Advertisement for 'HTerm, The Graphical Terminal'

Michael House (Twitter) is a veteran translator of the anime industry; he got started answering an online ad by the young AnimEigo (see their “Secret History”), was then hired by Gainax as their in-house translator during the beginning of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and went independent in 2000. The following is his first interview since a 1998 interview with the Japan Association of Translators.

Interview

I ran into a mention of you in a recent translation, and I finally began to wonder: what is Michael House like, what was his time at Gainax like? Has he ever done an interview on that or written up his memories?

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Mysteries of the Ages it isn’t.

Which is all to say: Have you ever written up that period of your life? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I’d be fascinated to read about it. If you haven’t, would you be amenable to answering some questions?

You had to be there. Up to now, no one who wasn’t there or in close proximity has asked, saving me the trouble of trying to provide sufficient context to people to whom the business would be meaningless, and rightly so, in any event.

Anything I might have to say would be a demonstration of the unreliability of memory in general and eyewitness testimony in particular. On the other hand, no one swore me to secrecy, and I have no ax to grind. I don’t know that I can tell you anything worth knowing, and I think it’s too bad that you’ve expended such time and effort on something that I think is undeserving of such dedication. But again, if you want to keep dragging that red, red wagon along, it’s no concern of mine either. I make no promises, no guarantees, that I’ll say what you want to hear, but ask your questions.

You moved to Japan in September 1991, while working for AnimEigo; how did you wind up being “stolen away” by Gainax in 1995?

It was coincidence, as with so much else. Gainax, initially through Toshio Okada and (via Studio Nue and the SF Writers of Japan) Haruka Takachiho, gave AnimEigo some of its earliest contacts. So we were well-acquainted: we had one sit-down meeting in particular to go over some of the references in Otaku no Video that were too obscure even for me. 8~} By late 1994, AnimEigo was getting ready to close its Tokyo branch and move everything and everyone back to the States. Out of the blue, Takeda called me one day and asked if I might be interested in doing English translation on a Web site that they were starting up. To keep a long story from getting longer, we quickly moved to a full-time job, and I stayed in Japan when AnimEigo closed up shop here. Again, it was just one of those things.

Why did Gainax want an English translator at all? (For example, the English parts of the Gainax website seem to have lapsed somewhere in the late 1990s/2000s, while the French site, Gainax.fr, regularly receives new or translated content, which is a difference that has never been explained to me1.)

I’ve wondered that myself more than once, then and since. Japanese business was going through one of its periodic fads for “internationalization” or “globalization.” They might have thought it would be good for foreign business. They might have thought it would give them some cachet with other Japanese. The truth might be a little of both.

What did you do at Gainax in general? Just translations?

Yes, mainly, though I was also pressed into interpreting when Gainax had foreign visitors.

What was the relationship like between someone like you and Gainax? Did you discuss with Gainax on how something should be translated, or did they just send notes and you worked your way from there?

The honeymoon was short; most of the time they treated me like a black box, despite my initial attempts to educate them about the basics of translation. Sometimes, especially on Evangelion, they, usually Hideaki Anno, would throw out some phrase and expect me to spit out some English. Eventually I was able to communicate to them that if they gave me some context, it would improve the chances that I would be able to give them something useful. I can’t single them out in this regard, though. Japanese in general seem naïve about language and translation, in my experience.

Did people treat you differently as the only American at the company?

Not after the very brief honeymoon period, no, as mentioned above. Everyone had a nickname there, reflecting either something about the person, or his or her name or interests. In that vein, Yasuhiro Takeda dubbed me “Yamada”, so that he could call me something that was easier for him to say than my real name. So that was what they called me while I was there, the joke being that I was visibly non-Japanese.

Did working for Gainax pay poorly or really poorly?

It paid poorly, and would have probably been worse if I hadn’t been able to explain to them that my visa required a certain minimum salary. I was able to supplement that with freelancing in a couple of years, though. And I have heard the stories that animators work at McDonald’s or in convenience stores to make a living too. On the other hand, I lived pretty modestly too, and Gainax also provided me with round-trip Stateside airfare once a year, also as a condition of my visa.

Early Gainax

I did some additional Googling and found a few things, one interview, but nothing major. Which is too bad, since you were at Gainax for most of the ’90s. And the 1990s were perhaps the single most interesting period in Gainax’s history - eg. the success of Nadia.

Before my time.

