Metallic Rouge and 25 Years of BONES – This Week in Anime

Nicky and Steve renumerate on the history of BONES‘ various original anime and take a look at its 25th year anniversary project Metallic Rouge. (There may also be an excessive amount of bone-related puns.)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Metallic Rouge, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Mob Psycho 100, Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, Eureka Seven: Hi – Evolution, Space Dandy, Concrete Revolutio, Concrete Revolutio: Last Song, My Hero Academia,
Bungo Stray Dogs, Sk8 : The Infinity, Bucchigiri?!, Star Driver, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury are streaming on Crunchyroll. Carol & Tuesday, PLUTO, and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners are streaming on Netflix. RahXephon is streaming on HIDIVE. Eurkea Seven and The Vision of Escaflowne are streaming on Funimation.

Nicky, I hope you’ve had your recommended daily nutritional intake of calcium because today we’re talking all about BONES.

BONES! We’ve covered several anime studios we considered foundational but Studio Bones might be one of my favorites. Having produced several distinctive and inspired anime series over 25 years, Studio Bones is a name every anime fan should know. I’d turn into a gelatinous mess without them.

25 years isn’t chump change, that’s for sure. It’s a cause for celebration and BONES have been doing so this season with Metallic Rouge, an original sci-fi soiree that asks big questions, such as “Do androids dream of eating fancy chocolate bars?”

Signs point to yes.
Bones has done a lot of projects in their quarter-century life-span, a lot of anime fans may recognize their memorable name for their phenomenal adaptions of big manga like Fullmetal Alchemist (and their 2nd more faithful to the manga version, Brotherhood) and the sakuga-filled and heartfelt Mob Psycho 100, but this new series, Metallic Rouge is a perfect fit to represent the history of Studio Bones, as they’ve always been intent on making anime with original concepts and story.
Pinning down a studio “identity” is pretty much a lost cause, especially when you’re dealing with one that has longevity and a massive laundry list of artists they’ve hired and collaborated with. Even a studio like Science SARU, which began with Masaaki Yuasa, has had its edges grow fuzzier in the past decade as it has taken on more projects with more people. That said, BONES‘ strength—perhaps even its identity—lies in the variety and eclecticism of its oeuvre. No matter what kind of anime fan you are, you’ve probably enjoyed one of their shows.
Whether you started your anime journey in the 00s as I did, or are a newcomer, BONES has maintained a strong presence in both the anime industry and fandom—achieving popularity with critics and fans alike. It’s hard to find studios that are the “best of both worlds” but the story of BONES‘ success comes together if you examine their willingness to experiment. Back then, I was enraptured by the atmosphere crafted for originals such as Wolf’s Rain and Eureka Seven, and now Bones has become a place where unique talents come together and put their signature on things.

One notable friend of the studio would be Cowboy Bebop‘s chief director Shinichiro Watanabe, who chose Bones as his home for the whacky collaborative creator showcase Space Dandy and later for the Netflix original musically-focused Carole and Tuesday, which Metallic Rouge‘s Director Motonobu Hori co-directed.

It’s a relationship that makes a lot of sense considering BONES‘ origin as an offshoot of Sunrise (you can read a more detailed history from Kim here:). And to paraphrase Kim, that ambitious ethos behind Cowboy Bebop persisted into BONES—which is evident if you look at their early lineup of projects. Lots of bold original works. One of their first TV anime was RahXephon, one of the more delightfully strange attempts to capture Evangelion‘s moody mecha lightning in another bottle.

Bones’ founders and early key staff were poached from Sunrise‘s Studio 2, after working on both Cowboy Bebop and The Vision of Escaflowne, producer Minami set off with a vision of producing anime original stories with a small group of trusted people. And who can blame them?! Those are pretty much some of the best anime in history, with lots of details dedicated to art design and setting. Even at the time, it was very rare to get anime with such dedication to immersion. Later, the Bones staff would come back to help with Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, which had a re-showing in North American Theater last month thanks to Anime Expo‘s “Cinema Nights” project.

