Foreword- When Strong World came out I was overwhelmed with author Eiichiro Oda interviews. Ifll never forget the Friday I spent riding my bike in the wind and rain just to track down a bookstore that had this magazine; which I found the last copy of after visiting three different stores. This was after already spending 40 minutes tracking down another magazine, One Piecepia. The things fandom will make you do. It was completely worth the effort as this is one of the largest sources of Odafs own thoughts and ideas in one publication, all of it under the feature title eForever Youngf. Ifm keeping the authorfs foreword, Odafs comments and Odafs solo interview on this page while his long interview with Kazutoshi Sakurai will be kept separate. Anything Ifve added for clarification is contained in brackets. I attempted to keep the original meanings while finding a natural translation that retains the original nuances. Enjoy!
For this installment, when it came time for the Oda Eiichiro and Kazutoshi Sakurai interview, we had heard ahead of time that Oda doesnft allow his face to be shown in magazines.
The editing staff, who consulted the photographer, went along with an idea. It was a scenario where Sakurai would be observing Oda, his face towards the table, as he drew rough sketches. If that were the case, Odafs face would avoid exposure while making for a set of natural shots.
On the day of the shoot Oda appeared and when handed the comic drafting paper and pencil prepared for him, he began sketching away One Piece characters as if it was nothing.
Of course that might just be work as usual for Oda himself, but as we began to see Luffy, Nami, Chopper, Boa Hancock and many others appear before our very eyes, there was no holding back our excitement. Even during the breaks we could see his lightheartedness as he drew caricatures of the staff, just from a glance, making us all laugh. And finally when the shoot began, as the two sat face to face at the table, they began to converse like old friends.
Sakurai casually asked, gSo you donft like to have your face shown?h, to which Oda replied, gThatfs right. Luffy and the gang are the stars so therefs no need for me to put my face out there to get famousch When one hears that, itfs easy to consider that on one hand, that may be Odafs philosophy towards being a manga author.
And then, after the shoot, among the countless sketches left on the table, there was a single drawing casually mixed in the bunch, of Mr. Sakurai.
[On three separate pages, accompanying sketches of Strong World characters and locations were Odafs personal written thoughts regarding the making of the film and his sources of inspiration. It was not presented as an interview and outside of his comments from the Color Walk series, itfs one of the only times I recall him talking seriously and frankly about how he works.]
Creatures That Have Developed
There was a manga from way back called eKaibutsu-kunf. In the series there was this one panel that, for no particular reason, I really liked; and of all things, it was a scene of a gorilla having a battle with a crocodile. The main character, Kaibutsu-kun, wasnft even in it but I remember copying that one scene over and over again; there was clearly something about it that got me all fired up when I saw it.
See, for boys, therefs something special about seeing two powerful things fighting each other, the point is, itfs the kind of thing that gets their veins pumping. (laughs) If that was the case, since I have the ability to draw those kinds of things as a manga author, I wondered how exciting it could be if there was an island where these powerful creatures were constantly battling each other. So I made a personal request to the director, gConsidering Ifm drawing every last living thing for this, I want you to use all of them in the movie.h And after that I was just pulling designs of creatures from picture books left and right and before I knew it, I had more sketches than I knew what to do with. I mean, you know, picture books are just filled with all kinds of living things. (laughs) This time wefve also set the stage with the four seasons via islands that are broken into spring, summer, autumn and winter; so when I started thinking about what kinds of creatures that would somehow be suited to each of them, I came up with them one after the other.
I really wanted to make a ehero saves the heroinef story. It makes for a satisfying story and itfs fun to watch anyway. You might think otherwise, but I had no intention of bringing in someone new to fill that [heroine] role. So when I had to think about whom to use for it from amongst the Strawhats, of course that meant Nami. But I was worried if I could bring Nami into it that way and considered it from several angles. (Editorfs Note: After the credits of the previous film gBlooming in Winter, The Miracle Sakurah , a special eStrong Worldf teaser ran which suggested Nami left the gang, now in the latest trailer we see her as she pleads with eGold Lionf Shiki, gPlease, let me be a part of your crew.h) When she first appeared in the main story, she had to be forced into a corner with the threat, gcall the villagers will be killed.h, before she finally asked for Luffyfs help; I wondered how shefd react to that situation now.
Itfs already gotten to where she believes a little too much in Luffy and the rest; so for small or light matters shefd just say, gWhup eem good.h, and by the time the words left her mouth things would be settled. (laughs) Because really, when you think about it, Luffy and the others have gotten so strong that theyfd wind up winningcthatfs something I spent a lot of time agonizing over.
