Excerpts from 'Little Boy'

Short essays on the influence on Japanese culture of anime works Daicon, Evangelion, Space Battleship Yamato, and the artists Mr., Chiho Aoshima, and others.
anime, NGE, criticism, Little-Boy
2013-01-152014-09-21 finished certainty: log importance: 2


This tran­script has been pre­pared from a PDF scan of pages 9–10, 40, 52–53, 70, & 88 of Lit­tle Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Explod­ing Sub­cul­ture, edited by Takashi Murakami, pub­lished 2005-05-15, ISBN 0300102852.

These pages are drawn from the first sec­tion of Lit­tle Boy, “Lit­tle Boy (Plates and Entries)”, a sort of col­lec­tion of ency­clo­pe­dic entries on var­i­ous ani­me, artists, and art­works. I have selected a few entries that were strik­ing or of per­sonal inter­est.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

[pg88]

Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion, an anime mas­ter­piece, began as a TV series writ­ten and directed by Hideaki Anno and pro­duced by Gainax in 1995–96. The pro­duc­tion com­pany Gainax got its start as DAICON Film, a group of ama­teur ani­ma­tors who cre­ated DAICON IV Open­ing Ani­ma­tion (pl. 2) in 1983, and its affil­i­ate, the sci­ence-­fic­tion store Gen­eral Prod­ucts; essen­tially a group of otaku elites, they were pro­fes­sional incor­po­rated as Gainax in 1984 upon pro­duc­tion of the fea­ture-length anime The Wings of Hon­neamise (re­leased in 1987). Evan­ge­lion became an explo­sive hit when it was first broad­cast. Caught up in the cult-­like fer­vor sur­round­ing the work, fans will­ingly accepted the con­tro­ver­sial and irreg­u­lar release of the sub­se­quent film: unable to com­plete it on time, Gainax showed an unfin­ished ver­sion to pay­ing audi­ences in March 1997 and released the final ver­sion a few months lat­er. The orig­i­nal TV series and the sub­se­quent fea­ture films attracted not only anime fans but also young cul­ture-lovers and anime vet­er­ans who had out­grown otaku obses­sions. Evan­ge­lion is an unsur­passed mile­stone in the his­tory of otaku cul­ture.

The story is set in 2015, fif­teen years after the Sec­ond Impact, a deadly cat­a­clysm of global mag­ni­tude that orig­i­nated in Antarc­ti­ca. The new city of Tokyo 3 is sud­denly attacked by “Angels”, uniden­ti­fied ene­mies that take var­i­ous forms includ­ing bio­me­chan­i­cal giants and a com­puter virus. NERV, a spe­cial U.N. agency charged with fight­ing the invaders, deploys Evan­ge­lions, all-pur­pose humanoid weapons piloted by three spe­cially cho­sen four­teen-year-old kids (Sh­in­ji, Rei, and Asuka). A com­plex amal­gam of sci­ence fic­tion and human drama in the form of robot ani­me, Evan­ge­lion show­cased Gainax’s skill­ful ani­ma­tion, along with Anno’s bold use of white-on-black sub­ti­tle graph­ics and speedy, almost sub­lim­i­nal con­struc­tion of action sequences. In many ways, Evan­ge­lion is a meta-otaku film, through which Anno, him­self an otaku, strived to tran­scend the otaku tra­di­tion. This superbly crafted work was infused with intrigu­ing, often cryp­tic terms and ideas adapted lib­er­ally from sources as dis­parate as Judeo-Chris­t­ian mys­ti­cism, biol­o­gy, and psy­chol­o­gy. Such ele­ments include the dev­as­tat­ing weapon “Spear of Long­i­nus” (derived from the leg­endary spear used to pierce the cru­ci­fied Jesus) and the “AT (Ab­solute Ter­ror) Field” (essen­tial­ly, a men­tal bar­rier sep­a­rat­ing a per­son’s ego from the out­side world).

