You’d be hard pressed to find an anime fan of any level of commitment or taste that hasn’t watched — and inevitably, loved — a series produced by studio Bones. Now celebrating its 20th year, the studio has produced mainstays of the anime canon like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Space Dandy, Eureka Seven, and the current My Hero Academia. That’s only a smattering of the 50 plus titles that the studio has produced across its 20 years of existence.
Bones CEO Masahiko Minami, current president Toshihiro Kawamoto, the late Hiroshi Osaka, and a handful of former Sunrise staffers founded the studio in October 1998. All three had worked on Cowboy Bebop, and after the first half of the series finished airing on TV Tokyo, were left uncertain as to what would happen in regards to the full series. “I wanted to try new things on the next title with the staff of Sunrise animators I was working with at the time,” Minami told Tokyo Otaku Mode in 2018. “Obviously, we could do it at Sunrise, but I wanted a place where we could work more freely and on a grander scale.”
After discussions with fellow staff members, Minami, Kawamoto, and Osaka ended up splitting from Sunrise to found Bones in what the now-CEO described as a “go with the flow” kind of decision.
Though known for original titles and science-fiction work, Bones isn’t moored to one genre. While the studio got its start working with Sunrise on the Escaflowne and Cowboy Bebop movies, it quickly moved on to other original work and adaptations.
“Our beginnings lie in the realization that there’s no reason to stick to specific genres,” Minami told Tokyo Otaku Mode. “We’re often told that we’re good at action series or that we have a lot of original titles, but that’s exactly why we believe in the vast extent of free visual expression that animation allows.”
More than anything, freedom to create is what defines Bones more than any genre or style. The studio’s catalog is worth examining given its genre diversity and number of massively popular series. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here’s a look back at the past 20 years of Bones by way of its most impactful series and the production stories behind them.
Hiwou War Chronicles (2000)
Bones’ first original anime, Hiwou War Chronicles speaks to the studio’s science fiction roots. Set during the Meiji era of Japan, which ran from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the series follows a boy named Hiwou who lives in a town that fabricates “karakuri,” or clockwork dolls, for festivals. After his town is attacked and taken captive by the “Wind Gang,” Hiwou and his friends set out to save the town along with Homura, a giant clockwork doll that is essentially a giant robot.
The series ran from Oct. 2000 until May 2001; the late Hiroshi Osaka led animation on the series. Studio A, Bones’ first sub-studio, was responsible for its production.
Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
The first anime produced by Studio C, Fullmetal Alchemist is nothing short of a classic. With worldbuilding on par with the likes of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Game of Thrones, the series takes place in a world in which alchemy is a practiced science. Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric attempt to use alchemy to revive their mother, but instead wind up sacrificing parts of their bodies as penance. Edward joins the military in pursuit of the Philosopher’s stone, which theoretically would be able to restore his and Alphonse’s bodies.
The series was a major undertaking, but it resulted in a significant payoff after the studio managed to snag a Saturday 6 p.m. timeslot on national television. Based off of Hiromu Arakawa’s manga series of the same, the series arose from Minami’s own network with creators from Square Enix, Mainichi Broadcasting, and Aniplex. “Fullmetal Alchemist is a title that was created through personal connections, not corporate ones,” Minami told Tokyo Otaku Mode.
During production, the series caught up with storyline in the manga and was forced to diverge. Bones eventually revisited the series with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in 2009, which strictly adhered to the manga plot and is generally considered to be the better adaptation. Brotherhood was the inaugural series of Bones’ Studio D.
Eureka Seven (2006)
Eureka Seven is one of Bones’ longest standing original properties. Originally rolled out across 50 episodes between 2005 and 2006, the series played into the studio’s reputation for quality mecha anime alongside titles like RahXephon or the aforementioned Hiwou War Chronicles. Eureka Seven focuses on a boy named Renton, who spends most of his days tooling around in the sky on his longboard, surfing on particles in the air on a future, terraformed Earth. When a giant robot piloted by a girl named Eureka crashes into his room, he decides to join the Gekkostate, the military organization that she works for.
Minami told Anime News Network that Eureka Seven is the Bones series to which he feels the most strongly attached, and that it likely wouldn’t have been made had he stayed at Sunrise. Given that the series aired 50 episodes within the span of one year, production was labor-intensive. “Other than Sunrise, I don’t think that there are any other studios that have created original robots on such a scale,” Minami told Tokyo Otaku Mode.
While the original Eureka Seven series was produced by Studio B, the franchise was the impetus for the creation of Studio E, which was exclusively created in 2017 to produce the new series of Eureka Seven movies.