Or the near-fatal abandonment of Aoki Uru?

Even more before my time.

Only by about 2 years, strictly speaking; and loosely speaking, Aoki Uru was before, during, and after your time or mine!

I would never have imagined that that zombie was still lumbering around.

I was partially mistaken when I said that this was before my time. This originally came up in the wake of The Royal Space Force (always Gainax’s preferred title; Wings of Honneamise was a concession to Bandai’s ideas of marketability2), when Bandai wanted to know what Gainax would do next. Hiroyuki Yamaga made up the trite plot of what he said would be a sequel to Royal Space Force off the cuff, somewhat similar to the way in which Sergio Leone’s producers invented The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly on the spot when United Artists asked what else they had after A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, albeit with better results in the latter case. During my tenure at Gainax, Yamaga moved into offices outside of the main Gainax building (as did Takeda; both such gestures quickly proved to be extravagances that Gainax could not long afford). There he ostensibly began reviving Aoki Uru in some form or other, starting with a CD of DJ tracks theoretically based on music from the project, as well as a promised novelization of same, and some outsourced scenarios for Microsoft Flight Simulator. If any of this “New Project” saw the light of day, aside from the CD and the software, I haven’t heard. That’s my best recollection as of this writing.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Yamaga’s separate offices mentioned before (not that it’s important); Takeda mentions when he was able to stop living in the Gainax office in The Notenki Memoirs, but I always thought he meant that things had calmed down enough that he was able to commute back home and sleep there.

There was some of that too, both locally (in the Tokyo area) and between Tokyo and Kyoto, where his wife, novelist Suga Hiroe, lives most of the time. I recall the longer commutes increased somewhat, given that Takeda became a father in this period when Suga gave birth to their daughter. But in addition, Takeda and Yamaga both briefly had satellite offices away from Gainax proper while I was there.

Aoki Uru sometimes still comes up; my last citation is a claim in 2008 that he was hoping for 2009 budgeting… I compiled what I found but the information in English was minimal. As far as I know, the only released material was the Microsoft Flight Simulator stuff and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s artwork. I don’t think I’ve heard of the CD or novelization before.

If Yamaga ever finished and published the novelization, I don’t know. I do know the CD did ship, because Carl Horn asked me to buy him a copy.

That said, I can’t say I am very disappointed by the delays, after I read Okada’s description of the plot… Carl Horn may still hope Yamaga will do something good again, but as far as I’m concerned, Mahoromatic, Abenobashi, and Aoki Uru have taken the measure of the man, and Honneamise was just a fluke.

Recall that he also wrote the first four episodes of Top o Nerae! [Gunbuster] and Otaku no Video, in addition to directing a couple of episodes3 of Macross.

I can’t speak to Macross, but Okada makes it sound like the basic story of Gunbuster was his and then he says ‘Anno changed everything’, so…

Further to Macross, Anno also did mechanical animation on the TV series and the movie, Ai–Oboeteimasuka. The Macross clip in Otaku no Video is a piece of his work. You have seen Macross TV and Ai–Oboeteimasuka, right? If not, rectify this grievous gap in your basic education post-haste, or we have nothing to talk about.

I forgot to mention that Anno did take over on the last two episodes of Top o Nerae! He introduced the much more serious tone and content that, in my opinion, makes them the most watchable episodes. I’m not sure, but I think that series may originally have been intended to run only four episodes.

I also thought Yamaga had directed episodes 4 and 10 of Macross, but it’s been a long time since I broke out either my LaserDisc set or Macross: Perfect Memory4, so I may be wrong.

Yes, I’d heard that. Actually, there’s a curious story I’ve heard from an Italian which goes that one of the Tatsunoko founders said in an interview that when Yamaga and Anno were working on Macross for Tatsunoko Productions, they weren’t very timely with their work; in repayment of the favor, as it were, Tatsunoko then delayed its work on Evangelion! Which sounds a little unlikely because that seems like asshole behavior, but then, it’s also a pretty unlikely story for him to make up, so…

If there was any bad blood like that, it too would have been long before my time. And I don’t have connections who are likely to tell me things like that. I do know firsthand that Gainax was on good terms with Takachiho Haruka, Japanese SF novelist (creator of Crusher Joe and Dirty Pair) and founder of Studio Nue, the house that created Macross, and which turned to Tatsunoko and Artland when they came up short on in-house resources to make the series and movie themselves. I don’t know whether any of this has more than a coincidental connection, though.

