created: 28 Feb 2012; modified: 02 Mar 2013; status: finished; belief: log
[Image, right, of Hideaki Anno with short black hair, thin mustache and beard, wearing a hoodie vest, rolled-up over long-sleeved white shirt, flashing a V-sign.][Right caption: “Yay, guys, I’m going to be in AnimeLand!”] [Caption middle-right: “I had been in Japan for three weeks already, and I still hadn’t had any response from Gainax about the long-awaited (or rather, long hoped for) interview with the undisputed Master of Otakus: Hideaki Anno. Then at long last, the much awaited phone call came in, I’d have an interview on Friday, October the 4th, at the very Gainax Studio. And just in time, as I’d leave Japan on Sunday, the 6th!”]
AnimeLand: Where does your passion for animation and manga come from?
Hideaki Anno: From my childhood. My world had been rocked by it, but also by live-action series.
AL: Japanese animation has become a huge success in Europe, but it is also criticized for many reasons, such as its content or its graphic style. What do you think?
HA: Originally, and even today, Japanese animation are products of ordinary [current/habitual] consumption, created for the Japanese public. It is indeed amusing to see the success of animation abroad, but I think that fans everywhere have the same tastes. Animation is a universal language.
AL: Let’s talk about visuals for a moment. Usually the characters have large eyes. Where do the young ladies with large eyes and overdeveloped chests come from?
HA: It all depends on the tastes of each animator. Some characters are made to be sexy, others not. It should also be known that animators communicate concepts through the characters’ faces, and especially the eyes. It is therefore normal that the eyes of characters are very important.
AL: Well, the fans seem to appreciate it.
HA: Of course, it’s the same formula which made “Idols” just as popular. They are not really humans, they are only a sketch on a piece of paper, incapable of doing anything really, and [they are] out of the reach of their fans. For example, when a boy makes love with a woman in an anime, it is only part of a scenario, it is nothing more, and the fan knows, he steps back from what he sees.
AL: Yet, there are some fans that no longer go out with real girls…
HA: It is true that some fans of animation display unfortunate behavior.
AL: And yet you continue to create this kind of characters for them.
HA: You need to understand that Japanese animation is an industry that is, for the most part, male, and as is quite evident, everything is made for their gratification. Further, it is more gratifying for us to draw this sort of character, rather than old grandmothers.
AL: So actually, animators draw their ideal woman on celluloid?
HA: It’s much easier. Characters in animation do not cheat. They do not let you go for another. Animation is on certain points, very close to the pornography industry. All your physical needs are met. You can watch different animations and find anything you desire.
AL: Japanese animation is traditionally dominated by heroes or masculine characters. Yet for a while now, we’ve been seeing a total inversion of roles.
HA: On the one hand, half the population is women, on the other hand, Japan has not known a war in nearly two generations, which is to say that we have more and more strong women, and men who become weaker over time.
AL: Do you document [research?] when you prepare to make a new series, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Nadia, for example?
[Left caption: “The three beautiful heroines in the OAV Top O Nerae Gunbuster”][Caption middle: “The beautiful and mysterious Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion”] [Caption bottom: “‘Give me a smile…’, or, when Evangelion [Unit-01] visits the dentist”]
HA: Not really; let’s say that I take a basic idea and I develop it together with my ideas. That said, I have already read and seen many adaptations of Jules Verne.
AL: Have you received any complaints for using Christian concepts in your work? The angels are supposed to represent something good, benign, which doesn’t seem to be the case in Evangelion.
HA: I am not familiar with many things in Christianity, and I have no intention of approaching it or criticizing it either. Isn’t it said that Lucifer was an angel himself before having fallen?
AL: Imagine that a European company decided to buy the rights to Evangelion, and to change certain scenes because of religious concerns. Would you agree with censoring these scenes?
HA: I don’t know, it would depend on the circumstances. After all, this series was made for a Japanese audience.
