Since SHIROBAKO aired, there’s been a growing interest in anime production. More anime fans than ever are curious about who the individuals behind some of their favorite shows are. In my view, this is a positive step for the community, as people are actively thinking about the work that goes into anime. Fans now want to recognize and show appreciation for the hardworking people who have dedicated their blood, sweat, and tears to producing anime – and that’s never a bad thing!
As someone who is passionate about animation and film, I started this new series of articles with the intention of highlighting some exceptional creative voices in anime. My intention for these articles is to provide an easily digestible overview of a director or animator’s body of work, style and vision. I’m hoping folks who are interested in exploring more of what anime has to offer will enjoy the read, learn something in the process and above all, want to check out these wonderful anime.
The spotlight for this week will be on Eunyoung Choi, a director and animator who is a close affiliate of Masaaki Yuasa.
Like many now prominent anime directors, Choi started her career as an animator. Her first breakthrough wasn’t until 2006 when she worked as a key animator on Kemonozume under the direction of Masaaki Yuasa. This was the start of Choi and Yuasa’s partnership, and the two have since then collaborated on many of Yuasa’s projects from The Tatami Galaxy to Ping Pong the Animation.
As Choi worked closely with Yuasa, her core style is heavily influenced by his. Similar to Yuasa, Choi likes to use vivid primary colors and malleable, free-form character designs to express powerful emotions. However, what sets Choi apart from other episode directors working under Yuasa is that she has a distinct artistic vision of her own.
While Yuasa’s approach to animation is loud, jovial and reminiscent of golden age American animators, Choi’s outlook is quieter in comparison and more focused on intimacy. Many of Choi’s conceptualizations are derivatives of Yuasa’s, but her more delicate approach tends to emphasize the emotional connections between people in the episodes she directs.
Many of Choi’s standout efforts as a director are on anime where she didn’t work alongside Yuasa. Choi directed episode 20 of Shigeyasu Yamauchi’s Casshern Sins, where she constructed an especially harrowing portrayal of death and despair. Choi’s style was especially notable in this episode, as her color palettes and warped landscapes stood in stark contrast to the sharper, more angular look of Yoshihiko Umakoshi’s character designs.
There’s a particularly powerful moment toward the end of Choi’s Casshern Sins episode, where she chose to shoot a scene from the perspective of a dying character’s eye. The macabre glimpse of a world enveloped by ruin as the character takes their last breath is brief but poignant. Unhindered by melodramatic conventions, Choi presents to us an agonizing moment of loss that stands out from the rest of Casshern Sins’ narrative.
Revisiting Eunyoung Choi's Casshern Sins episode and I'm speechless at how powerful her use of colour is (even by Casshern's own standards) pic.twitter.com/LHod8hSct1— DDK (@Don_Don_Kun) December 5, 2016
Choi’s Space Dandy episode is one of her greatest achievements as a director to date. Prior to Space Dandy, Choi had always directed episodes that were a part of an overarching narrative. However, with episode 9 of Space Dandy, Choi was granted complete creative control over the episode’s production (script, storyboard, art design, and direction). Given the episodic structure of Space Dandy, Choi’s contribution represents her artistic vision in its purest form – not as a byproduct of Yuasa, but as a product of her own whims.
Choi’s Space Dandy episode details the title character’s adventure on a psychedelic planet inhabited only by talking plants and their botanical buddies. The episode is heavily atmospheric with long scenic takes that showcase the peculiar, alien structures and otherworldly designs of the sentient fauna. Choi’s episode doesn’t try to satisfy a narrative obligation, but rather envelops the viewer into her colorful and whimsical world – a natural fit for a spirited animator’s anthology like Space Dandy.
Following Space Dandy, Choi would return to collaborate with Yuasa on his adaptation of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Ping Pong. Choi’s contributions to Ping Pong the Animation show a maturation of both her technical and directional aptitudes. Choi single-handedly animated Ping Pong the Animation’s breathtaking and life-affirming rotoscope ending sequence and also directed the anime’s climactic 10th episode.
Episode 10 of Ping Pong the Animation details the final tournament match between Peco and Kazama. It’s a crucial moment for both characters, and likewise one of the most memorable scenes in the entire anime – thanks to Choi’s artistic flourishes. In what may seem uncharacteristic of Choi, her episode of Ping Pong the Animation is neither flashy nor colorful – in fact, most of Choi’s episode is deliberately devoid of color.
As the match between the two athletes ramps up in intensity, Peco lets loose and sets his sights on having fun, rather than winning. Gradually, Peco and Kazama’s surroundings all fade to white until all that’s left in our field of vision are the two athletes rallying back and forth. Choi’s approach is minimalist, but make no mistake, it’s one of the most effective thematic summations of not just Peco and Kazama’s arcs, but Ping Pong the Animation as a whole.
While Eunyoung Choi is yet to receive her own anime to direct, her past work as an episode director and animator should not be understated. Choi is, simply put, one of anime’s rising talents. With Choi and Yuasa forming their own animation studio, Science Saru, who knows what other projects the pair will take on in the future.