20. Anno Hideaki, or Leave Naushika Alone

rebuild_of_naushika

There are many layers of meaning in all of Anno’s work…

I’d been working on researching this week’s post, when I happened upon this post on Kotaku about the [likelihood] of a sequel to Miyazaki Hayao’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika).  The spur for the most recent hype concerning a Naushika sequel (there has been speculation in the past) was the recent renewal of the bromance between Miyazaki and Evangelion director and GAINAX founder Anno Hideaki, whose better half, in every sense you might mean that, was the subject of a post on this very blog.  For those who don’t know, Miyazaki is old… like really old.  Ever since Spritied Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi), and arguably since Mononoke, it has seemed that each new Miyazaki film would be his last.  For a time, it seemed that Miyazaki was satisfied with calling it quits after Spirited Away, but it’s been reported that after seeing his son Goro’s flaming turd adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore (with bits of Tehanu thrown in for maximum confusion), he was inflamed with the passion to make another film.  The Miyazaki/Anno love affair seems destined–and, I hasten to add, TO EVERYONE’S DETRIMENT–to invest Miyazaki’s legacy in Anno rather than the son (or anyone else) whose relationship with his father is messed precisely because of the elder’s career as an animator.  So, even though the junior and senior Miyazaki managed not to kill each other working on From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka kara), the fact that Anno was tapped to voice act the lead in Hayao’s most recent film, The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu), seems to indicate that Goro won’t be allowed to ride on his father’s coattails.

All of this would have passed by my ken like a momentarily noxious fart if not for the rumors that Anno might produce a sequel to Naushika, based potentially on Miyazaki’s manga but also possibly as a completely new story.  I don’t think this is a particularly good idea, either to make a sequel to Naushika or, if it has to happen, to have Anno direct it.  It’s clear that Naushika has profoundly influenced the work for which he is best known, the now seminal Neon Genesis Evangelion (Shin seiki evangerion), but I would like to argue that what Anno has done with his inspiration in fact disqualifies him from being a particularly good choice for tackling a Naushika sequel, should such a poorly conceived thing come to pass.

When in Doubt, Raise the Stakes

Anno first became known for his fast paced ballistic work in the opening animations for DAICONs III and IV, which, when Miyazaki became desperate for anyone to finish production of Naushika, landed him a job working on the sequence where the giant god warrior attacks the rampaging Ohmu.  I’d like you to keep this fact in mind, because it has been the case several times that when Anno has been at a loss for how to tell a story, he has fallen back on intense, explosive action sequences that, while visually stunning, have served as a convenient device for covering the fact that he more or less has no idea what to say or do.  Of course, there are perfectly good reasons for not caring what Anno has to say:

I used to be a massive EVA fan, back when I had only seen the original 26 episode series, but with each successive iteration, Anno has deviated further and further from the psychological drama that made the EVA mythos more than a mere robot/kaiju vehicle tarted up with remarkably shallow philosophical musings.  As a result, I, at least, have become increasingly dissatisfied with his reinventions and rebuilds that, in the end, do little to elucidate what it is he’s trying to achieve with these characters and this world.  It would be easy to harp on his laziness, his tendency to simply reuse large chunks of previous work, often without any editing, but I think what lies at the heart of it all is a good old fashioned lack of vision, the kind of vision that would sustain several iterations on the same story.  Anno tries to claim that EVA is meaningless, but one detects more than a whiff of a tryhard who can’t quite say what he means.

Consider the most recent film in the Rebuild of Evangelion3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.  I have seen now numerous blogs and reviews and “essays” proclaiming how shocking this film was, how it “changed everything.”  Sure, superficially, much has changed: it’s 14 years after Shinji, by “saving” Rei, has initiated the dreaded Third Impact that everyone (except Gendo, of course) was trying to avoid in every previous iteration of the EVA story.  But, as Kaworu later reveals, Third Impact was only a partial apocalypse (wat?), and now he and Shinji have to go on a dangerous mission to stop FOURTH IMPACT.  Many years from now, when Kaworu and Shinji are racing against the clock to stop TENTH IMPACT, I’m not going to hold back from saying “I told you so.”  This raising of the stakes by simply introducing an even worse ultimate bad thing plays into the worst tendencies of shōnen manga, where each new story arc is initiated by the team of super powered dudes (and occasional dudettes) suddenly discovering that there is an even more powerful ultimate bad guy that they didn’t previously know about.

