Few theme songs are as iconic and meaningful to anime fans as the theme song to Neon Genesis Evangelion, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” or “Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze.” While there are a number of reasons for the song’s success, a lot of credit must be given to singer Yoko Takahashi.
With soaring vocals that have allowed the melody of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” to leave a lasting impression on listeners around the world, it’s worth looking at the woman behind the song.
Yoko Takahashi’s Life Before “Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze”
Born in Tokyo in August of 1966, Yoko Takahashi, first started learning how to play the piano at the age of two. According to her website, by age eight she was singing in the boys and girls choir. Her childhood experience with music would ultimately influence the course of her life.
By 1987, at the age of 21, Takahashi was working as a background singer on tour for the popular musician Toshinobu Kubota, also known as Toshi. Takahashi continued to tour with various artists and explore the realm of working as a commercial vocalist, until releasing a single in 1991 called “P.S. I Miss You,” which went on to win her a number of ‘Best New Artist’ awards.
From 1992 until 1994, Takahashi would go on to release three albums: 1992’s Pizzicato, Kugatsu no Sotsugyō in 1993, and in 1994, Watashi wo Mitsukete. It was around this time that Takahashi was studying in Los Angeles, only to return to Japan in 1995.
While looking for work upon relocating, Takahashi reached out to some connections she had in the music industry and was invited to audition to sing the ending theme song for the Evangelion anime series, “Fly Me To The Moon.” When the producers heard her audition, they invited her to also try out for “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” and the rest, as they say, is history.
Her Continued Career
At the time Yoko Takahashi first recorded “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” the series had not yet aired or been completed. Even the song’s lyricist, Oikawa Neko, was only able to see a couple clips from the anime before writing the words to the iconic theme song in two hours. No one at the time would be able to predict to the exact extent that the “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” would blow up.
For many artists, having such a huge success early in on their career might make it hard to move on. Yet, Takahashi managed to stay productive, releasing an additional 12 studio albums in the years following the original airing of Evangelion. Still, in an interview with Tokyo Otaku Mode News before her 2015 performance at Anime Expo in Los Angeles Takahashi admits that it wasn’t easy to do so:
“The truth is, in 2000, I lost my place in the music business and I nearly gave up. Even if I wanted to work, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to continue unless I could find what I wanted to do, what I could do, and what I had to do. During that period Evangelion weighed heavy on my mind and I couldn’t keep myself together doing the titles I was working on.
I haven’t sung an Evangelion song since ‘Tamashii no Refrain.’ But I still thought about how I could continue to associate myself with Evangelion. It really has had a profoundly meaningful impact on my life.”
In the time since Takahashi was able to embrace the “meaningful impact” that “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” had on her career, she has found much success performing the iconic theme song around the world. Furthermore, she’s released different versions of the song, including “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis Matsuri Spirit,” a 2018 take, performed in the matsuri(festival) style, with taiko drums and traditional flute which Otaquest wrote about here.
Takahashi’s Anime Music Beyond Evangelion
Aside from the opening Evangelion with “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” Takahashi also closed out each episode of the show with the closing theme song “Fly Me to the Moon.” She followed that up with the closing theme song for Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, “Tamashii no Refrain” or “Soul’s Refrain,” in 1997.
Later, in 2004, she sang “Metamorphose,” the opening theme song for the anime, This Ugly Yet Beautiful World. Takahashi followed that up with the closing and opening themes for Shakugan no Shana— “Yoake Umarekuru Shōjo” or “The Girl Born at Dawn”—and Pumpkin Scissors—”Aoki Flame” or “Blue Flame”—respectively, in 2005 and 2006.
As of 2019, Yoko Takahashi has released a new mini album entitled Evangelion Extreme, featuring songs she’s performed for Evangelion themed pachislot games(a fusion of pachinko and slot machines), as well as the 2009 version of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” and an original song for the release.
28 years since the release of her first studio album, Yoko Takahashi is still making music, committed to continuing to give the fans what they love and then some.