Interview With Eiichiro Oda from Manga Tengoku
The following is an interview with One Piece author Eiichiro Oda that was first published in three parts on the Japanese website eManga Tengokuf throughout December 2007. Battle Franky of Arlong Park first brought the interview to my attention and I translated it for the board. Since over time the interview has gotten lost among the many threads of the board, I decided to bring it to my site and polish it off. Typically I would link to the original source but the site closed its doors on December 25th, 2009, just two years after the interview was first fully published. This is probably one of the better, if not best, interviews Ifve read or seen with Oda. The interviewer begins simple but quickly dives into a pool of unique and pressing questions that help us get a better idea of how Oda weaves his stories. Enjoy. If youfre looking to reference this English version feel free to link to this page but kindly leave this data right where you found it unless you attempt a translation yourself.
----First of all, would you please tell us what made you decide to become a manga author?
That'd have to be the moment I learned there was such a job. When I was in Kindergarten I really liked the work of Fujio Fujiko but when I heard that all they had to do to make a living was draw pictures, I was so jealous. Back then, that meant exactly the same thing as 'not working at all'. Of course being a manga author means 'working' is drawing pictures, but what kid thinks drawing a picture means work? 'Working' meant putting on a suit and heading to the office like my dad. And so that's why I wanted to be one. Ever since that age I loved drawing and the people around me always said I was good at it so I had confidence in my work.
----So how did you actually progress from there?
I started submitting work from when I was about 15 and actually took home an award when I was 17. But it was from that point that things got harder. As far as drawings are concerned, well, I had no problems there but a comic isn't just a bunch of pictures. Writing stories was something that used to be really hard for me. Whenever I showed my head editor rough drafts I would get all kinds of weak points pointed out to me and I couldn't move forward. That was the first eWall of the Professionalf I hit. At the time, I just thought that people who drew great pictures became manga authors, because every one I knew of, drew pictures really well. So that's about the time I started to seriously think about that thing called a 'story'.
From then on I continued aiming to be a manga author and after graduating high school went to a college in Kumamoto but after a year of that I got to thinking, "This really is a waste of time.", so I headed for Tokyo. Of course I hated studying but more than just that, heading down that path as a college student gave me this sense of impending doom. (laughing) Because all college students do is party right? (laughs)
----Was there anyone in college who had the same goal of becoming a manga author as you?
Nope, nobody. Actually you know I hid the fact that I drew manga from a lot of friends. I dunno about now but back then writing amateur manga meant being made fun of. I did NOT want to be called an otaku so I decided that until I became a professional I'd secretly be a closet manga author. (laughs) If you turn pro and you make a hit, you're just accepted as that so there's no need to do work in secret. In that way I think it also kind of gave me motivation like, "I wanna be a pro as soon as possible!" So, eager to go to the scene of all the action, I dropped out of college and my editor introduced me to an opening as an assistant.
----How was the first time your actually saw a professional at work?
It was 1994 and I became the assistant of Shinobu Kaitani (Liar Game, Somurie) whose Midoriyama Police Gang was running in JUMP at the time, and the thing that shocked me the most was the beauty of the final draft. Since JUMP's pages are made of recycled paper they feel all rough and look dirty right? But the original molds are remarkably beautiful. 10 times more beautiful than I imagined. I went to a bunch of different works places all around the same time but wherever I went the original prints always blew me away. My own work wasn't even worthy of comparison.
----Was there anything else about the professionals' jobs that moved you?
After Shinobu Kaitani's work finished its run, I went to work for Masaya Tokuhiro (Jungle King Taa-chan, Vampire) and I admired how he was able to chug along through his work exactly as he planned. He is a real professional. I always try to learn that by observing but guess I'm just not that kind of manga author. (laughs)
----What kind of work did you do while under Tokuhiro-sensei?
I drew scenery for Taa-chan and his next piece, Mizu no Tomodachi Kappaman. I was only with him for about a year and a half but he really taught me a great deal of things. How to draw the profile of a character, techniques for expression and so on... Since I quit we don't exchange much more than New Year's Cards but he made a huge contribution to my life.
