One of the highlights of our time at Otakon 2015 was an extended interview with some of the creators of the new anime series Aldnoah.Zero. Courtesy of Otakon and Aniplex of America, we had the opportunity to speak with director Ei Aoki (Aldnoah.Zero, Fate/Zero, Ga-Rei Zero, Wandering Son), Studio Troyca producer Toshiyuki Nagano (Aldnoah.Zero, Inari Konkon, Wandering Son), and Aniplex producer Shizuka Kurosaki (Aldnoah.Zero, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works). The interview was round-robin style, so it features questions from Ink and Evan as well as ones from Damocles Thread, ToonZone, and Anime Diet.
Aoki and co. reveal lots of interesting tidbits below, including stories about Aoki’s live-action influences, Nagano’s Tenchi-fueled industry origins, and Kurosaki’s formidable work ethic.
SPOILER ALERT: Included hereafter are some pretty major spoilers for Aldnoah.Zero. You have been warned.
Damocles Thread: For each of you, what were the anime, manga, or shows that inspired you to get started in the anime industry?
Nagano: One of the shows I really enjoyed was Tenchi Muyo, which was made by AIC. Before that, I was working in the television industry. But I wanted to create animation, so I joined AIC myself.
Aoki: The first company I worked for was AIC as well, and what really got me into the industry and inspired me to work at AIC itself was Megazone 23.
Kurosaki: I work for Aniplex. I liked the Rurouni Kenshin OVA Trust & Betrayal, the one that wasn’t broadcast on TV. I was really inspired by that, and it made me want to join the company.
Ani-Gamers (Ink): Mr. Aoki, your directorial debut was Girls Bravo. How did you come to work on that project? Do you have any fond memories from it?
Aoki: That was a show I directed while I was at AIC. The reason I worked on it was the president of AIC, Mr. Miura, came up to me, gave me the story, and said, “Do it.” (Everyone laughs.)
ToonZone: Mr. Aoki, between Fate/Zero and Aldnoah.Zero, two of your recent series have included Gen Urobuchi as a screenwriter. I was wondering if you could talk about your impression of him as a storyteller and colleague.
Aoki: Mr. Urobuchi is a very plot-driven writer. He really likes to work with a story, make it very intricate, and workshop it together. Of course, Fate/Zero is based on the original story Fate/stay night, and he wanted to create a story that blended really well with that original.
So when it came to creating Aldnoah, which was an original story, he created the plotline for it, and then I created ideas for characters and storylines to go along with it. We formed the story together from that.
Anime Diet: You announced your new studio via Twitter. What has your experience been like interacting with fans on Twitter?
Nagano: Mr. Aoki has his own Twitter account, but there’s no Twitter account for Troyca. There’s no one to update it if there was!
Aoki: I announced it on my personal account. Originally the show was created just for Japan, but I started getting comments from America and other companies and I had an interesting time translating them, saying “I think this is what they were trying to tell me.” If I had the time, I would also try to respond to them about their comments and views on the show.
Damocles Thread: Since you all started as fans and are now in the industry, have you ever had a moment of being very excited to work with someone in the anime industry?
Nagano: As I said earlier, the reason I joined AIC is I was a big fan of Tenchi and I always wanted to work on a Tenchi title or with the creator Masaki Kajishima. Even though it was the very last title in the Tenchi franchise (Tenchi Muyo! War on Geminar), I got to be involved on the production supervision, and I thought, “That’s one of my bucket list items crossed off!” And then of course, with Mr. Aoki, when he was working on Girls Bravo, I was on the production desk, so I got to work with him for the first time.
Aoki: There are so many people in the industry that I respect. One of them is the manga artist Takako Shimura, who became the character designer for Aldnoah. I directed the anime version of her manga, Wandering Son, and working with her made me very happy.
Kurosaki: I’ve only been a producer at Aniplex for two years, so I really haven’t had an opportunity to work with many people. Beforehand, I was a fan of Mr. Aoki’s works — Wandering Son, Ga-Rei Zero, and others — so I was really excited when I got to work with him.
