Gainax were in the house. Almost all of them. It was a one-hour panel at the Locarno Film Festival, with a veritable football team of famous figures. Takami Akai, creator of Princess Maker, wearing a pair of welding goggles. Yasuhiro Takeda, author of the Notenki Memoirs, sporting a dapper panama hat. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, designer on Evangelion and Summer Wars, with a shock of rock-star hair and a pair of posh spectacles. Hiroyuki Imaishi was there, in a polo shirt (the true uniform of the anime creator). All in all, half a dozen heavyweight figures, and a moderator, and an interpreter, and me, stuck on the end as a sort of intellectual sheepdog.
Locarno, screening hundreds of anime, had dozens of guests in attendance. The Japanese were loving the attention and the exotic vacation quality – Takeshi Koike, director of Redline, was there that week with his new wife, and telling her it was a sort of working honeymoon. Yoshiyuki Tomino, director of Gundam, was there with his wife (a supremely arty sort), and kept making detours to drop in on Swiss art museums to look at famous paintings. The Gainax boys were there with their wives, but since they all worked for Gainax, too, it served to double the number of available industry people with something to say.
Which is great, but at the sharp end it meant finding things for them all to do. At a panel for half a dozen Gainax luminaries, with only an hour allotted, and a packed cinema, I had to make sure that everybody got to answer at least one question, so they weren’t twiddling their thumbs while the big names got the limelight. Which meant one question each, what with all the interpreting and the explication.
And then. And then they threw it open to the crowd. A packed theatre of 800, excited at the first, and so far, only time that Gainax were all in a room, drunk on foreign fun and hospitality, far away from home and ready to tell anime truths. In the first row, a faculty’s worth of PhD students from all over Europe raised their arms. Behind them, a forest of eager hands straining to be noticed, a whole day of comments unmade, reminiscences unsaid, poignant questions unasked. With only a few minutes to go, every second counted. In budgetary terms, what with flights and food and hotels, I’d guess that every minute was costing Locarno a thousand pounds. So you’d better make it count.
The moderator picked a girl near the front.
“Hello,” she said. “I like Evangelion, and I think it’s great. But when I bought a widescreen TV, the image looked all squashy, and the characters were a funny shape and that. I wanted to ask Gainax if they were going to do anything about it?”
The producers looked at the directors with mounting bafflement. The interpreter interpreted. Then she re-interpreted. With the gentlest of Japanese politesse, the Gainax boys sought clarification of the stupidest question in Christendom. A thousand pounds ticked by, as they came to understand that, yes, she really was asking for widescreen telly tech support.
Eventually, Yasuhiro Takeda took the microphone.
“I respectfully suggest,” he said, “that you read the manual.”
This article first appeared in NEO 74, 2010.