Angels have descended upon Matsue. Perhaps even worse, so have the Evas.

The signs have been here since summer, and have only grown more in the past month or so. When we take visitors around, I’ve seen them whip around to do double-takes to be sure that they saw what they think they saw.

Here at city hall, there’s been some ongoing confusion as people are unsure what to make of it.

“So, are these characters famous?”
“Among anime fans around the world, yes, they’re pretty famous.”
“It’s got giant robots, but do they use katana?”
“Does it have something to with Japanese swords?”
“That’s a good question.”
“What’s it about, anyway?”
“That’s an even better question.”

To be honest, I found the idea of a Neon Genesis Evangelion themed exhibit about Japanese swords to be a little odd as well, though it’s been a while since I’ve watched the series and nothing really stood out in my mind about the weapons they used in the series (don’t shoot me?). In particular, this exhibit celebrates the New Theatrical Edition, including design work and promotional art for those works. At first I thought they were simply added to the traveling exhibit to draw the attention of people who know the characters but otherwise would not have been interested in seeing the historical blades. I also could not help but find it funny that Evangelion would be seen all over Matsue, as the only connections I could think of were the wealth of Tatara sword forging history in the surrounding area that we have a large body of water called Lake Shinji. But, haha, the main character of the series isn’t even used in the promotional art. Poor Shinji.

There’s also a special wafuku-style Kaworu illustration, as shown below.

Turns out this is part of a traveling exhibit that’s gotten much more attention than I was aware of since it began touring Japan in 2012, and it does blend the concepts of traditional Japanese sword forging techniques and iconic giant robot (or not!) anime. As much as we should never, ever hope to see real life Evas, we now can see real life versions of their weapons, such Progressive Knives, as well as other weapons directly inspired by weapons used in the show, such as the Counter Sword, Magoroku Sword, and Bizen Osafune. I was amused that there was a tanto (short sword) with the theme of Second Impact, which had Hitatsura pattern in the blade to harken images of the ominous sky.

The Lance of Longinus, or rather, a 3m, 22kg replica of it, was hand-forged from Damascus steel, and was so big that the sword-smith had to build a bigger workshop to produce it (Takanori Mikami, who led the project and is known by his craftsman name Sadanao, happens to be from Ohnan here in Shimane!). In addition to other weapons directly modeled on weapons used in the anime, there is also an array of blades inspired by characters in the series, including intricate artistic details and carvings. Even Shinji gets some love here! Well, no, not Shinji. Just Unit 01. Sorry, Shinji.

It’s difficult to fit its full length and details in a photo.

Using the Tanto-Makinami Mari Plugsuit model as an example, but the Shikinami Plugsuit Tanto (based on Asuka with Asuka herself as a feature) and the Dragon and Lance Wakizashi (based on Rei’s Eva) are the most popular pieces in this part of the collection.

By popular fandom demand, Kaworu and Rei had much larger swords based on their character designs, and there were also five tousu (little blades more like stationary tools than like weapons) based on the youth of the New Theatrical Version. If the other works had not yet been a chance for the craftsmen to show off their skills, these were at least a chance for them to flex their aestheticism.

The Ayanami Rei Sword

The Nagisa Kaworu Sword

While not nerd enough to want swords to display at home, these small ones were classy, decorative, and seemingly useful enough to make me think, “Ooh! Pretty! I want one!”

This is the exhibit’s first showing back in Japan after its successful tour of Paris and Madrid. It is hosted at the Matsue History Museum, just outside of Matsue Castle, from November 21, 2014, to January 18, 2015. Admission is a little pricier than the usual temporary exhibits, but like many of the attractions in and around Matsue, foreign passport or foreign resident card holders can get half price admission (for adults, ¥450 yen as opposed to ¥900).

The museum is open throughout the New Year holiday, so please pass along this info on now to people looking for someplace to new to go in Japan during that vacation period.

Seems there will be new pieces included in this triumphant homecoming exhibition, including a so-called naginata called Natayanagi which was designed by Ikuto Yamashita (the mecha designer for Neon Genesis Evangelion), who believed it would be impossible to create. A large team of sword smiths from around the country rose to the challenge to prove him wrong. Note that this is not the sort of naginata I could use, but rather, it is a like a chimera of ten traditional style Japanese weapons.

Also a very difficult weapon to try to fit into a single photo.

In addition to pieces and videos focused on the New Theatrical Edition production, there is also a large part of the exhibit dedicated to historical Japanese swords and their progression from the Heian Period on. Furthermore, in collaboration with the iron working tradition still alive in Unnan (just south of Matsue), the museum is putting on a few day-trip tours of blade-themed exhibits at both museums and some experience making paper knives in Tatara style. Sounds like there will be a temporary exhibit about this in Matsue following the Eva exhibit.

The humble origins a Tatara style sword

The exhibit will have some other fun stuff for the Eva fans. A rental audio guide to the exhibit provided in Misato’s voice, photo opps, an Eva goods store, and some Kaiyodo Revoltech figures in diaramas for fun. Even though Eva doesn’t make it into my list of favorite anime, I was highly amused by a lot of the items they had for sale, especially the more subtle ones like shoes based on Unit 01 and other character designs. Funny how all of sudden I felt I wanted a metal bucket because it said NERV on it (I resisted, though). I might be going back for a bilingual text about Japanese swords, though.

Can you spot Gendo?

Shoes!? Buckets!? First-aid kits!? Angel tofu molds!? …Hello Kitty???

I got a chance to speak with Sofu Kinoshita, an engraver who worked on seven of the featured Evangelion-inspired blades. At first I didn’t know how he was involved until I said how impressive the Natayagani is, and he replied, “Thanks. That was really hard to pull off.” (The videos of the making of Natayanagi and the Lance of Longinus show part of the process–well worth a watch!). As much as I try to be more of a nerd–I mean, try to be more knowledgable about Japanese swords and their classifications and parts, I told him I was embarrassed to know so little but that I find them impressive anyway. He responded, “You don’t have to know that much about Japanese swords to appreciate their beauty. They are weapons, but they are created as art.”

Bilingual explanation of the sword-making process posted at the exhibit.

Photos of the process of making the Lance of Longinus

He elaborated more eloquently on that, but I’d hate to put misremembered words in his mouth here. Both he and Mr. Sadanao expressed their hope that they can get more children, women, elderly people, and people from all around the world interested in the art of Japanese swords by presenting them in this fashion, as many usual exhibits are only visited by grown men.

Mr. Kinoshita appreciated this chance to work on so many pieces in collaboration with the Evangelion franchise, but he was rather unfamiliar with the work before Kadokawa (which owns Eva) approached the All Japan Swordsmith Association with the idea. His comments mirrored those of many other people involved. “I watched it all right away. Erm… I had trouble understanding the story. But it was still a great project I’m really excited to be a part of!”

Some other articles with nicer photos:
Osaka Museum of History
Anime News Network
Otaku Mode
Tubby Gaijin