----On the topic of your life as an assistant, many people mention Nobuhiro Watsuki-sensei. After you ended your time at Nobuhiro-sensei's, did you go right to work for Watsuki-sensei (Rurouni Kenshin, Embalming)?
Yeah pretty much. But I actually wasn't there too long. I think I managed to work full-time every week for only 4 months. After that I wanted to prepare for my own [upcoming] serial work so I worked there every other week.
----Would you tell us some special memory you have of working at Watsuki-sensei's?
Yeah, I uh, I was able to make a lot of great connections from Watsuki-sensei's place. Dunno if you can call friends like us eManga Buddiesf or eManga Rivalsf but that was the place where we all met. It was a fantastic place to be.
----For a while there was a time when the most popular JUMP manga authors all came from Watsuki's place.
From when we were all assistants we all wanted to cultivate ourselves with this kind of, 'Let's all become serial authors!' attitude, I was so happy when that actually happened.
----Of all those you considered rivals, who sticks out the most in your mind?
That would have to be Hiroyuki Takei (Shaman King). From way back he just has this fantastic [art] sense. He continues to make me feel like, "Woah! That's awesome!", even now. He just makes these drawings and compositions with ease and I just have to say, "There's no way I could possibly draw that." He also kicks ass at mecha. He's an amazing guy, really.
----Please allow us to talk a bit about up until One Piece debuted in serialization. You might say the epilotf version, we mean of course Romance Dawn (published in the One Piece fanbook Red and the short works collection WANTED!) how exactly did those particular pieces come to be?
Writing a manga with a pirate motif was something I'd wanted to write since I was in middle school. But it wasn't something I just wanted to do as a one-shot. The scale of the project would be small and there wouldn't be anyway to do everything I'd want with it. So I made it a point that if I was going to do it, I'd make it serialized. But getting into serialization wasn't something I could just worm my way into. Before serialization all my bits and pieces were just ripped to shreds.... So I was really just hanging by a thread and prepped myself thinking, "If this doesn't work out I'll just have to give it all up.", and that's where Romance Dawn came from. It was like pulling out the family's mint-condition Mickey Mantle rookie card collection at a garage sale just for food money. [Lit. Says it's like taking the treasured family heirloom sword at a last stand]. So you could say I deliberately wrote it as the very beginning of this grand story making it very clear that it was meant to be continued. Kind of like me telling everyone, "Look, I really wanna write this story." (laughs)
And so in the end, it got picked up for serialization and became One Piece.
----It would seem that you had already established many of the basic ideas [of One Piece] at the time of Romance Dawn.
Yeah, Luffy was there, the Gomu Gomu Fruit and such.... By the way, it was originally just the Gomu Fruit. Then my editor was like, "But isn't there really a Gomu Fruit?" I changed without a second thought but now looking back, that was a nice-freakin'-idea! (laughs)
----Yes but, one could say that's because you had the grand scheme in mind from your middle school years.
No, not really, I didn't exactly have this big arching plot in mind. Actually, as far as the contents of the story go, I hadn't really thought about anything. I just had in mind the basic establishment and that I wanted it to be a huge story, that's about it.
----That was unexpected. As a reader, just recently the underlying meaning in laying out the Laboon story became quite clear. I thought you had established much of it in minute detailc
Well now that, consequently, was something I kept under wraps for a looong time. (laughs) Of course, at the time I first drew the Laboon story, I knew there was going to be a 'skeleton musician' appearing, I just didn't have a design for it or know when I was going to unveil it. I really felt like bringing him out sooner but the story just kept getting longer and longer before I knew it and I was finally able to reveal him. That's all. I just think of the rough story as these broken up tales [Note: we come to label them arcs] and as far as what order I tell them in or how long on spend on each, well that's just something where I go with whatever works best. Whenever a sketched out idea for the serial gets the axe I have to think of another plan so I just kind go, "Oh! I'll just use that gag here!", there are a lot of arcs I'll write like that.