Gold Lion Shiki
In the original drafts for the meeting between Red-Haired Shanks and Whitebeard I actually dropped Shikifs name for the first time there because I wanted them to reflect on their era with comments like, gIn our day, these kinds of guys were out there.h In fact, I even included his full nickname, eGold Lionf. At least, thatfs how it was at first anyway; since that was a part of the story where a lot of information was hitting the readers at once I thought throwing that weird name in there like that would cause confusion so I took it out when it came to the final draft. But as time went on and Shiki was set to be featured in a movie I regretted that decision. (laughs) I didnft think Ifd be turning the character into something visual anywhere near this soon. Thatfs why I naturally let his name come up during the Impel Down arc.
When I thought about Shiki being featured in a movie, that was just one of the things I had to handle myself, I worried that there would be some issues if a character in a position of such power appearing for the first time was handled by any other writer. However, I was pretty confident I could use him if I would be handling it and since it was a special occasion anyway, in order to make a really cool film I thought the movie deserved a villain with a hefty reputation as well.
-When did this project get off the ground?
It was right when the comic reached the tenth anniversary so more than two years ago. But I was way too busy with the comic during the tenth year and really didnft do much for the films. So after I somehow made it through the tenth anniversary the movie was still on my plate and it was a rush job to finish the plot which at first I called, gThe Crystal Shipfs Logh. Then when I finally thought it was settled, there was something that didnft sit well with me about itc Just at the stage when the entire plot had been lined up I said, gUm, actually, Ifd like to nix this.h, and so it came down to, gWell, therefs no way wefre ever going to make our scheduled release in March.h
-Speaking of that, when it was still in gThe Crystal Shipfs Logh stage, what did you plan it to be about?
The very first thing I thought was, gIfve gotta be able to do something here that only I can do.h In other words, since Ifm the author, what could I use that prerogative to create? I mean, that was the entire purpose of my involvement. I came to the conclusion that since the only person allowed to mess with the very core of the characters is me, I thought about doing something related to the origin of Luffy; going way back, a story that happened around just before Luffy began training with Ace. It was devoted to Luffyfs memories during that period, about a certain special animal he met around that time and it all came around to link up with modern Luffyca real emotional story with a big chunk devoted to memories.
But as I was in the middle of writing it I started to worry, gIs this kind of cushy story the kind of thing I would really want to see?h I donft believe Ifve ever written something purely for the purpose of making a egood storyf. If thatfs something that happens in the comic the overall story has to be longer and then I donft mind a egood storyf in there among other things as a dash of spice, however, for something as short as a movie, if I just made a egood storyf it all came down to where I could fit in the kinds of things boys really want to see: action and strong characters.
-After all itfs a given that your primary audience is boys.
And so I thought, gI should make a movie filled with the kind of stuff they actually want to see and when itfs over, theyfll be left with lots of memorable scenes.h Things that boys will remember are ecool scenesf. I had just churned out this touching story but no matter how egoodf a story it was, the only people that would probably enjoy it were adults. And thatfs not my role. I draw comics for boys. I realized in the middle of it all, gI mightfve misunderstood what everyone was expecting.h It wasnft the kind of thing I wanted to write anyway, so even if there was a call for something emotional, I didnft have to please everyone asking for that. Starting from scratch I fixed the theme on eexcitementf and from the planning to the setting, changed it all just like that.
-So the dignity you carry as a boyfs comic author Oda-san, is it safe to say that was something youfd already set in stone from when you started One Piece?
Yeah I think so. Because I mean, I approached it thinking that since Ifm drawing for a boysf comic magazine, then itfs my job to make sure they enjoy what theyfre reading. When you actually do become a professional youfll start getting fan letters and other things and youfll soon find that the overwhelming majority of them are from girls. Boys just arenft the type to pick up a pen*. (laughs) They donft have things like stationary or stamps and they donft think about going through the egrueling taskf of writing someone just to say, gThat was cool.h Boys are a life form that enjoy something but wonft bother to tell you that they actually do.
So I learned that girls will flood you with their opinions and when I took at step back and looked at the world of manga, I realized that there are a lot of people out there that made me think, gThis [author] is really just going along with the girlsf opinions.h And ultimately, if youfre considering those opinions as the eneeds of the customerf when you write the story, youfre just left with a girlfs manga. (laughs) Itfs like, if you do that, youfre only writing to entertain girls, and thatfs just wrong.
-And yet boys, who you see as most vital, wonft let you know what they think.
