CallNeon Genesis Evangelionone of the most successful anime of all time is not controversial. Enigmatic director Hideaki Anno's career-defining tour de force ran from 1995 to 1996, but these original 26 episodes weren't destined to stand alone.
We have seen spin-offs with their own spin-offs; enough merchandise to clothe a country for a bitter winter; a dedicated Pachinko game system; over $8 billion raised under its franchise umbrella. A cultural object has become a culture in itself.
As with animation efforts, especially those of a founding studio like Gainax, any attempt to pass the credit pedestal to an individual author risks misattribution. Anno, despite being a prolific filmmaker and storyteller, madeEvangelionwith a team of talented animators, producers, writers, idea makers, coffee drinkers, etc. It's an intensely collaborative medium, animation, a fact obscured by self-aggrandizing figureheads.
That said, there is one member of the NGE team whose specific work on the series and subsequent work for the franchise deserves some credit: artist and Gainax co-founder Yoshiyuki Sadamoto.
Sadamoto's official designation in the original NGE production was head character designer. He did the story and art for the NGE manga, and worked on the spin-offs and subsequent remakes of the NGE film. The credits are numerous and not always specific enough to be more than vaguely informative.
There are few reasons why, other than the general bias against individual praise, this particular praise seems deserved. Character design is an extremely important job in an anime, something especially true for NGE. Much of the thematic work that NGE does is reflected at the level of the character's appearance, making Sadamoto's work a good entry point into considering the anime's famous subtext.
In addition, Rei, a character that Sadamoto took almost paternal care in developing and designing, embodies one of NGE's enduring hallmarks of character design in general. And Sadamoto's skill was top notch. Learn from his contemporary Yasuo Otsuka, who named Sadamoto as one of three people whose ability exceeded Otsuka's.
That skill is no doubt part of what led Sadamoto to take over NGE's story and manga art. Originally intended as a promotional supplement to the series, the manga counterpart preceded and survived its purported primary, which spanned two decades, from 1994 to 2014.
The story differs marginally in content from the animated series, but Sadamoto described the difference in tone in a 1996 interview: “I think the anime is…I can't say it's cuter. But he has the feel of an honor student. The manga is a bit more twisted… the feeling of a reproach.”
Depravity of content aside, the characters are essentially identical in appearance across all mediums. This also applies to Sadamoto's other works. From the 2D drawing technique of the original animation and Manga, to the hybrid digital style of later films, Sadamoto's characters are recurring, polished, confident, but fundamentally the same. In that sense, Sadamoto's character work for NGE is cross-modal.
A full appreciation of Sadamoto's work at NGE begs, or perhaps even requires, that one first understand the importance of the program itself. The social backdrop of the original screening was a Japan in economic crisis, a crisis acutely felt by the animation industry, which at the time was characterized by a heavy reliance on source material and commercially inhospitable and artistic innovation. risk taking. However, at the turn of the century, the industry exploded, transformed and diversified.
Of course, one show hasn't single-handedly reinvigorated the animated series in Japan, but NGE's role in the redemption arc hasn't been insignificant. Cultural critics and academics such as Tim Hornyak, Andrea Fontana, and Davide Tarò have noted NGE's impact in terms of expanding the reach of the medium, capturing the attention of international youth, and repositioning anime in Japan's cultural and artistic hierarchy.
This legacy is related to the rise of the Otaku market for anime in Japan. Before NGE, Otaku (literally meaning someone with a higher vision perception, but usually used to refer to scrutinizing anime fans who bring a critical and technical eye to the audience) anime was generally thought to attract a shallow, young to medium audience. Older Japanese male demographics.
Thomas Lamarre's 2009 bookthe anime machinetakes an in-depth look at this cultural relationship, noting that an emphasis on technique, process, and technology were major tenants of the early Otaku style, which represented a departure from the Disney-inspired art animation of companies like Studio Ghibli. Gainax's developments became, in a way, a litmus test for the commercial viability of the new market, in which it was approved.
Cultural and commercial success, yes, but not only that. NGE was successful at the level of the televised animated medium, the genre of giant mecha, and art, both narrative and aesthetic.
Did you understand.
Enter again: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Sadamoto's work on the original NGE anime was mostly limited to character design, and thus he is primarily concerned with the human form.
This likely sat well with Sadamoto, who has expressed anxiety about pushing his artistic limits. “In general, I don't want to draw something that I have to study more to draw,” Sadamoto confessed in a 2013 interview. “I couldn't draw a medical manga because it's impossible for me to lie about medicine.”
This desire for truth in image was reflected in the broader industry at the time. The prevailing character design in the mid-1990s emphasized realism and anatomical accuracy. In a way, NGE fit these trends: some of the proportions (eyes, head size, certain glandular apparatus) defy credulity a bit, but the style was not in the hyper-Moe tradition of student airships soon to be seen. it would come true. become commonplace.
But Sadamoto eschewed hyper-realistic detail in favor of more general shapes in many of his characters. The central protagonists like Shinji and Misato are relatively quiet, grim anatomical realism pushed aside in favor of something else.
