Anime Limited's Cloud Matsuri Online Convention
Licensing Evangelion – Yasuhiro Kamimiura
by Andrew Osmond,
Anime fans tend to think of Evangelion as a “big” franchise. However, for Yasuhiro Kamimura, who's managed the franchise's licensing since 2001, much of Evangelion's brand power comes from the source material being small.
“Before Rebuild, there were only the TV series and the two films,” Kamimura observed in the final industry interview at Cloud Matsuri. “I think because there's such a limited amount of content, people have been able to add their own value to it.”
Kamimura has known Evangelion's creator Hideaki Anno since they were both college students, when Anno was involved in the Daicon fan films in the 1980s. Kamimura helped out on these amateur epics as, he said, a “dogsbody.” In particular, Kamimura became expert in using gunpowder to create flames and explosions as special effects. “I would be arrested today,” he said.
Unlike his otaku acquaintances, Kamimura went into a “regular” job after graduating, as a telecoms engineer. But a few years later, around 1990, he was invited to join the Gainax team. “I'd had so much fun with them as a student that it was like coming home.” At first, he helped develop Gainax's PC games. During Evangelion's production, Anno had him toiling on shots of computer screens, graphics for the show's title sequence, and other designs in the series, all made to Anno's specifications.
“When Anno realized what he could do with our software, he started asking for more, and really made a lot of work for me,” Kamimura said. “On some episodes, I was involved in a hundred shots… I got pretty good at using Illustrator and Photoshop.”
Kamimura took on handling licensing and corporate promotions for Gainax – including Evangelion merchandise - after a previous employee moved on from that role. Asked about Evangelion's appeal, Kamimura certainly thought it wooed fans through its graphics, its characters and its fan-pleasing elements. But he also pointed to its most contentious element. “I think that the biggest thing was that there was no solution to the story. Everyone was free to come up with their own solution. The most important thing about Evangelion was that people could talk to each other about their theories.”
Evangelion was similarly open-ended when it came to merchandising and tie-ups. “There was no specific thing we had to do because it was Evangelion, no particular story we had to include.” The fans helped; for example, Evangelion fans who also made character figures, or were creating games. “They keep finding new things for fans to enjoy Evangelion.”
Regarding Evangelion licenses, Kamimura said that he sometimes gives a degree of free rein to brands with their own strong identity, which Evangelion can ride on. However, he said, “It's very important that I meet with these brands and find out what they like about Evangelion, what they see in it.” He added that he also works with big companies with high sales, but which do not have an exciting vision for Evangelion. In that case, he said, he and his team would give them recommendations for tie-ins.
Kamimura highlighted Evangelion as a fashion brand. “Evangelion has worked with some really trendy fashion brands to make a variety of items.” The Radio Eva brand is Kamimura's own initiative. Before Evangelion, he said, fashion in anime was largely confined to T-shirts displaying cute characters. Evangelion, though didn't need characters at all. “For example, if you just use the colour schemes, the purple and green, then that automatically brings EVA-1 to mind. Or you can just use the lettering.” Fashion, Kamimura said, was a way for fans to live out their fan identity.
“When you watch a film, you only watch it for two hours. When you wear an item of clothing, you can be an Evangelion fan all day long.”
Since 2010, Kamimura has focused on Evangelion licensing from a new company he set up, Groundworks Co, of which he is the CEO. His account of why this happened speaks volumes for the relationship between Evangelion's creator and what used to be the Evangelion studio, Gainax.
“Hideaki Anno is not 'Hideaki Anno of Gainax,” Kamimura said. “He is a creator and producer, and I think he started Studio Khara because he decided not to have to use the Gainax name. Evangelion was completely Anno's project, it all came from him. But whenever Evangelion comes up, it was always Gainax at the top, and then Anno. I think he wanted to prove he could do something without Gainax.”
While Kamimura was handling licensing at Gainax, he sometimes had to prioritize the studio's other titles above Evangelion. “I thought it would be better for Anno and Gainax if I could focus on the license for Evangelion. So I asked them if I could set up another company and work on the Evangelion license from a neutral position. This was Groundworks.”
The discussion ended with Kamimura's comments on the promotion of the Rebuild films. He said that for the three films released to date, they had not had advance press screenings, nor was information about them released to the media in advance. “Because the first impression you get in the cinema is all important,” Kamimura said. However, he believed the promotion of the long-awaited fourth film would be different, because of the current situation in the world.
“How we go about advertising and promoting the film will be different because coronavirus has changed the world. What people want from entertainment will have changed.” As for any specific plans in these unprecedently uncertain times, Kamimura wanted to know as much as anyone.