BONES were going at a good clip for a long while too—putting out an average of about one new original, non-sequel anime per year in the first decade or so of their existence. These weren’t the only anime they were producing, but those numbers alone prove their commitment to that concept. President Minami even joked in a 2013 interview that the early days of the studio could be “chaotic” due to all the ideas flying around. Those guys had fervor.
I totally believe it. It’s not easy setting up a small studio, but now Bone’s is its own powerhouse. They make several anime projects a year via multiple branch studios marked alphabetically A through E. They have teams dedicated to the production of long-running series like My Hero Academia and Bungo Stray Dogs but others are willing to take on original work. Metallic Rouge is a product of Studio E, which is the youngest and was developed for the Eureka Seven: Hi – Evolution movies. Though, as the studio has grown, they still maintain relationships with many industry veterans, known sakuga animator Yutaka Nakamura comes to mind but also a lot of designers that are harder to come by nowadays. Metallic Rouge‘s creator Yutaka Izubuchi is most well known for his design work for mecha and monsters—including many iterations of Gundam and Kamen Rider—which is how Metallic Rouge gained it’s unmistakably tokusatsu-aesthetic (backed with a badass battle-theme to boot)

Izubuchi was also the original creator of RahXephon, as mentioned earlier—meaning he’s been with the studio for a long time That’s part of why I was so anticipating Rouge.
Much of the industry is a black box to us lowly consumers but if a studio can retain talent for that long, then it’s probably a good indicator that they’re doing something right. Another big name I’d throw out there is Takuya Igarashi, who’s been with BONES since Ouran High School Host Club in 2006.
Having veterans is an important factor for making great anime because it’s always welcome to have people with experience and knowledge when it comes to drawing and keeping on schedule. It’s part of why we always look for names we recognize even if producing large scale projects like anime is a dangerous alchemy where nobody knows what shape the final product will look like! Even if I knew most of this information before it aired, I still had no idea what Metallic Rouge would be like until I watched it—and a couple of episodes in there’s still a lot up-in-the-air about where the story will go. Let’s talk a bit about our experience with this latest series vs our expectations given Bone’s reputation.
I like Metallic Rouge quite a bit. Its aesthetic identity, especially its soundtrack, is a fun throwback to the cyberpunk anime heyday of the ’90s (which, as we’ve already detailed, is the primordial soup BONES crawled out of). More than any other descriptor, I’d call it “confident.” Even something small, like the typography in these title cards, exudes a commitment to a style realized by people with the know-how to do so. I also don’t think Metallic Rouge has fully followed through on its pedigree of confidence and experience yet, but it is still airing, to be fair.
From the get-go, Metallic Rouge has a lot of pastiche that would be familiar to anyone who loves sci-fi stories. There are a lot of story and visual cues from Blade Runner with its sleek night-time futuristic city vibes along with the primary class conflict between humans and the androids known as the “Neans”. There’s a lot of anime that explores cohabitation between machine lifeforms and humans nowadays, what with the prevalence of AI technology and whatnot, but I think this also makes it difficult to stand out among all the other cyber noir stories we’ve been getting. It’s really hard not to compare some details of the story to a masterpiece like PLUTO or Trigger‘s neon-flashing Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. I can see why it might be easy to write off Metallic Rouge as another bundle of cyber-clichés, yet I’d argue it’s the details and atmosphere that are really what matter in these types of stories.

With that said, with all of Metallic Rouge‘s gritty influences and themes, watching it feels surprisingly light—and I’d attribute that firstly to the interactions between Rouge and her handler Naomi.
Their chemistry carries the story, so much so that the episode where they have a big fight is the weakest one to date. It’s a lot more fun watching them goof off. They even have the kind of silent shorthand that people only develop when they spend a lot of time together. It’s good stuff. I hope they smooch.

Not to mention, Naomi, in particular, has a FANTASTIC character design. It’s hard to find characters who can match her personality and style. It’s choices like these that give the series a modern feel akin to its sister Carole and Tuesday—which is also, at its heart, just about two girls goofing around on an urbanized Mars with the whole subtle futuristic elements of that series.

The soundtrack supports that, both OP and EDs are bangers with plenty of funky retro-synths that give the show a lot of character.
If we’re comparing Metallic Rouge to those past anniversary projects, though, it feels the most obtuse, if not most undercooked. Carole & Tuesday‘s music industry angle was established and riffed on very early into the show. And Space Dandy still stands out as a very singular production that enlisted a huge swathe of talent from areas both inside and outside the anime industry. Space Dandy was this beautiful intersection between the low-brow and high-brow. As a celebratory project, it arguably encompassed the extent of BONES‘ influence and ambition much better than Metallic Rouge ever can.

