Interview: Fire Force Art Director Details Unique Shot Adapting, Staying Faithful to Manga

Shinra Kusakabe

It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Thanks to our partners at Kodansha, we’ve got another special interview for you, this time with Fire Force Art Director, Yoshito Takamine!

Takamine-san dove into what it’s like bringing manga to life, and managing everything from the series’ unique shot adapting to depicting Special Fire Force Company 8’s Cathedral. Spoiler: It’s not the greatest place to live.

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Take a look below at the full interview with Takamine-san, and be sure to let us know what anime interviews you’d like to see next!

First, I’d like to ask what your initial impressions were after reading the original manga. As the art director, what about it captured your heart?

Takamine: I was really impressed with the high quality of the design in the artwork. It has the exhilarating feel of a hero manga, but there’s also a distinctive sense of eeriness that remains as well.

Especially during Shinra’s fight scenes, where the devilish forms that get depicted lent a cool, dark-hero vibe that I really liked.

In the course of making the anime, did you have any direct discussions with the original author, Ohkubo-sensei?

Takamine: Actually, I never had any direct interchange with him. He allowed me to do entirely as I wished. Of course, I picked out all the coolest parts of his world while creating, but there was definitely some trepidation over whether or not I had accurately captured all the charm of the original work.

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I’m curious if there are any specific areas where you brought the quality of the original manga to life.

Takamine: For one example, there is the scene in Episode 1 where Shinra first reports for work at the Special Fire Cathedral 8. I wanted to make his mumbling to himself of “What a dump” at the church’s entrance come across even more plainly in the anime, so I used a color palette to convey an “old” feel, and added chipped areas to the walls.

Indeed, when watching that scene, you get the sense of “run-down” with just a glance.

Takamine: However, once inside, I settled on a more relaxed palette, so it didn’t look quite so run-down. Also, the desks in the offices and the blue-bladed fans mounted on the ceiling were given colors that would offer a sense of familiarity to Japanese people.

On the other hand, when I chose those colors, I wasn’t doing so with that in mind; I was simply trying to use colors appropriate to the image. However, watching the anime, the place that our characters return to after a battle ended up having a soothing look, and I felt that the choice of palette turned out to be a good one.

So Special Fire Cathedral 8 generated that sort of effect. As the art director, were there any other scenes or episodes that were especially memorable to you?

Takamine: Every episode was memorable, so choosing one is difficult. From a professional standpoint, I would say Episode 15, where Vulcan is introduced.

Would that be because of the machines that are found inside Vulcan’s workshop?

Takamine: Speaking strictly in terms of the amount of detail in the background, that was probably the heaviest section of the whole season. All those countless pieces of junk were as much as I could stand.

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Right from the start of the first episode of the series, I was blown away by the grand scale of the city streets. How exactly was the art production for the first season carried out?

Takamine: Thank you very much. When discussing those scenes with Director Yuki Yase, he said that he wanted a tranquil palette, with more subdued colors. It seemed that, overall, the director clearly knew what kind of colors he wanted.

Fire Force Season 2

Sort of the steampunk world of the original, combined with a Showa-era retro feel. While discussing the director’s color ideas a number of times, we came up with the color palette convention that is used in the series.

Then again, even with those underlying tranquil colors, I wanted the highlight colors to really pop, so I tinkered a little with the pipes and such that are attached to the distinctive buildings this series has.

Specifically, when laying down the metallic, yellowish-gold color of the brass, it brings the material to life, and keeps the whole scene from being too plain.

It’s true, there’s a relaxed tone throughout the series, but there are also many highly visible backgrounds that offer rich detail.

Did you ever feel any frustration at having to work with such a limited variety of colors?

Takamine: No. We’re already working within the limited time constraints of a series, so the time and effort we can spend on the artwork is also limited. We get the elements we’re working with narrowed down as much as possible during the art design stage, while still bringing the original manga’s setting to life.

For example, Special Fire Cathedral 8’s office and the captain’s room are set up more simply than in the original manga.

