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 Evangelion, 3.0 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!
contact me: email@example.com