Born January 29, 1962 (Tokushima, Japan)
Japanese author, illustrator
Yoshiyuki Sadamoto is the internationally acclaimed character designer and author of the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga series, an adaptation of the hugely popular anime series of the same name. Like so much of the story he has been charged with converting to print, Sadamoto is somewhat mysterious. Little is known about him, and the author's notes that he contributes to some of the manga volumes are deliberately vague and mysterious. With the success of his manga series, and the growing popularity of his other works in Japan, it may be that Sadamoto will become much better known in years to come.
"They say that a story's hero will serve as a mirror by which you may always see the artist. And I'm not saying it isn't true. It's just, you know, sometimes it's more like a funhouse mirror."
Helps found Gainax
Yoshiyuki Sadamoto was born on January 29, 1962, in Tokushima, Japan, a seaport on Shikoku Island, southeast of Tokyo. He attended Tokyo Zokei University, an innovative university established in 1966. The university was founded to promote Zokei, the idea that art and design should be synthesized and integrated with fast-changing technological developments in modern culture. Around 1980, while he was a university student, Sadamoto joined with several of his friends—Hideaki Anno, Takami Akai, and Shinji Higuchi—to form an animation studio called Daicon Film. The students introduced their first anime (animated cartoon) in 1981, but it was a rough effort. In 1983, they introduced a more polished work at the 22nd annual Japan National Science Fiction Convention. They began to gain attention and work, and were known for producing short films that parodied some of the other trends in Japanese anime, especially the mechanized robot shows that were popular in Japan. In 1985, the anime studio changed its name to Gainax.
Over the years, Gainax has produced a number of anime works, including television series and feature films. Among its early popular works are Wings of Honneamise, a feature-length film released in 1987, and Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, a 39-episode television series that appeared in Japan in 1990 and 1991. Gainax soared in popularity with the television series Shin Seiki Evangelion, which was directed by Anno based on characters that were created and drawn by Sadamoto. Shin Seiki Evangelion (which became Neon Genesis Evangelion when it was translated for English-speaking audiences) aired from fall 1995 to spring 1996 and was later replayed, becoming hugely popular among teenagers and adults. It formed the basis for the manga versions that would come later.
Neon Genesis Evangelion. 9 vols. 1996–2004 (Japanese); 2002–04 (English).
Der Mond: Newtype Illustrated Collection (2000).
Sadamoto has also provided character design for a variety of anime, manga, and video projects, including Wings of Honneamise, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, FLCL, .hack/SIGN, .hack/GU, and Gunbuster 2.
In the United States, those involved with a hugely popular television series like Shin Seiki Evangelion would be interviewed on television and profiled in magazines. In Japanese culture, however, it is customary for people not to divulge details about their personal lives. For this reason, relatively little is known about Sadamoto, and that which is known is somewhat mysterious. Some of the best sources for information about an author are the notes in the back of manga volumes, but even those can be obscure. For example, in the note by Sadamoto in Neon Genesis Evangelion, Volume 8, he writes: "They say that a story's hero will serve as a mirror by which you may always see the artist. And I'm not saying it isn't true. It's just, you know, sometimes it's more like a funhouse mirror." He goes on to tell a story about his mother finding out that he has stolen from her purse and tying him to a foundation pole in a half-built house in his neighborhood so that everyone would know what he had done. In a similar note in the back of Volume 9 of the series, he writes: "I admit I have an unfathomable fascination with romance—and whether your object of affection be a pop star on TV or a two-dimensional drawing, you may count upon the pitiful genetic programming of that degenerate creature called man to rise to the fore. Hence my careless life of cars, women, and manga." Fans of his work who wish to know more about the author have been left to debate the meaning of such vague comments. Perhaps as intended, the focus must be on the work, not the author.
