Better Than Another Rei or Asuka Figure: The Evangelion Exihibition in Ginza

Considering how much of a letdown Evangelion: Q was, along with how quick Eva is to try and violently rob people of their hard earned moolah, when I heard mention of the Eva exhibit in Ginza, I turned my nose up. Didn’t care to know more. I love Eva, but after that last movie, I’ve become relentlessly cynical towards anything new with the famous series’ title scribbled on it. It wasn’t until a night at my local haunt that a most convincing argument was made for the exhibit. Tons of original artwork from the show? Only 1000 yen? I was sold. That said, the argument did come from a somewhat excitable lips of an Osakan woman, so I dialed down my expectations accordingly.

But hey, turns out I didn’t have to! That exhibit owned!

Every cell from every famous part of Evangelion was framed and on the wall. That shot of Misato near the end of the opening? Yup. The Eva covered in blood after busting out of that shadow angel? You bet. Unit 1 and Unit 2 fighting while Kaworu floats in front of them, smirking? Of course. There were also a few less-than-famous–but interesting nonetheless–cels from the series’ not-so-iconic episodes, like one of the Evas stuck in a ventilation shaft in that episode where Tokyo-3 blacks out.

As one can imagine, seeing these things up close was nothing short of incredible: The rough marks of traditional tools, the consistency of the paint, the slim space between the cel and the background, and the unused areas of the cells. All of these were the real deal, and seeing them all these years later brought forth some strong feelings. Sure, since these things were old, the outlines had faded somewhat, but that only added to the charm.

Other interesting items on display were models the artists used for reference, such as a crude model of the command center constructed from taped together cardboard cutouts, and a statue of the Eva’s head sculpted by the mechanical designer. Much like the cels, seeing the actual items the artists used was really cool, but more so than that, I was amazed that the model for the command center had survived for all these years. One would think it had been squashed by something by now.

Following the TV show’s materials were original manuscripts from Sadamoto’s manga adaptation, complete with all the detail one wants to see when looking at that kind of stuff: the dabs of white-out, the noticeable cut-out edges of tone paper, and the pasted-in text in dialogue bubbles. Again, incredible.

Deeper into the exhibition space was a corridor that documented the making of a scene from its earliest stages to completion. The scene in question was the battle against the descending bomb angel from the second Rebuild film. While this process is familiar to anyone who knows anything about animation, as one can imagine, it was simply fascinating to see the scene slowly come together from its early sketches in the storyboards, to the rough cuts of animation, to the cleaned line art, and finally to completed animation.

Every single part of the scene was on display: While shots of the characters and robots took over a wall on one side, another side of the hall was devoted to the more mundane details of the scene, such as buildings, clouds of dust, and tiny bits of debris. As a result, there were far more people on one side of the corridor than the other. Me being a giant nerd, I risked life and limb to take in every single detail on the more crowded side, then leisurely looked at the less exciting stuff on the other.

Beyond the stuff on paper lied an area that went into the details of the scene’s CG work, with cool loops of the Evas running with the camera rotating around them, another rotating loop of the angel in the middle of the city, and individual shots of a number of the CG buildings used in the scene. At the end of the hallway was a room screening the completed scene, with a smaller screen to the side going through key parts of the scene, but in its various steps of production, in motion. For example, sketches of the Eva running were run together in motion, as well as bits of CG which didn’t quite have the details filled in yet, along with shots of the scene before the lighting effects and things like that were applied. While I’m aware of how time consuming the process of animation is, seeing a whole room filled with materials and drawings for a scene that’s most likely only five minutes or shorter really drives home how tough this work is.

From then on I was treated to countless materials from all the new movies, ranging from design sheets, sketches, and cleaned line-art. There was a ton of this stuff spread across two rooms, one with Rei sporting her black plugsuit from Q (held up by strings) in her tube, with the next room down boasting a scary looking glowing cross. More than the cleaned up line-art, the rougher sketches were more interesting to look at. I’ve obviously seen animators’ sketches before, but seeing their skilled work up close inspiring. Seeing the traces of under-drawing build up to a solid, completed drawing is simply satisfying to look at.

After all that fun stuff, I was pushed into a big gift shop with an even bigger line for the register that found its way back into the exhibition hall. Large figures of the characters were placed throughout the gift shop, and in various sections of the department store in general. While the large sized Eva looked cool, the statues of the characters had frightening dead eyes, big heads, and horrifyingly skinny waists. The best display–on one of the other floors–featured a cardboard cutout of Gendou at his desk with the SEELE blocks behind him, and a chair next to him for people to take the obvious photograph.

Considering that all I knew of this exhibit originally were the scary life-sized figures of the characters, I figured it’d just be them and half-baked framed prints of promotional artwork. Instead I got an in-depth love letter to the craft of animation that was bursting with passion. Too bad it’s over, huh?!

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