Are there any other areas where the artwork is different from the original manga?

Takamine: At the beginning of Episode 1, there’s the scene where the main character Shinra runs into an Infernal and Special Fire Force Company 8 on the platform at Tabata Station, right?

Something the director insisted on was that when locations that exist in reality also appear in the show, we were to create the art using a number of motifs from those actual sites, and that station platform was one of them. It is a fascinating station, with a unique, rough-hewn design to its roof and framework.

How did you compose it?

Takamine: First, we used photos that Director Yase had taken, changed the colors to match the world we were creating, and tweaked them a little by including a few elements from the original manga.

Personally, I found it to be an interesting design, but making it work so that the platforms felt consistent with the framework was challenging.

Did you have any areas where you took extra pains with the art for the first season?

Takamine: We worked hard collectively with the rest of the staff on the world building for this series, including the colors. Unlike slice of life anime, most of the material we’re working with on this show doesn’t actually exist in the real world.

There might be material for some parts of it, such as the pipes, but the majority of what we’re dealing with can only be grasped by looking at pictures.

So it’s the struggle of working on a fantasy series.

Takamine: Yes it is. Additionally, unlike with photos or CG, background art in anime is basically all paintings, so there is some extra effort spent on tying together the design of anime background art. When the world of a series is created as clearly as this one is, we have no choice but to create artwork for the anime that keeps that world intact.

That requires a degree of knowledge of the production, and is something that gets put together over the course of many discussions. It’s interesting how it could never be completed by just one person.

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It seems like the greater the number of people involved, the more difficult it would be to maintain the uniformity and integration of that world, but I guess that isn’t the case.

Fire Force Season 2

Takamine: Something you start to see from the process of having many people working together to complete a single anime production is that it’s no fun for just one person to paint a background picture on their own.

While it can be said that a person knows how to do their artwork well enough on their own, there are limits to just one person’s creativity, and it always ends up looking like someplace that they’ve seen somewhere before. We have to think in terms of being true to the world of the original author, while at the same time producing a background that is made just for the anime.

To do so, the swapping of opinions and sharing of ideas with the rest of the staff is something that is absolutely indispensable. I was inspired artistically during our discussions for this series, and some of our own design ideas came to fruition as a result.

How has the response been after the end of the first season?

Takamine: I was frankly delighted that so many people watched the show. The original manga itself is very popular, and its story is terrific, so I was convinced that it would be well received. But I was surprised by how much of the feedback focused on the backgrounds, and how much appreciation they received, which I am quite proud of.

The colors we were so particular about also received mention, and it was a moment that really struck me as the art director.

It’s nice that the fans were watching out for the fine details.

On the other hand, was there anything that you spent extra effort doing in the background art that you wish more people would have noticed?

Takamine: This is going to sound a little nerdy, but there is a special kind of “shot adapting” that’s distinctive to this series. It wasn’t just the art department; the director and episode directors also pushed for this, but based on the characters’ dialogue or the mood of the scene, the way the shadows fall and the source of light in a scene can change around.

How exactly do you mean?

Takamine: From an artistic standpoint, we normally think of our artwork in terms of what’s in the scene. We combine our shots together to allow the story to fluidly move from one cut to another.

However, in this series, we created artwork that paid no heed to the previous or subsequent shots, but instead matched whatever was being said or the sense of tension within the scene.

This was a first for me, but it was both stimulating and interesting. The way the artwork is presented in this way is scattered through each episode, so if you watch out for when it happens, I think you will enjoy it even more.

So you were even particular about how your artwork was presented. The chromatic world setting and production concepts are already well established for the first season.

As the art director, if there is anything you’re looking forward to in Season 2, or any new challenges ahead, we’d like to hear about them.

Takamine: The director was extra careful about the feel that Season 1 had, so the basic artistic concepts are not going to change all that much for Season 2. However, as the story progresses, there will be many new scenes coming, and I am very excited to get to represent those.

I’m looking forward to elevating the artwork for such a grand-scale world as this one.

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