From anime to manga
The appearance of Shin Seiki Evangelion on Japanese television in the mid-1990s created a sensation, for a variety of reasons. For the previous five years, the more popular anime had moved away from distinctly Japanese styles and closer to American cartoons. Shin Seiki Evangelion returned to more traditional Japanese styles, featuring mecha (or mechanized robots controlled by humans), extensive exploration of characters' emotions, and people drawn with angular bodies and spiky hair. Shin Seiki Evangelion was also unique in its treatment of psychological issues. Director and creator Hideaki Anno (1960–) had spent time in therapy for depression, and the series was filled with characters who battled depression or a sense of isolation from others, and who struggled to develop a better understanding for their friends. Finally, the series drew on a variety of symbols not typically seen in Japanese anime. Anno used Christian imagery, such as the cross and characters called Adam and Eva, as well as symbols from the Jewish faith. Fans of the series have debated whether these religious symbols were crucial to understanding the story, providing clues to deeper meaning; or whether they were used on a superficial basis, simply to add to the multiple layers of mystery that made the series so popular.
The plot of the series is complicated. The story is set in the year 2015, fifteen years after a global catastrophe destroyed much of Earth's population. In Tokyo-3, built on the remnants of the original city, a group of teenage students—all born after the disaster—are trained to operate giant robotic mechanisms called Evangelions, or Evas, and to do battle against giant alien Angels. But who are the Angels, and what is the ultimate goal of the mysterious group leading the fight against them? This remains uncertain. The last two episodes of the original television series left many viewers confused, even angry. Were the humans on Earth destined to merge into a single, all-powerful soul, or were they to maintain their individuality? In 1997, Gainax released films offering answers to the mysterious ending, Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion, but these only stirred up more debate.
The controversy and mystery helped make a huge success of Evangelion. In fact, the series has been called "one of the most influential and controversial series in the history of Japanese animation," by NPR radio host Madeleine Brand on All Things Considered. Sadamoto begin working on the manga, or print, version of the story soon after the anime version first aired. In Japan, manga titles are first issued in the wildly popular weekly and monthly magazines, and later collected into tankōbon, which bring together all the stories in a series. Sadamoto's version of the Evangelion story was issued in nine volumes in Japan. By September 1997, individual episodes of the series were being published, under the title Neon Genesis Evangelion, in the United States and Great Britain. Beginning in 2002, Viz Communications took advantage of the booming popularity of manga in English-speaking markets and began to release graphic novels that mirrored the nine volumes of tankōbon published in Japan. These graphic novels were hugely popular in the United States, and the original television series first appeared on U.S. television as several isolated episodes in 2003 and then in its complete run in the fall of 2005.
Neon Genesis Evangelion, manga style
Sadamoto's version of Neon Genesis Evangelion was directly based on the TV series, but Sadamoto brought a different sensibility to the story. The setup was the same: teenage students were tapped by NERV, a paramilitary organization, to train on and pilot 120-foot-tall biomechanical fighting units, known as Evas. The main character in the series is Shinji Ikari, whose father, Gendo Ikari, is the supreme commander of NERV. He is joined early on by two female pilots, Rei Ayanami, a beautiful albino student who is curiously distant, and Asuka Langley Soryu, whose feisty personality is a mask for her loneliness and misery. Later, Shinji's friend Toji Suzuhara also becomes a pilot, as does the mysterious "fifth child," Kaworu Nagisa, a boy who bears a striking resemblance to Rei Ayanami. Rounding out the cast are Major Misato Katsuragi, a NERV leader who shares an apartment with Shinji, and several of Shinji's friends from school.
Sadamoto's story displays a near-perfect balance between the various elements of manga. He is a skilled designer of mecha, and the various manga and enemy Angels are shown with great detail when they are sitting still and in a range of dynamic action scenes. Sadamoto also shows a sure hand with humor: in Volume 3, for example, Toji gives Shinji a hard time for staring at Rei and Shinji gets him back by stuffing his fingers up Toji's nostrils. Silly teen antics like this occur throughout the series, helping to lighten a mood that sometimes grows heavy. Sadamoto's real strength, however, lies with characterization. Though those new to manga often complain that all the characters look alike, Sadamato creates characters with distinct physical appearances: Shinji has mussed black hair and has a worried look on his face, for example, while Rei, depicted on color covers with pale white skin, light blue hair, and red eyes, nearly always bears a blank look on her face, which makes her rare moments of emotion all the more striking.
