Last summer when my nephew visited us, we watched the complete Neon Genesis Evangelion series and movies, renting the DVDs one by one from local video stores. It was my first real taste of Japanese anime. If you've never seen it before, just be prepared for a weird ending that won't leave you with a sense of closure.
Although we don't often hear cicadas in our city, our family used to have regular family reunions in the West Texas city of Lamesa. The reunions were held in this meeting building across the street from a forested park. At that time of year, there were always cicadas chirping in the park. Dad would take us for walks there and show us the cicada sheddings on the tree trunks. He explained that cicadas live dormant underground for 17 years then emerge for a few weeks of breeding before they die. We'd pick up the shed skins and play with them. We'd take a few back with us for playing pranks at the reunion. (When hugging that mysterious relative, secretly placing a cicada skin on her clothes or in her hair is a riot.)
In the Neon Genesis Evangelion series, whenever an outside scene is shown, there are always cicadas chirping in the background. Since I was familiar with the sound from my childhood, I recognized it immediately. However, it was strange to have this sound that I associated with rural Texas being shown in connection with an urban Japan. After a while though, it made me feel connected in some little way to Japan to have something in common with them.
Later in the series, however, more is explained about the catastrophic meteor impact from the series's past. The impact killed a large portion of the human population and changed the environment such that there is only one year-long summer season. The story indicates that the cicadas are an unnatural reminder of this environment change. So what I first thought was an actual feature of Japan turned out to be a plot device with eerie undertones. It completely spoiled the connection I had formed in my mind.
I read somewhere that Japan's biggest export is culture. In the last few years Japanese animation has become more noticeable to me. I guess it started becoming more noticeable with the Pokémon/Digimon/Yu-Gi-Oh crazes. As my college friend tried to indoctrinate me into more geekly ways it became obvious that Japanese animation is a common geek staple. One friend of ours was even taking a Japanese class in order to enjoy the cartoons in their original language. And I have to admit, when I recently re-installed Internet Explorer, I made sure to install the Asian fonts so when I accidentally come across a Japanese page, it shows up correctly (even though I have no idea what it means).
Our fascination with all things Japanese is cool and all, but can it be good that everything I know about Japan I learned from cartoons?
Guide To... Neon Genesis Evangelion
Episode guides and character summaries for Neon Genesis Evangelion