Sonic Embedment & Spatial 'Worlding'

Soundscapes, Psychoacoustics & Post-Human Sonics in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Published in The Palgrave Handbook of Music and Sound in Japanese Animation, Palgrave/Macmillan, London, 2023


This chapter will address the sound design of the most important new-millennial sekai-kei anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion. I will define and analyse 3 dimensions of sound which co-exist in Neon Genesis Evangelion:

1. The metropolis of Tokyo3 – how acoustic sound is dispersed and becomes atmosphere in the ‘real’ earthly space of Tokyo-3 (air, birds, traffic, waves, sirens, planes, etc.); how acoustics reframe and redirect industrialised sound within designed spaces (inside the transporting mecha channels of access from above-ground to below-ground); how sound is artificially designed in the seeming ‘outside’ environments of Tokyo-3 once it is retracted underground; how sound is repressed, silenced and controlled within the secretive headquarters of NERV.

2. The appearance of Angels – how their sound ruptures all acoustic modes of appearance in Tokyo-3; how each Angel declares its own sonic identity; how the Angels’ destructive forces and energies signify their decimation of physical properties and limits when coming into contact with ‘earthly’ materials (concrete, metal, etc.); how their externalized rupturing sonics relates to the internalised acoustics and psycho-acoustic sensations of the children inside their EVAs.

3. The Mind of Shinji – how his mind designs a psycho-acoustic space for placing his identity within the world of Tokyo-3; how his capacity to ‘design world sound’ in his head achieves a delicate equilibrium to enable his schizophrenic operation of his EVA; how his mind-body split is manifested by psychoacoustic hallucinations (voices, thoughts, sensations, directives – all heard within his head).

I then extend this analysis to reflect on:

1. Precursors to Neon Genesis Evangelion’s sonic logic through the sound design, psychoacoustics and post-human acoustics in robotic/driver anime like Gundam (1979–ongoing), cosmic/shell anime like Fight! Iczer-1, (1985) and enhancement/suit anime like Patlabor (1988/9).

2. The role of noise, silence, vibration and dispersion in post-war Japanese urban planning, taking in seismic recording, vibration suppression, warning-siren broadcasts, personal music consumption through headphones, intercom announcements in public spaces, etc.

3. The legacy of asynchronism, sono-semiotics, audio-visual dislocation and frequency attribution in traditional theatre forms like Kabuki, Noh and Kyogen.

This abstract sounds dense, but my chapter explains all these terms and evidences how they perform audibly in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Text © Philip Brophy 2021. Images © GAINAX