Interview: Studio Bones President Masahiko Minamiby Jacob Chapman,
Masahiko Minami is a co-founder and the president of BONES, the studio behind world-class anime classics like Fullmetal Alchemist, Eureka Seven, and most recently, the international phenomenon My Hero Academia and this summer's Mob Psycho 100. Minami's resume is, effectively, Studio BONES' filmography, and we got the chance to sit down with the man himself at Anime Expo 2016.
ANN: Very excited about Mob Psycho 100 coming up—I wanted to ask about how that project came to Bones. Was it influenced by the production of One Punch Man at Madhouse, or were you interested in the material beforehand?
Minami: It's a completely different project from One Punch Man, because although it's written by the same author, they're published by different publishers, so they're considered completely separate projects. One Punch Man has nothing to do with Mob Psycho in terms of production. Basically, Warner Brothers Japan approached Bones saying, “we have this title, can you do it for us?” I met up with the editorial staff, including the editor-in-chief of the publication that runs Mob Psycho. After a few meetings, they were like “okay, this sounds good, so we can go on with the project.” I had never read the manga before I was approached, so then I read it and was like, “yeah, let's do this.”
It's a very exciting project. I wanted to ask about My Hero Academia as well. It's unique because it's such a long-running Shonen Jump property. Usually with those kinds of projects, you don't see them done in one cour with high-quality animation. I wanted to know, because it's so very long, was Bones prepared to embrace the length of this property in seasons or… it's an unusual approach, you know?
We haven't drawn out a lot of the content because the manga's been going on for so long, so there's still a lot to adapt into anime. So we would like to keep this as an ongoing project and improve the quality, not just keep the status quo but take something good and make it better.
Do you think the long hiatuses between seasons will be a challenge because of the high-quality animation that Bones produces for a long-running series like this?
There's good parts and bad parts of having that long hiatus. The bad part is it basically cuts off the work flow, so when all the staff members get in the groove and the work's flowing—well it's already over. But the good side is because they have that hiatus, they can use that long vacation time to improve the quality so they can produce something of an acceptable quality or even better.
There have recently been a lot of American companies jumping onto production committees for anime, like Netflix and Funimation have started contributing money to co-produce anime. What is Bones's stance on that? Would you be interested in co-producing anime for American audiences, because of your focus on original works?
I believe that Japanese animation is different from any other type of animation in the world. It's a very distinct medium, so I'd like to make sure to keep it that way, to have that distinct flavor of Made in Japan. But on the other hand, the creator side can say “look, anime is being watched and appreciated all over the world,” and that gives me a very good feeling, it makes me happy that this makes the work worth doing. In that aspect, maybe having more western companies contributing the capital to keep creating projects is a good thing. You know about Space Dandy?
Oh, I loved Space Dandy.
Basically, to have a wider audience watching shows is a driving force. In the case of Space Dandy, since we had the director from Bebop working together with us, and we're like “oh, Bebop is popular overseas, we want those people to actually get to watch this show,” so we worked with Cartoon Network to make sure that it gets sent out to a broad audience, and we kept working together to get the maximum coverage, so that all the people I want to show the series get to see it. I've actually met people from Netflix and other American companies and they all respect the Bones brand, so I do feel very good about working with them in the future.
That's exciting! One thing I've definitely noticed about Bones's recent output is there is a greater focus on female audience shows. There's fujoshi shows: Bungo Stray Dogs, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Noragami. There seems to be more output towards a female audience, even though these shows are action based for a wider audience too. Do you think the female market is growing, and are you embracing that?
I think, relatively speaking, the female market is growing more than the male market, probably because it's underdeveloped, but I personally don't think Blood Blockade Battlefront is female-based at all.
I understand. I didn't think that when I first saw the show, but when I saw the merchandise that was being sold, the men in suits, I thought “oh, this has a great appeal with female audiences.”
Well, of course the manufacturers of those goods are going to cater to the audience that's there.
