The following is an interview with Eiichiro Oda, the author of One Piece that was published in the official One Piece Film Strong World Artbook in December 2009. So see for yourself how Oda-sensei felt when he became the executive producer for Strong World Film.
Interviewer: Congratulations on all your hard work as a first-time executive producer on a film! We’d like to ask you a variety of things today with a focus on the story, characters and outfit designs. Thank you for this opportunity!
Oda: I’m looking forward to this so thank you.
IT: First of all, could you tell us what caused you to take on the position of the film’s executive producer?
Oda: It was about two and a half years back… no more than that. It all started when Shimizu-san, the producer of One Piece at the time, came to see me. This Shimizu-san guy, he’s amazing, he always acts while thinking about the future. He said, “You know, recently the ‘close-knit circle’ of everyone involved in the animation seems to be falling apart.” What he meant by that was, the show really comes to life when the staff, the actors and even the people from companies associated with the animation all come together. He came to me to discuss how recently the strength of that union might have weakened. And he was dead on, back when the animation first started airing, we were always getting together for parties and really close, but as the years passed and the staff changed again and again, the number of times we actually got together dropped off. And as for me, well, I couldn’t join everyone even when they were actually together because of how busy I was; to be perfectly honest it was a period that was difficult to feel the kind of excitement we had at the start. So that’s when he [Shimizu] said, “I want the next movie we make to bring back the staff’s morale and make it something that gives One Piece a fresh start. And for that, I need your strength.”, and that’s how he asked for my help.
IT: But taking on a project while carrying the workload of the weekly serialized publication seems to be asking for trouble.
Oda: You don’t know how true that is. I explained [to him] that my hands were full with the weekly serialization and personality-wise I’m not dexterous enough to make headway on a number of different projects at the same time which is why at first I refused, and asked him to let me off the hook. But his enthusiasm was so great… Eventually I opened my big mouth and promised, “Alright, I’ll just write the plot.”
IT: So at the start there weren’t any plans for you to work on the various designs.
Oda: That’s right. And when I took on the plot I asked [them] to please use Mr. Children for the main theme. So with the anticipation of a reward to materialize at the end I took on writing the plot. And what I completed was dubbed ‘The Crystal Ship’s Log’ an emotional tale.
IT: Some of its ‘idea notes’ have been published in this book.
Oda: When I began working on this I started thinking about what everyone expected from me. Probably something ‘dramatic’, so thinking they’d want to see a tear-jerker I wrote ‘The Crystal Ship’s Log’. If it had become a movie just as it was I think everyone would have really enjoyed it. But when I finished it, there was just something that didn’t sit well with me.
IT: Could you tell us exactly what that was?
Oda: An ‘emotional story’ is one that springs up from the life of your characters, but if a writer tries to force emotion as a goal when writing a story, you end up crushing the characters [under it]. It’s the characters that have to make the story. So after I finished writing ‘The Crystal Ship’s Log’ thoughts started popping up like, “Is this really what you wanted to make?….” Finally, it was at a meeting for revising the scenario where I came clean to everyone and said, “I think I’d like to drop this plot.”. Since it’s [a project] that I decided to take on myself I told them I wanted to make something brand new, something that would be sure to entertain boys and that was enough to convince them.
IT: And then you went on to complete the plot for ‘Strong World’.
Oda: I asked the staff what they enjoyed or got them excited when they were children and even added what I liked as a kid and brought it all together. Pulling together those pieces was the very first form of the present story. While rewriting I found myself having fun and getting excited. I think choosing to retool it was the right choice.
IT: After that you got even more deeply involved than originally planned by designing the villains, the crew’s outfits and the animals, so why did you take on all of that [responsibility]?
Oda: Well you know I think the biggest reason was because the work became something I wanted to make so out of that came tons of things I wanted to be particular about. I became very serious about insuring it wouldn’t be a failure. First thing I declared was, “I’m doing the design for the new characters and outfits.” And originally I was going to ask the animation staff to do the animals but even then I wound up saying, “I’m going to draw all of them.” Even the head editor of Weekly JUMP told me, “Enough of this running around, concentrate on your comic.”, but after sticking my neck out that far, there was no going back; even the breaks I took from the serialization here and there were used to finish up designs [for the movie].
IT: Regarding the animation staff, how did you work with them while progressing?
Oda: Basically I got their opinions on my designs [and I used those ideas to refurbish them] upon which they developed [new designs] and I gave them my opinion on those in turn. Not only the characters, I was also particular about backgrounds and what colors to use; every time it was a cycle of me checking their work, fixing some things, sending it back and repeating. If I wasn’t totally satisfied with something I went in fisticuffs telling them exactly what I wanted and when it was necessary they allowed me to add touch-ups here and there to finalize some of the parts myself.
IT: All those details are the root of high quality. Now I’d like to ask about some of the characters you’ve designed for the work. First up, regarding Gold Lion Shiki, please tell us what sparked the creation of this character.