Outside of [SPOILER ALERT] Shinji learning to play the piano, there isn’t much new in Rebuild 3.0.  Shinji still does what everyone tells him too, Rei is still a talking doll, Asuka is still uses aggression to cover how insecure she is, the world is still on the verge of apocalypse (again), Gendo and Shinji still hate each other, Mari might as well not exist, etc.  Want to know what would have been surprising?  Gendo reconciling with his son, Shinji refusing to do what he’s told, Rei having a thought, Kaworu becoming jealous of Shinji’s status as the go-to super special child, Misato and Ritsuko having a steamy affair, a daring time travel caper to erase Mari from existence… ANYTHING involving actual human relations that do not easily conform to melodramatic tropes that Anno himself has already overworked.  I have nothing against melodrama, but what Anno has given us is the same melodrama again and again, only this time with more mecha battle fanboy pabulum.  YAWN.

The Personal is [Geo]Political

In the 1960s and ’70s, the heyday of so-called “second wave” feminism, the phrase “the personal is political” served as a reminder of the ways in personal concerns (especially sexuality, marriage, etc.) could not be compartmentalized as such, because the regulation of “personal issues” by a variety of social institutions (e.g. the criminalization of homosexuality) made them rather obviously political.  In EVA, Shinij’s daddy (and mommy) issues are at the core of a worldwide struggle against the Angels and later of the mystical project to merge all humanity into one consciousness.  Shinji ends this project only after coming to the understanding that most of us did when we were five: sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re not.  That’s life.  Fine, the transformation of all human beings into one blob of blood-like goo has ended because a boy finally got over himself.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve been bagging so heavily on Anno, if this is supposed to be about Naushika.  Remember how I said earlier that Anno worked on the god warrior sequence of the Naushika film?  Well, as a storyteller, Anno is basically stuck right there.  The EVA units themselves basically are god warriors in all their particulars (plus a dose of Ultraman, apparently), with one notable exception.  Anno’s EVAs are just like the bestial cannon at the end of Miyazaki’s feature film, hulking things capable of unimaginable destruction, at their most powerful when the human being plugged into them “shuts down” either due to unconsciousness or to succumbing to the overwhelming furor of their own rage.

In Miyazaki’s own revision of the god warrior, in the final two volumes of the Naushika manga, he takes this hulking thing in a completely different direction.  It is first seen as a child, who imprints upon Naushika, the character, as its mother.  The god warrior is scared and confused, and it takes Naushika’s maturity and patience to calm it down so that it does not cause any more damage than it already has.  Later, once Naushika has given the god warrior a name, it quickly changes.  Suddenly it’s speaking in archaic Japanese and sees itself as an ultimate arbiter of justice.  As interesting as this change is, more compelling to me is what Naushika forces it to do in the final confrontation at the crypt.  Again, the god warrior is scared and lonely, and Naushika consoles it long enough so that it will destroy the crypt and itself along with it.  If you think about how this maps onto Gendo and Shinji, i.e. Naushika as Gendo and the god warrior as EVA/Shinji, then you can see just how trite Anno’s treatment of Gendo really is.

This is to say, Miyazaki renews his vision of the giant god warrior by lowering the stakes, by re-emphasizing the person-al in the “machine.”  He asks his reader to understand what amounts to Naushika’s manipulation and betrayal of her “child” through her eyes, in which the god warrior is never simply reducible to a means toward some grand goal.  Naushika hates herself for what she does, but in her mind it is the best of a variety of bad choices.  Why do we never see things from Gendo’s perspective?  Hell, why do we never really see things even from Shinji’s perspective?  What was their family life like before his mother died?  Does Gendo, perhaps, fear Shinji’s destructive potential?  Was using him in the human instrumentality like Naushika using the god warrior?  What does it mean that Asuka imprints her own mother onto her EVA outside the simple claim that each EVA pilot’s mother is somehow “in there?”  Why is this subtext more or less dropped in the Rebuild films?  Any of these would have made for interesting threads to explore, but Anno is simply much more at home with FUCK YEAH!!1 epic machine battles than with the subtleties of human psychology.  In the EVA TV series, he had at least hinted at the latter, but in later revisions his knowing suggestions have been revealed to be mere winks and nudges.

In the end, I fail to see what good could come of revisiting Naushika, especially since it already has been revisited quite compellingly in the manga.  The best anyone could hope for from Anno is a simple animated repetition of something the manga already does quite well, in which case, read the fucking book.  What I fear, though, and I think there is ample justification for this, is that Anno, finding himself well outside his comfort zone, would eventually dumb things down, so that what we would be left with in a Naushika remake is 90 minutes of air battles and god warrior roaring broken up with a few minutes of whiny muttering about how hard life is.  The reason I don’t want this to ever happen is because Anno has demonstrated again and again that EVA is basically a primer in how to be stupidly self-absorbed.  Naushika, on the other hand, asks what it means to be selfless, in the most disconcerting way possible, where the most ethical choice may be to doom your whole species to nonexistence.  There’s no reason to believe Anno could even begin to handle that.