AL: Evangelion is enjoying great success in Japan at the moment. The end of Death and Rebirth should be distributed at the same time as the latest work of Hayao Miyazaki [Princess Mononoke]. Aren’t you concerned about such a confrontation?
HA: Not really. I think that the people will go see both. The subjects are entirely different, and Hayao Miyazaki is just as famous, so I don’t worry myself over him.
AL: American and European animation seem more and more smothered by their laws and codes of discipline, whereas Japanese animation offers more adult subjects and characters. Don’t you believe that the controversy and the problems that meet Japanese animation come from here?
HA: Actually, I think that some censorship is necessary, but it is not normal that we should be ordered by a conventional [bien-pensant; see http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bien_pensant] minority. I do not think you can get away with anything for the so-called well-being and protection of children.
AL: Violence seems to be more admissible for these people than the notion of sex. Doesn’t it seem backwards to you?
HA: The legal context obviously differs between nations and eras. The only universal constant is the thirst of humans for sex and violence. We need to try to manage this without falling into the opposite extreme, and brainwashing. Films are extremely influential and powerful, especially as propaganda tools.
AL: It is said that Japan suffers from a poverty of writers, and that animation today is in crisis. What do you think?
HA: To conceive and realise a series is extremely onerous in our times. It is normal that producers and sponsors pay attention to their investments and want to recover financially, hence the significant (as in large) number of remakes, or the (practice of) mining the lode of a series till it’s dry/depleted. Nevertheless I do not think that Japanese animation is in a crisis. It evolves and adapts to its audience.
AL: And as for you, has Gainax given you freedom of movement, or have you been limited?
HA: No, Gainax examined my project for Evangelion and told me, “OK, you have carte blanche.” I have never been limited on anything, except perhaps time and money.
AL: Your series have always had enormous success. Do you think your position as a fan, or even an otaku, and your knowledge of the environment may have helped your work?
[Top right caption: “Wake up, it’s time!”][Upper middle right caption: “What’s this on my costume?”] [Lower middle right caption: “Shinji and Asuka ready to conquer the Japanese public”][Caption right bottom: “The OAV Otaku no Video, inspired by Gundam and Yamato”] [Caption bottom: “A parodic illustration of numerous series (Daicon IV, Macross, Yamato etc.).”, art by Kenichi Sonoda of Gunsmith Cats, Cannon God Exaxxion and Gall Force fame.]
HA: I don’t know. I used components that I liked and that appeared to me necessary to advance the story. I also worked in concepts that were popular at the time. When I hear the criticism from fans about the end of Evangelion, I really wonder if we can say that I have as good a knowledge of the environment as you seem to say.
AL: Where did you get the idea of the EVAs?
HA: I was inspired by Japanese demons [oni]. I gave them a modern appearance, but such characters have been around a long time.
AL: It seems that there exists a sort of recurring message in your series, that one cannot live alone, or even separated from a group or ethnic identity. Why this message, addressed to otaku, who live at the same time in a relatively separate world?
HA: You can find whatever message you want to find in any film or series. I have not wanted to pass on this or that message in particular, but the fact that you reflect on this is a good one. I made Evangelion to make me happy and to make anime lovers happy, in trying to bring together the broadest audience possible.
AL: You are also a lover of “live” series, in the genre of Ultraman, Godzilla, and etc… Have you drawn some inspiration from these programs?
HA: Clearly this genre made up some part of my film and television culture. I have not taken ideas from this genre, but I think that in my works you can find a number of elements reminiscent of that genre.
AL: Do you continue to watch these shows today?
HA: When my work gives me the time, I try to watch television, or to go to the movies. It is clear that my passion for this genre remains virtually intact. Lately I have seen Gamera 2, and it was very enjoyable, this film was truly very good.
AL: What projects do you have after the two Evangelion films?
HA: I admit that I have not thought about this a lot lately, but I already have a vague idea running through my head. I will begin to seriously work on it after August, and perhaps after a well-deserved vacation.
AL: Thank you Mr. Anno.
Interview conducted and translated by Pierre Giner