Both otaku and sword enthusiasts can get their fix during the “Evangelion and Japanese Swords” exhibition for the price of a plane ticket to Paris. The exhibition has already made its rounds throughout Japan, and from April 30 to June 21 at the Parisian Japan Cultural Institute, Japan’s master swordsmiths are teaming up with Neon Genesis Evangelion’s producers to bring the anime to life through world-class blades.
The exhibit features interpretations of weapons from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Among the early animes exported from Japan, its high-quality animation and storytelling helped spark the genre’s worldwide popularity. Despite now being nearly twenty years old, various rereleases, deluxe editions and movies retouching the original kept it zombified until finally, in 2007, the Rebuild of Evangelion movie series reimagined the plot to completely resurrect the ageing brand. The Evangelion and Japanese Sword exhibition was part of the promotional campaign for the third movie, Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo. Though perhaps since the movie itself was a remake, You Can (Indeed) Redo.
But while Evangelion producers may be using the exhibition to promote a movie, the swordsmiths are trying to revive interest in their ancient–yet endangered–art. The number of smiths in Japan has suffered a steep decline in recent decades. Finding new blood to fulfil the five year apprenticeship is difficult. With the price of swords wavering and smiths only legally permitted to make twenty four a year by Japan’s Ministry of Culture, even smiths who have completed their apprenticeship often have to work part time jobs to make ends meet while they hone their skills. Many are hoping that Evangelion and Japanese Swords will be the boon the dwindling art needs to avoid extinction.
To that end, smiths have also forged more traditional swords for the event. Visitors to the Tokyo exhibit were greeted first with a scale model Eva, then guided to a room filled with nothing but pure sword art. That, along with a depiction of the smithing process and a few videos of interviews with the smiths, gives you a sense of the pride they have in their work.
From there it’s a collaboration of new and old Japan. Blades that could have sat on the hips of ancient samurai are fitted into anime-style grips produced through computer-aided design. The Eva weapons were well done. The fittings didn’t have the same craftsmanship as the smiths’ work, but you could hardly expect them to. This otaku was satisfied.
The centerpiece is an interpretation of the massive spear used by the Evas, “Longinus,” with its steel’s watery pattern emulating the lost techniques of ancient Damascene smiths. The spear was forged through the labor-intensive method of pattern-welding to create modern “Damascus” steel, then acid-etched to draw out its distinctive appearance. Even at this scaled-down size, it would still take an Eva to wield it.
The character-themed swords were disappointing, though. If I was the smith who forged the blade they put in one purple plastic bubble-patterned scabbard, not pictured, I would have shortly committed seppuku with the very same. Some were fine, but some looked like a fifty-thousand dollar blade wrapped in a cosplay scabbard–something you see hanging from two nails above a collection of Naruto DVD’s.
But fortunately the character swords gave way to the character knives, which were something any otaku or knife lover could be proud of. I’m both, and gushed over them, but I’ll let the knives speak for themselves.
The gift shop offered plenty of souvenirs, including a few blades. Though at roughly 15,000 dollars a piece they might be too steep for the causal museum goer. Still, since it’s illegal in Japan to export the raw tamahage steel used to create Japanese blades, true nihonto (Japanese swords) can only be made in Japan. If the blades make it to Europe, it’ll be an excellent chance for sword lovers to purchase a authentic Japanese blade. If not, you can settle for a pair of Evangelion K-Swiss.