As for Macross Frontier, you’re doing it backwards. I’d say it’s the best of the various sequels and prequels, in that Shoji Kawamori got closer to his original work’s intent with this than in any of the other installments. But what came out first was best, as with Gundam and Godzilla. Votoms is about the only thing I’ve seen where the subsequent features held a candle to the original.

I have watched Macross Frontier, but I’m afraid the original series & movie are still on my list after Mobile Suit Gundam and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

See those if you want to see some of Anno’s prime influences on Eva, good and bad, along with Yoshiyuki Tomino’s interim series, Space Runaway Ideon. You’ll see Tomino’s initial ambition and his subsequent failure of nerve, as alluded to elsewhere.

Otaku no Video is a lot of fun, but the parts that impressed me had more to do with the little live-action segments and who knows who was responsible for those.

As I recall from the credits, Anno wrote and directed those segments.

How about the closure of General Products and Gainax’s exit from the American market?

Way before my time.

The Kare Kano crisis, when Anno left?

Just collecting my pay and freelancing elsewhere by this time.

Evangelion

Really? So you weren’t there nearly as long as I thought; I had been thinking you left somewhere 1998-2000. (I thought I read somewhere that you had departed in 2000, but I can’t remember where.)

I finally quit around November 2000. I was still going to Gainax full-time, but I was disillusioned by the time Death and Rebirth came out (aside: Anno’s avowed homage to Tomino, himself a worthless subject of such encomium by his own admission and the gross evidence, is perhaps most visible here). No, I hung around after that for the salary and the visa sponsorship. I saw the Eva merchandising boomlet, the insipid Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo (Anno had saved Gainax from bankruptcy–financial if not creative–with Eva, and thus, no one could gainsay him here or when he decided he wanted to try his hand at live-action movie making5), and don’t get me started on Furikuri (FLCL). Increasingly, they came to treat me as a piece of machinery, and also I needed to start getting out into the real world of professional translation.

Merchandising & rights

Was it that different from what had gone before? There was no shortage of Gunbuster or Nadia merchandising, and General Products did a lot of merchandising for other series.

Yes, it was different because, to the best of my current knowledge, Gainax owns a piece of Evangelion, and that was the first time that happened. As I recall, all of Gainax’s work prior to Eva, at least, was strictly work-for-hire. Hence, Gainax has had that much more incentive to merchandise Eva in any and every way it can, and to keep doing so. Eva has been licensed for use in pachinko slot machines in recent years, among many other properties from many other sources, to cite just one example. I haven’t been paying attention, but if any other titles that Gainax has worked on have been so treated, I’m not aware of it. And then there was the theatrical revival of Eva a few years back, which is also unique to the best of my current knowledge.

I did not know that. I remember watching Eva the first time and thinking, ‘geez, how much did Yebisu pay these guys for this product placement6?’

Yes, Anno modified the brand name on the cans slightly for broadcast, but changed it back in the video release. And I saw Anno and these Ebisu sales-guys sitting in Gainax’s conference room, watching the episode in question and drinking that particular brand of beer. If Gainax or Anno got any other compensation, I’m not aware of it.

That makes sense… I’m not sure Gainax sold the rights to all the previous stuff -

You’ve got it ass-backwards. To the best of my current knowledge, Gainax could not have sold any of the things it worked on prior to Eva, because it never owned any of them in the first place. The companies that put up the money to make those shows own them.

- Gunbuster, Nadia, and Wings of Honneamise I know were owned by Bandai or someone else -

Bandai bankrolled and owns Top o Nerae! and Royal Space Force, and probably Top o Nerae! 2 (Diebuster) for all I know or care, NHK brought Nadia to Gainax to produce, with assistance from Toho. As an aside, Toho then proceeded to overreach in its assertion of foreign distribution rights, as it had previously done with Macross: Ai–Oboeteimasuka. A dispute over just such rights between Big West and Toho prevented AnimEigo from getting that movie when Toho’s original international rights agreement lapsed. Instead of burning a single development house, Toho got in the bad graces of NHK, in effect, the Japanese Government, with Nadia.

- as well as the obscure stuff like Blazing Transfer Student (which was pretty funny, I thought) or Money Wars, but even Otaku no Video? Then again, I can’t imagine there being much money in merchandising ONV. Certainly nothing like NGE, where they could publish that entire E-Mono book listing Eva merchandise!