In case you were thinking, “yeah, well, I’d like to see you do better,” I don’t have to.  It’s already been done.

Next week: How to draw the new manga, c. 1928!

Stay Tuned!

Ba Zi

contact me: uahsenaa@gmail.com

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13 comments

  1. I have never watched the EVA anime and mostly read Sadamoto’s interpretation of EVA instead. I just don’t like how many spinoffs it has…it’s ridiculous. But, this is a man who almost ran away from producing EVA and somehow managed to get it done.

    1. There is a bit of an over-emphasis on Anno’s role as an auteur of the EVA mythos; in fact, given how far behind production was on the EVA anime, the manga had been running for nearly a year before the first episode aired. It’s entirely possible that Sadamoto actually wrote much of what is now considered canon.

      1. Yeah, I’m actually interested in seeing whose interpretation of the main series EVA fans prefer since the manga ended this year.

  2. If I could like this post twice then I would. Like you, I was a huge fan of the original Evangelion TV series, and still have a lot of love for it today. While I didn’t dislike the first two Rebuild films (which for the most part didn’t deviate a whole heap from the series), I hated the third Rebuild movie and will only be watching the fourth out of morbid curiosity. I wish Anno would create something new rather than keep revisiting a story I still very much respect and admire, but which has become more of a cash cow than anything else. What I’d really like to see is Anno try his hand at something original again.

    1. Anno has done surprisingly little that isn’t adapted from something else, and even then he has a hard time getting it right (c.f. the Kare Kano anime). Even his Love & Pop, for which, quite surprisingly he won a mess of awards, is just a dumbed down version of Bounce KoGals.

      1. I have yet to watch Love & Pop, although it’s currently sitting on my computer until I have some more spare time. I actually didn’t think much of Bounce KoGals though, so I’ll be interested to see if I like Love & Pop more or less than that. And despite its problems, I did enjoy (most) of Kare Kano – there was some great characterisation there, even if the ending was less than stellar. But you’re right, Anno has done very little in terms of original material, which I think is a pity.

      2. Bounce Kogals can be a bit maudlin, but Yakusho Koji and Momoi Kaori are amazing in that film, which was the source of an awkward encounter with Momoi in the Detroit airport where I basically had a fangasm while she stood on the curb smoking.

  3. […] 20. ANNO HIDEAKI, OR LEAVE NAUSHIKA ALONE […]

  4. […] Morimoto Kozueko’s Gokusen.  I apologize wholeheartedly, dear reader, if this disturbs the rigid sense of objectivity and fairness that this blog has become synonymous with, but it cannot be […]

  5. deleuzean · · Reply

    The first thing I feel tempted to ask in response to this essay is: why did you bother with writing it?

    Not in a mean way. I just don’t understand what drives critiques like this that basically amount to saying “I don’t personally like X, therefore X is bad and without value.”

    I mean, what does it really add to the discussion of Nausicaa, or Evangelion or any of the other works by Miyazaki / Ghibli, or Anno / Gainax / Studio Khara.

    Is your intent to convince others to stop paying attention to the works that Anno creates? Or, even less likely, to convince him to stop making stuff that you find irritating?

    Maybe you’re just venting your spleen, but it feels like you’re trying to convince me of… something?

    It’s no secret that Anno loves to endlessly recycle material. If you don’t like that, then why not just look to other creators who don’t groove on that so much? I submit to you that the works of the Miyazaki / Anno / Go Nagai triad are largely founded upon endlessly recycling material, as is much of anime and almost all of tokusatsu.

    ABe Yoshitoshi, Sato Dai, and Oshii Mamoru are just a few big names active today who rely much less on the kind of “otaku” mindset-driven creation-by-recycling that is Anno’s stock-in-trade.

    It is particularly the tokusatsu connection / influence that I think you (and others who complain about Anno’s recycling) miss again and again. The sound that accompanies the on screen appearance of the studio Khara logo is the “henshin” sound effect from the original Ultraman series for god’s sake, so I’m not sure how much more obvious Anno can make it for everyone (especially considering additionally that since the word “khara” means “joy”, the logo for his own animation company is basically telling you right to your face that the hero’s transformation in the tokusatsu formula equals exultant pleasure for Anno).