Sadamoto said that he "designed the characters so that their personalities could be more or less understood at a glance." And as Lamarre points out inthe anime machine, this goes beyond the color and the hair: the affectation, the posture and the hairstyle become places of inscription of the character.
Sadamoto's sacrifice of pure anatomical detail led to further semiotic experimentation. Sadamoto's designs are characteristic in their own right.
The discursive relationship between character design and the nature of the character, even plot, is a common thread in animation. There are many relevant dimensions: clothing, accessory, color, and line format.
Digital artist Tato, for example, has an excellent take on Overwatch character design, boiling each character into one of three shapes (square, circle, or triangle) or some combination thereof. The shape reflects the sensitivity of the character and can foreshadow the plot. Sadamoto's work, then, fulfills a function with which he struggles with hyperreal design.
The lack of raw detail doesn't stop Sadamoto's characters from being distinctive. Color and costume are important factors for this success. Take Misato, for example. Sadamoto envisioned her as a kind of military neighbor. The paradox was intentional.
The internal contradiction is reflected in her character design: while working, Misato wears a jacket that makes her torso massive and solid, and from certain angles, the shape of her head and hair offer equally robust shape lines.
But this implicit trustworthiness is fleeting. At home, Misato wears looser clothing that reveals more angular body features. The shape of his face, seen from above, tapers into an angular background. These hesitations in character design mimic Misato's emotional, narrative, and psychological vicissitudes within the series. Misato's contradictory design becomes a microcosm of his character.
We can also contrast Misato's vibrant color scheme in her hair and wardrobe with the more understated scheme of her co-worker and best friend Ritusko. Ritsuko also wears a bulkier work uniform, but unlike Misato's red jacket, Ritsukos is white and we almost never see her without it. This belies her commitment to her work and ultimately the degree to which she is entrenched in the NERV apparatus itself.
Shinji is another example of how Sadamoto's form becomes content. The main protagonist of NGE is a vision of the ordinary. Dark eyes, medium length brown hair, pale complexion, uninspiring white button. The round face of him, the soft angles of him. He is not only indecisive, but intermittent periods of discouragement always leave him on the brink of heroism. As Sadamoto said, Shinji is not a "reflection" of a hero, but a "refraction" of one.
Shinji is an embodiment of the tabula rasa of adolescence: an innocence stolen from him when he puts on the intricately detailed mech suit. Shinji's ectomorph is still on display, but it's primed to connect to something else, and when he steps on the input jack, as the surroundings darken, as he grabs the console and seizes a power beyond, something changes in his face. . Narrow eyes, long shadows, sharp angles.
It is at these times that Shinji is most like his father, Gendo. Gendo's design is angular, meticulous, always enigmatic behind glasses that only periodically allow you to see his eyes. The hyper-masculine style of drawing the male form is shifted from our hero and applied to our villain.
Rei and Asuka present another useful juxtaposition. Both main characters lead Evas in the battle against the Angles, where the divergent design in terms of color and shape, even only at the level of the hair, is of great importance.
Where Asuka's flowery red hair exhibits great durability and her ambiguously dark eyes a certain gravitational reliability, Rei's light blue hair hangs loose, bisecting and sometimes obscuring a pair of fiery red eyes. Rei's versatile design allows for a number of actions to feel relevant to her character, which, as she'll know if she's seen NGE, is critically important to storytelling at the plot level.
The importance of Sadamoto's work in designing Rei extends beyond the confines of the show. Rei is widely considered today as the catalyst for a paradigm shift in the cultivation of Moe's character.
Moe, a slang term used to denote a penchant for animated characters appearing in media, has been a driving force in the development of anime character design.
Cultural critic and philosopher Hiroki Azuma argued that Rei "changed the rules" of mocking viewers' Moe. Her pale complexion, blue hair, near-perpetual state of injury, and withdrawn personality of hers have been emulated in Moe's characters ever since.
In that sense, Sadamoto wasn't just practicing good character design on Rei. He was altering the symbolic structure of the animation itself. Rei became a gateway to the new logic of making a Moe character.
In addition to juxtaposing character types, Sadamoto uses character design to also build a thematic and conceptual schism. This is particularly acute at the level of gender and family roles. Gendo's design, for example, subverts the archetype of the paternal protector and forces us to question the centralization of power in male hands.
There's also a notable moment in NGE where characters are literally deconstructed, taken back through the animation process from their polished product to their original sketches, and then reassembled.
Here, Sadamoto's work becomes the ultimate Otaku product: a deconstruction of technique and technology that the viewer sees as part of the narrative itself. It is the necessarily primary esoteric.
All of which is to say: Sadamoto's work on NGE is just as important as any plot twist or tone. The consistency of symbol and theme at the character level is part of what makes NGE the masterpiece we remember. He doesn't call attention to himself, but when he pays attention to himself, his accomplishment is obvious.
If you're interested in seeing more of Sadamoto's work, he has some recent projects available for streaming. He's designing characters for The Great Pretender, which is on Netflix, for example. He can find a full list of his credits at animenewnetwork.com and watch the NGE original series, as well as several related movies, on Netflix.