Interview: Fire Force Animation Producer on ‘Gorgeous’ Characters, Design Subtleties

Fire Force

Thanks to our partners at Kodansha, we’ve got another special interview for you, this time with Fire Force Animation Producer Kosuke Matsunaga!

As the series ramps up its second season and Special Fire Force Company 8 returns, now’s the perfect time to talk about the series’ amazing characters, the subtle design of the show, and much, much more. 

Take a look below as Matsunaga discusses the series, his experiences working with Morioka-san and even the upcoming action sequences in Season 2!

Nice work on the first season. There were plenty of action scenes, so I imagine it must have been a lot of work. Looking back on it, what are your thoughts?

Matsunaga: I’m fortunate enough to have an outstanding staff, so the hard work didn’t seem so hard. It’s true, the production schedule for this series has been shorter than other work I’ve done, so I can’t deny the job-related fatigue we went through (laughs).

If I had to say, my impressions of developing the character designs stand out in my mind. I don’t exactly remember who it was that mentioned it to me, but I heard that Ohkubo-sensei is someone who has some very definite ideas about his character designs.

There are some aspects of the production that absolutely cannot move forward until the character designs are established. While things were still up in the air, I asked Mr. Hideyuki Morioka to be both the general animation director and to do the character designs. He had previously served both roles in the Kizumonogatari movies and the Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei series, and I was sure that the work Mr. Morioka did would be fine.

As it turns out, in addition to the designs he provided being really terrific, Mr. Morioka was given free rein, so that dispelled the uneasiness I had been feeling.

The diverse characters are a big part of the series’ appeal. Was there anything about the characters that you paid special attention to?

Matsunaga: Making not just the main characters, but the sub-characters look “gorgeous.” While I’m sure it seems pretty obvious, I wanted each character, whether ally or enemy, to have their own popularity.

It’s not just Fire Force, either; as soon as I read the scripts on any production, I make it a point to think, “Okay, how am I going to make this look gorgeous in this situation?”

fire force tamaki nether

When we interviewed Producer Kensuke Tateishi, he told us that he had ideas for making a cutting-edge film, and that David Production rose to the occasion. How do you interpret that “edge,” and is it reflected in the production?

Matsunaga: First, I’m conscious of how to represent the original story as a whole as closely as possible. If anything, I try to make sure that I’m not revamping the original to give it any other characteristic visual appearance.

My philosophy was to emphasize each individual situation over a uniformity of the series as a whole. Rather than taking the course of influencing the separate details of color design, artwork, and action planning, and standardizing them across the entire production, I went about choosing what would fit the situations happening in each episode.

By doing so, it allowed the way the imagery and situations were presented to be slightly different in each episode, from start to finish. As a result, I believe those efforts paid off in tying the series as a whole together, as well.

I think that an easily identifiable way to show off that “edge,” which also leaves an impact on the viewer, is the opening sequence, accompanied by the music of Mrs. GREEN APPLE. What sort of concept did you have for it?

Matsunaga: I wanted to depict Special Fire Force Company 8 fighting “as a team.” To that end, I considered that action scenes are what were required, so the impact that you mention is probably due to that more than anything else. To create an action scene that has impact and intricate movement, it requires a sharp sense and familiarity with action sequences right from the storyboard stage.

To that end, we enlisted Mr. Akitoshi Yokoyama to do the storyboards. Mr. Yokoyama had also done storyboards and episode directing on Attack on Titan, and I think our intention to highlight the action really paid off as a result.

Throughout the show, we were impressed at every turn by how dynamically the characters are expressed and the attention to detail in their techniques and the flames.

Matsunaga: Thank you very much.

Producer Kensuke Tateishi told us that the detail in the animation was so good all over that you had to pause it to really be able to see it.

Matsunaga: Well, yes. In fact, even on the creative side, we would be so particular that we thought, “Probably no one is going to be able to see this” (laughs). Which scene did Mr. Tateishi mention?

The scene where Princess Hibana of Company 5 produced her flaming “Sakura.” There are flames painted onto each petal, and he said that there was a richer color depicted because of it.

Matsunaga: It’s true, that level of detail is so fine that I don’t think many people will notice it, but thanks to all the staff members paying so much attention to details during Hibana’s action scenes in Episode 6, it turned out being very picturesque, didn’t it?

As far as the Sakura petals go, that was Director Yuki Yase’s idea. That being said, when I heard it, I thought, “No one will be able to tell, will they?” (laughs). Still, we figured that we would try anything once, and after speaking to our VFX man, Mr. Ryo Ohashi, we had it made up that way.

In addition to that, we did our best to put greater effort in animating the points where the original story builds up. There are many other parts where the craftsmanship becomes maniacally intense, and thanks to the attention of everyone on the production staff, I think some really striking scenes have been realized. If a few more people can take notice of them, the efforts of the staff will have been rewarded.

After seeing the popularity of the first season, what sort of impressions are you left with?

Matsunaga: No matter the show, I believe that a producer must move through production with an image of how it should be—what the finished product should look like. Since this is a group production, the fact is that we don’t know what that will be until the video is actually finished.

Which means that I was honestly relieved more than anything else upon seeing the completed video for Episode 1.

Were you aware of any points of correlation with Soul Eater, Ohkubo-sensei’s previous work?

Matsunaga: Not especially, although Soul Eater had an incredibly entertaining anime version, as well. But it would not have turned out the same way even if we tried, so instead we determined to shrug it off and take Fire Force in its own direction.

After the end of the first season, I believe the cutting-edge concept, action, use of color, and other various styles have really been nailed. What kinds of challenges are you taking on in the upcoming second season?

Matsunaga: I’m hoping that the action scenes of Season 2 are at least as good as those of Season 1, and unfold in a fitting manner for the climactic second half of the series.

The first season had a lot of episodes relating to Shinra, but Season 2 will focus on characters other than Shinra some more, and we will delve more into the world in which Fire Force takes place. I hope that everyone will be looking forward to seeing more about that.

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