    I’m pretty sure there’s even less academic / scholarly writing in English about tokusatsu than there is about anime and manga, but it’s not difficult to see at a brief glance that tokusatsu is an extremely narrowly defined genre that can be summarized in psychoanalytic terms as a kind of spin on “repetition compulsion” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repetition_compulsion).

    Subtlety isn’t always the first thing one thinks of when one encounters tokusatsu, but it is, in fact, the subtle variations playing out against the canvas of recycled sameness that are, at least for me, exactly what draws me back again and again to tokusatsu *and* to works by Anno.

    I submit to you that the (genuinely sublime, IMHO) piano duet sequences in Rebuild 3.0 are referencing precisely this kind “joy of repetition and variation” in human action and relationships.

    But, yeah, if that’s not your thing, then move along, nothing to see here.

    As a critic / scholar / researcher / whatever I guess I just hope for others of similar bent to invest themselves in writing to educate interested others about these things – you know: broaden the field of understanding – instead of seemingly working to narrow that field though what basically amounts to whiny / snarky wet-blanket dismissiveness cloaked in erudition.

    1. I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’ll bite. But before I do, there’s nothing stopping you from drawing out these connections yourself in your own work. That’s what intellectual discourse is.

      Okay, at the risk of repeating myself [!], two things:

      1) The repetition compulsion: in Beyond the Pleasure Principle this is discussed explicitly in terms of trauma, specifically the trauma of soldiers returning from war re-experiencing the horrors visited upon them by killing other people, seeing them maimed, etc. The repetition compulsion is an attempt to gain mastery over those experiences that seem to defy sense, except that mastery is illusory, and so the traumatic experience repeats itself over and over again. The compulsion, then, is dysfunctional, at least as far as Freud is concerned, and has nothing to do with his older formulation of drives motivating one to increase pleasure or avoid pain. So with the repetition compulsion we have an attempt to gain mastery over experience in precisely the manner that has no lasting value, because the cycle repeats itself ad infinitum. The compulsion then is not really pleasurable but symptomatic of a greater inability to deal with trauma.

      I say this, because in many ways it makes my point for me. When I say that Anno is “stuck,” I mean it in precisely this way, that the repetition, even as variation, appears to me to be an attempt to gain mastery over or understanding of an idea or constellation of ideas concerning subjectivity, being, and other high minded things that are more traumatic, and thus arresting, than intellectually invigorating in the manner you appear to desire. It appears to be working through something difficult (both, perhaps, psychologically and intellectually) but, according to this line of argument, is simply repeating ad nauseam. Now, I would shy away from claiming that creating repetitive media is pathological; I think it’s just lazy.

      And Oshii is a good example of how something similar might play out without becoming repetitive. GitS, Innocence, Avalon, Assault Girls, Sky Crawlers all dance around similar questions of subjectivity in different layers of “reality” without simply repeating the same basic types (I hesitate to say characters). Watching Anno’s various media, I feel like Constantine in Kierkegaard’s Repetition, who, when he repeats a trip to Berlin down to all the particulars, complains of the “same sameness.” Which leads me to:

      2) In a sense, Naushika already has a sequel, the manga, which didn’t simply repeat or add to the content of the film of the same name but substantially revised it as the title stopped and started over the better part of a decade. This revision is tantamount, in my mind, to what the Naushika phenomenon became, and it saddens me that whenever I suggest reading the title, I have to go out of my way to break down other people’s dismissiveness of it, so there is some personal trauma underlying my ire in the above post. If you have the time or patience, I would suggest reading this post, which I’m surprised I didn’t link to here:

      https://whatismanga.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/10b-invested-in-mecha-manga-miyazaki-hayaos-nausicaa-of-the-valley-of-the-wind/

      The tl;dr, if you’d rather not bother, is that the revisionary principle in the Naushika manga is not limited to the film but probes back into both the history of mecha/robot manga as well as the elements of Japan’s (lingering) fascist history embedded within those media texts. For me, and perhaps only me, the Naushika manga represents an attempt to actually expose and work through the “trauma” of this past, and the nihilism of the final volume is Miyazaki’s solution to the problem of the mere (and dysfunctional repetition) of the past in the present, whereas, it seems to me, the nihilism of the Eva media is just trying to “end it” (like suicide) but can’t.

