INTERVIEW: BONES’ Masahiko Minami on the Studio’s Latest Anime Project

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At Anime NYC 2023, Studio BONES President Masahiko Minami announced the anime adaptation of The Magical Girl and the Evil Lieutenant Used to Be Archenemies (MahoAku), which was created by the late Cocoa Fujiwara. Anime Trending had the exclusive opportunity to interview Minami. During the interview, he reminisces about meeting Cocoa-sensei and what it means for Studio BONES to honor her legacy. 

Masahiko Minami – AnimeNYC 2023

Thank you again for your time Minami-san. Could you please talk about the newly announced anime, The Magical Girl and the Evil Lieutenant Used to Be Archenemies? How did the MahoAku project come to be?

Masahiko Minami: So actually this started long ago. I was at an anime convention in Germany called AnimagiC — which is very similar to Anime NYC — where I met with an editor from Square Enix who I’d known from before, and it just so happened that Cocoa Fujiwara-sensei was also at this event.

Fujiwara-sensei and I just sat down and had a chat, but she mentioned to me how she had watched some of BONES’s works at the time and how she was a fan of it, and she’s very interested in possible collaboration in the future. That was right when Inu x Boku SS had been adopted into anime as well. So I actually had heard of both her and her work because I’d watched it myself and had enjoyed it quite a bit, and it also had been very popular in Japan. She mentioned to me that she was working on her next title, MahoAku.

When I returned to Japan, I had the opportunity to read the manga. It’s not a lengthy story and it’s not quite a four-koma, but it’s a series and a collection of short vignettes. I found it to be very cute, especially the relationship and the interrelationship between the two of them. It felt very new at the time, something that we hadn’t really seen before because you have these two who are antagonists, yet they share many things in common like the idiosyncrasies and how they see  life. How they played off of each other when they would interact really sparked my interest. I thought to myself, “If this were ever to become an anime, I’d love to have BONES being involved in its production.”

If you attended yesterday’s panel, you would think that BONES is pretty much all about action series and sci-fi series. However, we’ve done quite a few shoujo works like Ouran High School Host Club and Snow White with the Red Hair. In fact, I personally also enjoy shoujo manga, so we approached Square Enix and proposed the project.  

How was the creative staff gathered for MahoAku? How were you able to get each key member involved with the project?

As I answered in the first question, this story about turning MahoAku into an anime first came up eight years ago, and that’s when the initial negotiations happened. Unfortunately, Fujiwara-sensei passed away, so it was actually put on the shelf for a while and went on hiatus. So as you can imagine, back then we already had an idea of who we wanted to work with. Now that it’s eight years later, the staff that we hired is completely different from the staff that we originally envisioned to have worked on the project.

Actually, what I did when we decided to move ahead again with this project is I actually reread the manga and used my impressions from the rereading to decide who might work best in the different roles for the project. In terms of director Akiyo Ohashi in particular, she may not be a very seasoned general director or supervising director, but I felt that he was well matched to work on MahoAku because she’s very good at capturing and depicting emotions, like characters’ emotions, and had previously worked on The Stranger by the Shore.

In terms of the character designer, Haruko Iizuka had already done the character designs when Inu x Boku SS was adapted into anime, so she was not only familiar with Cocoa-sensei’s work but most importantly, she [truly understood Cocoa-sensei and knew of the emotional aspects.] Iizuka had also worked on a previous BONES work, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish, so we were familiar with her from that as well. 

In terms of Yuniko Ayana — who did the series composition and script — and MAYUKO who worked on the music, their names actually came up from Director Ohashi. She had said, “I’d really love to work with these two on MahoAku,” and so we extended the offer and they accepted. We kind of fell into a main staff that was entirely composed of women.

You mentioned that you re-read the series. What were some of your impressions from re-reading MahoAku? What elements are you hoping to emphasize from the manga into the anime adaptation?

Actually, what’s really surprising is the fact that when I read it, my overall impression hadn’t changed at all. In terms of the original work, it’s in the fantasy genre to a certain extent, but when you have the two main characters Miller and Byakuya, they each come from very different places and they start out with very different views. As they interact, they come to realize [more about each other] and evolve from there, so that they start taking care of each other. I feel that that’s something that’s important in our world now too. Overall, my biggest impression is, “Oh my god, this work is so cute!”

You mentioned during the panel that MahoAku is a different series by not being an action series. From a creative side, what are the challenges or changes needed within BONES to focus on a non-action series for MahoAku?

We haven’t encountered too many challenges yet, mainly because we didn’t choose the staff or experts who are used to making action anime. We specifically went out and found staff —  including people we’ve never worked with before — who are more used to non-action genre anime production, staff that are very good at depicting emotions, for example. We’re actually using the D-studio portion of the company to make this. There’s a director who is very good at depicting the beauty of style and form. So in that sense, we haven’t encountered necessarily too many challenges from a production standpoint yet.

The MahoAku series has been around for quite a while, and fans might not be familiar with the manga series’s upcoming anime adaptation. How would you describe this series?

That’s your job! All joking aside, I think part of your job is to explain what the series is and who Cocoa-sensei was. Inversely, I feel that if you could tell the fans and make them think, “Oh, this isn’t action, why is BONES adapting a work that’s not action?” it would be great too. Through our anime adaptation, I want new fans to encounter Cocoa-sensei’s vision and world, and then read the original work and her other works.

Also, the fact that we’re now adapting this today, it’s possible to stream the series globally, whether with a subscription or not. It can reach not just a small audience, but a worldwide audience. Especially in terms of the story where you’ve got the emotions of each individual character and how they interact, it really pulls at your heartstrings and really sinks in, so I think that this phenomenon of global streaming will allow us to show MahoAku to the world in a very quick fashion. 

Do you have any final words for fans and AnimeNYC?

So in terms of MahoAku, like I said, it’s a very cute series, and I think because it’s cute and because the original work is more of a shoujo, I think it’s something that female fans would find very easy to watch, get into, and access. But for me, personally, I feel that this will end up being something that attracts a diverse audience. I want people of any gender, any situation, any age to watch this because in the end, it’s not just cute. It really tugs at your heart strings.

Even for a middle-aged worker who is facing trouble at work and comes home to their family sleeping, they can plunk themselves onto the sofa, turn on the TV to see Mahoaku running, and think “Oh, this is cute!” Maybe there’s even a little tear appearing at the corner of their eye! That’s the kind of series I feel that this series will become and I hope that anyone anywhere can watch it.

I’m afraid we aren’t able to announce yet where it will be streaming or broadcast or when [it will be], but that’s the vision I have. Fans, please keep your ears and eyes open! In the end, just to put it succinctly, it’s when you’re feeling your own loneliness, you can just turn it on and forget your own troubles. 

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