Original: The Grand Line
We think there were probably a lot of people surprised to see Luffy on the cover. It’s already been 23 years since Men’s Non-No began publication but this is the very first time a manga character has decorated the cover! Beginning serialization in 1997 in Weekly Shonen Jump, thanks to the series intriguing characters, pulsing action, and moving depiction of story, the series has attracted fans that can’t be limited to any age group or sex and even fans overseas. To date there have been 56 volumes published with total publication figures climbing to 17 million, a television animation not to mention theatrical presentations, wrapped up in the so-called ‘mediums’ it continues to charge full steam ahead. Marking the 10th year since the television animation began and considering the December 12th release of the new theatrical film which also happens to be the 10th of its kind, this is a memorial year for One Piece. As such, we’re bringing you a much sought after interview with the author himself! Eiichiro Oda talks frankly with us about One Piece and about manga.
The last scene is already set.
I: It’s exactly 10 years since the animated series began and moreover on December 12th the 10th movie will debut so to begin, you handled the story this time around, how was it?
- At first I outright refused. I’m the kind of guy who can only handle one thing at a time so to deal with both the comic and a story was impossible. I know that about myself best so I asked them to let me off the hook but the producer who’s been good to me in the past wouldn’t give in so I explained my terms and said that if Mr. Children did the main theme then I’d do it. (laughs)
I: So that probably made your already packed workload for the serialization even more difficult right?
- I thought I was gonna die for sure. Even just dealing with the drafts of the serialization, there are other jobs that come in and the movie filled all of that up to the point where I was just thinking about it day in and day out. It even opened up a few gaps in the serialization and there wasn’t much left of me after the whole thing. That’s why I made a declaration to the movie staff that nothing like this would ever happen again. In exchange for that, I made absolutely sure this film will be a smash. I told them that’s the only thing they can expect me to be responsible for. I can guarantee that it’s a really fun film.
I: It’s been 12 years since the serialization began and in that sizeable chunk of time, the tension has never once let up, it’s only gotten increasingly more exciting. Is there some trick to how you keep your readers thirsty for more?
- There really isn’t a trick to it. If you’ve got a serialization that runs a good number of years then your readers are going to become adults and there was actually a time when I worried that they might drift away. But when I realized that meant children were being born too that meant if I didn’t drift off target and aimed straight then I knew, yes, I might lose some readers but they’d always be replaced and that helped me come to terms with the situation. If you just believe in continuing to draw what you think is interesting, new readers will come and sometimes there are even cases where people who stopped reading for a while, will come back.
I: Why made you think about writing a pirate story from the start? Is there some work that influenced you to that end?
- I don’t know if it was an influence as much as it was just a starting point but that would be the animated series ‘The Little Viking Vicky’. From the moment I saw that ‘adventure’ simply became synonymous with ‘pirates’ to me. Actually, I always wondered why people weren’t writing about pirates. I thought if I drew pirate stuff it would let me draw a grand adventure.
I: And oh how grand it is. You even had a ship fly through the air.
- Anything’s possible. I set it up so that the impossible is the norm on Grand Line and I can do whatever I want. The weather is hazardous, the sea is rough, there aren’t many ways for people to come and go as they please, so it isn’t that strange if you’ve got these cultures independent of each other. For example, if I wanted to write about some kind of school drama story, all I have to do is draw a School Island. I can go about my own way as I please because of how I set it up so anything can happen.
I: Before you began serialization, did you have most of the plot decided?
- Nope, I didn’t have much. Just the ending.
I: Huh? You know the ending?
- Yeah I know it. So however crazy I make it now, all I’ve gotta do is reach that point and if I do that, everything will be fine. I don’t want to push too hard so I won’t ask anything beyond this but do you think it would be safe to consider the ending a long way off?
- Since it’s already decided, there’s a part of me somewhere that wants to hurry up and draw the last image but in reality, I don’t think that will be for a long time. Because, I want to think about how I handle each of my characters appropriately, I don’t want to just throw away a pawn just to set up a checkmate, if I just think about writing in the moment, it’s bound to get long no matter what. Recently the crew has grown in number again and even when just one happening occurs, I wind up wanting to draw all of their reactions so that takes even more time. But wanting to portray each individual character’s story like that that is something readers sympathize with me for, I just don’t want to overdo it. As that’s the case no matter what I do it just ends up getting longer.
I: This is pretty obvious but One Piece can really be a tear-jerker.
- I never thought about myself as that kind of author. Mainly because I always loved drawing action scenes. That’s something I realized about myself only after serialization began. That’s typical of me.
I: Have you ever been writing and started to cry yourself?
- Yes definitely. Other people’s work doesn’t make me cry, but my own work makes me fall apart. (laughs) Probably because I think so hard about it.
I: Now there are 56 volumes out and whenever I read it this always amazes me but with so much material it’s remarkable how tightly woven the story is.
- Yeah, I’m pretty good aren’t I. (laughs) Of course I handle it on a very minute scale but when I look back on some things, there are just some aspects that have worked out miraculously all by their own. However, I don’t want to disappoint anyone so I don’t really talk about those things. (laughs) I think they’re even more impressive than the things I actually intended.
