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
by: Takashi Murakami (editor) 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 (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 33a; 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; 419×328×134 cm (in­clud­ing base)]
[Plate 15b; Mr.; 15 Min­utes from Shik­i-S­ta­tion; 2003; Acrylic on can­vas; 162 × 130.3 cm]