Oda: Shiki was someone I first planned to use in the comic in the scene where Whitebeard talks with Shanks. He was only going to be brought up in conversation but I couldn’t add him at the time. He’s a character that came from the idea of a pirate [that lived in] Roger and Whitebeard’s era that might still be around, but at that stage I didn’t have a set visual or a story for him. In the film it’s like I had a new chance to give those parts of him form.
IT: He’s done things like cutting off his own legs and replacing them with ‘prosthetic’ swords, we can see lots of planning reflected [in his design] but that thing in his head…is that a ship’s wheel? That’s a ship’s wheel. And actually… originally it’s something I wanted to stick in Bartholomew Kuma.
IT: What!? The ‘Shichibukai’ Kuma?
Oda: Yes. I thought a setup where a ship’s wheel wound up in someone’s head would be hilarious. So I considered using it on Kuma, but a ton of guys with exactly the same design were going to appear [in the story] so it didn’t work out and I gave up on it for the time being. The circumstances allowed me to use a plan that I intended to draw eventually.
IT: How about Shiki’s henchmen, Indigo and Scarlet?
Oda: Forming new ‘silhouette characters’ is something I’m always up for so it was a great opportunity. But this time, since they were movie characters, I wanted to incorporate new elements that normally aren’t possible in comics.
IT: Could you give us an idea of what those [elements] might be?
Oda: One’s the element of sound, something really tough to express in comics. Particularly sound effects, take Indigo’s footsteps making fart noises, that’s something you can only set up in a movie. I’ll be thrilled if the kids who see the movie get a kick out of that. And before [Indigo starts] talking, how he tries to describe things with gestures, that’s also the result of pursuing something I couldn’t do in the comic. Anyway I really wanted to shock everyone by packing the movie with things I can’t normally do or that haven’t been seen in the other movies.
IT: Having heard you talk about all of this, it seems that while watching the film we’ll be able to make all sorts of new discoveries. Moving on, I’d like to ask you about the outfits that the Straw Hat Crew wear. Their onboard clothing at the start, the adventure outfits they wear while exploring the islands and their suits from the climax bring it to three different patterns but why did you allow for such frequent changing of clothes in the two hour span [of the movie]?
Oda: First of all, having them change so frequently meant I could direct the appearance of the entertainment, but an even bigger reason was because I wanted the story to proceed with outfits the likes of which had never been seen in both the original and animation. As the first movie I’ve handled, it’s also something I want to serve as a model for future One Piece films. For the sake of what’s coming from here on I wanted to stretch the limits of opportunities to the extreme for each character.
IT: Yes it seems that their ‘adventure’ set of clothes have some details that are quite different from their usual look.
Oda: I think the biggest difference is having put glasses on Robin. I was aiming for the visual enjoyment that might come from discovering new things like, “So he/she’d wear something like that.”, or, “Oh, so they’d wear clothes that color.”
IT: With each design did you include the concept or even the theme for the character?
Oda: Again it comes down to that when I was drawing the onboard clothing I wanted to show people the answer to, “What exactly do these guys do when they’re at sea?”, which is tough to bring out in the comic or TV animation. I just kept thinking of those kinds of scenes and went along designing as I did. Usopp and Luffy playing in the pool on Sunny while Chopper who got out before them is relaxing in a robe he likes…and so on. Each one of their scenarios trickled down into something visual which became the props and clothes.
IT: Of course there’s Franky wearing a banana-shaped hat.
Oda: That’s a new weapon he’s in the middle of developing, the Banana Bazooka. If you’re wondering why it’s a banana, well there’s really no point. The fact that there’s a lever in the back that you can pull to fire it is equally pointless. Then there’s Brook who got a cigarette from Sanji and while that isn’t really important, the detail in his attempt to smoke only to have it come out his eyes, those are the small details I thought would be fun to see.
IT: And then regarding the climax where they appear in the suits, the design images alone are overflowing with energy.
Oda: To be honest that’s the scene I was the most eager to do this time. Around when I was working on this I was into old ‘ninkyou’ [yakuza] movies. That mood, or maybe you could say the ‘coolness’, of walking alone in the snow towards a brawl is something I wanted to add to the work. And since I was looking for unique scenes, that’s when the picture of Luffy firing a bazooka came to me. Even though I’ve drawn the crew in suits on the color spreads, I’ve never drawn a story with them fighting in suits so I really wanted to do that. Suits with bazookas, those are the two things I was after. That and the crew being split up having an adventure on an island divided into different seasons, that was also the influence of those [yakuza] movies. I saw a lot of beautiful scenes where the sights or changing of the seasons were used really well to express psychological states. So the form it took [in the film] is the result of me trying to do the same thing myself.
IT: So that’s the story behind how such a powerful scene came to be. Now I’d like to ask about the designs of the animals that inhabit the island. In the film there are dozens of different animals. Can you talk about the process of how you came up with them?
