Andrew Osmond on the audiences of Evangelion.
Hideaki Anno, the director of Evangelion 2.22, knows the viewers are transitory, but fans are forever. It doesn’t matter if you call them true believers, or plain otaku. The fans are the twenty-somethings who sit in the cinema through the lengthy credits of Thor or Captain America, just so they can see the prelude to the next Marvel spectacular. In Tokyo, they’re the people who queue at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning at a Shinjuku cinema, as they did when the first bigscreen Eva reboot – Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone – opened in 2007.
How important are “true” fans to a franchise like Evangelion? Very. Apart from a small number of family anime that get less press abroad, like Sazae-san and Doraemon, and a handful of big hitters like Naruto, anime largely remains a marginal phenomenon – shunted into the late-night and early-morning slots. The new Evangelion films are made for the cinema – and it shows! – but it doesn’t make them equivalents of a Hollywood comic-book film like Thor or Spider-Man. Those blockbusters count on millions of patrons who’ve never read a comic-book in their lives. In contrast, the Evangelion movies must play to the cognoscenti who’ll go out and buy the robots, heroes and heroines – especially the heroines! – in picture-book and action-figure form. The new girl in Eva, Mari Illustrious Makinami, is spectacularly introduced in 2.22’s first scene. From a commercial point of view, though, her real career will be as a curvaceous figurine.
However, it’s great that Evangelion 1.11 was made so that a younger generation of viewers can plunge straight in, like the rebooted Doctor Who and Star Trek of recent years. (Evangelion 1.11 is in sharp contrast with the previous Eva film, End of Evangelion, which required its audience to have sat through the complete TV series.) But the new versions operate on multiple levels. When Vulcan is destroyed in Star Trek, or Gallifrey is destroyed (allegedly) in Doctor Who, old viewers will react differently to new ones. That’s also true of the whole of Evangelion 2.22, where the “old” fan reaction is likely to consist of: “Who on earth is she… He didn’t behave like that… Blimey, I know that didn’t happen!”
But there’s more to it than that. Evangelion didn’t come out of nowhere; it was made by fans in turn, who threw in references to anything they liked. Character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamato, whose work recently graced Summer Wars, modeled Gendo and Fuyutsuki in Evangelion on Commander Straker and Colonel Freeman in Gerry Anderson’s live-action series UFO, down to their dress sense. Some of these references – notoriously the eschatological Christian ones – would be picked up by Western fans more easily than their Japanese counterparts, leading to a decade of cultural confusions.
Others… Well, in Japan, Evangelion followed a generation of “robot” anime, going way back to 1970s titles such as Mazinger Z and the first Gundam. (You can go back further if you want, to that grand old 1960s mecha Tetsujin-28.) So, think about it… The Akira generation of British fans who received Eva as an “early” title were in a position not dissimilar to a young comics reader who innocently picks up Watchmen or The Boys without first absorbing the heritage of Superman and Batman.
Um, remind us again… exactly who is the newbie here?