When the opportunity arose for me to interview the creators of Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos I literally jumped, screamed and begged the manager of my day job to let me have the day off (there may have been tears… but let’s not talk about that). Drilling the movie’s director, Kazuya Murata and the president of production company Bones Studio, Masahiko Minami, was all part of the British Film Institute’s weekend of anime merriment, wonderfully tied in with the release of Sacred Star of Milos which if you haven’t seen, what in the world is wrong with you? Go see it immediately.
I usually avoid London like the bubonic plague (why is everyone always in a hurry?) and this particular Friday morning was particularly dull and wet, but when I arrived at the interview all I could do was smile. Representatives from UK Anime Network, Otaku News and Anime UK News were also taking part and as we were invited into the interview room Murata, Minami and their translator gleamed back at us. We all introduced ourselves; I even practised some Japanese (though I’m not sure if they understood or were just being polite) then we were able to start the interrogation.
Creatively speaking, what was the best thing about working in the world of Fullmetal Alchemist?
KM: This is a difficult question… The original manga touches on the serious topic of life and death and so this was an opportunity to think afresh about that and also, from the creation of the animation point of view, it was the chance to experience the opportunity to use alchemy to create all sorts of visuals.
The world of FMA is really rich in detail and all the characters have got a strong place in viewers’ hearts, were you quite cautious when you approached this task in making the movie?
KM: Because this film happens halfway through the manga, it was important for us to keep the continuity of the world and so the characters from the manga are in the film and it was important for the people watching the film to recognize them as the same people so we had to be careful, yes.
One thing that I noticed that was really striking from watching SSOM is that it’s got a very fluid and almost loose style of animation compared to the main series, especially during action scenes, was this animation style a deliberate decision and what influenced the animation style?
KM: I don’t think it was deliberate in that sense, I just wanted to create something that looked good to me so whether it was the action scenes or the dialogue, something that I would look at and think “Yes, this is good!”, so I wasn’t particularly aware in that sense of the previous incarnations.
I’ve checked your profile and noticed that this is your first feature film as a director, how did it compare to directing a TV series or OVA?
KM: I haven’t directed a whole TV series, so it’s hard to say of the difference there. I’m working on a TV series at the moment and the difference between that and working on the film is that with a film, what’s good about it is that the staff are very compact, you’re working with the same people and you have to work together very closely.
If you could wield any alchemical powers, what ability would you have?
KM: Well it’s quite different from the alchemy in FMA but I’d quite like a power to be able to draw storyboards really quickly.
MM: So would I [everyone laughs]!!
Sacred Star of Milos has a few new characters, what were the ideas behind them, where did you get the characters from? Were they based on anyone that you know?
KM: The ideas of the characters came from the script written by Yūichi Shinpo and then turning them into visual characters, their ways of acting and characteristics goes with the kind of character that most fits the plans of the story; they’re not based on real people.
MM: The character of Julia actually ended up being a stronger character than was originally written in Shinpo’s script, so I think Murata San likes strong women (everybody has a good laugh at Murata’s expense). Yeah that’s one of my roles; I’m just going to make funny comments!
Where there any particular concepts or themes that you wanted to explore within this film, perhaps something that wasn’t actually explored in the FMA series itself?
KM: The first thing when you’re making a film is that you make something the audience enjoys, but content wise up until now Edward and Alphonse always used their alchemy to fulfil their own desires; to get their bodies back, but this time in Milos the people there want to use alchemy for the good of everybody, so it’s a different stance to that that the alchemists have, a different way of using alchemy and by giving that new experience to Ed and Al we wanted the audience to see it in a different way and think in a different way as well.
What was the biggest challenge you faced with this production?
KM: There were a couple of things; firstly there is alchemy in the film that is new to Ed and Al, that they’ve never seen before and it’s on quite a large scale, so how to put that across to the audience convincingly was one thing that was challenging. The other thing was the style of drawing, we tried to create a hand drawn feel for this film and whilst wanting the existing fans to accept that, we also wanted to have a new, fresh feeling to it so there was a challenge there again in getting the balance right.
Sticking to a similar theme, the animation director (Kenichi) Konishi San, he’s got a very dynamic visual style, a hand-drawn, organic style. Had you worked together before and did you personally choose to work with him to convey that kind of excitement, was it that reason that you did choose him as the animation director?
KM: Yes, I did choose him for that style and we worked together; we were together as the first lot of apprentices to Studio Ghibli so I’ve always thought that I’d like to work with him someday.
Are there any other titles that you are considering that you are allowed to tell us about, or other creators of anime that you would like to collaborate with?
KM: Well I’m working now on an original TV series which is something that I’ve wanted to do. There are lots of people that I would like to work with, but the timing isn’t right along with other issues, I just hope that the timing will be right to allow me to work with the people that I would like.
Obviously you have both worked on a huge number of other anime projects outside of FMA, are there any particular shows or projects that you’re particularly proud of?
KM: I’m proud of everything that I have made so far, the ones I mention Planets, Eureka Seven, Code Geass, they’re just the ones that are well known (lots of laughing) but all of my creations are important to me.
MM: Right! As a producer I’ve worked on more than twenty titles, and they’re all like my little children. Our job is to bring the animations up until the point when they are ready, then they go out and some of them do well and some of them go off the track a bit, but they’re all my children. We’ve got lots of animations so do take a look at our website.
Are there any interesting stories about the production process that you would like to share with your fans?
KM: Kenichi Konishi and the animation director and (Shingo) Natsume-San and the animators, they were into Kendama (Japanese wooden toy, similar to cup-and-ball) and they were having a competition to see who could keep going for the longest.
MM: They had a big piece of graph paper up to see who could keep going on the longest. Usually if there is graph paper up it shows how the production is progressing, so I look at it and think “Ooh!” And then I’d look closer and I could see that there was something slightly strange going on with the graph!
And who won?
KM: I think it was Konishi-San.
MM: I think they were really doing it to improve their concentration!
Do you have a favourite character from the series or the movie?
KM: Julia and Kimblee. And of course I like Ed and Al!
Is there anything else in the future that you are allowed to talk about?
KM: I can’t really talk about it what I’m working on, but I’m sure you’re going to love it!
Are either of you surprised about the popularity of FMA outside of Japan?
KM: I was surprised when I first heard how popular it was. We had a panel discussion with the staff infront of an audience in Tokyo and there was a fan from Saudi Arabia who came up afterwards just to say how much of a fan he was. I was surprised at how well supported we are outside in the world. He told us that his whole family watched it in Saudi Arabia.
MM: It’s a really nice feeling to go to countries and to have such fans.
What did you learn making this movie?
KM: The difficulties of controlling a team of people and working with them. The main that I got from the experience was that I rediscovered how much fun it is to create an animation, to move the characters and make them dramatic.
Unfortunately this was all the time we had for the interview. Grudgingly we said our goodbyes (after asking for some autographs of course) and it was back out in the rain for me. I can only hope that when this super-secret anime series finally comes out that I will meet them again.
Special thanks to John Howe Marshall for the initial mediation of this interview. He is an official writer of the staff and you can connect with him here:
Special thanks, recognition and praise to Ramona Naicker for representing Japan Cinema at the press conference.
Lastly, many thanks to Manga Entertainment and Fetch Publicity for organizing this interview.