Reviews: The Notenki Memoirs

Memoirs of madness
Yasuhiro Takeda reveals the secrets of a world-famous anime production studio in this tell-all account of the horrors and hopes that accompanied GAINAX's rise to fame. From beginners' luck to the edge of defeat, this journey through the life and mind of one witness sheds light on the production of Neon Genesis Evangelion and what it takes to make a runaway hit.

The Notenki MemoirsFirst of all, it should be mentioned that, contrary to the synopsis printed on the back of the book, this book is not about Evangelion. In fact, in the near 200 pages of the book's text, only a few pages pertain directly to Evangelion. For the Evangelion fan, this is not a disappointment. In fact, this book is quite an enjoyable read, and provides a wonderful look into the life and times of Studio Gainax.

I have long been intrigued by the reputation that follows the Gainax name. In-depth information on the studio, in terms of its makeup and foundation, is generally scarce at best in the English language. In general, the majority of the information about Gainax circulates within the realm of Evangelion fandom. While it is arguably unfair that a single studio be defined and revered due to a single work, Evangelion is a unique exception. It should be noted that Gainax came close to extinction in the early 90s, and would not have survived if it were not for Evangelion. Not only did it solve the studio's money woes, it also firmly entrenched the studio in the industry as a major player.

The Notenki Memoirs takes you up until the time of Evangelion, but speaks very little of Evangelion's success and the subsequent transformation of the studio. It would be interesting if Hiroyuki Yamaga, who took over as president of the studio following Evangelion's success, were to write his own memoirs, in order to flesh out the post-Evangelion era in Gainax's history. Both eras are of equal interest and importance, sadly, Takeda does not delve into the later era. This book was initially published in 2002, and could have covered more events from 1996 onwards. Why Takeda did not cover much of the events past Evangelion is unknown to me at this time. The content of the book spans from the late seventies up until Evangelion's success, and then quickly concludes. It includes various notes on names and things, so those not familiar with various items of Japanese or Sci-Fi culture can cross reference as they read. Some can be redundant, but in general, they are quite helpful. Sandwiched between the two halves of the book is a report from the 40th Annual Japan Sci-Fi Convention, where Takeda's resigned from his position as Chairman of the Japan Sci-Fi Fan Group Association. Concluding the book is "Trial in Absentia!" an interview in which Hiroyuki Yamaga, Hideaki Anno, and Takami Akai speak candidly about Yasuhiro Takeda.

The Notenki Memoirs builds to the point where you think you're about the get to the really interesting stuff, such as Evangelion behind the scenes, or the reformation of the company after the success of Eva. Sadly it does not. However, it does in great detail discuss the vague early years of Gainax in a fascinating retrospective. It's the sort of book that appeals more to fans of Otaku no Video rather than fans of Evangelion. This is not to say that Evangelion fans would not enjoy The Notenki Memoirs, Evangelion fans must simply realize that they are not reading a book about Evangelion. I would argue that any fan of anime would enjoy this book, especially those interested in convention culture, and various forms of fan produced works and products. As the story goes, a bunch of Sci-Fi geeks started holding Sci-Fi events, and wound up running one of the most influential animation studios in Japan. That is impressive in its own right. Realize that you're reading about amateurs who simply had nothing else to do but cling to their interests, and refused to give up. From Sci-Fi events, to General Products, to Daicon Film, to Gainax, this book is a rare look into the lives of young men who refused to make it in the real world. Rather than climb the mountain, they made their own, stood atop it, and yelled "I" at the heart of the world.

Title: The Notenki Memoirs
By: Yasuhiro Takeda
Year: 2002
Available from: ADV Manga (Tentatively) July 27th, 2005
ISBN: 1-4139-0234-0

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