Another Shelved Gainax Project: Olympia

Anime fans who have some idea of the history of Gainax, more often than not, will go from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water straight to Neon Genesis Evangelion if you ask them to describe the studio’s work in the 1990s. More informed fans will mention the continuously resurrected Uru in Blue or the company’s foray into computer games. Not many, however, know that there was another animation project that was attempted during these lean years. While the project was abandoned and only a few illustrations by character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto remain as evidence that it existed, the consequences of the stalled project would change the company in a profound way.

While there are many other articles that go deeper into this period of the studio’s history, after the final episode of Nadia aired in April 1991, Gainax found themselves without any new projects in development. Furthermore, the studio was in debt due to production costs on Nadia (despite it being a commercial and critical success, they did not own the rights so they couldn’t make any revenue from it). In fact, the studio was given a 50 million yen advance for the Nadia movie, but when it turned out that the studio wasn’t able to do the work, Gainax had to tell Toho that they couldn’t pay back the loan for several years as they already had spent it.

The only thing keeping the studio afloat during these years was video game work, most notably Takami Akai’s Princess Maker. Despite finding some success in games, the studio was more or less in a holding pattern, with Gainax President Toshio Okada even suggesting that they get out of animation entirely and focus on games. This idea got immediate push back, with Takami Akai, the man responsible for the company getting into games in the first place, saying that it was their experience in animation that gave them a foothold in the gaming industry. So, they needed an anime that they could call their own and one that gave Hideaki Anno an opportunity to direct.

According to Sadamoto in his art book Alpha, the story of Olympia was a space epic where the titular character and her friends excavate superweapons that were buried on various planets. These weapons have the ability to combine into a giant robot called Anitaros in order to defeat her father’s enemy, the Emperor of the Galactic Federation. Her friends range from a member of the Resistance against the Federation named Kai to a young girl named Cheriso, who Sadamoto described in his illustrations CD-ROM1 as being like Marie from Nadia, and the maintenance robot who rescued her. Sadamoto also stated they were inspired by the story of the 47 Ronin.

Sadamoto also outlined that the story included a love triangle between Olympia, an enemy soldier named Baal, and an older woman named Alice who was a scientist for the Resistance. Sadamoto wrote that this was in order to have a different kind of drama than that of robot fights and revenge. “We tried to do a trendy story that furthered the path that was laid out with Gunbuster: Aim for the Top.”

In Sadamoto’s illustrations CD-ROM, the storyline was compared to that of a role-playing game, featuring ideas such as Olympia crash landing on a desert planet and finding a Resistance base surrounding a large fortress cannon–one of the weapons needed to form Anitaros–and visiting a martial arts world where she is forced to participate in a duel using mechanical beasts that are shaped like dinosaurs or ostriches and wearing suits of armor (Sadamoto described the armor as similar to what was used in the 1981 film Excalibur).

According to Sadamoto, the project began not long after production on Nadia was completed, but quickly stalled. Akai then got involved and restarted it based on the question “What if we made the setting a world that is easiest for the director, Anno, to create?” Akai drew some preliminary sketches, which he gave to Sadamoto to create his illustrations, which are reprinted in his first art book, Alpha. The creative team then went to Matsumoto2 to further develop the idea. After getting Sadamoto’s illustrations, they began to work on the story and other elements of the project.

Producer Yasuhiro Takeda wrote in the Notenki Memoirs that work on the project was going pretty well with everyone contributing ideas freely until personal issues got in the way. Takeda outlined this period in development, saying:

“The storyboards for the project were included in the very first collection of drawings we received from Sadamoto, which meant that the details of this thing had already been thought out to some degree. We came up with some good ideas of our own, but thinking back on it, the way that we came up with them was a little odd. We had just started to get a good grasp of the story when somebody piped up, ‘Okada, you’re not helping. Why don’t you sit this one out for a while?'”

Soon after, they had to ask Anno to do the same. It ended up with just Hiroyuki Yamaga, Akai, and Takeda working on the project until they then hit a snag and development stopped completely. Takeda remarked that the way they worked on it was a little different than on previous projects and that he felt helpless, writing that he felt “backed into a corner” and if the same thing happened later in his career, he might have been able to do more. They all agreed the project could not be salvaged and decided to shelve it.

One of the most interesting consequences of the project’s cancellation is that likely led to Okada leaving Gainax. Takeda remarked that Okada hadn’t done any work since working on Olympia and that he had begun to spout all sorts of ideas, but not doing anything to bring them to fruition. In a round table interview with Anno, Akai, and Yamaga in the back of Notenki Memoirs, both Akai and Anno admitted that while Okada could motivate people and get them working, he didn’t care to create any form of cooperative atmosphere and didn’t want to hear complaints or solve problems.

Okada’s salary was cut, and not long after, Takeda went to Okada and told him to quit. Okada at first refused, but then wavered and said he would, then waffled back to refusing. He tried to bargain by asking if he could make one more game before he left. Takeda had enough and said that if Okada didn’t leave, he would. The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that when there had been a meeting to discuss the company’s future, Okada wandered in and announced he had no intention of quitting. Yamaga exploded and stormed out. After this, Okada finally announced he was quitting.

When Okada was asked about why he left, such as in an interview by Carl Gustav Horn at Otakon 1995, he answered that he had done all that he wanted to accomplish and wanted to move on. Okada went further at the Anime America 1996 convention, saying that the people at Gainax who were there at the beginning were “weak” and that they needed his help, but they developed their own strengths by the time he left. In his words, he was “graduating” from Gainax.3 With the differences between these accounts being night and day, it’s uncertain where the truth lies.

