Original: The Grand Line
For this installment, when it came time for the Oda Eiichiro and Kazutoshi Sakurai interview, we had heard ahead of time that Oda doesn’t 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, Oda’s 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, “So you don’t like to have your face shown?”, to which Oda replied, “That’s right. Luffy and the gang are the stars so there’s no need for me to put my face out there to get famous…” When one hears that, it’s easy to consider that on one hand, that may be Oda’s 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.
Creatures That Have Developed
There was a manga from way back called ‘Kaibutsu-kun’. 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, wasn’t 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, there’s something special about seeing two powerful things fighting each other, the point is, it’s 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, “Considering I’m drawing every last living thing for this, I want you to use all of them in the movie.” 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 we’ve 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 ‘hero saves the heroine’ story. It makes for a satisfying story and it’s fun to watch anyway. You might think otherwise, but I had no intention of bringing in someone new to fill that 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. (Editor’s Note: After the credits of the previous film “Blooming in Winter, The Miracle Sakura” , a special ‘Strong World’ teaser ran which suggested Nami left the gang, now in the latest trailer we see her as she pleads with ‘Gold Lion’ Shiki, “Please, let me be a part of your crew.”) When she first appeared in the main story, she had to be forced into a corner with the threat, “…all the villagers will be killed.”, before she finally asked for Luffy’s help; I wondered how she’d react to that situation now.
It’s already gotten to where she believes a little too much in Luffy and the rest; so for small or light matters she’d just say, “Whup ‘em good.”, 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 they’d wind up winning…that’s 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 Shiki’s name for the first time there because I wanted them to reflect on their era with comments like, “In our day, these kinds of guys were out there.” In fact, I even included his full nickname, ‘Gold Lion’. At least, that’s 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 didn’t think I’d be turning the character into something visual anywhere near this soon. That’s 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 didn’t 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, “The Crystal Ship’s Log”. Then when I finally thought it was settled, there was something that didn’t sit well with me about it… Just at the stage when the entire plot had been lined up I said, “Um, actually, I’d like to nix this.”, and so it came down to, “Well, there’s no way we’re ever going to make our scheduled release in March.”
-Speaking of that, when it was still in “The Crystal Ship’s Log” stage, what did you plan it to be about?
The very first thing I thought was, “I’ve gotta be able to do something here that only I can do.” In other words, since I’m 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 Luffy’s memories during that period, about a certain special animal he met around that time and it all came around to link up with modern Luffy…a real emotional story with a big chunk devoted to memories.
But as I was in the middle of writing it I started to worry, “Is this kind of cushy story the kind of thing I would really want to see?” I don’t believe I’ve ever written something purely for the purpose of making a ‘good story’. If that’s something that happens in the comic the overall story has to be longer and then I don’t mind a ‘good story’ in there among other things as a dash of spice, however, for something as short as a movie, if I just made a ‘good story’ 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 it’s a given that your primary audience is boys.
And so I thought, “I should make a movie filled with the kind of stuff they actually want to see and when it’s over, they’ll be left with lots of memorable scenes.” Things that boys will remember are ‘cool scenes’. I had just churned out this touching story but no matter how ‘good’ a story it was, the only people that would probably enjoy it were adults. And that’s not my role. I draw comics for boys. I realized in the middle of it all, “I might’ve misunderstood what everyone was expecting.” It wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to write anyway, so even if there was a call for something emotional, I didn’t have to please everyone asking for that. Starting from scratch I fixed the theme on ‘excitement’ and from the planning to the setting, changed it all just like that.
-So the dignity you carry as a boy’s comic author Oda-san, is it safe to say that was something you’d already set in stone from when you started One Piece?
Yeah I think so. Because I mean, I approached it thinking that since I’m drawing for a boys’ comic magazine, then it’s my job to make sure they enjoy what they’re reading. When you actually do become a professional you’ll start getting fan letters and other things and you’ll soon find that the overwhelming majority of them are from girls. Boys just aren’t the type to pick up a pen*. (laughs) They don’t have things like stationary or stamps and they don’t think about going through the ‘grueling task’ of writing someone just to say, “That was cool.” Boys are a life form that enjoy something but won’t 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, “This is really just going along with the girls’ opinions.” And ultimately, if you’re considering those opinions as the ‘needs of the customer’ when you write the story, you’re just left with a girl’s manga. (laughs) It’s like, if you do that, you’re only writing to entertain girls, and that’s just wrong.
-And yet boys, who you see as most vital, won’t let you know what they think.
That’s right. And since that’s 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. It’s not like boys leave me without anything though; if your parents send you a Christmas Card* you’d send something back right? (laughs) So when they do send letters they’re exactly the kind of responses you’d expect from boys like, “I like the fights.”, or, “I like this attack.”, and as I read through them I think, “Ah, I thought they’d like that.”. The boys’ 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 it’s more than just losing my place in a boy’s comic magazine, there’d be no value in my existence as a boy’s comic author.
*lit. New Year’s 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, that’s floating in the sky due to the power of the ‘Legendary Pirate’ ‘Gold Lion’ 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 didn’t matter if I drew them like some kind of imaginary monsters. I actually followed the course of their evolution myself and thought, “What part of this animal would need to develop in order for it to get stronger?”, while I was drawing them.
-Do you think ‘development’ might be one of the hidden themes of the film?
This is just how I am but I don’t put things like ‘messages’ in my work. For me, a ‘theme’ is a tool to tie a piece of work together and I don’t deliberately attempt to make anyone come away thinking about anything. Instead I was always trying to draw about what the possibilities of ‘development’ can hold and it’s the same for the comic too. “I wanna be like that”, or “It’d be cool if I could do that.”, are basic elements of manga and when people see those kinds of images it’s nothing short of thrilling. It’s the same with the characters who show up in the story, every time I come up with them I think, “If I lived on this island what kinds of things would I be thinking about?” It’s possible that’s 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, you’re able to expand the story in new ways. The drive you have to fully capture everything about that world is remarkable.
I think that’s only because I just keep throwing new things out there, almost one after the next. It’s totally unintentional, if you’re going for new material you simply can’t 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. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other comic with a format that allows for so many different styles in just a single work.
It’s the same 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, it’s 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. I’m the one drawing it so I can easily make all of them part of the same world. As long as I use that to limit myself from getting carried away, I’m free to draw whatever I want and what that freedom has allowed me to create just appears like some big expanding . Since I enjoy that, I think it works to my advantage.
-And now, at this moment in time, the comic has become a tale of epic proportions. There’s an unbelievable number of characters on stage and what’s more is you’re 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 can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how or when you can conclude this story. Being able to reveal hints to innumerable mysteries like you do, is that because you can already see everything coming in the world of your story?
No, I don’t 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, “Seems like a good place for this character.” I automatically try to leave spots open for them as I go along. I’ve only got a vague image of the world of One Piece, “A strong guys seems like he’d be around this part.”, or, “That’s a good place for a fight.” Shiki’s 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 ‘Legendary’ and I’d 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 there’d be a guy like that and the character I set aside using that particular method was Shiki.