Toshiba EMI put up the money for Honoo no Tenkosei and Otaku no Video, first through a subsidiary called Toshiba Video Softwares, then through Youmex when it dissolved the former unit. So like I said, yes, Gainax has incentive to try to milk Eva for all it can get, because it’s the first Gainax production that Gainax has a stake in.

From an excerpt of a 1996 discussion between Hideaki Anno and SF critic/translator Nozomi Omori:

Anno: “Even if I received complaints from the perspective of Westerners about the equation of [the terms] ‘apostle’ and ‘angel’, I don’t think it would make any difference [to me?]. Well, there is a single American in our company, and he scolded me about various things. ‘You can’t do this.’ As I had expected. But I did those things [anyway], I think, without taking any notice of that.”

There’s your answer.

Right around the time when I started at Gainax, around April 1995, when Eva had started production on the first four episodes or so (and was already behind schedule), I vaguely recollect bringing up what seemed to me to be a question of word choices and meanings in this regard, as I understood them as a budding translator at the time. I’m an atheist, and didn’t attach any more significance to this beyond that. I don’t think Anno did either; as these remarks signify, it was artistic license, as with just about all the other terminology thrown around in the series, whether pseudo-theological, pseudo-technological, pseudo-eschatological, pseudo-psychological, or whatever else. I think these obscured what the thing was about. But I digress…

What was the thing about?

To paraphrase a Japanese essayist with whom I was acquainted at the time: it was about the inside of Shinji’s (and by extension, Anno’s) head.

Censorship

The rumors have always said there was censorship. I have never managed to track this claim down to anything more reliable than a 1996 Protoculture Addicts editorial attributing the PTA and TV Tokyo censorship to “someone who worked on EVANGELION”, which is really frustrating.

This is news to me. The series’ first-run ratings increased the more dysfunctional it got, especially starting around episode 14, as I recall. The last episode was the only one to break double-digit ratings, which was a big deal for TV Tokyo. And they re-ran the series at least once that I can remember. So there might have been some complaints (and there are grounds, I think, but because it’s not that good, not cause for censorship), but I don’t remember any being part of the phenomenon at the time, which was dire enough as it was without any such talk. But I digress again. I have doubts about such censorship stories. I expect it had more to do with Anno realizing by the midpoint of production that the characters he’d created couldn’t bring the story to the end he originally had in mind.

What do you think were the original goals/end of Eva, and how did Anno mess up?

To paraphrase Anno’s own words, he wanted his characters to start from a damaged place and change, presumably maturing and becoming better, more self-sufficient human beings through their struggles and interactions with each other. But he created characters that were too damaged and insular for that to happen in any believable manner. And instead of getting better, they got more screwed up as things went on.

Your doubts about censorship are news to me - I think this is the first time I have found a source who dismisses it entirely.

Again, I don’t recall hearing anything about censorship, either inside or outside Gainax, at the time. By contrast, I remember watching a report of the tax evasion incident7 on the NHK Evening News. The production fell further behind schedule as the series wore on, and I suspect that TXN (TV Tokyo’s call sign) was just happy to get something to show in the allotted weekday early evening time slot. I don’t know all there is to know, and I don’t pretend to, but I don’t recall hearing anything about it concerning Eva, though I now recall that some busybodies had dragged Gainax into court, claiming that some of their computer games (I couldn’t tell you offhand which ones) were not fit to sell to children, an argument that Gainax was fighting at least partially on free speech grounds. I don’t think that had anything to do with Eva, however. And even if there had been any such pressure, I doubt it would have worked on Anno, given his attitude as demonstrated elsewhere. For better or for worse, he wasn’t listening to anybody but himself. He didn’t have to.

As far as airing, you seem mostly right although I’m not sure the last episode was ‘the only one’. Checking what I have on the TV runs , I see Carl Horn says the last episode ran >10 million viewers, which sounds right, but expat Bochan_bird says “Early on it was getting ratings in the mid double digits, and the 25–30% or more figures came later in the series as the general public started to catch on and see what all the fuss was about.” Oh well. I don’t care enough to look for the old Newtypes!