Thatfs right. And since thatfs the case, I knew what I had to do was go back to my own memories, set my sights on the kinds of things I would enjoy if I was still a kid. Itfs not like boys leave me without anything though; if your parents send you a Christmas Card* youfd send something back right? (laughs) So when they do send letters theyfre exactly the kind of responses youfd expect from boys like, gI like the fights.h, or, gI like this attack.h, and as I read through them I think, gAh, I thought theyfd like that.h. The boysf reactions are what I take very seriously, but I get a kick out of what the girls have to say too. You can almost hear their high-pitched screams of excitement through the letter. But if I let those opinions sway me then itfs more than just losing my place in a boyfs comic magazine, therefd be no value in my existence as a boyfs comic author.
*lit. New Yearfs card
-Returning to the film, after a change of direction and starting from scratch you reworked the plot into what it is now as Strong World. For the setting you have an island, Strong World, thatfs floating in the sky due to the power of the eLegendary Piratef eGold Lionf Shiki.
Strong World is this island where if animals eat the fruit of a plant that accelerates development, they can actually rapidly evolve in response to their environment but Shiki and gang mess with things by promoting savagery. Since the whole idea was to make each of the animals evolve to be more powerful, it didnft matter if I drew them like some kind of imaginary monsters. I actually followed the course of their evolution myself and thought, gWhat part of this animal would need to develop in order for it to get stronger?h, while I was drawing them.
-Do you think edevelopmentf might be one of the hidden themes of the film?
This is just how I am but I donft put things like emessagesf in my work. For me, a ethemef is a tool to tie a piece of work together and I donft deliberately attempt to make anyone come away thinking about anything. Instead I was always trying to draw about what the possibilities of edevelopmentf can hold and itfs the same for the comic too. gI wanna be like thath, or gItfd be cool if I could do that.h, are basic elements of manga and when people see those kinds of images itfs nothing short of thrilling. Itfs the same with the characters who show up in the story, every time I come up with them I think, gIf I lived on this island what kinds of things would I be thinking about?h Itfs possible thatfs a theme, whether or not people can adapt to their surroundings or not.
-Without limiting it to the just the movie, and this is something I think about whenever I read the story, one of the greatest pleasures I get out of One Piece is the feeling of how the world keeps expanding. Every time a crew member joins, each with a unique profession, youfre able to expand the story in new ways. The drive you have to fully capture everything about that world is remarkable.
I think thatfs only because I just keep throwing new things out there, almost one after the next. Itfs totally unintentional, if youfre going for new material you simply canft avoid expansion. Whether I end up regretting those moves later on or not is an entirely different issue though. (laughs)
-And yet for each of your story arcs you could call them entirely different series, right down to the genre. Ifm hard-pressed to think of any other comic with a format that allows for so many different styles in just a single work.
Itfs the same [as everyone else] really. If I were to take a break and then start a new series or even if I did everything I ever wanted to do with this one, itfs exactly the same as any other author chipping away at what they want to write.
Now, and this is something I do deliberately when starting a new arc, I do attempt to approach each part as if I were writing a comic from scratch. Ifm the one drawing it so I can easily make all of them part of the same world. As long as I use that [concept] to limit myself from getting carried away, Ifm free to draw whatever I want and what that freedom has allowed me to create just appears like some big expanding [world]. Since I enjoy [writing the story like] that, I think it works to my advantage.
-And now, at this moment in time, the comic has become a tale of epic proportions. Therefs an unbelievable number of characters on stage and whatfs more is youfre deftly handling each and every one of their individual stories; on top of that when I try counting the characters who are known only by name, I canft even begin to wrap my mind around how or when you can conclude this story. Being able to reveal hints to [the seriesf] innumerable mysteries like you do, is that because you can already see everything coming in the world of your story?
No, I donft really have any vivid images or ideas in place. Just comes down to this point or that point where I feel the atmosphere is right and casually go, gSeems like a good place for this character.h I automatically try to leave spots open for them as I go along. Ifve only got a vague image of the world of One Piece, gA strong guys seems like hefd be around this part.h, or, gThatfs a good place for a fight.h Shikifs actually one of them. When you look back on it, having left that spot open for him, it kind of makes it seem as if there were hints leading up to him all along. There were a few people who held the title eLegendaryf and Ifd already dropped a number of those names but if I just milked those few the world would seem like a small place so I thought there should probably be more. Eventually, after entering the New World, I thought therefd be a guy like that and the character I set aside using that particular method was Shiki.