The work of Hideaki Anno is familiar to any hardcore or casual anime fan. Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most popular anime of all time. To this day, any new format or box set release is greeted with great anticipation and excitement.
Over 20 years later, it remains a “much watch” for any generation. Which is a testament to NGE and Hideaki Anno’s impact on the industry.
Anno’s signature style is slapstick/parody coupled with brooding darkness, and this is prevalent in his most famous works. Which established him as one of the most prolific names in 90s anime and carried his influence into subsequent generations.
Although his work in the 90s cemented his legacy, his rise in the industry began with some of the most famous names and studios of the 80s.
Anno’s Humble Beginnings
Hideaki Anno got his start in animation while attending the Osaka University of Arts. While there, he worked as an animator on Super Dimension Fortress Macross. He also had a hand in the Daicon III and Daicon IV opening animations for the Nipon SF Taikai sci-fi conventions.
Perhaps you’ve already seen this?
Eventually, Anno was expelled from school after he stopped paying his tuition. But by that point, he had already caught the attention of Hayao Miyazaki (you know him?). So he moved to Tokyo to work on Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Miyazaki was impressed with Anno’s work and tasked him with animating some of the most complicated scenes. This includes the awakening of the God Warrior toward the end of the movie.
Anno and Miyazaki became long-time friends as a result of this experience, with Miyazaki playing the role of a mentor. Miyazaki describes Anno’s approach to filmmaking as “spilling blood,” and later hired Anno to voice the main character in The Wind Rises.
The Start of Gainax
In 1984, after completing work on Nausicaä, Anno and some of his former college classmates founded Gainax.
Initially, Gainax was a temporary corporate entity, specifically created to create Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. Which was produced in a partnership with Bandai.
Anno worked as the animation director for Royal Space Force. Afterward, he became the premier director for the studio and oversaw some of the greatest anime ever made.
The Anime Works of Hideaki Anno
Hideaki Anno has a considerable resume. He has worked on several anime as an actor, animator, designer, and storyboard artist.
However, for the works we are about to discuss, the emphasis will be on his efforts as a director. And more specifically, the anime he directed in the 80s and 90s.
Gunbuster was the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno and came on the heels of Royal Space Force. Despite the warm reception to Royal Space Force, Gainax accrued significant debt due to cost overruns.
So rather than dissolve the studio, as originally intended, Gainax decided to make more anime. And Gunbuster was the follow-up to their classic movie debut.
The Gunbuster OVA starts as a light-hearted parody of movies such as Top Gun and the sports manga Aim for the Ace! (The show is called Aim for the Top! in Japan, get it?)
The show focuses on a young female protagonist named Noriko Takaya, who begins a stint at a pilot training school.
Noriko lives in the shadow of her father, a famous ship admiral who died in a battle with alien insectoids. Despite bullying over the perceived nepotism and incompetence, Noriko begins to excel as a mech pilot.
As the show progresses, it takes a decidedly darker tone, and the concept of time dilation (Urashima effect) is explored. And tragically, every space mission sees the crew returning to friends and family who have aged rapidly in their absence.
The obvious implication here is that the crew will eventually outlive everyone they love on earth.
The OVA is only 6 episodes long, so it’s easy to watch the whole series in an afternoon. The movie has also been recut into a movie if you’re looking for an easier commitment.
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
Nadia is loosely based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. And interestingly enough, the origins of the show date back to the mid-70s.
At this time, Toho tasked Hayao Miyazaki to develop a new series. Initially, his plans started as a take on the classic novel, however, the show never came to fruition.
Subsequently, Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli reworked many of the concepts he developed for the show into Castle in the Sky. However, Toho retained the rights to the original story concept; which follows two orphans who team up with Captain Nemo aboard the Nautilus while being chased by villains.
Production on Nadia began during a period of internal conflict at Gainax. The end result of this power struggle was one founder withdrawing from Gainax, and Hideaki Anno taking over as director of the series.
