Evangelion Director Hideaki Anno Turns 55!

posted on by Eric Stimson

Hideaki Anno, one of anime's most distinctive directors, turns 55 today. Although he is most famous for the 1995 TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, which established him as a unique and controversial voice in the animation field, he has been involved in several projects over the years and his representation of the difficulties of social interaction and departure from the standard conventions of animation and film-making continue to set him apart from his colleagues.

Anno started out as a delinquent, excelling at art and getting into a prestigious high school in his hometown of Ube in the far west of Honshū. Yet he preferred playing mahjong to studying, drew art without following the basic principles first, and fought with an English teacher. He was soon labelled a "problem child" and only graduated by cheating. His mother remembers him as having "a stubborn personality."

His aloof attitude eventually got him expelled from college, but in the 1980s he met Hiroyuki Yamaga and Takami Akai, with whom he would found Studio Gainax in 1984. He got his start in animation by working as animation director on the Daicon films produced for the Japan Science Fiction Convention, which showcased the group's love of popular culture, science fiction, and animation. He worked as an animator on Hayao Miyazaki's epic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, where he animated the God Warrior sequence and began a lifelong friendship with the director. Other noteworthy animation projects of the 1980s include the opening sequence of MADOX-01, which showcased his interest in futuristic technology, and a battlecruiser sequence in Grave of the Fireflies.

Anno made his mark as a director with Gunbuster, a science-fiction tale of girls piloting mecha to fight aliens in outer space. It showcased his ability to direct impressive action sequences while also telling a moving, emotional story with an emphasis on character development. Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water, which followed in 1990, further cemented Anno's reputation and was successful in Japan, but the stress of production and dissatisfaction over the final result sent Anno into a long depression.

He reappeared on the animation scene with Neon Genesis Evangelion, a 26-episode television series that combines earlier themes like fighting nebulous foes from outer space and a youthful, emotional cast with a more pronounced emphasis on technological detail, psychoanalysis, use of onscreen text to reflect characters' innermost thoughts, and occasional live-action footage. Many of these elements were reused in the 1998 series His and Her Circumstances, although this is a high school romance story adapted from a shōjo manga and its tone is generally lighter and sillier. (Emphasis on industrial landscapes in these series may stem from his hometown, which is dominated by factories.)

Anno also branched out into live-action, directing Love & Pop in 1998, a film about four teenage girls involved in enjo kōsai, or going on paid dates with older men. He followed this with Shiki-Jitsu, a film about an anime director forming a relationship with a strange younger woman. In 2004 Anno directed Cutie Honey, a live-action version of the classic manga series about a Sexy Magical Girl.

Since then, Anno has largely recovered from his depression and has married manga artist Moyoco Anno, a relationship explored in her autobiographical manga Insufficient Direction. He starred as Jirō Horikoshi, the developer of the Mitsubishi Zero airplane and main character in Miyazaki's final film The Wind Rises. His current project is the Evangelion film series, which retells the story of Anno's signature work with a different twist. It was also announced last month that he's on board for TOHO's upcoming Godzilla film. He remains a huge fan of the Mobile Suit Gundam series, tokusatsu, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

According to Moyoco Anno's Twitter account, they celebrated his birthday with a gyōza (potsticker) party, "half with meat, half with tōfu for the director."

Moyoco Anno also posted new Insufficient Direction comics, made the Insufficient Direction anime's first four episodes free on YouTube (Japan only), and announced a special-edition Insufficient Direction DVD box set including more comics, letters from Hideaki to Moyoco, a "making of" video, a thank-you note, and an interview with Hideaki, all in a metallic box for 3,300 yen ($27).

[Via Studio Khara, Twitter, and Moyoco Anno official website]

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