I know you like Fate/Zero, and I saw a similar approach with that show. It is for all audiences, but the marketing seemed to target the female consumer. Are you interested in shows like that, which can appeal to everyone but have gender-based merchandising?
As an animation studio, you want to show off your title, so you're basically putting all the heart and soul out there for everyone to enjoy. It's up to the actual viewer to interpret the footage and come up with various "ideas." That's fine, because that's the freedom of the viewer.
(laughs) Very clever. After seeing the reception to Space Dandy in the United States, was it what you expected or wanted for the property? How did you feel about how Space Dandy was received over here? There was this suspicion that you would've wanted it to be bigger.
Honestly speaking, I hoped that the audience would be a little bit more receptive.
Do you have any feelings or ideas on why it was not as big as you thought at first?
I thought it would be a lot more explosive feelings of happiness all over the world from watching. I thought we had created a show that's like none other, so I had the feeling like "You wanted to see something like this, didn't you?!” But the audience was kind of “meh.” But I feel like I made a timeless piece, so once you have kids and the kid grows up and watches Space Dandy, they can still be like “yay!” And I thinks it's a success in that way.
Of the many original projects that Bones has created: RahXephon, Concrete Revolutio, Wolf's Rain, so many, which one do you feel most strongly attached to?
If you can count my days at Sunrise, I'd have to say Cowboy Bebop. If it's limited to TV series in the Bones era, it'd have to be Eureka Seven. Did you see Sword of the Stranger? What did you think of the film? Because I wanted to create something with all the sword fighting that wasn't present during that time period.
It was very unique. When it comes to anime films, there are a lot of slice-of-life, peaceful films. So I liked seeing a strong, violent movie that was still friendly for all audiences.
Ah, you analyzed that really well.
I'm a critic, so that is my job.
Some people say we're in another anime bubble period. How do you feel about that? Do you think that it's true, and how do you feel about keeping Bones safe from potential…well, in a time when there might be a little bit of an economic boom that the industry can't support?
There's only a set number of shows we can work on at one time. So even if there's an anime bubble and there are like two gazillion shows out there, you only have that certain many from us. So the revenues aren't going to go drastically up or anything.
So Bones's production has not changed? Even though there's more anime being made, you're keeping things the same?
I feel that I can challenge myself to create new types of titles because, when you have a thriving market, they're going to be throwing out more money. So we're allowed to take more chances, try something new because we can. When the market narrows down, we only want to make things that will definitely sell, so you can't really try things out. I feel that I'm continually pushing the edge. Like for Mob Psycho, you'll see soon that the art form looks old, but we're actually putting a lot of state-of-the-art technology into it.
When you talk about trying new things and taking risks, that makes me think of Concrete Revolutio. How did that show come about, and did you consider it a risk? Because it's very different.
I feel that every title has some kind of challenge. Concrete Revolutio is an original series, so there's more things to try out, but even for My Hero Academia, you can say “oh, I want to take the best of the manga, but try something new." Because it's an animation, let's try something you can't do in a manga that you can do in an anime.
I guess my question about Concrete Revolutio is more that in America, because the show is about Japanese history, it's less controversial or striking. In Japan, were some of the messages and ideas in Concrete Revolutio challenging? Were they controversial?
Reception aside, I believe that because you're talking about post-World War II Japan, the Japanese audience will definitely have a different way of looking at it than the American audience.
You also mentioned Eureka Seven in passing earlier, and you said it was very special. What makes it so special to you? What makes it stand out?
It's my biggest memory because, as a producer, I had a four-season show, original series, with giant robots! That hadn't happened since Gundam!
Oh, that is a big deal, you're right! So what are you most excited for in the future with Bones that can you talk about? What can you share about the near future?
There's lots. There are three titles, original works, in production. But I can't say.
That's very exciting. Thank you very much.
Special thanks to Funimation for facilitating this interview.
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