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 - 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.↩︎