Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos interview with Kazuya Murata and Masahiko Minami

Still getting used to the London tube and arriving forty minutes early for an interview with the Japanese director (Kazuya Murata) and producer (Masahiko Minami) of Full Metal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, you may clearly see why I was really looking forward to this interview.

I was joined by other writers from Otaku News, Japan Cinema and UK Anime in a small room for a 30 minute question and answer session on the movie, on the Full Metal Alchemist franchise itself and on other subjects.

Kazuya Murata: I’m the director, Kazuya Murata.

Masahiko Minami: Representing Bones, I’m the producer, Mr. Minami.

Otaku News: What was the best thing about working within the world of Full Metal Alchemist creatively?

Kazuya Murata: That’s 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 that opportunity to use alchemy to create all sorts of visuals.

Japan Cinema: The world of Full Metal Alchemist is really rich in detail and all of the characters have got a strong place in most viewer’s hearts, were you quite cautious when you approached this task in the movie?

Kazuya Murata: Because this film happens half-way through the manga, it was important for us to keep the continuity of the world, 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 that is something we had to be careful of.

UK Anime Network: One thing that I noticed that was really striking from watching The Scared Star Of Milos is that it has a very fluid and loose style of animation, especially compared to the main TV series and especially during the action scenes. Was this animation style a deliberate decision and what influenced that sort of animation style?

Kazuya Murata: I don’t think it was deliberate in that sense; I just wanted to create something that looked good to me, so whether it’s 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 previous incarnations.

Anime UK News: I’ve checked your profile and noticed that this is your first feature film as a director. How does it compare to directing a TV series or an OVA?

Kazuya Murata: I haven’t directed a whole TV series, so it’s hard to tell the difference there. I’m working on a TV series at the moment though and the difference between that and working on a film is that, with a film, what’s good about it is that the staff are very compact, your working with the same people and you have to work together very closely.

Otaku News: If you can wield any alchemical powers, what ability would you like to have?

Kazuya Murata: (laughs) Another difficult question, hmm….Well it’s quite different from the alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist but I quite like the power to be able to draw storyboards really quickly.

Masahiko Minami: I’d like to have that as well!

Japan Cinema: The Scared Star Of Milos has a few new characters, where did you get the characters from or are they based on anyone you know?

Kazuya Murata: The ideas for the characters came from the script written by Yuuichi Shinbo and then turning them into visual characters with ways of acting and characteristics, we just go with the kind of character that’s most fits the requirements of the story, so they not based on real people.

Masahiko Minami: The character of Juila actually ended up being a stronger character than what was originally written in the script, so I think Murata-san likes strong women.

Kazuya Murata: (laughs)

Masahiko Minami: That’s my role; I’m here to make funny comments.

UK Anime Network: Where there any particular concepts or themes that you wanted to explore within this film, perhaps something that wasn’t actually explored in the main Full Metal Alchemist series itself?

Kazuya Murata: The first thing when you’re making a film, is that you make something the audience enjoys, but content-wise up till now, Edward and Alphonse have always used their alchemy to fulfil their own desires, so 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 what the alchemists have and a different way in using alchemy and by giving that new experience to Ed and Al, we wanted the audience to see it in a different way and to think in a different way as well.

Anime UK News: What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced with this production?

Kazuya Murata: There were a couple of things, firstly – There’s alchemy in the film that is new to Ed and Al, they haven’t seen it before and it’s on a quite a large scale, so how to put that across the audience convincingly was one thing that was challenging. The other thing was the style of drawing, we tried to create a hand drawing feel in 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 of getting the balance right.

Otaku News: Sticking to a similar theme, the animation director – Kenichi Konishi, he has got a very dynamic visual style, that hand drawn, organic style. Have you worked together before and did you personally choose to work with him to convey that kind of excitement, was it the reason you chose him as animation director?

Kazuya Murata: Yes, I had to choose him for that style and we were together in the first lot of apprentices at Studio Ghibli, so I’d always thought that I would like to work with him someday.

Otaku News: Are there any other titles that you’re considering or anyone who you would you like to collaborate with?

Kazuya Murata: Well I’m working now on an original TV series, which is something I wanted to do, there are lots of people that I want to work with, but timing is a very big issue, so I just hope that the time is right to allow me to work with people that I want to work with.

UK Anime Network: Obviously you’ve both worked on a huge number of other anime projects outside of Full Metal Alchemist, are there any particular shows or projects that you’re proud of?

Masahiko Minami: I’m proud of everything that I’ve made so far, the ones I’ve mentioned: Planetes, Eureka Seven, Code Geass – they are just ones that are well known so I thought you might recognise, but all my creations are important to me.

Kazuya Murata: As a producer I have worked on more than twenty titles, they are all like my little children, our job is to bring the animations up to the point where they’re ready, some of them do well, some of them go off the track a bit but there all my children. So we’ve got lots of animations, so please look at our website. (Here is a link to check them out)

Anime UK News: Are there any interesting stories about the production process you could share with the fans?

Kazuya Murata: Kenichi Konishi and the animation director – Natsume-san (referring to Shingo Natsume) and the animators, they were into kendama (here is a link if you don’t know about this game) so they would have a competition to see who would go on the longest. They have a big piece of graph paper up, recording who managed to keep it going the longest.

Masahiko Minami: Usually, if there is graph paper up that shows how the production is progressing, so I’d look at it and go “Oh, they are doing well”, then when I looked closer I could see that something slightly strange was going on with that chart.

Otaku News: and who won?

Kazuya Murata: I think it was Kenichi Konishi.

Masahiko Minami: I’m sure they were really doing it to improve their concentration.

Otaku News: Do you have a favourite character from the series existing or in this movie or you you have one from each, pick one?

Kazuya Murata: I like Julia, Melvin and I like Kimbley, (long pause) …. of course I like Edward and Alphonse as well.

Japan Cinema: And since this is the last question, I’ll just ask, is there anything else in the future that you’re allowed to talk that you’re working on?

Kazuya Murata: Hmm…I can’t really talk about what I’m working on, I’m sure that your going to love it! It’s the original TV series that I’m working on, that I mentioned before.

UK ANime Network: Are either of you surprised by the enduring popularity of Full Metal Alchemist, outside of Japan?

Kazuya Murata: I was surprised when I first heard how popular it was, we had a panel discussion with members of the staff, in front 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 and I was surprised at how well supported we are all around the world. He told us that his whole family loved it.

Masahiko Minami: It’s really nice to be able to go to other countries and meet such passionate fans.

Anime UK News: My last question is – What did you learn making this movie?

Kazuya Murata: I learnt the difficulties of controlling a team of people working on a film, but the main thing I got from the experience was that I re-discovered how much fun it is to create an animation, to move the characters and to make something dynamic and dramatic.

With the interview finished and spending a whole afternoon in London, I finally saw Full Metal Alchemist: The Scared Star Of Milos on the Big Screen on the night, check my short review on the film here.

Full Metal Alchemist 2: The Sacred Star Of Milos has been licensed by MangaUK and will be released on 3rd September 2012 on both DVD and Blu-ray.