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The Man Who Turned an Olympics Documentary Into an Anime Parody Explains What the Heck He Was Thinking

Various shots of Olympic hockey players.
A scene from Neon Genesis Evangeli—er, The Nagano Tapes. screenshot

Of all things to feature an expertly created anime parody, a documentary about the 1998 Winter Olympics is easily among the least likely. And yet: The Nagano Tapes, a 2018 film that tells the story of the Czech hockey team’s quest for gold in Nagano, Japan. An otherwise straightforward tale of the team winning the Czech Republic’s first-ever gold medal in hockey, The Nagano Tapes starts off with a hilariously creative bang that any anime fan will instantly recognize. Its introductory credits are a clear riff on the opening to Neon Genesis Evangelion, the influential and widely acclaimed series from the mid-1990s.

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The montage that kicks off The Nagano Tapes is scored to Evangelion’s famous theme song, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” and somehow makes the recounting of Olympic history tonally similar to the story of teenagers who are forced to pilot giant fighting robots in order to fend off an impending apocalypse (and some major existential angst). It’s weird, it’s nonsensical, and it is the best thing that the internet randomly found this week, three years after The Nagano Tapes premiered. Maybe it’s because we’re (maybe) looking forward to another Olympics in Japan this year, or maybe it’s because it was a slow news week for anime nerds—either way, the film’s director and self-proclaimed Evangelion mega-fan Ondřej Hudeček was excited to discover that the internet was suddenly in love with his creation.

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We reached about to Hudeček about how and why this Evangelion parody came to be—and how it made it into this fairly sober Olympics history movie in the first place. Below, he tells the story in his own words.

When I was working on the opening sequence of The Nagano Tapes, I wanted to find a way to communicate with the audience right from the start that this is not going to be a story only about hockey. Eventually I came up with the idea of a fast-paced montage with title cards featuring the topics covered throughout the film. The biggest challenge was to find a song that would go well with the montage and that would also set the cheeky, subversive tone of the film—and that’s where “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” came in.

 

In the late ’90s when the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano took place, a friend of mine introduced me to Neon Genesis Evangelion and I instantly became a huge fan. Many years later, while working on the film, I tried to sneak in as many details from that period of my life as possible in order to make it more personal. Naturally, I remembered NGE’s opening credits sequence with its title cards, and it suddenly made a perfect sense to try to do something similar that would work both as a narrative tool and a homage to my favorite series from that time.

 

I put it together and showed it to my producers, who were quite surprised by my choice at first, but quickly fell under the spell of the song and supported my decision. As you can imagine, it was not easy to license the music, and it took quite a lot of time, but in the end, we were able to do it, and so the opening montage was born.

 

When the film was released, there were a few people who recognized the music in the opening sequence, but it wasn’t until [yesterday] that it went viral—which I certainly did not expect to happen three years after the premiere.

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