Furthermore, I’m really happy about coming to the US to do events like this for Aldnoah and getting comments from fans in addition to working with Mr. Aoki. This is something I could never tell him in person, so write it in real big letters in your articles, please.
Aoki: (In English) She is joking. (Everyone laughs)
Ani-Gamers (Evan): You mentioned in your panel today that you watch a lot of Hollywood films and films in general, and it seems like your work has a lot of elements of live-action film to it. What are some of your favorite movies, and do you think any of them have influenced your work?
Aoki: The works of the director Christopher Nolan — Inception, Interstellar, The Dark Knight — are very inspirational. Even in a title like the Batman series, which is based on a comic book, what he created on screen wasn’t a comic book; it was like real life. It’s what would happen if a hero existed in reality. That’s what it made me feel like I was seeing, and though I’m still new as a director, I hope one day I can direct a movie like Mr. Nolan can.
Ani-Gamers (Evan): So you’re trying to depict that realism?
ToonZone: Mr. Aoki, between Wandering Son, Fate/Zero, and Aldnoah.Zero, you’ve directed animated works based on manga, a light novel, and an original work. Do you think the challenges are different for those formats when trying to create something unique and authentic?
Aoki: To me, no matter what the starting point is, whether it’s an original work that you develop or whether you take an existing work and adapt, in the end the picture I want to draw is the same: making it realistic.
Anime Diet: How does Slaine stand out as an antagonist?
Aoki: If anything, what makes Slaine stand out is that the character is very pure and loyal to Asseylum. Even though his actions may not be deemed proper in the situation, his loyalty to Asseylum will always remain. That differentiation makes the character stand out from the other ones.
Damocles Thread: Once in a great while, something will go from live-action television in the US over into anime. If you could pick any property from live-action TV (in any country) and turn that into an anime, what property would really lend itself to that?
Nagano: There’s a TV show I’ve been discussing with Mr. Aoki, a Japanese variety show. You most likely won’t know what it is, but it’s called How do you like Wednesday? (Suiyo Do Desho?). It’s about four guys hanging out, traveling, driving a car, having a discussion, etc. Wouldn’t it be fun to do an animated version of it with girls? (Everyone laughs)
Ani-Gamers (Evan): Would Mr. Aoki direct it? (More laughs)
Nagano: If we’re going to do it, yeah, of course!
Aoki: I love movies, but I also love TV. I watch a lot of foreign TV that’s broadcast in Japan. In particular I’m a fan of a British series called Sherlock. It’s set in the modern day, but it uses the storylines from the old original story, so even if you’re a fan of the original, you can still enjoy it. Because it’s set in modern day, you can get technology involved, but it’s still the original Sherlock stories.
Damocles Thread: Well it’s public domain, so you can give it a shot.
Aoki: One of the things I’m considering is, seeing how well it worked with Sherlock, couldn’t I take an old Japanese story and do something similar with it?
Kurosaki: There are a couple shows I’m thinking about. One is Glee. All the characters are anime archetype characters anyway, and music shows are really popular in Japan.
Another is a UK show called Utopia. It’s supposed to be made into a US version by David Fincher. It’s just 6 episodes, but it’s suspenseful with lots of cliffhangers, and the story construction is so well done. I would love to see an anime version of that.
Ani-Gamers (Ink): What’s the studio environment like at Troyca compared to other studios you’ve worked at?
Nagano: We’re still a new company, and it’s hard to really say, but thanks to Aldnoah’s success, we’re getting a lot of requests for work. But because we’re a small company, we want to take one title at a time so we can concentrate on that title and keep moving forward.
Aoki: My opinion is pretty much the same. We like to concentrate on quality, not quantity, so being able to concentrate on a single title to make an enjoyable project for the viewers is the most important thing for us.
ToonZone: On the subject of Troyca, then, can you talk a bit about how it got started? What kind of challenges did you face in getting off the ground and getting Aldnoah started?
