Masahiko Minami talks Studio Bones and Xam’d

Andrew Osmond talks to Masahiko Minami at anime powerhouse Studio Bones about pain, suffering and alchemy.

Sword of the Stranger

How did Studio Bones begin?
When I was a producer at Sunrise, I set it up in 1998 with Hiroshi Osaka and Toshihiro Kawamoto, animators who shared the same ambition to broaden animation production into a new field.

What kind of projects are most attractive to Bones?

People think that we specialise in SF, robot stuff or action.  But in fact, we believe that Bones should be a company with the planning and sales ability to produce whatever the staff seek to express, regardless of the genre. We actually relish the changes brought by every project.

The complex fight sequences, especially, must be very labour intensive. How many hours do the studio’s main animators typically spend drawing one big fight scene, or a single space battle scene?

Action scenes are produced separately from other scenes in the schedule and process. For example, in the Cowboy Bebop movie and Sword of the Stranger, [Yutaka] Nakamura,  the action director, reworked the storyboard, made action plans for all the scenes and then started producing the artwork, based on the continuity instruction from the director of the film.

How did Bones come to animate Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa?

It started when the animator Yoshiyuki Ito encountered the original comics. Ito fell in love with the manga, which I read with his recommendation. I thought Bones should make the animation, and contacted the publisher at once, and that’s how we got to produce the work.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

The later episodes of the original FMA series had to tell a different story from the manga. Did Bones always hope that it could make a second version, closer to the FMA manga?

When we started the first series, the manga was still the early stages and the pacing was not yet determined. So we made the animation with the premise that original elements would be included from the beginning. The reason why we threw in the original story in the first half was so we could depict the story in the latter half.

Many of the Bones series (for example, RahXephon, Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka 7 and Wolf’s Rain) are huge, epic stories, which often have some very ‘dark’ and shocking moments. Is that just an accident, or does it reflect the tastes of the Bones staff?

In order to create a work, it is important to depict human beings. Sometimes we step into humans’ pain, because we have to show a certain level of shocking drama in order to illustrate a future and hopes that people achieve after pain and suffering.

Sword of the Stranger was an unusual anime, with characters in a historical setting, without any superpowers. What was the reaction of the audience?

Yes, there weren’t any lasers or transformations. With this piece, we thought a portrayal of the Japanese Warring State Period would already be ‘fantasy’ for audiences abroad. That is why we decided against including elements of SF or fantasy. We believe that audiences would enjoy the sword fights unfolding in animation.

Is the studio planning any further cinema films that are not based on TV series, like Sword of the Stranger?

Of course, we are producing pieces that can be seen on the big screen. This year in Japan, we will release the new film version of Fullmetal Alchemist and Towanoquon, an original film with characters designed by Toshihiro Kawamoto. Both of them are entertainment films full of action and human drama. Please look forward to them!

Soul Eater contains some very striking and unusual designs for the characters and scenery. How difficult was it to animate them?

The first thing we thought about was how we could transfer the charm of the original manga onto the screen. Led by the director [Takuya] Igarashi, all the main staff brought together [the things] they pictured from the comics and we built them up one by one. It was more time-consuming than difficult.

XAMD Lost Memories

Why was Xam’d released to the PlayStation video download service before it was shown on TV?

We are always searching for a way to directly deliver a work produced in Japan to a global audience. We thought it would be an interesting experiment to release it using the PlayStation, which has a close relationship with animation. Furthermore, because we could do it with an original work, we believe that it is one method by which people can see the current animation styles in Japan more quickly.

Xam’d will soon be released to British DVD. Can you tell us a little about it?

Xam’d is about a man who transforms. I guess you can categorise it as SF fantasy, but also as an action anime, it is a piece wherein you can enjoy a philosophical-themed story depicting the existence of the human soul.

At present, the fans of Fullmetal Alchemist are eagerly awaiting the new cinema film. Can you say anything about it?

Although the original manga has concluded and we completed the TV anime series, we are producing this theatrical version because we have not had enough of Ed and Al’s adventures. We prepare a stage and a story for Ed and Al, which even the original manga could not depict but only a film can. Along with their actions, we also illustrated Fullmetal Alchemists’ way of life and karma in full. It is yet to be decided when the audience in the UK can see it, but we are producing the best Fullmetal Alchemist we can. So, look forward to it!

Xam’d: Lost Memories will be released in the UK by Manga Entertainment later this year.

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