The World of Hideaki Anno

More from Andrew Osmond at the Tokyo International Film Festival

The World of Hideaki Anno

The Tokyo International Film Festival (often abbreviated to TIFF, though this gets annoyingly muddled with the Toronto International Film Festival) was held at the end of October. As readers who’ve followed this blog in recent days will know, it included lots of material of interest to anime and manga fans, including world premieres of the live-action Parasyte (reviewed here) and Mamoru Oshii’s Garm Wars: The Last Druid (reviewed here), plus John Lasseter waxing lyrical about Miyazaki and Tokyo (critiqued here).

It also included a festival within a festival – The World of Hideaki Anno, an awesomely thorough programme of screenings and live appearances by the maker of Evangelion. It covered Anno’s career from his early amateur films to his live-action, to his work as an animator and anime director. Every Anno event was preceded by a rather wonderful collage trailer, online here, which looks like an incomprehensible mess on first viewing, but became decipherable on repetition. The full World of Anno trailer is below:

My own interview with Anno during the festival is on the blog here, but Anno revealed far more in his live stage discussions with anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa. Marvellously for Anglophone attendees, they had simultaneous translation into English. Here are the highlights.


Evangelion, Anno said, was something he conceived while recuperating from the back-to-back stress of Gunbuster and Nadia (see below for what he said about them). With funding secured from King Records, Anno took Eva to Gainax. Had the studio passed, Eva might have been made by Sunrise.

Regarding the notorious final two TV episodes, which many fans saw as a frustrating non-ending, Anno said the production was short on time and “couldn’t finish the way we wanted.” He said that the original series plot would have had several elements which later appeared in End: Asuka being defeated in battle, the humans turning violently on each other, Shinji journeying into himself.

When that story fell through (on TV), Anno hoped to “redo” the series as a film – a remake along the lines of Macross: Do You Remember Love? – and then continue the story, making new episodes in cinema form. He described an idea he had for a sequel, which should sound strangely familiar today. The story would have been set in a world in which humans were near extinction, besieged by Angels who preyed on humans’ worst fears – of being eaten. Anno said such devourings wouldn’t have been allowed on TV (this was the 1990s, before the establishment of late-night anime series for niche adult audiences).

Yes, Anno claims he envisioned an Eva story that was very close to Attack on Titan, in which the Eva pilots would have been physically inside the creature’s bodies – specifically in the monster’s uterus, so that they would have to be sliced out or else melt into the Eva. Mentioning Titan by name, Anno said it was so similar to his conception, it was scary. According to Anno, the idea was scuppered because he would have needed a creative collaborator on the “new” Eva stories, but the person he approached turned him down.

Even after End of Evangelion was made, Anno couldn’t let Eva rest, returning to the franchise with You Are (Not) Alone in 2007. “If everything I make becomes Evangelion,” he said in the talk, “then maybe I should make Evangelion all over again.” You Are (Not) Alone reuses many scenes from the TV series. Anno initially envisaged making 16mm blow-ups of the TV animation. (He cited the 1980s series Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, which Sunrise compiled into a cinema film trilogy in 2005-6.) However, he said Eva’s TV lines were too thick on the big screen, meaning the saga had to be recreated from the original drawings. Anno established the Khara studio because staying at Gainax would have been “constricting” for the other staff.

Anno said that when he announced You Are (Not) Alone, the initial reaction was many people saying that he did not need to make it. Now, of course, people are waiting impatiently for each new Eva film, and pressuring him to finish. Anno described Evangelion as the franchise which repeatedly exhausts and breaks him. “I have to rebuild myself up again.”

He finished with a gentle hint that Eva fans might have to be patient (again), noting the gaps between the new films were getting longer. The first was released in 2007, the second in 2009 and the third in 2012.  “The intervals are widening, I can see it…”


Like many Gunbuster fans, Anno was attracted by the anime’s time dilation element, which encouraged him to take it on as his director debut. Western fans often compare Gunbuster’s use of time dilation to that in the novel The Forever War (by Joe Haldeman). However, Anno linked Gunbuster to the Japanese legend of Urashima Taro, referenced in the script.

Gunbuster was starved of budget, for which Anno jokily blamed the Patlabor franchise. Both productions were bankrolled by Bandai, but, Anno said, the Patlabor video series set a precedent by being a success on a budget no bigger than a TV show. Gunbuster’s funding was also drained by the first Patlabor film, directed by Oshii. Gunbuster could have finished on its fourth episode (which has a suitably upbeat ending), though the video sales allowed the last two parts to be made.

For the finale, Anno wanted the “enjoyment” of a vintage Japanese film. Regarding the decision to make the sixth episode (a humungous space battle) in black and white, Anno said he was influenced by seeing Ultraman on monochrome television. “I realised special effects look better in black and white.” This also had huge practical benefits in anime, speeding up the production greatly.