While duti­fully pay­ing homage to the pop- and otaku-cul­ture land­marks that pre­ceded it, Evan­ge­lion pushed its depic­tion of the psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional strug­gles of the young moth­er­less pilots to the extreme. The con­tro­ver­sial final two episodes of the TV series, which uncon­ven­tion­ally mix anime scenes with draw­ings and video footage, focus on Shin­ji, the cen­tral char­ac­ter among the pilots, and his painful search for what his life means both as a per­son and as an Evan­ge­lion pilot. With the pur­pose­less Shin­ji’s inte­rior drama tak­ing cen­ter stage, Evan­ge­lion is the end­point of the post­war lin­eage of otaku favorites—from Godzilla to the Ultra series to Yam­ato to Gun­dam (pls. 7, 9, 27, 30)—in which hero-­fig­ures increas­ingly ques­tion and ago­nize over their right­eous mis­sions to defend the earth and human­i­ty. Shin­ji’s iden­tity cri­sis, appar­ently a reflec­tion of the direc­tor Anno’s own psy­cho­log­i­cal dilem­mas, epit­o­mized the dif­fi­cult obsta­cles faced by post­war Japan, a nation that had recov­ered from the trauma of war only to find itself inca­pable of cre­at­ing its own future: like Shin­ji, Japan is prob­ing the root cause of its exis­ten­tial paral­y­sis.

[Plates 33a-j; Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion; 1995–96; 26-episode TV anime series; Direc­tor: Hideaki Anno; Ani­ma­tion pro­duc­tion: Gainax and Tat­sunoko Pro­duc­tions; Cre­ated by Gainax; Broad­cast by TV Tokyo; Addi­tional images taken from Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion: Death and Rebirth (1997); Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion: The End of Evan­ge­lion (1997); Revival of Evan­ge­lion (1998); and VHS/DVD edi­tion of Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion (1998)]

[Plate 33 a; Rei Ayanami]

[Plate 33b; Lilith pen­e­trated by “Spear of Long­i­nus”]

[Plate 33c; Scenes from Evan­ge­lion]

[Plate 33d; A moth­erly fig­ure]

[Plate 33e; Clones of Rei Ayanami]

[Plate 33f; Gendo Ikari, Shin­ji’s father and NERV Com­man­der]

[Plate 33g; Shinji Ikari as a young boy]

[Plates 33h-j; From “One More Final” scene of The End of Evan­ge­lion; 1997]

Daicon IV Opening Animation

[pg9–10]

A cel of the ‘bunny girl’ in DAICON IV –Ed­i­tor
Sto­ry­board (?) of the swords engaged in an “Itano cir­cus” in DAICON IV –Ed­i­tor

DAICON IV Open­ing Ani­ma­tion was first shown at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 22nd Japan SF Con­ven­tion held in Osaka in 1983. Cre­ated by DAICON Film, a group of ama­teur ani­ma­tors, this five-minute 8mm film was a sequel to the group’s debut work, DAICON III Open­ing Ani­ma­tion, which pre­miered at the 1981 con­fer­ence (also in Osaka). DAICON stands for “Osaka Con­ven­tion”, using an alter­nate pro­nun­ci­a­tion (dai) for the first char­ac­ter in “Osaka”.

The annual SF (science fic­tion) con­ven­tion, inau­gu­rated in 1962, remains an event by otaku for otaku, pre­dat­ing the term otaku itself, which did not enter pub­lic dis­course until the late 1980s. Sci­ence fic­tion is inti­mately linked to otaku cul­ture. The cre­ators of such otaku-fa­vored gen­res as “robot anime” and tokusatsu (spe­cial effects) films drew heav­ily on sci­ence fic­tion; the anime clas­sic Mobile Suit Gun­dam (pl. 30), for exam­ple, was inspired by Robert Hein­lein’s 1959 nov­el, Star­ship Troop­ers. Before the full emer­gence of otaku cul­ture, fans of tokusatsu and anime TV series cre­ated for chil­dren could fur­ther sat­isfy their appetites only by turn­ing to sci­ence fic­tion.

DAICON Film was formed by Toshio Okada, Yasuhiro Takeda, Hideaki Anno, Hiroyuki Yam­a­ga, and Takami Akai (among oth­er­s), who were then col­lege stu­dents in the Osaka area. They sub­se­quently formed the anime stu­dio Gainax, which made its name with Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion (pl. 33) in 1995, a land­mark of otaku cul­ture.