I: When you’re drawing are there any rules for yourself with respect to things you absolutely will not do?
- I like to draw party scenes. So I don’t want to draw anything that would ruin that atmosphere. And this is a manga for boys so I won’t draw anything about relationships. I get a lot of letters from female readers asking me to cover some kind of relationship but if that’s what you want, go read a girl’s manga, that’s not my job. I don’t care if someone falls for Luffy, but it’s something that would be over before you know it. But knowing Luffy, I don’t think that kind of thing would be a problem. (laughs)
Manga itself is The Lord of Killing Time.
I: When you were 17 the short comic WANTED! won 2nd Place in the Tezuka Awards but when did you first want to be a manga author
- It’s something I had already decided by the time I was four. My dad went to the company and worked and my mom stayed at home and did chores. I thought being an adult meant doing those kinds of things but at one point, I learned that there were people who could make a living drawing pictures and it seems that I actually said, “That’s what I wanna be.”
I: When you got the Tezuka award did you think you had already made the big time?
- There was definitely a part of me that thought I could instantly go to the top. I took manga too lightly back then. Cause I was stupid. (laughs) I thought if I could get that far with just that kind of work, it would be smooth sailing, so I made the pilgrimage to Tokyo and from that moment, everything came crashing down. No matter how many sketches I handed in, none of them got approved. Back then I had way too much pride in my own work, to the point where I would read someone else’s work while thinking that my own was more interesting. I was really something back then. But, thankfully, I came to realize how much strength I actually lacked and when you do that, you finally see how big the wall in front of you really is. To write an interesting 19 page comic in just one week, one after another, is not something humans are capable of. I now believe that people meant to be manga authors are born into it. And that was a shock. There were times that I fell face-down and wouldn’t be able to move of my own will for a week.
I: Did you ever think about giving up on becoming a manga author?
- Yeah I did actually. It was only once, but I thought to myself, “Well, there’s still time for me to make it as a salary man.” But I was saved by the words of my editor at the time. The two of us were always fighting but one day he said to me, “In all my years, I’ve never seen a guy like you who works so hard but has nothing to show for it.” That brought on the tears. Just those few words put me at ease and I thought about going for it with everything again.
I: And so One Piece was born and its popularity spread like wildfire but did you ever think it would be this big?
- Well of course I knew that if I drew pirate stuff it would be interesting but I never thought it would happen that fast. It instantly spread and flared up in popularity. But since many things in this world have a way of vanishing before you know it, it’s pretty scary when I think about it.
I: What kind of things about the serialization make you happy?
- Yeah, that’d probably have to be whenever I make a good story. I’m a wreck when I can’t do my job well. I wind up moping if I don’t feel I’ve fully completed a good story. But more than just being unable to stand myself, if I don’t think my prints for the previous week went well, I can’t rest until I make up for it the next week. Manga is something that if I fail at, the only way I can make up for it, is with manga. I’m weird that way. (laughs) No matter how busy my private life might get, if I can’t devote time to manga I’ll just end up being frustrated. That’s just who I am. I make it harder for myself.
I: So you’re a perfectionist.
- Only towards the comic. I’m really trailing when it comes to my private life. Yet again, I’ve only been home once this year. I’m busy so there’s no choice there really.
I: How do you handle your family?
- They come to stay at the workplace once a week. I have two children and they’re adorable. (laughs) I want to spend more time with them and right now that’s really bugging me. As far as work is concerned that which is ‘cute’, is a nuisance. If it’s your friend or something, and you don’t see them because you’re busy it’s no big deal and they’ll understand but for my kids there’s just no way that applies.
I: By the way, what characters do your children like?
- They like Nami-chan. Nami-chan and Chopper. But basically it seems that they like ‘Pretty Cure’ better. And thus it’s Pretty Cure which stokes the flames of rivalry in my heart. I wanna take Pretty Cure down. (laughs)
I: I think you probably hear this question a lot but what Devil’s Fruit would you like to eat?
- Purely as the dream of any man, I’d probably like to eat the Suke Suke Fruit. (laughs) But ultimately I’d probably want the Hana Hana Fruit. If I had lots of hands I could do my work much faster.
I: It’s a strange way of saying it, but you really love manga don’t you.
- I like it and I also feel like, “Well I started this thing so…”, However, I believe that manga itself should always be ‘The Lord of Killing Time’ so I don’t want to cram any deep messages into it. I just write it as something that should be easy to enjoy, something you can read when you’ve got free time and at best, I’d be happy if it could help students make friends at the start of new semesters. Because that’s what can happen when lots of people read it. If everyone is reading the same manga, it doesn’t matter what school some kid came from, if you’ve got something to talk about in common, then it’s easy to make friends. Something that’s really mysterious about One Piece is that since women read it too, I’ve actually gotten fan letters that tell me mutual fandom has led to marriage. So I’m not really trying to say something about the world, I just think the reason I draw manga, or maybe you could say one of my roles in life, is to connect people.