Dear Mr Anno,
I found out this morning that today, the 22nd of May, is your birthday - your 57th birthday, to be exact. Rather fittingly, I was listening to the soundtrack for Neon Genesis Evangelion; your most famous work and what introduced me to you, among other things. It was an unused piano arrangement of Ritsuko's theme, one of my (many) favourite pieces from the show's extensive catalogue of background music composed by Shiro Sagisu. Yes, I'm one of those fans - the kind that, when interested in something, latches onto it and refuses to let go.
I decided to write you a letter today, though I wonder if it might be a day or two late by the time I finish it. I don't expect to ever hear back from you (considering we live in two different continents and speak two very different languages); I'm not sure if I'll even try and send this letter to you. That doesn't really matter, though. I just wanted to say thank you, that's all. Thank you for changing my life.
Part 1: Hearing About Evangelion
It was around the spring of 2010. A crossover fighting game between characters from Capcom's games and Tatsunoko's animated shows had just come out in the West. I was bored one night with nothing to do, so I started looking up Tatsunoko on Wikipedia. The article had an image from one of the shows they co-produced: Neon Genesis Evangelion (albeit not very well if what I've heard over the years is correct). It was from Episode 8, when Unit-02 had landed on one of the battleships.
I wasn't really into anime at the time. I watched shows like Beyblade when I was younger, but the TV stations we could access only aired cartoons from America, so I never really got into anime like most people my age did. So when I saw that image, I was fascinated. I'd never seen anything like it before. Spurred by that interest, I spent the next couple of hours reading about the series. However, when you try to look up plot summaries of an animated work; particularly one that utilizes the medium in unique ways; it's easy to misunderstand what's going on (for instance, I thought the comedy high school sequence in Episode 26 WAS the entire episode).
But what I read still interested me, and it also scared me. Themes of repeating mistakes, especially those of one's parents, mental breakdowns, the end of the world - I was a sheltered 14 year old at the time, and just reading about the idea haunted me. I didn't want to actually watch the show, since I figured that would be even more harrowing. So, I never set out to watch Evangelion, nor did I look up anything more about it. That was, until spring of 2012.
I had been browsing a site named TV Tropes, which catalogues recurring clichés, concepts and tools used in storytelling, animation, and every other medium you could think of. The article would describe what the trope in question was about, and list works in which was featured and how it was used. Evangelion cropped up a lot in the articles I read, and I became interested in the series again. After discovering that the show had one lighthearted episode, I finally decided to take the plunge and watch it. It was Episode 9: "Both of You, Dance Like You Want To Win!"
Part 2: Taking The Plunge
It's odd to get into a TV show by starting with its ninth episode, but it was certainly not an issue with this series. The montage of pictures taken of Asuka, accompanied by classmates gossiping about her, was a quietly voyeuristic sequence that immediately caught my interest. The tense encounters between Misato and Kaji pulled me in, and had me thinking wondering about what happened beforehand and where this was going to go next. The scene with Shinji and Asuka just inches away from each other carried a sinister air that made it a captivating watch. Sure, there was a good deal of comedy and character interaction, along with a superb action scene accompanied only by a fantastic classical piece composed by Shiro Sagisu, but it was thanks to scenes like these that I was eager to watch more of the show.
Unfortunately, because the counter where I live (Ireland) doesn't sell anime DVDs beyond the occasional Ghibli film, I had to resort to watching the series on YouTube. Even then, some episodes or portions of episodes were blocked in Ireland, so I ended up watching the series in a non-linear order. I'd watch episode 19, then check out episodes 12 to 14, then scenes from episode 24': it was sometimes confusing, but I wanted to watch the show and see what it would do. Regardless of how I watched Evangelion, I understood that this series was unlike anything else.
The scene where Unit-01 goes berserk and devours one of the Angels like an ape feeding off a corpse was visceral and haunting. Misato breaking into tears when hearing Kaji's final voice message was a subtle, but beautifully heartbreaking bit of film-making. And those sequences in the final episode, where the animation breaks down to symbolize the breaking down of Shinji's reality and then rebuilding it from the ground up are, personally speaking, some of the most fascinating sequences in the medium of animation.
This isn't even getting into The End of Evangelion, a movie so mesmerizing and wonderful that I wouldn't hesitate in calling it my favourite film of all time. But it's not that you simply made something great, or even fantastic (many people have, to varying degrees in different areas). No, you changed my life because you changed me as a person.
Part 3: Changes
Before I watched Evangelion, I wasn't really what I would consider a good person. I would try to be good, but I'd often say and do stupid things without realizing how they could hurt those around me. I wasn't self-aware enough to understand myself or how to stop myself from making the same mistakes over and over again. And perhaps most importantly, the only reason I could say I was happy was because I had never really thought about it before.
