Interview: Cruel Angel's Thesis singer Yoko Takahashi

by Zac Bertschy,

Yoko Takahashi is the iconic voice behind one of the most well-known anime theme songs of all time, A Cruel Angel's Thesis from the original 1995 TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The song is a classic around the world and continues to be one of the most popular songs sung at karaoke in Japan. She's no one-hit wonder, either; with 11 albums and several other anime theme songs under her belt, including the closing for Shakugan no Shana and most recently the second opening theme for Cross Ange. We had the chance to ask her a few questions about her career ahead of her first-ever performance in Los Angeles at Anime Expo this past July 4.

Zac: Thank you very much for your time. So 20 years ago, the show was very controversial and I wanted to know if you personally were ever touched by that controversy?

Yoko Takahashi: When I was first deciding to sing the song, I'd never seen the show, nothing, no information at all. I watched the show on the air at the same time as other people.

Zac: Did you have any inkling ever that it would be as big as it was? At any point during the recording process, any idea that it would be such a huge thing and you'd be singing this song for 20 years?

I didn't know about the story, I didn't know about the anime until it was aired so I had no idea.

Zac: How does it feel, in the aftermath, how does it feel to be part of something that's that much of a cultural touchstone? It's such an iconic song and your voice is iconic, it's immediately associated with something millions of people know worldwide. What does that feel like? Do you feel any pressure to represent it in a certain way?

I do sometimes when the title is brought overseas, maybe some other people sing or do the voice acting, so I feel very happy that they recognize my voice in Japanese.

Zac: If there were a new fan who wanted to get into your back catalog, they wanted to explore the rest of your work outside the one song, where would you want them to start and what would you want them to know going in?

My most recent work, I sang the second season opening for Cross Ange, I think that went on sale around January of this year, so that might be a start.

Zac: Are there any songs you feel that you've performed that are underappreciated, that you wish more people knew about?

So my past work?

Zac: Your past work. Anything that's not your most famous song that you feel like, "I wish people discovered that more, they should go check it out because personally I feel like that's a really strong piece of work."

I sang the opening title for Pumpkin Scissors, Aoki Flamme, you know that one?

Zac: I know that one.

You know? Oh, wow. I was really proud of that one, but it wasn't as popular as I hoped, so I hope people will check that one out.

Zac: What are you most excited to see at the convention this year here in LA?

Response: Since it's actually my first time performing in the United States, I just want to see how the American audience will react to my event.

Zac: So are you nervous at all?

I don't know yet! I'll see on the day of.

Zac: Well they're going to love you, don't worry.

Thank you!

Zac: If you could contribute in any way to the final Evangelion film, what would you want to do? Would you rather voice a character, sing a song for it?

Unfortunately who's going to sing the theme songs has already been decided. I would love to participate, but since it's already been decided we'll see how it turns out.

Zac: In the last 20 years, you've been doing this a while, how have things in the pop industry in Japan changed the most for you? What's the biggest thing you've noticed in the past two decades?

It's actually my 25th year since my solo debut. At first I was just kind of a ballad singer and not really popular, but around 1989-1990 the Japanese economy went bust. I didn't know what to do so I actually studied in Los Angeles for about half a year. Then I went back to Japan and was looking for work and that's when the gig for Evangelion came up. At the time I didn't realize the song and anime was going to be such a social phenomenon. Even until now, Cruel Angel's Thesis is always in the top ten for Japanese karaoke for people in their teens, 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, it's always in the top ten. I didn't realize it was going to be such a social phenomenon. So maybe it began the trend for voice actors or actresses to sing, so that kind of started the whole trend, maybe.

Zac: Have you ever gone out for karaoke and the people you were with pestered you to get up and sing the song? Has that ever happened?

Response: Actually I don't really go to karaoke that often. I'm actually kind of shy about singing in front of people!

Thanks to Yoko Takahashi and Anime Expo for the opportunity.

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