Shonen Jump: How are you feeling about the Hollywood live-action show? Are you excited?
Oda Sensei: Yes! I met with executive producer Marty Adelstein, and our thoughts on how to adapt the series and what we want to accomplish matched up very well. We were totally on the same page about the most important thing, which was to respect the fans. So initially I was a bit anxious, but right now all I feel is excitement.
SJ: One Piece is popular all over the world. Do you keep international fans in mind when you work?
Oda Sensei: One thing is that at some point, I started changing the shape of the balloons. Japanese is written vertically, so tall and thin balloons are fine. But that doesn’t work so well for English. The text gets smooshed together.
SJ: That’s a huge help! Thanks so much!
Oda Sensei: So I can make changes like that, but when it comes to jokes aimed at Japanese kids, they might not translate as well. Since I’m not an expert in culture from all around the world, it’s basically impossible for me to create the series with the whole world in mind. I don’t even try. I leave that to the translators of the series to deal with.
SJ: The jokes are super funny, even in English!
Oda Sensei: That’s great! I’m thankful to the translators. In terms of the story, I assume that if Japanese children enjoy it, so will everyone else. So I don’t worry about that.
SJ: You’ve literally created the best-selling manga of all time. If your beginning mangaka self could meet your current mangaka self, what do you think he’d say?
Oda Sensei: Things are going exactly as I planned.
SJ: There are 87 volumes of manga and 888 chapters of manga. The manga is still bursting with energy, creativity, new characters, new worlds, new Devil Fruits and more. How do you keep coming up with so much amazing stuff this far in the game?
Oda Sensei: Having to create manga every week really cuts down on the time you have to think about the story. And I believe that the more time you have to think, the better your creation. However, I can’t really separate my personal life and my manga-creating life. Everything I do can be connected to my manga. So it’s kind of difficult for me to answer the question. If I run into someone like you in town , I immediately think about how I can use it in my manga. That’s just how I work.
SJ: When you’re planning a new setting for the One Piece world, how do you conduct your research and what is your thought process?
Oda Sensei: As I explained earlier, everything in my life is about my manga. And this isn’t something I started as an adult or when I became a mangaka. I’ve planned to create manga ever since I was a kid, so I have a huge stockpile of potential ideas. I never run out of ideas or worry about having to come up with a new setting.
SJ: Is there an actual notebook with these ideas in it or are they all in your head?
Oda Sensei: I have a book with all the ideas crammed in there. So I just open it up when I need something new. In terms of my process, I like to imagine different possibilities, like “it would be cool if things went like this” or “it would be cool if something like that existed.” A lot of it is based on people’s dreams or desires, like “I wish my arm would stretch so I could reach that drink over there.” Or, for example, there are probably people out there who wish they could freely control their weight with the Kilo-Kilo fruit.
SJ: You have said that you draw all of the “moving things” like characters and leave the rest to the assistants. Does this include penciling and inking? What is your work process like?
Oda Sensei: I start with the storyboards and send them to my editor. Once he says that they are good, I blow those up and place them on manga paper. I add in where the text will go and start the penciling and then the inking. I draw the characters, and then the backgrounds are added in. I try to have the least number of people possible touching the work. If too many people are involved, I often end up not being satisfied with the final product.
SJ: How do you keep track of the hundreds of recurring side characters? Do you plan far in advance for their reappearances?
Oda Sensei: Sometimes it’s planned and other times it’s not. And sometimes a character I totally forgot about ends up returning. The longer the series goes on, the more the number of characters just continues to increase. But one thing about One Piece that might be different compared to other series is that the defeated villains are usually still alive. So I can bring back anyone. Every character has the chance to return.
SJ: Was it planned for Buggy to return in the Impel Down arc?
Oda Sensei: Not at all! The thinking was that this part of the story would be really dark, so I needed a funny character there. So I thought about all the characters that might have been already captured and placed in the Impel Down prison.
SJ: Will Señor Pink return to the story any time soon?
Oda Sensei: Why?! Why are you asking about him?
SJ: Because I love Señor Pink! I’m thinking of cosplaying as him.
Oda Sensei: I love him too. And he’s not dead, so there’s always a chance he could come back.
SJ: Anything you’d like to say to your overseas One Piece fans?
Oda Sensei: The current arc is reaching its climax as Luffy and his team battle against one of the four emperors. But I have tons of ideas, so I’m only using the super-awesome ones. Actually, only the amazing ones are left. So keep reading the series without worrying about anything. It’ll just keep getting better and better!
This interview originally appeared in the 04-09-2018 issue of Weekly Shonen Jump. For more great creator interviews, subscribe today!