The Notenki Memoirs

It’s hard not to like Yasuhiro Takeda, the hapless nuclear physics student who repeated his second year at university five times before giving up. His reason, the passion for sci-fi that led him to run conventions, sell model kits, and eventually become General Manager and Producer for the Gainax company. This textual autobiography takes him from his failed student days, through his time as fanboy and amateur actor, right through the tax evasion calamity that dogged Gainax in the wake of Evangelion.

This is the Gainax story warts-and-all, with defections and financial disasters, but also some fascinating bits of trivia – who knew that Gunbuster’s pilot Kazumi Amano shared the name of Mrs Toshio Okada? Although Takeda does pull a few punches, in other places he is surprisingly forthright, particularly about the companies with which he has dealt. He ridicules Godzilla’s Toho Studios as a bunch of stuck-up muppets, while praising Ultraman-owners Tsuburaya for their willingness to accommodate new ideas. Most shocking is the constant state of crisis of his beloved Gainax, lurching from feast to famine in a series of bad business deals and internal squabbles, while producing some of the anime world’s best-loved titles, sometimes seemingly by accident. Takeda paints a tragic picture of life on the poverty line, sleeping in a dorm while his wife is forced to move back in with her family, but also a stirring tale of success, as fellow geeks transform into the authors, artists and creators of today’s Japanese sci-fi establishment.

The book credits a translation team of seven, including familiar names from Newtype USA. Perhaps the US edition of the Notenki Memoirs started life as test translation for something to run in the magazine – if so, I suspect that the reason it wasn’t serialised is that there simply isn’t enough Evangelion in it. The book features an Evangelion robot on the cover, and repeats the Japanese edition’s misleading subtitle, but blink and you’ll miss the commissioning, broadcast and success of Evangelion, crammed into the last few pages.

But this should not deter you, because Notenki Memoirs is still an absorbing book in a much under-represented genre: works about anime by anime creators themselves. No conjecture by Western pundits here, this is straight from the horse’s mouth, although it loses an extra star in my rating by cramming in revelatory titbits about creators, computer games and the world of Japanese animation, but omitting to order them in an index.

(This article first appeared in Neo #11, 2005)

3 thoughts on “The Notenki Memoirs

  1. Cheers for the heads-up! The story of Gainax has always fascinated me – not because I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve done but because I haven’t enjoyed all of it! Some of their shows were classics, while others are disasters in my eyes but they never seem to do the same thing twice and there’s this mystique about them, thanks to the urban legends surrounding their best-known titles.

    That and the fact that they’re a studio that, to me at least, often seems to be swimming against the tide. Maybe it’s the idea of a non-conformist organisation in a niche industry in a conformist country that also makes them such an interesting subject.

    Looks like I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one, anyway.

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