I remember Gainax posting the weekly ratings at the time, and ratings in the mid-to-high single digits for the bulk of the series are my recollection. And these were considered pretty good for TV Tokyo. Bear in mind that TV Tokyo is the smallest of Japan’s four commercial national TV networks. At the time, at least, I believe it only had six stations, and thus, was not seen in some parts of the country. By contrast, MBS-TBS, for example, already had 25 stations in the early 80s when Macross was first broadcast. And I recall reading in other quarters that 10-15% ratings were accordingly considered very high for TV Tokyo, perhaps on a par with 20s and 30s for the other networks. So it could just be a question of perception.

Also, the rerun doesn’t really say anything - Hitoshi Doi’s schedules say the rerun blocks were aired at 3 AM, which, if anything, could be construed as evidence of reaction to controversy/censorship.

I couldn’t tell you the exact time, but yes, the rerun was late at night. How much significance one wants to attach to such a move would probably depend on how much of a conspiracy narrative one wanted to create concerning cries of putative censorship, I think. I note, however, that TV Tokyo aired the entire series in first run in its original time slot, except for one episode that was bumped to early morning during New Year’s 1997 because of holiday programming scheduling, whereas shows such as Gundam X and Turn A Gundam were moved to pre-dawn and late-night time slots, respectively, during the middle of their first run prime-time broadcasts, albeit because of low ratings on one of the bigger commercial networks. The only instance I can recall offhand that might have appeared to be network interference would be TV Tokyo asking Anno not to give free advertising in the show to his favorite brand of beer, because Ebisu didn’t advertise with them, if I recall correctly (though Ebisu sent a couple of salespeople to hand deliver a couple of cases of the beer brand in question to Anno as a way of saying thanks for his unsolicited efforts on their behalf, and I seem to recall that he may have been in similar good graces with canned coffee maker UCC at the time for similar promotional consideration; I also remember others in the office noting that Anno would sometimes complain of an upset stomach due to getting most of his caloric intake from the canned coffee on the one hand and beer on the other, but I digress yet again).

If Eva had really been a problem for TV Tokyo and its advertisers, I suspect they could have found some way of making their displeasure known. TV Tokyo also aired Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo in a relatively prime time slot as well, however, and I believe was still part of Project Eva when the movies came out. So I don’t think they were too ashamed of their connection to Gainax in this regard, at the time. Come to think of it, TV Tokyo also aired Gurren Lagarnn (or however they ultimately decided to romanize it) some years later, if memory serves. All in all, I see by a preponderance of the evidence that there isn’t much cause to conclude that there’s been bad blood between Gainax and TV Tokyo.

Though management posted messages telling workers to forward media inquiries about the tax evasion to authorized spokespersons, I got no hint of censorship pressures or responses thereto. The atmosphere around Gainax at the time was one of racing increasingly tight deadlines as the production started off behind schedule and fell further behind as it went on, as I said.

I spoke with people working as closely as anyone with Anno during the latter part of the production and broadcast in particular, and they volunteered the information that Anno was just trying to find some way of putting a smile on Shinji’s face by the end of the series, after he was brought to the hard realization around Episodes 12-13 that the characters he’d created weren’t capable of whatever positive change and outcome he originally envisioned. I think the break is first made explicit with Gendo’s remark out of nowhere around that point to the effect that the ultimate end of evolution is self-destruction. From even my somewhat peripheral insider perspective at the time, there was already less there than met the eye, Time has only reinforced my impression that the problems were with Anno and Eva itself, and that their failures cannot be reasonably attributed to malevolent outside influence.

Hm. As far as I am aware, that conversation was there in most of the drafts for that episode.

Note the key words ‘I think’. All of this has been an attempt at my best recollection. I could be wrong on this and other points, especially the finer details. It was a long time ago. I recall the people working closest to Anno expressing their own uncertainties from about this point on during the latter part of production about just how much of a grip Anno had on the proceedings when Anno was out of earshot, though.

A number of fans have argued that the ending is devious and 1984-style with Shinji succumbing to the hive mind or whatever, and actually the worst outcome for Shinji; you would seem to put the kibosh on that - good riddance, I never liked that theory, a flagrant violation of Occam’s razor.

But that brings up more questions for me: why would he realize that only by episodes 12-13 (nothing really special about them; episode 13 in particular is filler), and if the end of the TV series was aimed at ‘putting a smile on Shinji’s face’, then what on earth happened with End of Evangelion? (Of the 3 known endings to EoE8, none involve smiles or anything that could be easily described as happy.)