Their DAICON ani­ma­tions reveal two char­ac­ter­is­tics that appeal to otaku. First, they would con­tain abun­dant ref­er­ences to ele­ments of the sub­cul­ture that would later be called otaku sub­cul­ture, includ­ing Godzilla and Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato (pls. 7, 27). Sec­ond, even though these hand-­drawn, 8mm anime films are extremely short at five min­utes each, they demon­strate an extra­or­di­nary artis­tic and tech­ni­cal level that exceeds expec­ta­tions for inde­pen­dent films: not only is the qual­ity of the ani­ma­tion high, but the DAICON ani­ma­tors were able to inte­grate the pic­ture and the music seam­lessly and deploy such sophis­ti­cated tech­niques as mul­ti­ple expo­sures far more skill­fully than “pro­fes­sion­als”. Indeed, DAICON’s films, imbued with a tremen­dous amount of energy and the ambi­tion of these ama­teur ani­ma­tors, jump-s­tarted the evo­lu­tion of anime sub­cul­ture into ful­l-fledged otaku cul­ture.

In the final sequence of DAICON IV Open­ing Ani­ma­tion, the theme of “destruc­tion and regen­er­a­tion” is imag­i­na­tively rein­ter­pret­ed. The ener­getic flight through the sky of a girl in a bunny cos­tume is fol­lowed by the explo­sion of what could only be described as an atomic bomb, which destroys every­thing. In a pink-hued blast, petals of cherry blos­som­s—­Japan’s national flow­er—spread over the city, which is then burned to ash­es, as trees die on the moun­tains and the earth is turned into a bar­ren land­scape. When the space­ship DAICON, a sym­bol for otaku float­ing in the sky, launches a pow­er­ful “otaku” beam, the earth is cov­ered with green, as giant trees sprout instantly from the ground. The world is revived, becom­ing a place of life where peo­ple joy­ously gather togeth­er.

Find­ing some­thing lib­er­at­ing in the dev­as­tat­ing power of destruc­tion, the DAICON ani­ma­tors announced their rev­o­lu­tion in pic­to­r­ial form, pay­ing lit­tle heed to the con­ven­tions of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness that sur­round the atomic bomb­ings in Japan.

[Plate 2f-g; Scenes from DAICON IV: 22nd Japan SF Con­ven­tion, held in Osaka, 1983, from Offi­cial After Report of 22nd Japan SF Con­ven­tion DAICON IV (DAICON IV Com­mit­tee, August 1, 1984), pages 24 (right) and 40]

Plate 2f; Cos­mic Enter­tain­ers Fair, a cos­tume pageant that gath­ered “the best in the uni­verse”
Plate 2g; Toshio Okada address­ing four hun­dred atten­dees at a din­ner party

Space Battleship Yamato

[pg70]

Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato orig­i­nated as a TV anime series broad­cast in Japan in 1974–75; it also aired in the U.S. as Star Blaz­ers in 1970.

The story is set in the year 2199, when Earth is attacked by Gamilus, an evil stel­lar empire. Nuclear pol­lu­tion caused by the Gamilon bomb­ing threat­ens to kill all remain­ing humans within a year. The des­per­ate earth­lings receive a mes­sage from the friendly planet Iscan­dar, 148 thou­sand light years away: to save them­selves, they must retrieve Iscan­dar’s radi­a­tion neu­tral­iz­er, “Cosmo Cleaner”. Using the blue­print sent with the mes­sage, the embat­tled humans build a “Wave Motion Engine” capa­ble of trav­el­ing beyond the speed of light, and install it on the sunken Japan­ese bat­tle­ship Yam­ato—Japan’s last hope in World War ii—which they sal­vage from the dried seabed and refit for the mis­sion to save their plan­et.

Above all, Yam­ato was instru­men­tal in the rise of the new sub­cul­ture of otaku. The series ini­tially suf­fered low rat­ings, in part because its theme and set­ting were too com­plex for its intended audi­ence of ele­men­tary-school chil­dren, and also because it was broad­cast oppo­site Heidi, an immensely pop­u­lar anime series. When the series was rerun, how­ev­er, Yam­ato began to draw atten­tion, prompt­ing inde­pen­dent screen­ings. With the block­buster suc­cess of the film ver­sion, released in 1977, Yam­ato marked a mile­stone in the his­tory of ani­ma­tion, spawn­ing sequels both on TV and on film. The young peo­ple who sup­ported Yam­ato were the orig­i­nal otaku, or “adults unable to grow up”.

