I can fake my way through most pop culture situations, but occasionally more research is required. For example, thanks to my mad Google skillz I was able to write about the presence of the Evangelion movies at the J-POP Summit Festival a few weeks back without sounding like I didn't know what the heck I was talking about, even though I didn't know what the heck I was talking about.
But to review EvaNavi SF, a new iOS app that "that incorporates aspects from the hit Evangelion 2.0 sci-fi anime property to guide users to 60 notable attractions around the city of San Francisco," I knew I would have to step up my game and actually watch the sci-fi anime property in question. If I wasn't familiar with the Evangelion movies, specifically Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, the app probably wouldn't make a lick of sense.
Turns out EvaNavi made exactly as much sense as it would have if I hadn't watched the Evangelion movies -- which were gorgeous, if frequently nonsensical, and I'm looking forward to Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo -- and "incorporating aspects" basically means overlaying a brand that otherwise has no real connection to the product. It's a proud tradition that dates back decades, hence the existence of (to name the most obvious example) Star Wars toothpaste.
All that said, it's a fun little app, and as a good a way as any to discover something new-to-you in San Francisco.
Developed by the Kamakura-based KAYAC with text and photography provided by the good folks at New People, the main Evangelion brand presence is that of Mari Makinami Illustrious, a character who appears out of nowhere in the second film -- seriously, she parachutes into the story, making oblique references to being a spy, and then is more or less ignored for the rest of the movie.
A more accurate title for the app would be MariNavi, but I suppose it would be less marketable that way. A true EvaNavi guide would look like a robot, which again is not quite as marketable. For that matter, as female Evangelion characters go, I prefer Rei and especially Misato, but again, you can't really do the "flirty schoolgirl" thing with either of them. And Asuka doesn't wear glasses. So, Mari it is.
She welcomes you to San Francisco!
As is so often the case, most of the action is north/east of Twin Peaks. As a resident of the Outer Sunset for nearly two decades, I'm accustomed to this kind of blatant, zip-code-based discrimination.
Of course, even when you're on the edge of civilization like I am, you can still tap around and browse the app. Quite unsurprisingly, there's an emphasis on Japanese-owned and Japanese-related businesses, and like any guide to San Francisco, even locals are going to find things they didn't know existed. Even if you know the thing existed, the write-ups are still entertaining, as is hearing them read by Trina Nishimura, the voice of Mari in the English-dubbed version of Evangelion 2.0. You can turn off the sound, of course, but why would you want to? Anyhow, we were intrigued by a restaurant on Broadway in North Beach called Kirimachi Ramen. Here's what Mari had to say about it (apparently while we were floating in a void of infinite darkness):
So far so good, and when my girlfriend Marta did a little extra research and found that they also serve hiyashi chuka (cold ramen with vegetables), we were sold. Hiyashi chuka is my favorite Japanese food that doesn't involve seasoned rice wrapped in nori, and I'm always on the lookout for a new source.
Driving down Oak that evening past Divisadero, with Mari's "Spot Notification" active on my iPhone in the background as we listened to music, Mari kicked in and told us about Gamescape. A really nice touch is that the app didn't turn off the music entirely, as so many will, and instead Radiohead's "The Bends" continued to play in the background as Mari gave us her spiel. They worked quite well together, actually.
As we approached Kirimachi on foot with EvaNavi turned on, the app went bzzzz! as we got close. Since I didn't have my iPhone plugged into anything, nor was I playing music, Mari's voice didn't kick in automatically the way it did while we were driving. She only interrupts when there's something to interrupt.
"Navigate" was just the voice recording, rather than actually navigating us there, but pick pick. The map part did just fine for that.
After dinner, we walked around the neighborhood a bit. I'd closed Mari but didn't shut her off entirely, and as an experiment I had my headphones plugged in but I wasn't actually playing anything. She informed us as we got close to City Lights, but again, didn't actually start talking.
Driving down Valencia between 20th and 19th the next day, playing music through my iPhone, Mari kicked in and started talking about Borderlands Books. She interrupted herself to talk about The Curiosity Shoppe, and then decided she'd rather tell me about Paxton Gate. She seems unaware of the existence of The Dark Room, but I'm sure that'll be corrected in the next update.
EvaNavi SF is free, and well worth the 15.9 MB. Give it a try and go on your own adventure.