Set sail with us on our greatest adventure yet...an exclusive interview with one of Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha’s most original manga creators—Eiichiro Oda, the creative mastermind behind One Piece!
Q: The world of One Piece has many different kinds of pirates with unique styles. How and when did you first think of the idea to write a manga about pirates?
EO: Ever since I was little, I liked pirates. As a child I really liked an anime series called Vicke the Little Viking. It was about a little kid who admires Vikings, and his dream is to become one of them when he grows up. As I did research on pirates for One Piece, I realized that Vikings are a type of pirate. I feel that it’s awesome to have friends on your team, just like in the Vicke series. It may not be the best comparison, but I feel like that series’ spirit is carried on within my work.
Q: If you could join any pirate crew in One Piece (except for the Straw Hats), which one would you join and why?
EO: Hmm. Except the Straw Hats… I think it would be awesome to be in Buggy’s crew. They seem to be very carefree, and it would be really fun because even the subordinates can make fun of the captain. But if I was really strong, I would want to be in the Blackbeard Pirates.
Q: If you could make any recommendations to tourists who are visiting the Grand Line, where would you recommend they go and why?
EO: If I was traveling the Grand Line, I would love to stop by Skypiea because everything is super fluffy. It reminds me of when I’m flying in a plane and see the clouds below the window. I think if you go there, even a grown-up couldn’t help but be excited.
Q: Your manga is famous for not only its incredible action, but its heartfelt moments as well (we’ve certainly cried some “manly tears” around the office). What is your secret for eliciting such powerful emotional responses from people?
EO: The thing is, I get bored easily. So if my manga was just about the action, or comedy, or tearjerking moments, more than anybody, I would get bored. So I change up the style of the series to keep up my motivation to draw the series. The real secret? I think of the plots and scenes when I’m tired. The only way that I can think of a new idea is to think about it a lot without sleeping or eating. That’s the only way that I know, because humans can only come up with truly new ideas when they reach their limit. So every time I am done with my manuscript, I am completely exhausted.
Q: It’s no secret your manga sells like gangbusters and has even set records in Japan. Yet your manga hasn’t strayed far from its roots. It’s still as pure and honest as it was in the beginning. What is your secret for dealing with success?
EO: To this day, I’ve never truly felt pressure about becoming successful. I always try to stay focused on making manga for just a single audience, because in most circumstances, you read manga by yourself. So whenever I draw manga, I have only one reader in my mind—myself as a 15-year-old. I have no idea how other people would feel, so I turn back to the 15-year-old me to make a judgment on what is awesome or not. I always try to stay true to myself, and somehow it resonates with the kids who read my manga.
Q: To the reader, it’s amazing to think about the fact that you had Brook’s story planned out when you first introduced Laboon. Exactly how far ahead do you plan One Piece, and what is your story-planning technique?
EO: I only have the ending of One Piece in my mind, and nothing else. But knowing the end point, I weave the story and make story arcs that build up to it.
Q: One Piece has beautiful color spreads. What is your process when making them, and how long does it take?
EO: I’ve drawn a lot of color illustrations. Recently, it takes me more time to think about what to draw than to actually draw it. But if it’s an incomplete idea, I would get bored while drawing. So until I find something that I really want to draw, I just think, sometimes the entire day. I feel like now it’s harder to choose what to draw than when I started serializing One Piece.
Q: The One Piece x Toriko crossover one-shot "Taste of the Devil Fruit" is now available to SJ Alpha members as a digital gift. Tell us a little bit about Shimabukuro Sensei and the process of making the one-shot with him.
EO: Shimabukuro Sensei has been my good friend since he became a mangaka. In fact, he started his first series Seikimatsu Leader Den Takeshi (Turn of the Century Leader Legend Takeshi) around the time I started One Piece. We are about the same age and both started our manga careers around the same time, so we talk about manga a lot. When we made it in Weekly Shonen Jump for the first time, we called to congratulate each other. I consider him to be my friend and rival.
It was the Weekly Shonen Jump editorial team who first suggested I team up with Shimabukuro Sensei to make a one-shot. I jumped on the project because it seemed like a good match, and I thought it would be interesting because both worlds feature a main character that loves eating. If Luffy were in the world of Toriko, he would make one heck of a Gourmet Hunter.
Q: What movies, TV shows or music inspire your manga?
EO: I listen to music a lot when I am making manga. I enjoy every genre of music, whether it’s Japanese or foreign. I create a playlist that is a soundtrack to a new story arc, and listen to it over and over again when I am working.
Q: Digital manga, like Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, is starting to take off in America. What are your thoughts on digital manga?
EO: I think digital is cool for manga as long as it doesn’t interfere with the way it’s intended to be enjoyed by the readers because the flow of panels and the use of spread images in One Piece is unique compared to traditional manga. Otherwise, I’ve always imagined that the experience of reading digital manga is similar to reading books in print, and neither is better or worse.
Q: Do you have any last comments for the U.S. fans that enjoy this series via SJ Alpha?
EO: When you are reading One Piece, you might come across weird scenes that only Japanese readers can understand. But please bear with me, because I am trying to create a world that can be enjoyed by people everywhere.
To read more great creator interviews, become an SJ Alpha member today!
Eiichiro Oda Creator Sketch Video (Members-Only Exclusive)
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Interview by Misaki C. Kido (@Onnabancho_J)
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