The story of Nadia is a grand adventure full of mystery. It starts with a group of thieves pursuing Nadia and her prized jewel (the blue water), and culminates with a standoff against neo-Atlantean forces bent on world domination.
Like Anno’s other work, Nadia is not short on parodies and references to other anime. And it is said that the main character, Nadia, was shaped by Anno’s perception of women during a break-up he was going through at the time.
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water remains an all-time classic anime. And this series is included in our list of best anime shows of the 90s.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
It goes without saying that Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) is the most famous anime directed by Hideaki Anno. The show was released in 1995 and left a lasting and influential legacy on the anime industry. And NGE cemented Anno’s reputation as one of the foremost names in the anime industry.
Evangelion was originally conceived as a sequel to Nadia, however, the show had to be rewritten when the rights to Nadia could not be secured. This resulted in a story that takes place 15 years after a cataclysmic event known as the “Second Impact,” which destroyed half of the world’s population.
As humanity rebuilds, a new threat emerges in the form of invading celestial beings known as “Angels.” Three teenage mech pilots face off against the Angels in Evangelion Units, or EVAs.
Anno touches on themes of anxiety, depression, and trauma throughout the run of the series. And the show is similar to Gunbuster in the ways it parodies the genre, while also telling a gripping story with dark undertones.
In Japan, the show was controversial at the time. This was largely due to the mature and avant-garde story being broadcast in a timeslot aimed at younger audiences. So the mismatch of the demographic angered some parents.
However, the show’s popularity rapidly increased among older anime fans during late-night reruns.
The show also ran into budgetary issues, which forced Gainax to shortcut the last two episodes of the series. This angered many fans of the show as it felt like a significant letdown after the build-up of episode 24.
The popularity of the show led Anno and Gainax to work on an Evangelion movie, Death and Rebirth. This was a recap of the first 24 episodes with a new lead-in to the final events of the series.
Soon after, the second movie, End of Evangelion was released. The movie reimagined the last two episodes in a way more aligned with the original story.
The show was later retold in the Rebuild of Evangelion series with new animation and voice acting.
NGE is often credited with significantly boosting interest in animation and creating a new anime boom in the mid-90s. To this day, Neon Genesis Evangelion is firmly planted on nearly every “top anime of all time” list found on the internet. And the highly-rated show is definitely one of the top mech anime of the 90s.
His and Her Circumstances
Hideaki Anno’s last series on this list is a departure from his previous shows. Rather than a sci-fi adventure, His and Her Circumstances is a high school romance story based on a girls’ manga.
In true Hideaki Anno fashion, the show has comedic slapstick humor over the backdrop of a dark emotional exploration.
The show was launched after production finished on NGE and was the first manga adapted work by Gainax. So, much of the staff who worked on NGE also worked on His and Her Circumstances. This resulted in some artistic similarities between the two shows.
Anno expressed frustration during the series. This was partly due to artistic differences with the manga author (she was upset with the adaptation). Also, at the time, there were animation restrictions placed on the industry due to the Pokemon seizure incident.
As a result, Anno apparently withdrew from the show and is listed as a director only up until episode 16 of the series. However, many staff on the show reported that he continued to be involved until the end of production.
If you’re a fan of both romance and classic anime, then His and Her Circumstances is a worthwhile watch.
The Legacy of Hideaki Anno
Hideaki Anno firmly established himself as a force in the world of Japanese Animation. His influence has been felt in the subsequent decades through abstract storytelling, deconstruction of genres, and explorations into human emotions such as insecurity and depression.
In 1998, Anno directed his first live-action movie (Shiki-Jitsu) and subsequently worked on a few more anime and live-action movies after the 90s. However, his most respected and famous directorial efforts took place in the classic era of anime.
Neon Genesis Evangelion will forever remain his most famous anime, but any fan of the classics cannot afford to miss out on his other work.