Written by: Carl Horn
Source: Originally published in the Viz second edition of Neon Genesis Evangelion Vol. 1
Dated: March 2004
The comments on pages 167-171 all appeared in the original Japanese edition of this volume, first published on September 1, 1995. This was just one month before the 26-episode Evangelion anime TV series premiered; the 1995-96 series was then followed in 1997 by two Evangelion movies: Death And Rebirth, and The End of Evangelion.
As the comments of Evangelion writer and director Hideaki Anno suggest, it is difficult to separate Eva from the extraordinary story of its creators. Studio Gainax was incorporated in 1984, by a group of artists in their early 20s who wanted to keep together the amateur film-making team they had formed in college. Gainax's first professional work was writer and director Hiroyuki Yamaga's feature Royal Space Force, which a 1999 Time magazine article by Richard Corliss would call the movie that made anime officially an art form.
Their best orginal works—Yamaga's Royal Space Force, Takeshi Mori's Otaku no Video, Kazuya Tsurumaki's FLCL, and Anno's Evangelion—display Gainax's odd inside-out paradox of being super-obsessed fans who, through their meditations, nevertheless sometimes come to enlightenment about the nature of themselves, their medium, their industry, their times, and their world.
The four years Hideaki Anno speaks of were those preceding Neon Genesis Evangelion: a long dry valley where the studio found itself unable to make anything. Just over a month after the publication of Anno's letter, the first episode of Evangelion aired on Japanese TV—October 4, 1995, which chanced that year to be Yom Kippur, the day of atonement; not inappropriate also for a series that draws on traditions—including the Book of Genesis and the Kabbalah—that the world has received from Judaism.
It was the re-examination of their own unkind premises, and a desperation to escape and return to life, that infused Evangelion with a fire felt even by many, many Japanese who would not ordinarily take an interest in anime—making it the most talked about, most successful, and most unsuccessfully imitated series of the past decade.