This is what I was able to pick up in conversations and scuttlebutt around the office at the time. Anno had been trying against reality during the first part of production to bring things around to his original intended vision. By the midpoint of the series, he finally gave up; note the changes in the avowed purpose of the Human Instrumentality Project, for example. He up-ended the whole thing in the last two episodes of the TV series.

Death & Rebirth was going to be his attempt to do some ending to the series that would have some connection to the story prior to the last two episodes of the TV series. Here too, Anno ran out of time to complete it prior to its scheduled theatrical release again running behind schedule, and thus, he had to come back the following year with The End of Evangelion, which was originally supposed to be “Rebirth”.

It’s also interesting you mention the bumps; one of my most uncertain/untrustworthy sources is an anonymous rant which we call simply the Kaibunsho, which claims at one point:

“Pressed for both budget and time, there were still 10 episodes left. Furthermore, TV Tokyo is well known as a company that does not think well of skipping a weekly anime for a special program or other. Even if for some unavoidable reason something else must be shown in that time slot, they make it a point to broadcast the show at a slightly earlier time or even early in the morning on that day out of sheer perverseness. Hell, they even aired the show over the New Year’s holidays. (laugh) Had he pressed the point, Anno might have been able to get an extension, but it seems he was already resigned to the fact that even a two-week extension would not change anything. (laugh)”

I agree that this conclusion sounds dubious. I had heard inside that Anno had essentially used up the original budget by about episode 9, and I recall that production was consistently behind schedule. Anno only had a couple of episodes done when I started there in April 1995, which was why the show’s premiere was moved back from Spring to Autumn of that year. But he hadn’t storyboarded, let alone animated, the opening and ending titles until less than three months prior to said premiere either. And things such as next-episode previews were increasingly shown as storyboards or even just conceptual sketches. The production team was getting increasingly worn down as the job fell further behind schedule. Even the voice actors were only seeing pencil tests rather than completed animation in the studio in the latter part of the series. All that said, if Anno did try to get some kind of postponement once the show was on the air, no word of it ever trickled down to me.

Is there anything to the rumors9 about Anno & Yuko Miyamura being romantically linked?

I recall hearing some talk around Gainax at the time, but I can’t say of my own firsthand knowledge.

I had assumed you had handed all miscellaneous English questions and research, but Carl Horn recently mentioned that towards the end a Gainax staffer called him to ask where in Revelations the line ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ could be found, so apparently not.

As I recall, Anno wanted to use that line in of the English episode titles in Eva (he had different Japanese and “English” titles in the series because he’d grown up watching dubbed foreign series with Japanese episode titles that were often drastically different from the original English titles, as another aside). I’m no biblical scholar, and in those days, the World Wide Web was stone knives and bear skins compared to today, not to mention the fact that 56K dial-up modems were the cutting edge of connectivity. So I contacted Carl to see if he might know the line, or know where I might find it. Talking to people who may know things you don’t is part of research too.

In another instance around that time, Anno wanted Asuka to write something in German, which I managed to piece together with my rusty high-school German and a Japanese-German dictionary at the local library.

Were you involved in the naming of the English episode titles/soundtrack titles? If not, how were they chosen?

See above. On the TV series, Anno would communicate what he wanted, and then I would struggle to think of something that might not be entirely awful in English. I had nothing to do with the soundtrack albums.

While we’re on translation issues, what the heck was up with the ‘Children’ thing anyway?

As with many other such things, Anno took it into his head that he wanted to describe a given thing with a given term, because it struck his fancy, and which was aimed at other Japanese, not foreign, audiences. Again, I can’t pick on Gainax specifically, because my anecdotal observation to-date suggests that much of what Japanese do is intended for the benefit of impressing other Japanese, with little or no regard for how such things may appear to non-Japanese.

Were you in charge of dealing with prospective R1 licensors and/or ADV? Were Anno’s requests for the English translation of the series (Angels, Instrumentality, etc) and policing of ADV’s dub/sub scripts issued through you?

No and no. My only involvement was to explain to Gainax that Movic apparently initially tried to cut a deal with AD Vision for Evangelion, without knowledge of either Gainax or King Records10. That and translating some preliminary contract proposals.

Are there any translations that went out in the official versions that you regret? (With the tight deadlines and ambiguous, subtle language in some Gainax scripts, I’m sure it must have happened.)

I haven’t seen any of what AD Vision did, at any stage or in any form.

