Studio Bones interview: Masahiro Ando and Masahiko Minami on Sword of the Stranger

In a rare interview AUKN recently spoke to Masahiro Ando, the anime film director behind Sword of the Stranger and Masahiko Minami, Head of studio Bones, at London Expo to talk about the new film and how the internet is bringing anime studios and foreign fans closer together.

Masahiro Ando has worked as an animator on many studio Bones shows including the popular anime series Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) and the dark thriller Canaan before he took the challenge of directing his first full length movie, Sword of the Stranger. The film is set in the middle ages and tells the story of the child Kotaro and his samurai protector who has no name. Talking about the movie Ando said, “I really wanted to get across the world of the middle ages, I wanted to create that world on screen- The way of living and the way of dieing.” Here, he talks about the challenges of making his directorial debut:

Studio Bones have created a lot of dark anime series such as Fullmetal Alchemist and recently Canaan. Why did you decide to make a more light hearted ‘protector of the little guy’ anime as in Sword of the Stranger?

(Ando) I don’t feel that it’s that different in that way, it’s got the same theme of brotherhood, of relationships and bonds as in FMA – of getting back something that you have lost. And in Sword of the Stranger, the protagonist is trying to make up for something that he’s done in his past. That’s why he’s protecting the little guy, so I don’t actually feel that it is all that light, it’s quite similar in themes, I feel.

You have worked on so many great animations, what made you decide to become a director?

(Ando) When I was an animator, I wanted to work with directors that I liked and from there I thought I wanted to be involved in the whole thing which made me move into this direction. Even in action films, no matter how good the action is, if there is no drama or no relation with the characters, it doesn’t work.

(Minami) Basically Ando asked, please can I become a director. I started him with story boards for RahXephon and I was surprised how good he was. I expected him to be good with action, but he was good with drama and the characters as well. Occasionally, we ask the animators to create short films and Ando came up with the idea that became Sword of the Stranger. The idea of a TV series disappeared but we kept the movie.

How did you find the move to making your very first feature film? And what were the challenges of switching from a TV anime to making a movie?

(Ando) It was the first time that I had directed so everything was a challenge for me. It was pretty nerve wracking! It’s much harder to make a film because with a TV series you’ve got 26, 52, or in my case, 13 episodes to get it right. You can try things, if it doesn’t go right, you can try it again. There’s trial and error involved. But with a film, if you get one shot wrong, you’ve spoilt the film really, so you have to concentrate a lot more on the background animation and be a lot more careful with a picture film.

What did you learn from the experience of making this film?

(Ando) In the past, I’ve worked as an animator taking instructions from someone else, but on this occasion I had to learn to give clear instructions to other people to follow.

We were very impressed by the samurai style fight scenes, so we were wondering was there any choreography involved and how do you go about planning those fight scenes?

(Ando) There was no specialist choreographer in Sword of the Stranger. Myself, as the director and the animators, we are used to action scenes , so we used our imaginations.

A lot of anime studios are relying heavily on technology. When I saw Sword of the Stranger, it looks more like a traditional anime. Was this intentional?

(Ando) That’s right, as an animator I work in 2D so working as a director, I thought working in a hand drawn style would fit the story in this case.

A lot of anime studios are relying heavily on technology, such as CGI. As a film director, is there a limit to using this type of technology?

(Ando) The limits have really been removed, things that were impossible before, we can do now. But on the other hand, I think as creators, one way to express our individuality is to not use some of those techniques and show our personalities by not using some of those technologies sometimes.

Your movie deals with a lot of different themes, such as the fight for survival. So personally, what did the movie mean to you and what would you like people to take away from watching your film?

(Ando) My main wish is that people will get into the world of the film and just enjoy it because anime is an entertainment form. And I think people can take from it what they want, if there’s something that they particularly like, or a theme that they pick up on, that’s fine by me as well.

Masahiko Minami is the Head of studio Bones and has worked on a diverse number of anime shows, in roles ranging from planner to producer. His recent work includes the current anime favourite on the internet, Darker than Black: Ryusei no Gemini. He also told AUKN that he will be involved in the live action movie adaption of Cowboy Bebop (which will star Keanu Reeves) to “check if the live action version is true to the Cowboy Bebop original. ” Here, he talks about how the internet is changing anime and the possibilities and challenges that simulcasting can hold for an anime studio.
Only a small proportion of anime leaves Japan, why is this the case and what will it take to encourage more studio’s to do what you are doing, such as simulcast streaming and visiting the UK?

(Minami) I didn’t think it was that few that made it over here! I’d like people to watch more of them but I think in the future there will be more of an opportunity to watch things through online broadcasting, for example my company is currently simulcasting FMA Brotherhood.

About simulcasting , is this something that studio Bones is actively trying to pursue, to get more English people watching your anime shows? What was the main reason behind making the FMA Brotherhood simulcast happen?

(Minami) It’s a good project for us as creators to get everyone watching it through a simulcast. In the case of FMA it was previous work so it was easier to do it that way but I think it will be harder with an original work. For a new work, it would be more challenging but we would like to give it a go and get everyone all over the world watching.

AUKN would like to thank Masahiro Ando and Masahiko Minami for taking the time to answer our questions. We would also like to say a special thanks to Andrew Partridge from Beez for setting up the interview.