Cult TV Times

Lillith_Rei_Ayanami_Eva_Unit_01_Third_Impact_Chabalistic_spiral_mystic_symbol_Neon_Genesis_Evangelion_End_of+EvangelionMay’s entertainment was provided by David Clarke, an author who used the Freedom of Information Act to wrest a report from the Metropolitan Police with the title of UFO New Religious Movements and the Millennium. In it, anti-terrorism officers were cautioned about the rise of conspiracy theories and wacky cults, centred around dangerous foreign imports like Star Trek and The X-Files: “it is not being suggested that the production companies are intentionally attempting to ferment trouble,” said the report, in annoyingly reasonable language. “However [they] know what psychological buttons to press to excite interest in their products. Obviously this is not sinister in itself. What is of concern is the devotion certain groups and individuals ascribe to the contents of these programmes….”

Clarke knows what buttons to press, too (he has a book on the way), since fandom’s dudgeon was most certainly raised. I, for one, am flattered that a bunch of nerds in Spock-ears presented an equivalent danger to, say, the fanatical suicide-bombers who blew themselves up on the London Tube. Imagine the unspeakable carnage if they got all Prime Directive on people… but there is method in the apparent madness.

It’s not clear exactly when the dossier was prepared, but Clarke suggests it was around 1997, after the suicide of 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult in San Diego. Heaven’s Gate’s use of terminology from Star Trek is widely reported; less well-known is the presence of stacks of anime VHS tapes at the site of their “Away Team” deaths.

845396061326116755Heaven’s Gate were convinced that the world was shortly about to be “cleansed”, and humanity was going to be wiped away by the impact of some dreadful angelic apocalypse. Shortly before they drank a fatal mix of phenobarbitol and vodka, 39 people had been watching Neon Genesis Evangelion. I know this because the FBI wasted no time in tracking down the pedlars of such apocalyptic propaganda, and demanding they explain the plot to them. And, Evangelion being a tough one to describe at the best of times, ADV Films volunteered the services of the only person they thought could do the job. That would be me, at five in the morning in London, woken up by what at first I took to be a prank call.

Evangelion is “apocalyptic” because it draws upon Christian eschatology. It did not inspire Heaven’s Gate so much as offer them comforting reflections of their own delusions. The FBI worked that out soon enough, and went away happy that anime fans weren’t about to go on the rampage, but it wouldn’t surprise me, when the full text of the dossier is made available, to discover those pesky Japanese cartoons are also listed as potential threats to civil society. Again. Thank God they didn’t know about Queen’s Blade

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History (UK/US). This article first appeared in NEO 139, 2015.

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Evangelion 2.22 review

A decade into an apocalyptic war against alien invaders called “the Angels”, Shinji Ikari is one of several young pilots co-opted into the last-ditch Evangelion programme – an ethically-unsound bioweapons project to fight the aliens with their own technology, no matter what the human cost. Behind the scenes, there are scandals within scandals about the cores of the “Eva” units, while the pilots bicker and squabble, and fight to keep their sanity in savage, blood-soaked battles against random enemies.

Hasn’t this all happened before? Well, yes it has, in the Evangelion TV series, bestselling Evangelion manga, and several remastered, slightly-tinkered DVD releases. The most recent incarnation was Evangelion 1.0, to which this film is nominally the sequel, although there is a lot more to it than a simple remake.

It’s easy to forget that when Evangelion was originally broadcast, it was something of a mess. Production delays and cashflow problems led to hilariously (and then, frustratingly) long cost-cutting shots with little or no animation. The grand finale was a glorified radio play, and there was undeniable filler peppered throughout the latter half of the season. It’s fair to say that the 13 hours of original Evangelion TV might be reasonably slashed down to the four intended feature-length movies without losing much in the way of quality or plot, and that’s before production studio Gainax start wedging in big new chunks of footage. Watch in particular for a prolonged sequence at a marine preservation park, and a loving CG panorama of early morning bustle in Tokyo-3. This is no mere clip-show, that’s for sure.

This latest incarnation also reaches us an entire generation after the original – it’s been sixteen years since the TV show first appeared on Japanese television. The intervening period has seen great changes in the make-up of fandom, which the film acknowledges with a wry jibe at the expense of internet slash fiction writers, when two male characters almost snog. There are some even odder angles and changes of focus throughout, and part of it is undoubtedly aimed at fans of the original, particularly that sector of thirty-something uber-geeks whose love of figurines and other collectables keeps much of modern anime afloat. It’s salutary to remember that these enthusiasts would have been mere teenagers at the time of the serial’s original debut.