Nagano: There’s so many to list! But when it really comes down to it, when we had hardships, we always had friends who would come to help and allowed us to get through anything we were having difficulties with and allowed us to complete the project to show to you viewers.
Aoki: When you’re working on a big project like Aldnoah, there are a lot of complexities in the show’s development. Despite all of these, you still have a weekly deadline to meet, and it keeps getting pushed back and pushed back. So I feel that we’ve created a lot of hardship for Ms. Kurosaki here. She did her best to the very end to help us out. Next time I’ll have to treat her to some crab.
Kurosaki: I used to have to get on a bullet train to get the broadcast tape to the studio on time.
Yoshida (translator): How often can you take the tape on the day of broadcast and say “put this on air”?
Kurosaki: We’re not supposed to. We’re supposed to do it a week ahead of time.
Yoshida: In the US we do it 6-8 weeks ahead.
Kurosaki: We could never make that deadline!
Nagano: The battle is: can we get it there three days before broadcast, two days before broadcast, the day before broadcast, or the day of?
Anime Diet: Mr. Aoki, you worked on Whispered Words and directed Wandering Son, two stories about gay or trans characters. What’s your personal take on LGBT issues in anime and manga?
Aoki: First of all, I think there are a lot of issues still remaining in Japan, even more so than in the U.S. in regards to that topic. When I was doing Wandering Son, I personally didn’t have an opinion. I’m not gay, but I had friends that were. And the bottom line is, if you love someone, does it really matter what gender they are if it’s part of telling a story? So it might be hard for me to make an original title with that topic, but I would love to animate something from Ms. Shimura involving these issues.
Damocles Thread: Ms. Kurosaki, since you’re relatively new to the industry, what was the challenge that blindsided you the most?
Kurosaki: I’ve had opportunities to work with Troyca and Mr. Aoki and other fantastic creators, and I’m never worried about the quality of the work that gets produced. But with quality comes time. I have to play a lot of politics to make sure everything works out in the end. Also, as a producer, you’re not just assigned one title — you have many. So it requires a lot of stamina to get the work done.
Aoki: But Ms. Kurosaki is a very hard worker. I trust her. I could write her an email at 3 AM and I get a response right away.
Ani-Gamers (Evan): Ga-Rei Zero is a prequel to an original manga, but it has a pretty unique, inventive story. What was the process like for coming up with that storyline?
Aoki: Not just with Ga-Rei, but with any animated title with a comic still going on, you have to decide which parts to animate and which parts to leave out. When it came time to make an animated version of Ga-Rei, the series hadn’t been going on very long. So if you were to start animating it, you’d run out. We obviously didn’t want that to happen. Making a prequel meant that it wouldn’t matter when the animated series for the main story happens, it would still be fresh. So we would be free to create something without those limitations that you’d have for a new, still-running series.
Ani-Gamers (Evan): So you had a lot of creative freedom?
Aoki: We didn’t have a whole lot of limitations. As long as it connected to the series at the end, the original creator gave us a lot of freedom. It gave us a lot of room to work with.
ToonZone: For Fate/Zero, could Mr. Aoki talk about what he thinks the driving theme of that show is and what viewers should take away from it?
Aoki: That’s a hard question. When I created it, I had a theme that I wanted to put into it, but I didn’t want to tell the viewers what it is, because we wouldn’t want the viewers NOT to try to figure it out themselves. I don’t like to talk about the general themes because I want people to discuss the characters, the storylines, and what they think the theme is on their own. I want every viewer to take away their own personal experiences from the show.
ToonZone: And Ms. Kurosaki, as someone involved in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, I wonder how you feel about that show.
Kurosaki: Because UBW was done by ufotable, who worked on Fate/Zero, I had no concerns with them doing the work; they’ve built up experience over time of doing these works. Another thing is the director on the show was an action animator, so the action sequences are very elaborate and extreme. We just did a premiere of the dub, and seeing the audience’s reaction to that was very fulfilling.
Anime Diet: Mr. Aoki, you’ve worked on a lot of different kinds of stories. Which genre is your favorite?