      My fear is that an Anno Naushika would turn the revision of the former into the repetition, and thus dysfunction, of the latter. It’s something people often complain of with satire: you have to repeat so much of that which you are trying to undermine in order to invoke it, that you always run the risk of simply repeating that which you wanted to undercut and thus become complicit with it. I feel sometimes that Anno has gone so far down the merchandising, hyper-capitalist rabbit hole that he simply enhances and legitimizes a form of rabid and conspicuous consumption that breeds the very sense of alienation his types (not characters) feel so palpably. It’s a self perpetuating cycle.

      So, I would strongly disagree that Miyazaki is more or less doing a tokusatsu/serial thing (the serial pattern is broader than just tokusatsu and can be seen, for instance, in the Zatoichi films or the warrior stories [kōdan] that were in popular circulation throughout the late Edo and early Meiji periods) and that there is a clear shift in the political undercurrents of his films, at least, if not his various manga as well. That said, I’m actually quite skeptical of Miyazaki, especially his occasional racist statements about the nature of Japanese and non-Japanese brains.

      -An additional note: I fail to see how adopting a polemical tone, which is common to all my blog posts, shuts down anything. After all, it got you to respond. So, I’d invite you to prove me wrong, show how I’m a blithering idiot, post it somewhere, and when you’ve done that, let me know, and I’ll take a serious look at it.

      1. deleuzean · ·

        Wow! Thanks for the lovely reply.

        If you had written that stuff in the first place, I would have been more inclined to enjoy and also get more value from your OP.

        And, honestly, I don’t think you’re a “blithering idiot” at all. If I did, I wouldn’t have bothered with my comment.

        I lost my taste for polemic some time ago, I just don’t think it’s very effective at convincing anyone other than those who don’t need any convincing to begin with. I mean, sure, it’s kind of fun to be in that kind of “we’re all upset about the same thing” group. Also fun to be the one who can elucidate the “upset” most clearly and concisely. But it doesn’t always work so well as a way of inviting real discussion and exchange of (potentially contradictory) ideas.

        Maybe I’m just too sensitive.

        At any rate, I appreciate you dialing it back in your reply to my comment. ^_^

        I see what you’re saying with the “read the manga” angle on Nausicaa, and I get that this is ostensibly a *manga* blog, but given the fact that a Nausicaa sequel would be a *movie*, and therefore a separate text unto itself, I don’t see how it could turn out worse than an interesting experiment that would add to the complex of meanings in the already multi-textual body of work that is “Nausicaa.”

        My own training is in film criticism, and I specifically favor looking at film from a formalist perspective. As such, I tend to see the specifically formal elements in Anno’s work rising to the surface. I think his love/hate relationship with “the otaku lifestyle” generates an interesting tension in his work between obsessive and loving attention paid to intertextual referencing and minute/spectacular mechanical/physical detail on the one hand, and, on the other hand, minute and oddly/interestingly superficial details of character development in relation to self and other.

        Toward the end of your OP, you ask a bunch of questions that pertain to deeper character motivations being explored more explicitly (more *deeply*), but that’s not what Anno is interested in – and, I submit to you that it doesn’t have to be because what he *is* interested in is completely worthy of pursuit *on its own merits*.

        He can’t help himself from staying out on the surface. But, boy, does he ever work over that surface thoroughly.

        A digression (hopefully useful)…

        Another interest of mine is noise music, and there is a short piece entitled “The Surface Runs Deep” on the 1982 album by noise pioneer NON (Boyd Rice). The title is very telling in regard to the *meaning and value* of noise music in general. The “surfaces” are rich and complex even though they differ very strongly from what we think of as “music.” They offer us an opportunity to hear the world in a different way.

        Now I’m not trying to say that Anno has any knowledge of or interest in noise music, but the thing about noise music is that it is “about” subtlety emerging from a cacaphony of hyperstimulation. Additionally – and, I think, also parallel to Anno’s work – noise music often juxtaposes cacaphony with protracted monotony or even near-silence.

        What I’m trying to get at here is that I think Anno’s overarching “project” in his work is to somehow create “surfaces that run deep.” He offers viewers an opportunity to *see* the world in a different way. He offers the idea that the surfaces of the world – all the people and things in it – can be enough *in themselves* to generate/represent the abundant creativity, meaning, and joy of *existence.*

        That is his “place at the table” at the 21st century motion picture arts dinner party. Maybe he’s not your favorite guest at the party, but I think he does have a valid invitation, and I think he continues to contribute something of value.

      2. WordPress can only embed a certain number of times, so I’ll put this here. In lieu of responding to your response, I’ll post something on Sunday addressing several of the issues you raise instead of what I had originally planned to, so as to give more visibility to this discussion.

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