If one sign of the success of a manga/anime series in the Internet age is the proliferation of fan sites, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a huge hit. The series has spawned several Web sites that provide plot synopses, character descriptions, and images from the series. Two of the best of these sites are Project: Evangelion (project-eva.ichigos.com/) and Guide to Neon Genesis Evangelion (www.lwhy.clara.net/nge/). Fans who want an accurate source for production staff and details of the songs and characters used in each episode should consult the Anime News Network (www.animenewsnetwork.com), which bills itself as the "Internet's most trusted anime news source." Some sites provide a forum for fans and admirers to create their own stories based on characters from the series (such as Eva-R, www.eva-r.com), and others are created by fans who obsess over certain characters.
In the end, the teen pilots who are at the center of the book share an emotional bond: all have lost their mothers in mysterious circumstances, and all face feelings of pain and sadness as a result. Shinji's pain is compounded by the fact that his father, who commands all of the Eva pilots, seems to not care for him at all. In Volume 5, Shinji finds his father standing at his mother's grave and tries to talk to him. But his father rebuffs the attempt, telling his son: "Don't try to think we can understand each other.… People are such sad creatures." All the characters, teens and adults, share the fatalism that comes from living in a society where mysterious and powerful Angels threaten the future of life on Earth. This sense that their life may be cut short sometimes pushes the characters to be more open about their feelings than they otherwise might. In Volume 6, for example, Shinji urges Asuka to tell Mr. Kaji that she loves him, reminding her that "there's no telling what might happen to us tomorrow." With his depictions of teenage crushes, sadness, friendships, anger, and humor, Sadamoto manages to convey the complexity of the issues facing the characters.
Beginning with Volume 5 of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Sadamoto began to take the story in a direction that was different from the anime version. Fans of the series were thrilled to see that one of the show's original creators might offer an alternative ending, and in an endnote to Volume 9 manga scholar Carl Gustav Horn noted that Sadamoto himself had suggested that the manga series might run to twelve volumes. However, the last volume to be published, Volume 9, came out in 2004; by the end of 2005, there was no indication that another volume was coming.
American readers (or perhaps their parents) initially may be shocked by some aspects of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Several scenes, for example, include both male and female nudity. Also, characters regularly use more mature language than is expected for their age. In general, Japanese culture tends to be more permissive about showing the human body and allowing swearing in literature for young readers. Many manga readers have become accustomed to these and other conventions imported from across the Pacific.
Beyond Neon Genesis Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion is not Sadamoto's only work, just the only manga work to be translated into English. He has been involved in character design for numerous projects released in Japan by Gainax over the years, including FLCL and Gunbuster 2. The project that is most likely preventing Sadamoto from continuing the Neon Genesis Evangelion saga, however, is. hack, a series of anime shows and video games that explore a world in which a computer virus cripples the Internet and a mysterious new Internet emerges to capture the attention of millions around the world—and to trap many within its virtual reality. Sadamoto's status as a rising star in the Japanese art world was confirmed in 2000 with the release of Der Mond, a lavish, full-color collection of Sadamoto's artwork from Evangelion and several other series. Though such a work is not uncommon in Japan, where manga and anime art is extremely popular, the issuing of an English translation of the work in 2001 was a clear sign that Sadamoto's stardom had reached well beyond the shores of his native land.
For More Information
Sadamoto, Yoshiyuki. Neon Genesis Evangelion. 9 vols. San Francisco, CA: Viz, 2002–04.
Raiteri, Steve. Library Journal (January 2003): p. 85.
Era, Ikiria. "Breaks the Familiar Formula." Comicreaders.com: Manga. http://www.comicreaders.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1515 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Gainax.http://www.gainax.co.jp/ (accessed on May 3, 2006).
.hack.http://www.dothack.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Roberts, Alison L. "Yoshiuko Sadamoto's Der Mond." Absolute Zero.http://www.absolute-0.com/art_manga/der_mond.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Yoshiyuki Sadamoto." Anime News Network.http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=17 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Brand, Madeleine. "Two New DVD Releases of Neon Genesis Evangelion" (transcript). All Things Considered. National Public Radio (March 19, 2004).