Well, like the Fishmen. They were supposed to appear in Chapter 3 but that idea got knocked down. But I just kept that idea in my head and continued it and finally used it for the Arlong arc. That was another idea I intended to use much earlier. Anyway, when I start writing things just get stretched out. Readers might think, "He thought about this THAT long ago!?", but at the same time I'm thinking, "I didn't think it would end up THIS long!!" (big laughs) So I really wanted to bring it to a conclusion much sooner but before I realized it, it's become what it is today. I figured he would gather his crew in about a year and a half, go on great adventure, and wrap up everything in 5 years.
----Speaking of which, how much longer do you think it will be until the conclusion?
That's just too much to think about so that's a question I wish you didn't ask but. Hmmmm, I'd like to think it's gone about half-way. .....Nah, let's just stop thinking about that now.
----Not only the comic book, One Piece is also a very popular cartoon as well. It was turned into an animated program about 2 years after the serialized version started but how did that hit you?
Well yeah, as you might expect I was thrilled it would become animated. Just, I was a little concerned and curious about what kind of people would be making it so I really hoped they would let me meet with the director and producer as soon as possible. I was also wondering who would be doing Luffy and gang's voices. Actually, with regards to the voice actors, ever since I was an assistant, from the time I wrote Romance Dawn I thought about a lot things and Mayumi Tanaka being good for Luffy was one of them. When it was decided that she would really be doing it I was pretty excited.
----Did you ask for her in particular?
Actually! I hadn't said a thing about it at all and she was decided on in the end! I left everything regarding the animation to the pros because my stance was that it would be best to shut up and get out of the way so I zipped my lips but then she ended up coming to the audition. When she actually read the lines for me I just knew, "THAT'S IT, THIS IS THE VOICE!" I was happy about so many aspects of the animation but the greatest joy came from having the main character being performed by the voice actress I imagined doing it.
----What a dramatic story! Okay, moving along could you please tell us a bit about the always popular and fantastic wealth of information found in the printed volumes, the readers' corner, SBS. What was your intent for starting it?
When I was a child, I won't say the name, but there was a certain comic where the reader's corner suddenly disappeared. I really enjoyed it so that came as a huge disappointment.
----When you become popular you get busy with a lot of things and there seem to be a number of cases where readers' corners can't continue.
But that didn't satisfy me. So I decided that if I ever became a manga author, I would continue the readers' corner no matter what. It's not limited to just manga but the basic idea stemmed from this thought: "I don't want to make anyone endure something I wouldn't like."
----But isn't it difficult to write that while working on the serialization?
Reading the postcards all at once is tough, so every week I read a bit and sort out the ones that seem like they might be good for SBS. When it's time for a volume to be released I choose the ones to use from that group. I guess that takes about a day right there. Then I also have to draw the cover for the volume so saying it isn't difficult would pretty much be a lie. But I already decided that this is something I have to do so even if I don't like it, it's something I won't give up. (laughs) I mean yeah it's tough, but it's also fun. Some kids just say things I wouldn't even think. Everyone just writes this unbelievably stupid crap and sometimes people even suspect me like, "Are you making this up yourself?", but SBS is 100% from the post cards. I read 'em, I chose 'em, I write an answer.
----Well I guess that means all you SBS fans should keep churning them out! Okay, this will be the final question. I seems that it will be quite a while until One Piece reaches its conclusion, but after that, as a manga author, what kind of motif would you like to follow it with?
Yeah really, there are a lot of things I'd like to do. Not just limited to comics, I'd also like to make something like a movie. However, unlike before, rather than an epic tale I'm really feeling more inclined to drawing a short but tight story. After I finish One Piece I don't think I'll do another long-running serialized comic. After I complete it I think much like Akira Toriyama-sensei, I'll put out a single volume story every once in a while. Right now I'm really yearning for that kind of style. And that's exactly why right now, I'm going to put all of my energy into One Piece. If I keep thinking that this is my first and my last long-running manga, my motivation wonft run dry.
----So you're thinking of pushing yourself to your limits.
Well, as far as I can go without killing myself. (laughs)