Evangelion Creator Talks the Future of the Franchise

This article originally appeared in Anime Now! on December 3, 2016.

This past week, Khara, the studio behind the Rebuild of Evangelion films, celebrated its ten-year anniversary with a special exhibition in Tokyo. Visitors to the exhibit received a special gift an 88-page booklet filled with interviews–including one by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno himself where he talks about his studio, philosophy, and the future of his most famous series.

In the booklet, Anno describes in more detail his outlook on each of these three pillars of Khara and how it relates to his overall view of the Japanese animation industry on the global stage.

The establishment of Khara was the result of his feeling that he “had run out of things to do” at Gainax. So when he set up the company, he originally did so just as an office for planning projects rather than an actual production studio. This soon changed as the first project—Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone—ballooned in size in terms of manpower and budget due to various reasons, so it ended up becoming a real studio and a lot of the work was done in-house.

Anno sees production companies as “containers.” They house people, and works; sometimes new people come in and out, sometimes works do the same. But the container has to be maintained. Once this management is set up, you have a stable, working system. Using the metaphor of a plantation, Annos say that he feels he can often just concentrate on managing and let others plant the seeds–a feeling that even includes his seminal work, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

According to Anno, Evangelion will continue to be a mainstay of Khara’s output, and even identity. Anno’s overall attitude appears to be that his involvement in the animation industry is simply one of love of the craft–whether it be from the perspective of creator, archived materials curator, or businessman. As he himself states, it is his way of “giving back.” However, because he himself is an animation fan, he admits he can agree with the sentiment of fans who feel that he keeps going back to Eva for the money. And the way he justifies it is very blunt: making money is important, otherwise you cannot reinvest in something else to continue to create.

For the future, he wishes Evangelion will become a cultural icon, one of the cornerstones of anime, much like Gundam, which has become an institution in and of itself. Like Gundam, where many creators can play around with the elements and create their own worlds, it is Anno’s hope that Evangelion can also be set free, to be reconstructed and reinterpreted in many ways by many other artists.

Of course, there is more to Anno and Khara than just Evangelion. These past two years, Khara has also been producing the numerous animated short films of the Japan Anima(tor) Expo. While Evangelion and Godzilla are household names that guarantee sales, overall Anno describes a growing worry when looking at sales data for anime content: disc sales are going down, as we all know, which leaves the studios with the option of either movie screenings or online streams. However, he feels confident about the future outlook. The Japan Anima(tor) Expo has been a brilliant success in the effort to expand not just people’s understanding of Japanese animation, but also promote Khara’s name to the world along with it.

The factor that Anno believed was of utmost importance when planning the expo was that he wanted a global audience, so simultaneous streaming around the world, with English subtitles, was a must. He explains how “it was a project for people to reaffirm how fun Japanese animation could be, so the greatest goal was to disseminate it throughout the world. And if that meant that people would remember the name Khara, then even better.”

In the interview, he describes proactively promoting the company and the project at events abroad, and how he wanted to build more recognition amongst fans that “this is the company that makes Evangelion.” In particular, he notes how the data showed that the ME! ME! ME! short was a surprise hit, especially in North America and Europe where the view numbers were a different order of magnitude. It allowed him to think that there is still potential in this type of content and still markets left to tap.

That Khara has accomplished so much in just ten years–just take one look at Shin Godzilla–is a testament to Anno’s desire to try different things and thus attract a wide variety of people and constantly help the studio gain knowledge and expertise. Evangelion may be the flagship title, but Khara is so much more than Evangelion.

At this stage, it looks like Anno’s philosophy for Khara and its impeccable track record will continue to propel it to further success, even around the world. Right now, Khara is one of those companies that represents, perhaps even embodies, the past (through its archiving and restoration projects), the present (Shin Godzilla and the forthcoming Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0), and the future of anime.

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Renato Rivera Rusca

Renato Rivera Rusca is a graduate of Japanese Studies at Stirling University in Scotland and has conducted postgrad research on Japanese popular culture in Osaka University and Kyoto University. He has lectured at the Manga Faculty at Kyoto Seika University and has participated in many projects involving the Kyoto International Manga Museum since its inception. He is a lecturer at Meiji University, Yokohama National University, Okayama University, and is Assistant Producer of animation at Studio Machiken.