But when watching Evangelion, and thinking about its themes of human interaction, isolation, the hedgehog's dilemma, and the conflict between how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you (to name a few), that's when things changed. It was like someone had thrown open the curtains in my room and let me see just what was actually going on with myself.
The next months were full of stress, self-examination and existential crises, as I struggled to figure out how to understand others beyond surface-level interactions, how to understand my own thoughts and actions, and whether or not I could find a reason to live for myself and be happy beyond what other people tell me to do. There were days when the smallest of things could set me off, and I'd convince myself that I was a moronic, useless, terrible shell of a person. I never attempted self-harm, despite my self-loathing, perhaps because I was too scared of what could happen. I really did see so much of myself in the cast of Evangelion.
However, after a few years of introspection, talking to all sorts of people and understanding one of the End of Evangelion's more crucial messages, I've become a better person. I'll do my best to help people out, making sure to understand them and put their needs before mine if need be. I'm self-aware enough to question myself as often as possible to make sure that I can try to correct my mistakes and do the right thing. And perhaps most importantly, I can say that I'm happy because I know that I will always have the power to change my perspective, the power to take steps to improve myself, and the power to give my life a sense of meaning.
In hindsight, I don't mind the initial few months of self-loathing, since it allowed me to try my best in becoming a better person. I don't think I am without flaw, far from it; I can and still make stupid mistakes and accidentally hurt others, and there are still times when I'm convinced that I'm a moronic, useless, terrible person, but I know enough that I can and likely will pick myself up from that and keep moving forward to a brighter day.
Part 4: Moving Forward
Five years have passed since then. I'm now 21, and I have a few ideas of what I want to do with my life. Watching Evangelion has inspired me to take some of my hobbies, and try doing something with them. I love music, and I now compose and arrange music in a style oft reminiscent of Shiro Sagisu on a regular basis. I love to write (as this letter will surely prove), so now I try to write fiction and scripts where I aim to say or imply as much as possible while saying very little, similar to your scripts for Evangelion. I adore animation, and I would love to make animated films and TV shows that use the medium's potential as close to full as I can and keep viewers second-guessing what they think, much like your show did to me.
I have so many ideas that I don't know if I'll ever get any of them done, but that's alright. I have one simple goal in life beyond enjoying my existence: make the lives of others meaningful and happy, and encourage them to do the same. As long as I can do that, then I can die fulfilled. I will die happy regardless, because I was able to exist in this amazing universe and perceive how many amazing things exist within it, but I would like to know that I've changed at least one person's life for the better.
Maybe that's why I decided to write you this letter, Mr Anno. To let you know that you've changed my life for the better.
Part 5: One More Final
I regret to say that I haven't checked out much else of your work. In total, I've watched the Evangelion TV series and the films based on said series, your hilarious short film Ryusei Kacho, the first fifteen minutes of the Cutie Honey movie, your work on the Daicon IV Opening (by the way, your animation on that opening is staggeringly good!), the mostly excellent Japan Animator Expo shorts you produced, and the first two new Evangelion movies. Still, I look forward to watching your other works at some point.
Apart from that, I've read a few of your statements and interviews regarding anime, what you were trying to do with Evangelion, and other such subjects I can't currently recall. Recently, I also ended up watching a couple of videos featuring you in the late 90's: an episode of Extra Cirricular Lesson (the TV show where you went back to your old school) and a Love & Pop extra where you spent roughly ten minutes talking to people over the phone.
I bring this up because whenever I listen to you or read what you have to say, you remind me a lot of myself. The way you tend to be open about how introspective you can be, how you try to describe certain ideas that can sometimes defy conventional explanation; when I think about it, I'm not surprised as to why I would call you my favourite director, despite having seen so little of your work. It's odd (perhaps even slightly creepy) to say this, but I do consider you to be a kindred spirit. There's something heartwarming about that, knowing there's someone almost halfway across the globe like you.
To close out this letter, I'm going to present a small list of people who's works I was encouraged to check out directly because of you, and how you've inspired me (just a short one, because I really could go on forever as to how much you've inspired me to check out as much as I can):
-Masamichi Amano (often works with Sagisu these days, his arrangements are usually gorgeous)
-Hiroyuki Imaishi (style over substance, but still brilliant; Dead Leaves)
-Satoshi Kon (brilliant director; Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika)
-Sylvain Chomet (unique art style; Triplets of Belleville)
-Shinichirō Watanabe (man with a sense of style and music; Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus)
Congratulations on turning 57, Mr Anno.
I hope you have a happy, meaningful life.
Thank you for everything.