Ouran High School Host Club (2006)
At first blow Ouran High School Host Club feels like an odd title for Bones, particularly given the fact that it was produced by Studio C, which first worked on Fullmetal Alchemist. The lighthearted series — a girl gets mistaken for a boy, breaks a vase, and has to work as a host for rich female students at an elite academy in order to pay back the debt — is a bit out of step from the studio’s mecha and action track record. However, Ouran still stands out as a fresh take on the typical school drama as a result of its fleshed out characters, bonkers storylines, and treatment of gender, attraction, and friendship.
“Among the whole Bones line-up, Ouran is really a kind of strange series,” Minami told Ani-Gamers in 2010. “The [Bones] producers are really good at action… Reading the original [Ouran High School Host Club] books, [they found that] they had lots of elements that appeal to a producer: a unique style of high school life (the host club), gathering up a team, and also supporting each other to kind of get a heart-warming kind of story.”
Space Dandy (2014)
Space Dandy is best described by a quote from Minami in a 2013 interview: “We’ve taken great hardships to ensure that this is the world’s stupidest anime.” The series lives up to its lofty goals: one of the most bonker anthology-like series in the anime canon, Space Dandy’s greatest strength is that it isn’t tied together by any particular unifying thread. It just is.
The series tracks the adventures of a ragtag group of space travelers including an alien bounty hunter with great hair named Dandy, a cat-like alien named Meow, and robot assistant QT. They’re hunted by the ever-persistent Dr. Gel, a gorilla-like scientist hellbent on capturing Dandy. While it’s probably the least conventional title on Bones’ slate, Space Dandy is still one of its most infamous original series.
Bungo Stray Dogs (2016)
Focused on a supernatural detective agency that handles cases too sensitive or dangerous for the regular police, Bungo Stray Dogs is about a boy named Atsushi who falls in with the agency after discovering the connection he has to a tiger that’s been menacing both him and his previous orphanage.
Minami highlighted Bungo Stray Dogs as an example of the different flavors of each studio. “Studio D is currently headed by Mari Suzuki, a female producer, and they’re working on Bungo Stray Dogs. It’s an anime that definitely has some femininity to it,” he said. “If Bungo Stray Dogs were to be created by Studio A, it would probably be a different anime.”
My Hero Academia (2016)
My Hero Academia is Bones’ most recent standout, and it’s well on its way to becoming a classic. The series, based on Kohei Horikoshi’s manga series of the same name, is a refreshing take on the superhero genre that requires little prior knowledge or investment. In the world of the My Hero Academia, individuals are born with “quirks,” or powers that vary from the ability to manipulate produce tape out of your elbow joints to, uh, punching things really hard. While most of the population has a specific power, only some go on to become superheroes.
In the fourth season, due this October, the series will tackle the “Shie Hassakai” arc of the manga. There’s plenty of source material to follow, however — currently, the anime is caught up with approximately 125 out nearly 240 chapters, and the manga is still serializing.
Studio C is currently devoted to My Hero Academia given the scope of the project itself. “We would like to keep this as an ongoing project and improve the quality,” Minami told Anime News Network. “Not just keep the status quo, but take something good and make it better.”
Mob Psycho 100 (2016)
The most recent series out of Studio B, Mob Psycho 100 is a rumination on friendship, power, and emotion. The series takes place in a world where psychics actually exist, no matter how much the world thinks they’re crackpots just looking to make a quick buck. Reigen, a lovable crackpot looking to make a quick buck as a psychic, takes Mob, a middle schooler with incredibly powerful psychic abilities, under his wing as his apprentice. Mob’s powers become more and more difficult to control the more emotional he becomes, and as a result, he tightly reins them in. At its core, the series is about learning how to process your emotions and feel empathy for your adversaries.
While Mob Psycho 100 sounds like it would learn more towards the action side, the storytelling typically eschews conflict in favor of ruminations on humanity and friendship. However, when there are fights, they’re visually stunning. While working on the series, Minami told director Yuzuru Tachikawa and character designer Yoshimichi Kameda to give the animation a sense of luxury. As a result, psychic powers are coded in the show as bursts of sparkling light. “‘Wow, it really does feel luxurious,’” Minami said. “That’s not actually want I wanted.”
Carole & Tuesday (2019)
The new anime from Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe arrives in time to commemorate Bones’ 20th anniversary. The series takes place in a not-so-distant future in which humanity has colonized Mars and AI technology is used for virtually anything and everything, including producing and writing music. When Tuesday, the runaway daughter of a politician, runs into Carole, an orphan trying to make ends meet, while playing music on the streets of Alba City, the two quickly hit it off and begin writing music. The series chronicles their ascent into stardom as a singer-songwriter duo in a field of electronically-produced pop stars.
Given that Bones was borne out of former Cowboy Bebop staffers, it feels appropriate that the man who helmed the series returns to direct the studio’s 20th anniversary anime. Carole & Tuesday, in a way, is a cap on what Bones is known for: fantastic worlds, gorgeous animation, science fiction, and a whole lot of heart.