When you think of your favorite anime, which shows come to mind. Maybe it’s a sprawling epic like Fullmetal Alchemist or a feel-good nostalgia trip like Ouran High School Host Club. Perhaps you prefer to watch a shonen series like Soul Eater or a comedy like Space Dandy. Otherwise, you might be more interested in recent projects like Mob Psycho 100 or Kekkai Sensen. Either way, it’s pretty cool to think that every single show I just mentioned was produced by the exact same studio. Bones.
Bones was created by Masahiko Minami, Hiroshi Osaka and Toshihiro Kawamoto who previously worked at Sunrise, the studio that gave us Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. Ever since the early 2000’s, Bones has established itself firmly as one of the biggest and best animation studios in Japan. They have made some of the most beloved anime and are still making masterpieces today. It was around the time that I watched 2015’s “Akagami no Shirayukihime” that I concluded that Bones was my favorite animation studio. I wondered then, could Bones be the best animation studio in the world?
To determine what makes an animation studio good may not be all that difficult. The art of animation is visual, after all, so clearly I should base my reasoning for Bones being the best on the visuals in particular. Bones certainly has a talent for getting talented directors, writers, and musicians working in tandem to create those shows we all love but to truly judge them objectively against all other animation studios, let’s focus on what makes them masters at the art form that they are a part of. So without further ado, here is why Bones is the best animation studio in the world.
Part 1: Choreography
One man who will come up quite a bit in this analysis is Masahiro Ando. He was the animation director on the Cowboy movie, which was a collaborative project between Bones and Sunrise. He was also the director on a few of my favorite projects by the studio. The 2001 Bebob film is not only a testament to how great the series was, but it conveniently is a perfect encapsulation of the studio’s talent for constructing a great fight scene.
This film has two particular fights that stand out as truly exceptional. Both are between the same characters but they take place in two different environments. One is in a cramped train car, and the other is in an open environment atop a large tower as fireworks blast in the distance.
(The fights contain spoilers for the film but I highly recommend buying the film as it is a great action flick. You can get it online for under $10 on Amazon)
In the first fight, the gunfight turns into a fist fight, with Spike getting the upper hand, using the environment to his advantage. The way they move in that cramped environment is way different from the second fight, where both fighters are on equal ground, and they can let loose with larger and stronger moves. It’s hard not to look at the flurry of punches between them at the beginning of the fight and not be impressed.
Masahiro Ando would later grace us with 2007’s Sword of the Stranger, a hidden gem that in addition to a charming story and stellar soundtrack boasts some of the greatest sword fighting ever animated. It isn’t just the choreography here that is so impressive, but the brutality of it as well. Additionally, the film’s legendary final battle is one that makes exceptional use of location and atmosphere to intensify the action. By the end of the fight, both opponents’ swords have been considerably shortened and at a certain point, they even swapped swords in an exchange so swift you might miss it you aren’t careful.
(Once again, spoilers below. Sword of the Stranger is a must buy and I highly recommend it.)
In the same year that we got Sword of the Stranger, we got Darker Than Black, an action show about super-powered mercenaries and supernatural occurrences. While Darker Than Black’s story may take a while to grab you, the style, characters, and action certainly will stick with you. Despite the lackluster second season from 2009, 2010’s 4 part OVA that linked the two seasons together had some of the best story and action of the series. Fights that let the writers flex their creativity by coming up with cool new super powers for the protagonist to overcome. Additionally, these fights are a great example of what happens when you escalate the action as the series continues.
Let’s talk about that first video. You’ve got one opponent who can turn invisible, a second who can control nails and send them flying towards opponents, and a third who can emit sonic waves. After 40 seconds of atmosphere and build up, the last minute is dedicated to Hei swiftly taking down the competition. The guy with the nails is the most visually impressive, as the animators obscure his face in shadow as he charges his final attack, highlighting his smile and eyes and giving him a sinister look. The electricity kill at the end is hilariously detailed and the way Hei dispatched the other two with his daggers was exhilarating.
The second fight is very similar. Rather than Hei just taking on one new superpowered contractor, he was taking on several at once and even dispatching armed military units. Just like I said, the creators escalated the scale of the fights as they went along. Seeing this evolution and the creative superpower concepts are the coolest parts of the show.
Finally, there is one type of Studio Bones fight scene that is incredibly common. The destructive superpowered beatdown. Where opponents are blasted through walls, the action constantly shifts in and out of slow motion, and the environmental destruction is blocky in a way entirely iconic to Bones. You can feel the painstaking effort that went into making the fight just by watching it. You can find these fights in Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, Kekkai Sensen, and one of my personal favorites, Bungou Stray Dogs, but I think the most accurate summation would the following fight from Mob Psycho 100. Enjoy.
It’s pretty clear that I take fight scenes very seriously. Bones has had no shortage of great fight scenes over the years and it will continue to create more for as long as it remains.
In my next post, I will discuss the consistency of Bones’ animation and the variety in style between each of its shows.