The Gainax studio seems all too aware of this. A couple of years ago at the Locarno Film Festival, their merchandise man with an Eva laptop and an Eva cellphone showed me Evangelion egg-timers, underpants and lucky gonks – part of over 3000 items of spinoffery that keep completists busy and poor. Mari Illustrious Makinami is undoubtedly part of this enterprise – a pretty new face literally parachuted into the plot in order to sell more pin-ups. In an odd piece of anime trivia, she is supposedly intended to “look British”, whatever that means. But she also throws the old character dynamics into turmoil and serves to remind long-time fans that there are many, deeper changes to the story. Many of the “old” characters have also been altered, much more subtly – there are changes to their names, backstories and personalities that completely affect their motivation and behaviour.

There are similar changes elsewhere, not the least in an off-hand reference to a “Vatican Treaty” that playfully backtracks on Gainax’s previous claims that all the story’s apocalyptic religious imagery was purely ornamental. As with many science fiction franchises, it is also strange to find ourselves living in a time after the notional D-day. 2001: A Space Odyssey doesn’t sound so futuristic any more; Terminator’s Judgement Day has been and gone, and Evangelion itself is now set in the past. Or is it?

There are tantalising clues dropped throughout these movies that suggest Gainax are thinking way ahead of the curve. It’s not just minor changes in the plot; it’s tiny references in the background that seem to obliquely refer to previous versions. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that the Moon in these remakes has a smear of blood across it, seemingly referencing a battle in the original series, and a character who arrives in the post-credits teaser openly suggests that all this has happened before. There is a chance, unconfirmed by the filmmakers themselves, that every change, every tweak in this film is entirely deliberate, and intended to tell a story that is not a remake at all, but a sequel, set aeons after the original, when everything has come back full-circle. The prospect remains that Evangelion 2.22 is inspired most of all in that regard by the Ron Moore Battlestar Galactica, or perhaps for anime fans, the similarly cyclical storyline of the 1980s classic Gall Force. Gainax know the score: there are many copies… but they have a plan.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This review first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.

Sub vs Dublin

Back now from Dublin, where I’ve been at the Irish Film Institute Anime Weekend. Festivities kicked off for me before I was even off the plane, when my neighbour turned out to be a man from Ghana who wanted to know about intellectual property rights. On Saturday morning, I taught a workshop on the way that anime are constructed, with special reference to the Introduction to Anime Screenwriting by Jinzo Toriumi. This is just one of several books by old-school anime writers that are used to teach the next generation in Japan how it all works — they make for very illuminating discussions with an audience of marketers, curators and students curious about what makes anime tick.

The rest of the weekend was taken up with screenings, including the European premiere of Gundam Unicorn, and the Irish premieres of Summer Wars and Evangelion 2.0. I found myself on panels talking about, among other things, the career of Yusaku Matsuda, the uses of a naginata, the corporate structure of the Yomiuri Group, and the history of “breast dynamics” at Studio Gainax. And I found myself signing copies of the Anime Encyclopedia, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, and even Beijing: The Biography of a City. In a very 21st century touch, I also got to sit in the bar and watch the Manga UK Twitter feed as Jerome Mazandarani explored Tokyo for the first time. Me in an Irish bar, reading live about the adventures of an Australian man on a Japanese toilet.

Meanwhile, Dublin was full of people who had come to watch rugby, which is apparently one of those mainstream situations where cosplay is considered acceptable, so although a number of anime fans had dressed up as cartoon characters, if I walked out of the cinema, I would find a street full of men in kilts and/or painted blue, to the extent that Temple Bar often looked like a low-budget sequel to Avatar.

Herald Angels

15th February 2010 sees the UK premiere of the Gainax movie Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I shall be introducing it, although unlike the time I introduced Death and Rebirth in Oxford, I shall not be performing the finale solo using shadow puppetry and silly voices. There are all sorts of things going on the same day, as well, including a brief talk on anime censorship by a lady from the BBFC, and the UK premiere of the long-awaited Gentleman Broncos. Hopefully, the trains will be working by then.

From the People Who Brought You Pearl Harbor

WW2 has become a stripped-down fable of Star Wars proportions – a few brave heroes, taking on a force of terrifying evil against impossible odds. On the Good Side, the rag-tag hard-pressed Alliance. On the Bad Side, the dark empire, with its storm troopers and its nice uniforms. The good guys win, and the good guys are us.

This doesn’t work in Japan.
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Soundalikes

Since so many English-language programmes are dubbed in Japan, the voice-acting industry is much better established than in the UK. This has led to an international variant on stunt casting, whereby certain actors can trade off the reputation of the Hollywood stars whose voices they replace. NHK has done a superb job of translating British sci-fi caper Doctor Who into Japanese, with former Fellowship of the Rings translator Katsushige Hirata handling the script, alongside a string of notables from the voice-acting world.
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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.

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