There were also monochrome passages in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, Anno’s next project as director. Nadia was brought to Anno and Gainax by the public broadcaster NHK as a ‘decided’ production, and not an appealing one. Anno described the original script as terrible; he could see it would be drudgework to make it. He felt he had to make changes, even at the risk of annoying his clients. “I needed to go out on a limb.” He also wanted to distinguish the series from Miyazaki’s Laputa; both stories start with comic criminals chasing children.

Anno and his fellow staff began rewriting Nadia’s script and characters. Luckily one of the show’s backers, Toho, opted to side with Gainax, believing the changes would make Nadia more commercial. NHK had thought Nadia would only wear her skimpy circus garb for the first episode; it was too sexy for the channel.  Post-Gunbuster, though, Gainax knew the value of showing skin. It particularly wanted Nadia to bare her belly-button, as she does in the show’s title sequence. Nadia, it should be said, was voted most popular female anime character by readers of the magazine Animage in 1991; she toppled Miyazaki’s Nausicaa.

Anno hated having to show his storyboards to the NHK producer, but found a strategy. He delayed showing them to the last possible moment, exploiting the tightness of TV schedules, so that NHK had no time to demand revisions. Anno stayed close to NHK’s basic outline for the first few episodes, but once the Nautilus turned up (in part 4), Gainax used less and less of NHK’s story. By the end, Anno claims, he didn’t even look at what NHK sent. As well as Toho, Gainax had an ally in the Japanese media, which liked Nadia because it was different from the NHK norm. Eventually, Anno said, NHK came round to letting the Gainax youngsters do their own thing.

Anno dropped out of Nadia for a large part of the series; he “threw too hard” and had to stop from exhaustion at part 22 (when the kids are separated from the Nautilus). The next dozen episodes, often called the “island episodes,” are often heckled by fans, but Anno suggested their slapstick was popular at the time. Eventually, he recuperated enough to come back to the show, and seems to have presided over its closing episodes, with battleships in the stars. (The credited director on the Nadia episodes from 23 onwards is Shinji Higuchi, now making the live-action Attack on Titan; more on him here.) “We should bring battleships to space because our generation has battleships in space,” was Anno’s reasoning, referencing his childhood favourite Yamato.


One of the talkshow sessions focused on Anno’s work as an animator (as opposed to an anime director). He contributed endless spaceships and explosions to both the TV Macross and the cinema version, Do You Remember Love? It was also revelatory to see how much Anno had drawn of Wings of Honnemaise; the wonderful early test flight, the insanely epic climactic battle which rages before and during the rocket’s take-off (and yes, Anno drew that too). Anno’s later animation included contributions to the Giant Robo OVA series, though not the title mecha; Anno disliked its design.

“I have been working on effects animation, as I was not good at drawing human characters,” Anno said to the audience. “Honestly, there are so many animators much better than me. So, I chose the role of mainly drawing ‘mechanic’ images to avoid putting a producer in trouble by doing poor drawings of human characters.”

Anno’s path into professional work came out of his work on “Daicon 3”, a fan film made for the “Daicon” convention in Osaka in 1981. It was seen by Shoji Kawamori and Ichiro Itano, who were both staff on the upcoming series Macross. Anno was invited by Kawamori to Tokyo, where he met Itano, one of the youngster’s heroes. “I knew his name as a creator who had drawn great scenes of Gundam and Ideon… I wanted to work with him. I did not want to be a professional animator. I just wanted to watch his work.”

Soon after, Anno went to Tokyo’s “Toukon 6” convention. There, he was blown away at a screening of the rushes for the first part of Macross. Anno was invited to join the project as a part-timer, thus beginning his career as a pro animator. In the rushed, high-pressure, environment, Anno learned on the job; for example, that he didn’t have to follow the set instructions, but could make his own changes to make the animation more interesting. (Anno points out the artists on Macross were egoists, keen to make their own shots stand out and darn the others!)

While the young Anno was elated to see his drawings on TV screens (sometimes mere days after delivery!), his work conditions were hardly enviable. On Macross, Anno remembers cold nights, heatless rooms and thin blankets. For his next job on Nausicaa, Anno ended up living at the studio (Topcraft – no Ghibli yet) and putting up with noisy nighttime karaoke. It was another high-pressure job, hence Anno’s elevation to God Warrior duties when another artist fell through. “I think Miyazaki wanted to test me… I think he liked the way I drew smoke and dust.”

Anno remembered one of his big learning experiences on Nausicaa was using the ground in animation, as opposed to the Macross robots jetting around in space. Miyazaki taught Anno how to draw the ground beneath the God Warrior, turning a simple line into a dimensional dune. “Once Miyazaki sees something, he will remember its structure; he has great observation.” Anno also recalled that Miyazaki originally planned a different version of the God Warrior scene. In this, the monster would have actually walked out into the advancing Ohmu insects, only to be overwhelmed by them. In the final Anno-animated version, the Warrior’s flesh melts grotesquely off its bones.

By the time Anno moved to Honneamise, he was still only in his mid-twenties; he reflects mournfully that he’s already less good at drawing than he was then. Reportedly, anime fans in Japan would go to Honneamise just to look at the highly realistic effects scenes, many drawn by Anno.

Evangelion 2.22 is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.


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