Interviewing translator Michael House

Working at Gainax, Evangelion’s production & censorship, anime translation
anime, NGE, criticism, interview
by: Michael House 2011-11-112011-11-28 finished certainty: log importance: 1


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

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 and (via and the SF Writ­ers of Japan) , 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 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 , 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, 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 .

Be­fore my time.

Or the near-fa­tal aban­don­ment of ?

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 (al­ways Gainax’s pre­ferred ti­tle; Wings of Hon­neamise was a con­ces­sion to ’s ideas of mar­ketabil­ity2), when Bandai wanted to know what Gainax would do next. 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 pro­duc­ers in­vented on the spot when asked what else they had after and , 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 . 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 , 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, , , 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 [Gun­buster] and Otaku no Video, in ad­di­tion to di­rect­ing a cou­ple of episodes3 of .

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, . 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 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 and ) and founder of Stu­dio Nue, the house that cre­ated Macross, and which turned to Tat­sunoko and 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 , you’re do­ing it back­wards. I’d say it’s the best of the var­i­ous se­quels and pre­quels, in that 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. 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 .

See those if you want to see some of An­no’s prime in­flu­ences on Eva, good and bad, along with in­terim se­ries, . 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 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 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 (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 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 (Die­buster) for all I know or care, brought Na­dia to Gainax to pro­duce, with as­sis­tance from . 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 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 (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!

put up the money for Honoo no Tenko­sei and Otaku no Video, first through a sub­sidiary called Toshiba Video Soft­wares, then through 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 ed­i­to­r­ial at­tribut­ing the PTA and 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 . 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-, 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 and 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 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 (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 -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 ? (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 & 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 li­cen­sors and/or ? 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 ap­par­ently ini­tially tried to cut a deal with AD Vi­sion for Evan­ge­lion, with­out knowl­edge of ei­ther Gainax or 10. 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 was loath to give up its monopoly–­some­what like AT&T in the 1980s. Even pres­sure from its gov­ern­ment mas­ters at the now-former 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 - ironic be­cause Gainax fin­ished Gur­ren La­gann but is years over­due and only half-way through).

, 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. and the ANN En­cy­clo­pe­dia list Ya­m­aga as di­rect­ing episode 9.↩︎

  4. 260pg ref­er­ence book, pub­lished in 1983.↩︎

  5. eg. the 1998 , 2000 , or 2004 _.↩︎

  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 , Last A, and Last B.↩︎

  9. There have been per­sis­tent ru­mors that Anno and Yuko Miya­mura (the seiyuu for NGE’s ) 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 .)↩︎

  10. The ini­tial spon­sor for NGE.↩︎