First things first, a bit of buyer beware: ADV gave this book a shamelessly misleading cover. The Gainax/Eva connection is milked for all it's worth, and the result is that the casual bookstore buyer is probably going to pick up this book thinking it is the story of the production of Evangelion. It is most definitely not; Eva is only given a glance at best.
Now, personally, I'm fine with this. I knew it coming in. I wanted to know about Gainax, and on that front the book delivers. The Notenki Memoirs are something of an autobiography in fandom and fanboy business by Yasuhiro Takeda, Gainax's "general manager". That's as good an explanation as I can give you of what the dude actually did at Gainax; Takeda paints a picture of a fast-and-loose operation where people didn't have job titles and specific tasks to accomplish so much as they worked. People at Gainax worked their asses off; more than anything I was impressed by the sheer youthful energy of these people (the author reminds us, over and over again, every time he fails sophomore year in college) and the single-minded intensity with which they pursued whatever the hell it was they were pursuing. It really speaks to my quarter-life crisis, you know?
This story is much more about the people involved in Gainax than the products they turned out, but there are some interesting tidbits, and some really obscure trivia. Obscurity is the order of the day here. Did you know that the the last episode of Gunbuster wasn't in black and white because the studio ran out of money, but because Anno insisted on doing a a black-and-white episode on color film? It was the opposite of the oft-repeated fan urban legend; the episode was in fact a tremendous waste of money. It is comments like this, made in passing, that are the juiciest bits for the Gainax fan. When Takeda does talk about Gainax's projects, he makes sure to give the most coverage to the most obscure. There's quite a bit in here that never made past planning stages, and quite a bit I'd never even heard of, including Komatsu Sakyo Anime Gekijou, which was completely news to me, and which I'd very much like to see.
Another thing that occurred to me while I was reading was Takeda's account of the departure of Toshio Okada, a founding Gainax member and writer of the fan-favorite Otaku no Video. There's clearly some bad blood between these two. Takeda portrays Okada as having been, in later years, a layabout. Apparently, the guy never did any work aside from shooting off fanciful and infeasible ideas that didn't go anywhere, expecting everybody else to drop everything and get to work on them while he continued to chill. That's so otaku! This bit pops out at me particularly because Otaku no Video makes so much sense with it in mind. Talk about fanciful and infeasible; the end goal of the OVA's fictional Gainax-stand-in is to build a giant underground mechanical fortress from which to rule the world in some kind of Char-helmeted otaku dictatorship.
I don't know who to side with here; Takeda the manager or Okada the dreamer. On the one hand, the dreamer Gainax would have lived hand-to-mouth, sleeping in animators' sweatshops, putting every ounce of themselves into some quirky masterpiece that won't really make any money. On the other hand, Gainax mostly makes safe and easy cash-grab projects nowadays. Not that I can blame them; they've been the dreamers, and it's moved them into jaded professionalism, and that's moved them to He Is My Master. I guess I'd do the same thing.