“The color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.”
-The Tale of the Heike
During her time at Kyoto Animation it was a truth universally acknowledged that any Naoko Yamada work must use flower language in some capacity. This remains true in her first work with Science Saru, an anime adaptation of the Japanese epic, Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike).
There are myriad reasons why I feel unqualified to talk about anything related to the Evangelion franchise, but the primary one is that it’s not my thing. It’s a lot of other people’s thing, but not mine. Evangelion3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, is the first time I felt myself so deeply affected by an Evangelion product.
My thing is the much less acclaimed ending of Sailor Moon Sailor Stars where Usagi Tsukino tells us that the proper place for chaos or evil is in the hearts of everyone — a shared burden for humanity that can only be mitigated (not defeated) by love. This is hardly a new concept but I’d not seen it done at a time where I could understand the message in anything close to its simultaneous simplicity and depth. You cannot defeat your darker impulses, only mitigate them with genuine connection. The message of Sailor Stars was accompanied by another major influence my obnoxious and precocious high school self was obsessed with, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos (No Exit). Combined, this meant that the mantra of my younger self was that even if I could never understand others and building relationships with them would sometimes make it more difficult to understand myself, seeking genuine relationships with them would provide profound answers to the many questions I had about the value of my own existence or why I existed at all.
Despite thinking I understood this on an intellectual level (I didn’t), I certainly didn’t follow this example on a practical level. I still don’t always follow this on a practical level.
Relationships are difficult. I seek them out despite this.
(Spoilers for all of the Evangelion franchise below.)
The opening sequence to the original Love Live! School Idol Project still charms me to this day. It was made back when Love Live! was a budding multimedia adventure and not the successful franchise it is today, the time period of its latest iteration, Love Live! Superstar!!. It features a shot that’s actually rotated in a spinning motion like you would rotate a photograph in photoshop. It comparatively janky, clunky, and sets an odd tone of fourth-wall-breaking stage musical style that the series continues for the entire season, despite the fact that it never returns to this Episode 1 moment where protagonist Honoka Kousaka breaks out into song like a musical.
It’s perfect. Director Takahiko Kyougoku knows how staging works, which isn’t something every idol show gets. He’s aware not only of how to use the figurative camera to give idols a better stage that even the most competent music show wouldn’t be able to do. And most importantly, he intimately knows the liminal space between the reality of a stage show and what it’s trying to project onto an audience, something that myriad accomplished movie directors have failed at miserably when turning musicals into movies. The first episode of the original Love Live! not only features Honoka’s movie musical moment, but a fantastic sequence featuring established idol group A-Rise as they perform on a dark stage that quickly becomes a pocket space that they own before cutting back to a stunned audience, watching them on a large screen.
In the first episode of Love Live! Superstar!! we see this same exact understanding of staging. Kyougoku revisits his own franchise and uses similar staging to give Kanon Shibuya her own movie musical moment, all while presenting a world that’s both completely different from Love Live! School Idol Project and wholly familiar.