INTERVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Composer Akira Senju on Creating Symphonic Alchemy

the Fullmetal Alchemist is known for her varied and emotional music, both from the 2003 original Fullmetal Alchemist 2009 revival series Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Through each series and movies, composers Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa), Akira Senju (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) and Taro Iwashiro (Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos) captured the Elric brothers’ grand journey into the world of alchemy, state government, and the secret powers that worked behind the scenes. Milan Records, in coordination with Aniplex and Sony Music, is now releasing the original eleven Fullmetal Alchemist soundtracks of both series for the first time outside of Japan, which you can now listen to here! To celebrate the release, Crunchyroll had the chance to speak with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood composer Akira Senju himself!

Senju, born in Tokyo in 1960, studied composition at Tokyo University of the Arts and went on to compose some of Japan’s best-known tunes, including the main themes for the 2012 release of iron boss, the score for Mobile Suit Victory Gundam and many more live action and anime series. We spoke with Senju about his approach to creating the music for the 2009 series, the difference between composing music for a live-action series and an anime, his friendship with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure creator Hirohiko Araki and more!

Akira Senju

Akira Senju

How did you start composing music?

When I was in college, I knew I wanted to do something in the music world – classical, jazz, pop, soundtrack – I wanted to be in an environment where I could be passionate about all kinds of music. At that moment, I saw a straight path to my future and never changed my mind. I went ahead without hesitation. I enjoyed the effort to fulfill my dreams, my calling, so to speak.

You have also worked on many dramas and live TV shows. What are the differences between composing music for anime and live-action (if any)?

In dramas and live-action movies, there is a symbiosis between dialogue and sound effects. Anime generally has a longer runtime and therefore capacity for more music than live action, so I’m thinking more realistic expressions and original storytelling through music.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Can you describe your experience when you were asked to compose the music for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood? Has the project had an impact on your career as a whole?

This is definitely epoch-making work for me, something I’ve only done a few times in my career. It was a work in which I was able to express everything I had done until then. And this work allowed me to then move on to the next stage of my career.

What was your experience with Fullmetal Alchemist before composing music for fraternity? Have you read the manga or watched the 2003 original series?

I didn’t listen to any of the previous works to avoid having preconceived ideas, and I didn’t end up really referencing them in my music. Instead, I carefully read the original work and created music that went through history from scratch. It was an exciting experience, especially towards the second half, because the original story was written at the same time as the animation, which was a new experience for me.

How did you work with director Yasuhiro Irie to create the music for the series?

The three of us, director Yasuhiro Irie and sound director Masafumi Mima, worked together very smoothly and professionally. We had great mutual trust, especially since it was an exciting project where we were working simultaneously with the original work.

When I think of the sounds of Fullmetal Alchemist, I always remember those grand overtures (an opening orchestral introduction to a song) that seem to capture the feeling of the overwhelming Amestris government. Otherwise, how did you try to capture that sense of the great institutional power of the State Alchemists in the series?

I worked mainly with the great symphony orchestra and the choir (Warsaw Philharmonic Choir) in order to express this power.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Is there a particular song that you enjoyed the most composing for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood?

“Main Theme – The Alchemist” is the track I enjoyed the most composing, because it best describes the world of this work in one song.

Now that you three Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood original soundtracks will be available for streaming, what do you hope fans will notice or pick up when listening to your music?

I think music is responsible for an expression that cannot be put into words. For me, this work is over ten years old, but it is definitely a masterpiece. I tried to give the work a sound that will not age regardless of the years that pass, with a spirit that is both universal and timeless. I hope you enjoy another world of Fullmetal Alchemist in this music.

Akira Senji main theme cover
(Picture via Akira Senju website)

I also understand that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure designer Hirohiko Araki drew you for an album cover of your most famous music tracks. Are you a fan of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure series?

Hirohiko Araki and I respect each other as creators of the same age. We are very close in our personal lives, and as friends I asked him to design our 30th anniversary album cover. I like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure series.

Do you have anything else to say to fans of your music around the world?

I sometimes present parts of the Fullmetal Alchemist score in my concerts, but I would like to hold a Fullmetal Alchemist concert one day.

Listen to all Fullmetal Alchemist
series soundtracks here!

Kyle Cardine is the editor of Crunchyroll. You can find his Twitter here.

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