The Platinum commentary for episode 18 mentions that “The people who performed the English operator dialogue at the beginning were Michael House, George A. Arriola, and Hiromi Arriola. Michael House was a GAINAX employee at the time, who did in-house translation work. George A Arriola and Hiromi Arriola were friends of his and are apparently husband and wife.” How did you and they get involved in doing any dubbing?

For much the same reason as anything else: because I was there. About three weeks before that episode went to the recording studio, Anno walked up to me and asked if there was anyone among my obviously extensive gaijin acquaintances whom I could get for recording some dialogue in an upcoming episode. I thought, sounds like fun. Again, no great mystery. George and I met during the latter part of AnimEigo, and we’ve been friends since. He and Hiromi were married at the time, but have since divorced. We also did another block of dialogue before the commercial break, which Anno mixed or overlaid with the Japanese dialogue that was recorded before we went into the recording room. I recall the result was incomprehensible.

Were you involved in End of Evangelion or Death and Rebirth, and if so, was there any differences between working on the movie compared to the series?

Despite my name being listed in the credits in The End Of Evangelion, no.

Later Gainax

So you were spending a lot of time at the building? I ask because I had the impression from your Macbook comment that you might’ve been telecommuting or something. (But now that I think about it, laptops were really terrible in the 1990s, so maybe not.)

PowerBooks were fine for the purpose at the time. The real problem with telecommuting was the same problem with any network use: bandwidth. Japanese consumers only started getting affordable broadband of any kind about a decade ago. Before that, dial-up was still the name of the game, chiefly because NTT was loath to give up its monopoly–somewhat like AT&T in the 1980s. Even pressure from its government masters at the now-former Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications to offer a flat-rate consumer data plan had only limited effect on NTT. Then there’s the technology: 28.8k-56.6k were considered very fast at the time too.

I won’t ask about Kare Kano, since I enjoyed it a bit (and thought the manga took a major turn for the worse when it went emo), but I would like to hear about FLCL - I’ve never been sure whether it was really good or Eva-style superficiality turned up to the maximum.

If it was good, you couldn’t prove it by me or the local Japanese audience, which rebelled promptly with the first episode, sparking increasingly snide digs at said audience by Tsurumaki in later episodes. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Gurren Lagann was like a decade later (ironically, Anno’s official biography or autobiography claims that Yamaga wanting to do Gurren Lagann was the reason he split to form Studio Khara - ironic because Gainax finished Gurren Lagann but Rebuild is years overdue and only half-way through).

Akai Takami, whose idea Gurren Lagann was, has a well-earned reputation for getting things done.

Are you still studying Japanese, or do you feel that you’ve learn more or less everything you need to know?

#define sarcasm TRUE

Yes, I knew all there was to know then, and I know all there is to know now.

#define sarcasm FALSE

I overestimated my abilities many times during the AnimEigo and Gainax years, in part because there usually wasn’t anyone around who could knowledgeably tell me when I was going wrong. And I wouldn’t have paid much attention, as often as not. I had to get out of that bubble and into the real world of the translation business to start getting useful feedback. And the process continues to this day. I’ll never learn all there is to know; thus, there will always be something new to learn. In short, nobody’s perfect, least of all me. There are lots of things I would do differently if I could, looking back. But I can’t, so I try not to make those mistakes again, and make different mistakes instead.

I’m sorry there weren’t any shattering revelations, but this is how I remember it.

Perhaps, but I found our discussion interesting and informative. Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions!


  1. I am told Gainax.fr is a fansite - a very active one on good terms with Gainax but still a fansite.

  2. See Okada, “The Conscience of the Otaking”

  3. Wikipedia and the ANN Encyclopedia list Yamaga as directing episode 9.

  4. 260pg reference book, published in 1983.

  5. eg. the 1998 Love & Pop, 2000 Shiki-Jitsu, or 2004 Cutie Honey_.

  6. In Eva, the character Misato Katsuragi prominently drinks copious quantities of that brand; see the Evageeks wiki.

  7. See also the Anime News Service translation of a Mainichi Shimbun summary.

  8. The infamous final version, Last A, and Last B.

  9. There have been persistent rumors that Anno and Yuko Miyamura (the seiyuu for NGE’s Asuka Langley Soryu) were dating or something around that period; see Carl Horn or Bochan_bird. In any event, both have since married different people. (The Kaibunsho claims an interesting story about Anno and Nadia seiyuu Hidaka Noriko.)

  10. The initial sponsor for NGE.