Whether they are set in the past or in an imagined future, ruins are a favorite subject of illustrators working in the fantasy and science-fiction genres. Not only can they be very visually appealing, they can provide the backdrop for a potentially rich narrative about a once flourishing world and the reasons for its demise.

Japanese illustrator Asteroid (stylized in Japanese as あすてろid) often depicts ruins of what seems to be a future world, either of or own planet or perhaps another world where the human race (or what has become of it) has traveled to. Traces of humanity appear both in the towering and toppled megastructures of its former habitations or in more subtle ways, through crumbling torii Shinto gates. In most illustrations, however, the vast, natural world is seen in the process of reclaiming the landscapes, overgrown vegetation and moss covering the structures, waterfalls pouring through husks of twisted metal.

An April Fool's joke which turned into an art style

Another distinguishing feature in much of Asteroid's work is the presence of a witness, a girl with long white hair called IZ who wanders through these landscapes exploring, observing and pondering the meaning of what she sees, her internal monologue displayed in the form of captions. Moreover, much of the art is framed in the context of what seems to be a video game, with a radar screen, notifications about trophies received for accomplished quests, various commands such as "fight," "equipment," and "map," and IZ's hit point and energy meter.

What started out as an April Fool's joke tweeted on April 1, 2018 about creating a game set in a apocalyptic world with a protagonist called IZ, turned into an ongoing motif fueling Asteroid's creativity.

We contacted the artist to learn more about this mysterious game protagonist:

[IZ] is an artificial human born in a time not too far away from our own. Now in a distant future, she has lost her purpose and wanders through the world.

Asteroid, e-mail interview


Let's take a look at some of Asteroid's amazing illustrations:

NOTE: The following images, taken from both Twitter and Pixiv, are a mix of Asteroid's original illustrations and versions thereof with the game overlay. Moreover, since Asteroid favors a cinematic wide format, we have included a cropped version under many of the images below, where appropriate, to reveal important detail. These cropping edits are entirely our own, do not represent Asteroid's artistic intentions, and are only provided in lieu of a zoom-in feature. Please click on the title text in the captions beneath the relevant images to view the original versions on Asteroid's Pixiv page.

Arctic and arcane

This is only one example, but towering, snowy mountains often feature in Asteroid's art:

Spiritual signposts

Whether they are imbued with spiritual significance or merely testifying to the presence of human (Japanese) civilization, torii gates found at the entrance to Shinto shrines or stone lanterns usually found in Buddhist temples also appear.

Title: 追想 Reminiscence / @asteroid_ill

Megastructures in ruin

Cities in ruin feature prominently in Asteroid's work, either as silent monoliths in a cold inorganic underworld or being overtaken by the nature.

Japanese text: "A cold forest where masses of iron grow. It's not clear what they were used for, but some of them suddenly light up from time to time.

Title: city / @asteroid_ill

Caption: "It looks like I could go fishing around here"

Caption: "Light spreads out..."

Animated version:

Caption: "What is this noise?..."

Observing ruins up close

Caption: "Ruins of the canopy"

Animated version:

Imagining a Girls' Frontline spinoff game

Asteroid seems to be a fan of the mobile game Girls' Frontline and imagines a new, more sophisticated game set in the same (or perhaps an alternate version) of its world.

Caption: "World Tree? What a cheap name..."

Text: {Girl in foreground:} "It's just too messy here. IZ, don't you think so? | {IZ:} "Beats me."

Science fiction worlds

Asteroid doesn't only depict worlds that are devoid of life, sometimes drawing scenes which look like they came straight out of Blade Runner.

And beyond...

Although the "game" images only exist as representations of Asteroid's imagination for now, we can only hope that a real game will one day be created (perhaps for the PlayStation 5?) based on these designs or at least inspired by this world view. After all, as we learned in our email exchange, Asteroid is not only an illustrator but also involved in developing games in real life.


If you'd like to see more, be sure to visit Asteroid's page on Artstation or Pixiv. You can also support Asteroid on Pixiv Fanbox!

Here is the complete list of relevant links:

By - Ben K.