Aoki: I can’t say I have any particular genres that I like to work in or not work in. I enjoy everything I create. They all have their hardships and their very fun and interesting moments, but there’s nothing in particular. I guess, being able to work on a show that I personally want to work on, be it an original story or a pre-existing story, is really important. It’s something I’ve come to realize over the years. Despite the hardships I may face, being able to complete these shows is really enjoyable.
Damocles Thread: Since you seem to have a big dialogue with the fanbase, do each of you have a favorite story about interacting with fans?
Nagano: I got to go to an event in Tokushima in Japan, and I got to meet the Japanese fans. By coming to Otakon I got to meet the American fans. Seeing how well we’re accepted made me happy inside.
Aoki: When the first season of Aldnoah.Zero ended, we held an event in Japan. At the very end, you think the main character died. So at the end of the event, a bunch of the female fans of the character came up to me and said, “Is he really dead?” At that point I couldn’t tell them what happens in the next season, so I couldn’t answer. But seeing their love of a character to the point of tears really left an impression on me.
Kurosaki: One of the things I found out about Studio Troyca is that, on character’s birthdays, on the anniversary of the show’s broadcast, and even for seasonal gift-giving times, they receive gifts at Troyca. When I heard that, I was kind of surprised. People who forgot the anniversary of the original broadcast were getting cards and candies and stuff sent to them. I don’t think there are a whole lot of titles that have dedicated fans like that.
Ani-Gamers (Evan): A lot of fans identified a shift in the direction of the second season of Aldnoah.Zero in both the themes and the main character. So I’m curious, why did you make that change? Was that part of the idea for the show from the beginning?
Aoki: For seasons 1 and 2, we had a basic storyline that was already written by Mr. Urobuchi. And since it was already scripted out, the change in mood from season 1 to 2 was already planned out from the beginning of the show.
ToonZone: What’s next for each of you? Do you have a project coming up that you’d like people to know about?
Nagano: As a studio, we have something coming up based on a novel from Kadokawa: A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet.
Aoki: I’m helping out on that but I’m not the director.
At this point I can’t reveal the titles or even if they've been finalized, but there are two titles I’m currently involved in the development of.
Ani-Gamers (Evan): Do they have "Zero" in the name? (Everyone laughs)
Aoki: No Zeroes.
Kurosaki: There’s nothing I can talk about! One of the ones we’ve already announced, we’re planning is the Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel film. We also have a BL movie called Classmate (Doukyusei).
Anime Diet: Mr. Aoki, of all the countries you’ve visited when promoting your projects, where do you have the most happy memories?
Aoki: I really haven’t traveled to so many places that I can talk about. I go to Asian countries a lot, but in particular if I had to point something out, it would be the Fate event we had at Anime Expo in 2012. At both Anime Expo and Otakon as well, seeing the fan’s pure, open, and happy reactions is very memorable to me. Additionally, at one point I wanted to have San Francisco as the setting for Aldnoah. The hills and bridges of San Francisco are really interesting.
Damocles Thread: Favorite swear word and why.
All: Swear word?!
Kurosaki: It’s in Aldnoah as well, but Yuki says “kuzu-yaro ne.” That’s her favorite.
Yoshida: Do you say that to people?
Kurosaki: I say this about people, not directly at them.
Aoki: Nagano and I yell at each other all the time.
Nagano: I have to make sure I leave him on his pedestal, so I go to the side and say “die!"
Kurosaki: No swear words from you guys?
Aoki: It’s never just one word. It’s many words.
Nagano: Most of the things I say are “get your work done."
We’d like to thank all the folks at Otakon and Aniplex who made this interview possible, including Alyce Wilson, Joanna Metoki, and Toshifumi Yoshida, who filled in as translator on short notice, not to mention Mr. Aoki, Mr. Nagano, and Ms. Kurosaki, for giving us such a fascinating perspective on their works.
ALDNOAH.ZERO: © Olympus Knights/Aniplex,Project AZ
Fate/Zero: © Nitroplus/TYPE-MOON,ufotable,FZPC