Not saying we needed a Space Dandy 2 in 2024. But it is a hell of an act to follow.

If we were to compare to all the outstanding originals Bones has made it’s pretty tough competition! Yet, when it comes to originals, I don’t need all of them to be the best thing since sliced bread, I just enjoy rooting for them! Choosing to make something new over an established story is adventurous work. For both artists and audiences, doing something new always entails a huge amount of risk. It’s much more effort to have to craft a fresh story that’ll attract an audience vs relying on an existing story and fanbase, assuming that idea can even get funding.
Yet, not all anime with original stories are successful or good. Even BONES has had its share of flops. There are about a billion things that can go wrong when you’re making a story.

I’d also note that their past decade of output has been much heavier on the adaptations and sequels than their first decade. Sure, they’ve added more subsidiary studios but those studios themselves have experienced less variety. Studio C has been tied up with My Hero Academia since 2017. Studio D has been primarily a Bungo Stray Dogs machine since 2016.

Still dunno How Studio D made time for Sk8: The Infinity between seasons of Bungo Stray Dogs but I’m grateful they did. Watching Utsumi do her thing with Bucchigiri?! reminds me of the fondness I felt for that show. Which was also certainly a daring move given the technical difficulties of drawing skateboard tricks. Yet, another good example of a stunt that paid off. Part of my affection for that show comes from my memory of watching it not knowing what was going to happen and wondering if any of it would stick the landing.

It’s not like they ever stopped delivering original bangers. And I can’t completely bemoan a studio’s success in artfully adapting popular long-running series. But I’m also greedy. I want to see Takuya Igarashi collaborating with Yoji Enokido on stuff that isn’t Bungo again. I want to see them do more weird, flawed-yet-charming riffs on Utena + robots as they did with Star Driver (which predated The Witch from Mercury by 12 years, mind you). Even the far messier Captain Earth possesses a certain shine in retrospect.

Meanwhile, I’m over here holding a candle for Concrete Revolutio, talking about a show with a weird concept and a lot of ideas (mostly involving political events of the Showa Era).
That show kicked all kinds of ass. Probably my favorite chewy and sociopolitically charged take on superheroism outside of Gatchaman Crowds.

The obtuse nature of that show likely pushed away most viewers but everyone I know who managed to stick with it agrees that it’s very memorable. Last Song in particular showcases a lot of notable guest writers even if I wouldn’t call the whole series perfectly executed. Goes to show that making an original appealing isn’t just about doing everything flawlessly. If people can remember one or two things about your series years later, that’s a form of success. I enjoy it when shows can treat ideas like cooked spaghetti and just toss things at the wall to see what sticks.

I don’t remember every episode, but I do remember the one Gen Urobuchi wrote being especially mean and cynical—even for him. And that was the vibe of the whole anime. A great example of what BONES has been capable of.
That’s also why I’m willing to give Metallic Rouge some good ole benefit of the doubt, It’s not as experimental or weird as some of BONES‘ other works but that’s not to say it’s got nothing going on, compared to most anime it’s got plenty. I have a hunch it could be keeping some aspects of the story close to the chest but it’s fun to see an anime with just a bit of style and good company, regardless of where it shakes out.

It’s still cooking. Even if I weren’t reviewing Metallic Rouge this season, it would be one I’d be following anyway. It has a solid foundation. You might even say it has good bones. And I hope it’s also a declaration of BONES‘ continued commitment to producing and supporting original projects. They may be riskier prospects than known and popular quantities but they’re the lifeblood of the anime industry.

Besides, it’s not like all the stigma towards originals is entirely on studios. One of the reasons adaptions and re-boots are believed to be so much “safer” is attributed to consumers’ unwillingness to accept new things. Now, I think that’s an overgeneralization of human behavior often given by cynical executives but it’s the exact reason I try to promote an attitude of optimism and open-mindedness towards originals. The quality of a show doesn’t matter if nobody watches it. The first step is to get over that fear of the unknown to be able to engage at all.

Today, we use BONES‘ history as an assurance of quality, but as we’ve examined, living studios are about as organic as all the people who compromise them. As a project, Metallic Rouge isn’t just about celebrating the BONES we all know and love but also a statement about the future. One day, all the industry veterans will be gone and we’ll have to put our faith in the newcomers to keep making art. Think about it, the people making Metallic Rouge today may end up making the great anime of tomorrow!

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