Yam­ato also caused a par­a­digm shift in ani­ma­tion. Depart­ing from the usual plot of “good van­quishes evil” so com­mon in chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming, it acknowl­edged the ene­my’s neces­sity in attack­ing Earth: the Gamilons must relo­cate, as their home planet is doomed to die. The highly real­is­tic design of “mecha” (meka)—me­chan­i­cal ves­sels and weapon­s—also set the stan­dard for the genre of “mecha-ro­bot anime”. With­out Yam­ato there would have been no Gun­dam or Evan­ge­lion (pls. 30, 33).

Also sig­nif­i­cant was the influ­ence Yam­ato exerted on Aum Shin­rikyo (Aum Supreme Truth), a noto­ri­ous reli­gious cult that car­ried out arguably the worst ter­ror­ist attack in post­war Japan­ese his­tory by dis­pers­ing deadly Sarin gas on the Tokyo sub­ways in 1995. Aum pro­duced a Yam­ato-like anime film for their pros­e­ly­ti­za­tion efforts, and named their own air puri­fiers (which sup­pos­edly pro­tected them from enemy attacks with poi­so­nous gases and bio­log­i­cal weapons) “Cosmo Clean­ers”. This fact alone demon­strates the pro­found impact made by Yam­ato on Japan­ese cul­ture.

Notably, this land­mark anime still relied on the idea of radi­a­tion as a key nar­ra­tive device. Thirty years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japan­ese expe­ri­ence of the atomic bomb­ings was begin­ning to fade into the past, but the mem­ory could not be for­got­ten.

[Plates 27a-c; Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato; 1974–75 (first series); 26-episode TV anime series; Orig­i­nal con­cept and plan­ning: Yoshi­nobu Nishiza­ki; Direc­tor: Leiji (Rei­ji) Mat­sumo­to; Broad­cast by Yomi­uri TV Net­work] [Plate 27a; Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato on the exposed ocean floor] [Plate 27b; Yam­ato depart­ing from Earth for Iscan­dar] [Plate 27c; The ship’s pow­er­ful weapon, “Wave Motion Gun”]

Chiho Aoshima

[pg52–53]

Chiho Aoshima (b. 1974) loved to draw from child­hood. She would secretly fill note­books with explicit images, each of which she destroyed after com­ple­tion. when one of her note­books was dis­cov­ered by her par­ents, she was scolded and stopped draw­ing.

Aoshima never went to art school, but dur­ing her senior year major­ing in eco­nom­ics at Hosei Uni­ver­sity in Tokyo, she dis­cov­ered com­puter graphs while work­ing at a part-­time job. In a sense, she began her career in art by watch­ing oth­ers work on com­put­ers. The merit of com­puter design lies in its flex­i­bil­i­ty. It is easy to mod­ify a com­po­si­tion or col­ors and dupli­cate small com­po­nents. Even an ama­teur can con­stantly review her work on the mon­i­tor, be cri­tiqued by her friends, and incor­po­rate var­i­ous changes after­wards. Com­put­er-­gen­er­ated works have as many pos­si­bil­i­ties for out­put as the tech­nolo­gies avail­able, which mul­ti­ply with time. Aoshi­ma’s works are fre­quently ren­dered in mural-­size print­outs more than thirty meters across; they can also be pro­duced as chro­mogenic prints, a type of color print fre­quently used for pho­tographs.

Aoshi­ma’s work is a cross between pop­u­lar manga and tra­di­tional scroll paint­ings. She freely alters the sizes and col­ors of her char­ac­ters, and repeat­edly uses the same data for such back­ground ele­ments as trees. She does not flaunt com­plex tech­niques or aim for spec­ta­cle, but focuses solely on fix­ing the mes­sages she wants to con­vey on the mon­i­tor as quickly as pos­si­ble. Very few men appear in Aoshi­ma’s fan­tas­tic worlds, which are pop­u­lated by female char­ac­ters who are trans­formed into moun­tains and rivers, or dis­guised as fairies or liv­ing crea­tures (espe­cially insects, snakes, and rep­tiles) in the nat­ural world.

