight, some of you may leave the series feeling somewhat baffled. You will probably leave with many of your questions unanswered, and you might be thinking to yourself, "What was the guy who made this thinking?!" Don't worry, you're not alone. The ending of Eva was controversial in Japan, too. On the other hand, instead of hoping that the last episode of Evangelion will feature epic revelations or have huge flashy battles, take it for what it is, and think about what the director tried to achieve.
At Anime Expo in California last summer, I had the chance to attend two panel discussions during which director Hideaki Anno (who constantly wore an orange shirt and shades) discussed anime, his involvement with Gainax studio, and Evangelion, which some American fans had seen by that time. I had only seen the first three episodes, so I didn't quite grasp why Eva was such a hot topic of discussion, but I nonetheless listened intently.
A few people asked Anno about why he did the final two episodes the way he did, while noting that they felt the ending was confusing. Anno replied, via his translator, that he did not think there was anything wrong with the last two episodes at all and that if we didn't like the ending of Eva, that was our problem -- at which point he picked up the microphone and, speaking in English, said "Too bad." Myself and others thought this was kind of funny at the time.
According to an interview of Toshio Okada -- founder and former head of Gainax, personal friend of Anno, and affectionately referred to as the "Otaking" by fans around the world -- Anno received a lot of flak from Japanese fans about the ending of Evangelion, and by the time Anime Expo came around, the last thing Anno wanted to talk about was the ending of Eva. As such, Okada was not surprised by Anno's tough attitude toward the people at the convention. In the interview (which was held at Anime America that same summer), Okada related to fans how Anno and his staff, in addition to having troubles with the show's producers (Tatsunoko), simply did not have enough time and could not think of a way to nicely end the series. Okada based his information on conversations between himself and Anno as Eva was being finished, and he told American fans that Anno was very stressed out about the whole thing.
An interesting thing to note is that unlike other Gainax anime series, Eva was written as it went along (sort of like manga), while other Gainax shows such as Gunbuster started with the ending being written first and the rest of the anime leading up to it. Okada said that this may have caused some problems near the end, with the writers unsure of how the series should conclude.
Apparently, Anno shaved his head (a la Rokutanda) in reconciliation to the Japanese fans prior to coming to America (his hair had grown back, I guess). Anno, as late as the November '96 issue of Newtype magazine, still denied that the last two episodes were a "lousy job" and argued that the Gainax crew worked incredibly hard to finish the series, which he thinks "ended beautifully." He regretted that fans cannot appreciate Gainax's efforts.
Asked about the violence and uncharacteristic sex scene in episodes 18 and 19, Anno said that the scenes were necessary to develop the story and "to understand real life." He felt that children should be exposed early to the realities of life so that they do not grow up weak and sheltered and so that they will become immune to some of the harsh situations they will eventually experience. Many fans at the convention thought that this was an interesting viewpoint on his part.
Do you wonder why Eva got so dark and psychological near the end? After all, Anno is the guy who directed Nadia of the Mysterious Seas, one of the liveliest and funniest anime I've ever watched. According to Anno, from episode 16 on, he began reading books about human psychology and became very interested. He wanted to explore "what the human mind is all about inside."
"I wrote about myself. My friend lent me a book on psychological illness and this gave me a shock, as if I finally found what I needed to say," he says in the November Newtype.
Anno-san, who I respect and consider a truly top-notch director, wanted Eva to be ground-breaking and wanted it to change the industry, urging animators in Japan to stray away from anime stories which have become conventional and overused. He expressed his disappointment that Eva did not have that type of impact. On the other hand, he thought that the American audience was very receptive to the series, which gave him hope.
Two Eva films are out there. One has just come out, recapping episodes 1 to 24, and the other is being made, supposedly taking place between episodes 24 and 25.
I leave you with a quote:
"Evangelion is like a puzzle, you know. Any person can see it and give his/her own answer. In other words, we're offering viewers to think by themselves, so that each person can imagine his/her own world. We will never offer the answers, even in the theatrical version. As for many Evangelion viewers, they may expect us to provide the 'all-about Eva' manuals, but there is no such thing. Don't expect to get answers by someone. Don't expect to be catered to all the time. We all have to find our own answers." -PA #43, translated by Miyako Graham from 11/96 Newtype
The Toshio Okada Interview can be found at http://www.j-pop.com/. For the full Protoculture Addicts article and Anime Expo newsletters, contact me directly if you want to see them.
[12/16/04 Update: For further articles by Lawrence Eng, see his anime page.]