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  • Waiting for the Messiah: The Becoming-Myth of Evangelion and Densha otoko
  • Christophe Thouny (bio)

Wednesday, October 4, 1995, 6:30 PM, on Tokyo Channel 12, a new robot animation begins, Neon Genesis Evangelion (otherwise known as EVA).1 The TV series will consist of twenty-six episodes (1995–96), several movies remaking the ending of the TV series (1997 (2008), and an undiminished flow of manga and videogame adaptations. Originally aiming at a public of hardcore local otaku, the series soon becomes a social phenomenon capturing the attention of cultural theorists inside and outside of Japan.

Almost ten years later, EVA returns as a parody in the “coming of age” story of a nerdy boy, “Densha otoko” (literally “Train Man”). The story of Densha, born in the online message board 2channel, is another unexpected social boom and commercial success. Published in book form in October 2004, it had sold 1,015,000 copies by June 2005, finding exceptional popularity among young office ladies as a “Pure Love” (jun’ai) story.2 Following the book, Densha moves across media forms to become a movie (June 2005), a TV series (July–October, 2005), several manga (the first in March 2005), and a theatrical play (August–September, 2005).

EVA and Densha otoko are unexpected successes, both inside and outside of Japan. They are literally translocal and transmedia events that cannot be [End Page 111] understood simply in terms of a modern capitalist form of social collectivity grounded in a single national territory. Despite their differences in media form and content, I think that both texts explore in similar ways other forms of social collectivity at a historical moment when the everyday and war are no longer opposed and literally coexist in a singular temporality of waiting. This new situation forces us to rethink the definition of a social collectivity when it cannot be defined by the rhythmic alternation of war and peace. EVA and Densha otoko allow us to imagine another form of collectivity in what I call a Waiting-Room, a space of transit in which a collective subjectivity can recover a form of agency in a narrative becoming.

The Quotidianization of the Apocalypse: EVA

On the 13 September 2000, a meteorite crashes on Mount Markham in Antarctica, melting the icecap. But in the narrative of EVA, this is only the official version. In reality, the “Second Impact” was provoked by Ikari Gendō and a secret organization named the SEELE3 after their attempt to return Adam, the First Angel, to the state of an embryo. The melting of the icecap causes a rising of the water level, a change in the orbital axis of the Earth, numerous volcanic eruptions, and radical climate changes. In the disaster and civil disorder that ensue, half of the human population disappears. In a new post-apocalyptic world, the defense of peace has become the responsibility of the United Nations, which now controls both the East and the West military blocks. This state of peace is a constant negotiation of war and peace, Total Peace being another name for Total War. The new geopolitical order marks the end of a modern capitalist society, until then regulated by the alternation of war and peace, and reopens the question of the production of social collectivities.

A social collectivity in capitalist modernity can be understood as a social structure defined by a state of peace opposed to a state of war. The project of constructing a civil society would then aim at the disappearance of war. In this regard, it is not surprising that one of the most famous and controversial theories of civil society was elaborated in postwar Germany. I refer of course to Jürgen Habermas’s concept of the public sphere, an artificial space of communication that through a variety of procedures aims at canceling out the possibility of conflict and war. What happens, then, when civil society can no longer be defined in opposition to war? How can it even exist as such? Or, put another way, is it even possible to conceive of a social collectivity as a social project? And if the social collectivity is not defined as a social project, [End...


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