Aoshima has dis­cov­ered an unprece­dented free­dom of image pro­duc­tion in a com­plete dig­i­tal world. In her recent col­lab­o­ra­tion with fash­ion designer Issey Miyake, mod­els wore dresses printed with Aoshi­ma’s images in Miyake’s run­way show. Inspired by this sight, Aoshima became inter­ested in the human fig­ure and began cre­at­ing fig­u­ra­tive sculp­tures and man­nequins.

[Plate 19; Chiho Aoshi­ma; Magma Spirit Explodes, Tsunami is Dread­ful (de­tail); 2004; Chro­mogenic print; 87.2 × 589 cm]

Magma Spirit Explodes, Tsunami is Dread­ful, left half
Magma Spirit Explodes, Tsunami is Dread­ful, right half

Mr. 

[pg40]

Mr. (b. 1969) is some­thing of an otaku. A gen­uine “loli­com” [sic] (Japan­ese short­hand for “Lolita com­plex”, and those pos­sess­ing it), he is also a trash col­lec­tor and an ex-bik­er. After fail­ing the entrance exam for Tokyo Uni­ver­sity of Fine Arts and Music four years in a row, he stud­ied art at Sokei Art School in Tokyo (which has no entrance exam). Mr. is not even good at draw­ing man­ga-­like pic­tures of loli­com sub­jects. To be blunt, he is a mis­fit and a loli­com.

Yet Mr. found a means of turn­ing these neg­a­tive ele­ments into some­thing pos­i­tive when he decided to bor­row the nick­name “Mis­ter” from Shi­geo Nagashima, the super­star third-base­man of the post-war Yomi­uri Giants. His new name, “Mr.”, inti­mates the artist’s deter­mi­na­tion to bear the bur­den of being Japan­ese (em­u­lat­ing the beloved sports icon), to posi­tion him­self as an “artist-en­ter­tainer” (like Nagashima, who had a pop­u­lar and pro­lific sec­ond career on TV), and to exploit his neg­a­tive qual­i­ties (as so many Japan­ese come­di­ans do).

This uniquely Japan­ese artist with a knack for enter­tain­ment ini­tially cre­ated works from the trash he col­lect­ed, fol­low­ing the exam­ples set by Robert Rauschen­berg’s assem­blage Pop Art and the Ital­ian avan­t-­garde move­ment Arte Povera. Mr., how­ev­er, prac­ticed “poor art” sim­ply because he was too impov­er­ished to buy paint­ing sup­plies. Aris­ing out of sheer neces­si­ty, his junk art was still noth­ing more than an imi­ta­tion of other artists’ work.

One day, Mr. decided to explore the imagery of loli­com girls through illus­tra­tion, imbu­ing the sub­ject with an ample dose of otaku fan­ta­sy. Draw­ing on the backs of con­ve­nience-­s­tore and super­mar­ket receipts that he had been hoard­ing for ten years, he real­ized that this method some­how echoed Jonathan Borof­sky’s “num­bered draw­ings”, for both artists were attempt­ing to enu­mer­ate the details of their real­i­ty. Mr. quickly went through all of the receipts, and this body of work helped him gain con­fi­dence in his art, prompt­ing him to work with var­i­ous mate­ri­als. When he was dat­ing a woman whose fam­ily owned a sushi restau­rant, he bor­rowed a Japan­ese sword left by her late father, for use in his per­for­mances. Although this girl­friend is long gone, the sword has remained in Mr.’s hands. Highly pri­vate episodes like this inform his work, a fact that makes Mr. part of today’s otaku gen­er­a­tion.

[Plate 15a; Mr.; “Peny­o-henyo” Myomy­on­myo Edi­tion (from a set of 4 sculp­tures); 2004; FRP (fiber-re­in­forced poly­mer), acrylic, iron; 419x328x134 cm (in­clud­ing base)]

[Plate 15b; Mr.; 15 Min­utes from Shik­i-S­ta­tion; 2003; Acrylic on can­vas; 162 × 130.3 cm]