Hearing the name “Range Murata,” it’s easy to associate the person as one of the more well-known names in the Japanese art and anime industry. A veteran artist for nearly 30 years, Murata-san’s notable works include Last Exile (and it’s sequel Fam the Silver Wing), Shangri-La, and Blue Submarine No. 6. His art combines elements of Dieselpunk or Cyberpunk and anime/manga style with hints of realism, which essentially defined his identity and highly recognizable motifs.
One would think that his name, “Range,” has some underlying meaning to it. Rather, Murata-san explained that “Range” was the English word closest to his pseudonym “Renji,” hence adopting the name. The origins of his pseudonym may be whimsical, but his history and passion as an artist is anything but.
The Beginnings of an Icon
Murata-san’s passion for art began culminating during his university days. Although his pursuit of art as a hobby began early into his childhood days, his immersion towards being a full-fledged artist was not something he completely decided for himself. It was more like the opportunities led him to honing his artistic talent.
Murata-san began his journey as an artist by working on doujins. Gaining exposure for his works, he received numerous offers from publishers to go mainstream, but turned them all down and prioritized finishing his studies first. Shortly after graduating, Murata-san’s art career professionally came about by joining Atlus as the artist for the Power Instinct fighting game franchise. Apart from character design, he was also responsible for cover art and promotional material for the said game series.
Looking back during the early days of his career, an illustrator’s work was typically doing concept art for marketing purposes, like advertisements. Most of the illustrators he knew gradually shifted their profession into manga and light novel art. Concerned about not keeping up with deadlines, Murata-san did not opt for the same line of work. Rather, he carved his path further by being a cover artist for his colleagues’ burgeoning comic magazine.
Lessons and Challenges
The master’s experience of more than 30 years do not come by so easily. With countless artworks in his resumé, Murata-sensei struggles with his own sense of perfectionism. The Last Exile character designer admits his occasional dissatisfaction with his artwork, and struggles with expressing his character designs better. Although he’s able to submit within deadlines, Murata-sensei often mulls over his submitted work for any element lacking in the art. He affirms that he has yet to find his “perfect work” due to his perfectionist attitude.
He also credits his work to one of the greatest lessons he has learned along his 30-year career in art. Back in his university days, Murata-sensei mused about sharing and collaborating with a friend regarding manga-style art. It’s through this process and exchange that the foundation of his art was developed into what it is today. Nowadays, he applies this habit of collaborating through research. By exchanging ideas with younger illustrators and creators, Murata-sensei keeps up with the times in knowing what the current generation likes, and incorporates this into his recent works. That being said, Murata-sensei added he would also love to work on a moe related title, more specifically a school-based or mahou shoujo series in the future.
Thoughts on Mainstream Anime Today and 3D Animation
When asked about this generation’s anime, Murata-sensei preferred to withhold his personal opinion. Rather, he shared the general consensus of other creators and artists he has worked with.
“The people in the industry do observe that the volume is too much. But because the way people consume nowadays, everything is fast, everything is rapid-moving. The animation industry is keeping up with that, so they have a mindset to create what you can, when you can. That pushes the speed and content even more.”
Murata-sensei further mused that there’s a great deal of frustration among creators wanting to produce a series with more in-depth stories. However, the current trend leans heavily on shorter seasons, jeopardizing the quality of the story and character development. Long form storytelling is slowly becoming a rare occurrence because of shorter attention spans and lower production costs. And it even affects DVD/Blu-ray sales as well. Production companies are compelled to sell single seasons rather than box collections, because the current fanbase put in lesser money into optical media sales compared to before, more so with the advent of streaming services.
On a more positive spin, Murata-sensei shifted the topic toward 3D animation after having raised the issue about production costs. The iconic artist recently worked with a relatively new studio called Sanzigen for the 2017 Netflix CG anime ID-0. His experience left a positive impression on the technology, and would love to welcome more CG-based anime projects if given the opportunity. Murata-sensei was particularly fascinated at the flexibility of creating CG character designs. He recognized that the technology helped lessen the stress on animators, make the schedule leaner, and tighten the costs without sacrificing quality.
“When designing characters, I’d like to have more control over how the characters looks. Say for example if it would be hand-drawn, sometimes only 20-30% of what I want to see gets translated. But if it’s done in 3D, I get to say how I want it to look at a certain position or angle, as long as the 3D model is done, all the animators need to do is rotate the camera or move the assets. There’s more freedom in moving and positioning the characters. Further, the team involved is smaller, the creation process is lesser. They have more time to work on the storyboard and camera work. Say for example they want a scene from another angle, they don’t have to redraw everything. It saves manpower and time. The results are more interesting and characters have more varied expressions.”
It was an absolute joy talking to the mild-mannered artist that we never noticed the time pass. Before our time together was finally up, Murata-sensei ended the conversation with a few parting words for aspiring artists.
“Believe in your own ideas, and your own perception of what a good illustration is. Continue working on how to express what that is, to continue drawing and put an effort to practice on a daily basis. Working on it daily, your love for art will grow, and you can pursue this passion more with improvement.”
(Quoted statements were translated directly from Japanese)