Oda: First I thought about the island split into four seasons and imagined what kinds of events would transpire there. After that I started jotting down names for animals I thought might show up as I flipped through animal picture books. Then I drew a mountain of rough sketches. You know, stuff like a mammoth for a snowy mountain, I think I balanced them out pretty well so that the animals were appropriate to where they were staged. I’ve always liked drawing animals and I always plaster the cover pages with them but I never even imagined I would draw that many. (laughs)
IT: So even for the animals that only appear for a moment in the very corner of the screen, you actually drew all of them.
Oda: Even when it came to matters relating to the animals, I didn’t want to do a lazy job. It came down to that, if I was going to be satisfied with my work, no matter how short the screen time for a particular animal was, I had to draw it myself; I decided to do all of the designs.
IT: When you were designing said animals, is there something in particular that you were mindful of?
Oda: I’ve got no qualms with someone calling them ‘monsters’ but they’re entirely different from the mythological creatures of a fantasy piece. They’re actual creatures that have evolved so I was careful not to drift from what they really are. An octopus is still an octopus, a bear is still a bear, but since they’re struggling to live in a world that means survival of the fittest, while I was designing them I thought about how they’d evolve and how they’d develop stronger weapons. “What would it take for an octopus to live in a forest?”, or, “If it had to fight it would benefit from more tentacles.”, those are the kinds of things that kept going through my head as I laid down the plans.
IT: The forest octopus had 20 tentacles but I never would have considered that as an explanation.
Oda: It was mostly about ‘evolution to be stronger’ which I feel differs in direction from ‘evolution to survive’ in a number of ways. But like, when I was drawing the crocodile, I thought the bigger mouth would make it easier for it to bite into something and similar ideas. Like in order to catch its prey it could lie flat on the ground and then wrap itself around prey to catch it. There weren’t actually many scenes of animals eating each other in the film though.
IT: Are there any other animals that left an impression on you or a personal favorite that you could tell us about sensei?
Oda: I enjoyed drawing all the animals’ designs and I turned them into something I was pleased with so it’s a bit tough to pick just one. I don’t know if you could say it’s a ‘favorite’ but the forest octopus was something I originally planned to use in the comic in the sky island arc.
IT: Is that so?! So you’re saying it was originally one of the creatures living above the clouds.
Oda: I actually used a snake instead of the octopus on sky island though. There are a lot of animals I didn’t or couldn’t incorporate into the comic that are in the movie. Also, insects, in particular the praying mantis, were the most difficult to draw. They’re bugs but I wanted them to have animal-like muscular aspects; so you could say in terms of expressing such things there was a lot of brainstorming needed for adding the details. You’ve also got people who can’t psychologically handle bugs so it was necessary to deform them to take away what might unsettle some [people].
IT: You’ve named each of the animals yourself sensei. What was your aim in doing so?
Oda: Even the animals that you’ll only see on the very edge of the screen are all living characters on the island. I told that to the production staff and to reinforce that image I named each of them.
IT: With names like ‘It’stha Mammoth’* and such one can see that the majority of them are gags.
Oda: Well, that’s because personally I think it’s more important that each animal just has a name instead of having some kind of cool well thought out name. I gave them names I felt would easily conjure up an image of them so that it might give them some personality.
IT: Since having drawn so many animals for this, do you think it might bring about some changes in the creation of the comic in the future?
Oda: Thanks to everything it’s even more fun for me to draw animals than before! It was necessary for me to pick out certain animals so there were tons I drew that I wouldn’t normally choose to draw. It was an incredibly good learning experience for me. Since it included everything from fish to insects, it was a great chance to relearn how to draw so-called ‘living things’ right down to their skeletal structure, so I’m really pleased. I’ve gained the ability to smoothly draw most kinds of animals and I’m not afraid to put them out there anymore so I just might use them more often from now on, if I have a chance to put them in.
IT: That’s certainly something to look forward to!
Oda: The movie staff said to me after they saw all the beast prison guards [in the comic], “The movie inspired you to add more animals didn’t it.”, because in the magazine [JUMP] I drew Impel Down after I had finished all the animal drawings. And while that might not entirely be the reason for that, I think having gained techniques that make producing my work more fun is one of the fruits of my labor from the project.
IT: In conclusion, please give a few words to those reading this book and those who are eagerly awaiting the film’s release!
Oda: I think the timing of this film was impeccable. Of the whole crew only Luffy has appeared in the Weekly JUMP magazine for about a year now. I can almost feel how much One Piece’s fans want to see all nine crew members together! So that’s why I’m confident in saying this will truly be an event that fans should eagerly await. With a theme based on ‘heart pounding excitement’ we’ve worked really hard on the film, so the same way you read comic, I think you’ll be able to jump straight into the film. Furthermore, and this goes for both the comic and animation, this tale is the final adventure of a 17-year old Luffy so burn it into your memory.
IT: HUH!? I can’t imagine what you’re trying to say…! Please tell me more!!
Oda: Nah, can’t say anymore than that for now. But while you look forward to what’s coming down the line I’d be really happy if you enjoyed this movie one hundred and twenty percent!