After Okada left, Yamaga took over as President of Gainax. They soon began work on Uru in Blue, and as written elsewhere, the project was canceled and subsequently revived several times. They could still rely on the Princess Maker games (at least until Akai left in 1994 taking the rights to the series with him) and their other computer works for revenue. In September of 1993, a proposal was sent out detailing a new animated TV series that would eventually become Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Translation of Olympia Comments from Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s Alpha

Translation by Pluto

[After Nadia,] I wondered what kind of Animation would Gainax do next. Even though I was someone who was involved with it, I wasn’t that interested.

[The project] started right after the production of Nadia was finished, but the method changed again and again and [the production] was halted before anything took shape.

After that, Mr. Akai was involved and [the project] was reconsidered based on the opinion: “What if we made the setting in a world that is the easiest for the director, Anno, to create?” The project that came out of that was Olympia.

The atmosphere was in the same class as Gunbuster: Aim for the Top and Nadia, the visuals were kind of light while the storyline was a little heavy. They were trying to find a new method.

When I got the request for character designs, Mr. Akai gave me his sketches in advance and I developed [the character designs] while staying true to [his sketches] of the main character.

The synopsis is that the female protagonist, “Olympia” excavates super weapons hidden in each planet of the solar system, progresses with her friends, and defeats her father’s enemy, the emperor of the Galactic Federation. We used the story of the 47 Ronin as a model. Of course, the superweapons transform and combine into a giant robot, but by incorporating a love triangle between an enemy soldier, the protagonist, and an older woman, a different drama from robot action and revenge can take place at the same time. We tried to do a trendy story that furthered the path that was laid out with Gunbuster: Aim for the Top.

The four points compiled here are the arrangement of ideas that came out during the planning of Olympia, my episode framework, and the drawings that I was commissioned for.4

Desert Encounter

Olympia escapes the pursuit of the Galactic Federation and crash lands on a certain planet. Wandering through the desert and able to be seen at the end of a sandstorm was a fortress gun lying in the ruins and a dark-eyed boy …

Standing on the fortress cannon is a boy named Cloud, an earthling who was scattered into space. He is also rebelling against the Galactic Federation and has thrown himself into the Resistance. The ruins centered on the fortress cannons are the base of the resistance and sandstorms seem to be a natural camouflage. This fortress cannon is also one of the parts of the “phantom giant robot” that is said to be scattered in various places across the solar system.

A fateful encounter between Olympia and Cloud, who arrived at this place barely escaping death, in a moment when the sandstorm cleared up. I wanted to draw such a scene, so I paid attention to the presentation [of the image] such as the color of the sand and the density of the air in which the sand floats.


A martial arts planet that has the power to determine all superiority and inferiority. Olympia, who was cornered and forced into a duel, decided to participate in the duel and brought a lance to fight the inevitable battle.

How does one develop an archetypical one-on-one combat style in the world of “Olympia”? As you can see in this picture, the only answer is a tournament where you fight with a lance, but the atmosphere is a little different with horses, so I designed a dueling mech.

The enemy is in the shape of a dinosaur as a symbol of power, and Olympia chose an ostrich, a shape that emphasizes mobility, and I tried to express the differences in their individuality by appearance. The armor was in my head when I looked up the source materials in the work of Runal Saga5, so I was able to draw it without much trouble. As an image, it’s the flashy armor of Excalibur, and it is integrated with Shine Red, Olympia’s key color.

Two Survivors

An interplanetary spacecraft crashed into a solar system-sized geothermal power plant. The only survivors of this unprecedented disaster were the girl on the escape craft and the maintenance android that rescued her.

The spacecraft, which went out of control due to engine trouble, claimed most of the lives of the unlucky crew. The only one who survived was a girl named Cheriso. She escaped from the dangerous spaceship because of her parents. The escape boat landed on a reservoir of a power plant, and a spacecraft maintenance android rescued her.

Cheriso has an extraordinary IQ, so she has always been alienated. She cherishes her coat as a memento of her father and her pocket computer as a memento of her mother.

Because of her appearance, she also gradually becomes happier as she interacts with the android who can sense her isolation. She was like a character performing in a drama.

I wanted to draw this illustration of the “red world” with flames and heat, so I made it the scene of a catastrophe. If there was an actual disaster like this, it wouldn’t be helpful to show it up close, but I dared to take a horizontal view like this to show the huge feeling of the spacecraft and the disaster site.


This is a poster-like illustration centered on the four main characters.

In the center is the main character, Olympia, the captain of the security police. At the bottom of the screen is the lieutenant, Baal, a man who discovers the true identity of Olympia. On the right is Alice, a female scientist from the Resistance. She and Olympia have a love triangle with Baal. On the left is Kai, a boy who appears in the illustration on page 6. Also in the background is a huge robot, Anitaros, who has transformed and combined with the four mechs.

It is the leading mecha that the above four people pilot. Also, see the explanation for my techniques at the end of the book.

Further Reading

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  1. Specifically, the Yoshiyuki Sadamoto Illustrations CD for the Sega Saturn (a collection of all the illustrations he completed that were collected in his art books Alpha and Der Mond), which gave a somewhat different and less detailed account of the project.
  2. A city in Nagano prefecture, famous for its original castle.
  3. The interview published on is long gone, but you can find the archive here: Return of the Otaking.
  4. This sentence refers to the subsequent illustrations that are included in the book.
  5. A Japanese Tabletop RPG