By Deanna Nguyen
Behind every great anime is a director whose deft craftsmanship and artistic direction produce seamless animation and immersive storytelling. These works open a dialogue between creators and fans that transcend the viewing experience. Ei Aoki is one of those directors.
Aoki’s beginnings as a storyboard artist led him to the director’s chair, first with Girls Bravo in 2004 and then with the film The Garden of Sinners: Overlooking View in 2007. In the years since, Aoki’s works have riveted fans worldwide.
Collaborating with talented animators and big-name composers like Yuki Kajiura and Hiroyuki Sawano, it’s no surprise that the epic scale of Aoki’s works is always a treat to watch. His approach to the medium—and his experimentation with punctuation for his titles—takes us to worlds both familiar and extraordinary.
Let’s take a look at a handful of anime from his career.
The success of Fate/Zero is a combination of ufotable and their animation resources and Aoki’s knack for juggling multiple characters’ storylines and intertwining them together to create something satisfyingly complete.
Fate/Zero isn’t Aoki’s first attempt at directing a Nasuverse title (a nickname for the works of TYPE-MOON) ; The Garden of Sinners: Overlooking View preceded the former as a movie with similarities in tone.
For those familiar with the Fate universe, you’ll know that Fate/Zero is the prequel to Fate/stay night, taking place ten years prior, during the Fourth Holy Grail War. The adult cast of this series leaves little room for humor, instead capitalizing on its dark, twisted fantasy.
The selling point of the show, aside from its exquisite sakuga and soundtrack, is its realistic portrayal of characters’ thoughts and actions. It’s evident that Aoki takes care in getting to know about everyone, from Rider to Kirei, learning their mannerisms and thought patterns before ushering them on stage. Many fans praise the series’ philosophical dialogue and strategic fights that align with each characters’ motivation.
Fate/Zero is mature and doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to disturbing imagery and bloodshed. Aoki manages to balance a large cast without losing any of them to frustration or anger. All of the characters are complex, with their own motives for winning a war.
In collaboration with A-1 Pictures, Ei Aoki and his studio, TROYCA, embark on a journey in a mecha universe with ALDNOAH.ZERO. After the colonization of Mars — dubbed Aldnoah — and the establishment of the Vers Empire, war breaks out over a decade later after an attack on the First Princess of Vers. Three main characters propel the plot: Inaho Kaizuka, Slaine Troyard and Asseylum Vers Allusia.
Inaho’s stoic demeanor is a stark contrast to Slaine’s combustive emotions, which steers viewers in the latter’s favor as a compelling character. Once again, Aoki plays around with the notion that not one person is the protagonist, nor do they deserve the sole spotlight throughout the show.
Slaine’s character development goes from a young man with good intentions to a corrupted soul and war figure. Aoki dives deep into the vulnerabilities of human emotions and pits those against a character who has none.
Returning to the crossover concept, Re:Creators is a fresh take on isekai because it’s really a reverse isekai. Instead of characters transporting to another world, characters from anime, manga and video games transport to the real world. What’s more, these characters are original creations from actual creators in the real world.
Helmed solely by TROYCA, Re:Creators briefly follows Sota Mizushino, a high schooler who hopes to publish his own light novel one day, only for the focus to shift to the other, more charismatic characters. Altair, a military uniform princess, is framed as the show’s antagonist due to her promises to help the otherworld characters fix their home-worlds by confronting their creators.
Ei Aoki returns to his roots with a multitude of characters who come from different worlds and backgrounds. The genres come together into one —magical girl, fantasy, cyberpunk, mystery and mecha — and elevate the real world into large-scale battles among characters with their own beliefs and reasons for siding with Altair.
With adrenaline-pumping music composed by Hiroyuki Sawano and dramatic sound effects to emphasize epic battles, Re:Creators also offers moments — conversations — between creators and their creations. It’s a very clear allegory that lands in the context of the series.
ID: INVADED (2020)
If you’re a fan of PSYCHO-PASS, then your newest sci-fi mystery obsession has arrived. From studio NAZ, ID:INVADED pulls you into the id well, a virtual reality simulation in which genius detective Sakaido puts the pieces — literally — together to uncover a serial killer’s motives to prevent their killings. Advanced technology and psychology pair up to go beyond human limitations for the sake of solving crimes.
While Sakaido is the only one who crosses over to the digital realm, a team of investigators monitors his movements and analyzes clues without needing to visit the actual scene of the crime. With this, Aoki steps away from the traditional protagonist and instead pivots viewers’ attention to multiple characters.
It’s easy to denote Sakaido as the hero of the story, yet he’s killed someone in the past, putting him among the group of serial killers taken into custody. There’s still much to learn about him, and Aoki keeps the suspense intact with other characters whose own stories cause you to feel like they’re each a protagonist.
Character relationships within the team, especially ones with polar-opposite types, make for interesting dynamics. For example, Hondomachi, a baby-faced rookie analyst, partners with Matsuoka who’s noticeably older and of higher rank.
Aside from its mind-bending story, ID: INVADED is all about broadening the scope of storytelling and worldbuilding — a pattern Aoki has certainly perfected.
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