Interview: US Shonen Jump with Eiichiro Oda

This is a 2003 interview with Eiichiro Oda from the US offshoot of Shōnen Jump, Viz Media’s SHONEN JUMP. The interview was printed in the March 2003 issue (#3/03).

However, it should be noted that interviews with the US Shonen Jump should not be given too much importance, because the magazine has been criticized by many fans and still is. Reasons for this are on the one hand the Americanization, that is a form of Westernization series and their contents, like certain terms, which the magazine does to a considerable extent. On the other hand, however, also the extremely “unprofessional” and partly very childish behavior, which the editorial staff displays especially in such interviews.

Nevertheless, it still contains some quite interesting information(for example, the fact that Oda had not planned to continue One Piece for too long in 2003).

What were you like when you were in high school?
Exceedingly normal. That is why even today I understand the feelings of normal children.
One Piece takes place on the high seas most of the time. Did you grow up near the sea?
No, I grew up in the mountains.
How old were you when you started drawing? What kind of subjects did you draw?
I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. I liked to draw animals from encyclopedias.
Can you tell us some of your artistic influences?
Every work of Akira Toriyama has influenced me.
When did you discover his manga for yourself?
When I was in third grade.
You worked as an assistant to Nobuhiro Watsuki (illustrator of Rurouni Kenshin) and one of your colleagues at that time was Hiroyuki Takei (creator of Shaman King). Can you tell us something about this period of your life?
I got a call from the editor that they were looking for assistants and it was a title I really liked, so I applied. At the workplace itself, we spent most of our time talking about manga.
When you started drawing manga full-time, did you focus exclusively on One Piece and its predecessor Romance Dawn in the beginning?
I’ve drawn a lot of work with a lot of different main characters. Even the projects that were rejected at the time are useful when it comes to knitting One Piece further.
When you created One Piece, did you first come up with the idea for your main character or the world the story would be set in, or did you develop both in parallel?
The plot location came first. I wanted to draw an era where pirates could do whatever they wanted. Although I wouldn’t like that to be the case in real life.
How did you decide to give your main character stretch powers, instead of other powers or weapons, such as pistols or rifles?
I wanted the fighting style to be absurd in itself, so that no matter how tense the situation, you could relax while reading and not get too worked up.
It seems that professional drawing leads to being isolated from the outside world – the work is so exhausting and you have to stay in the studio for long periods of time. Do you find it difficult to maintain your contacts with other people and gain new influences? If not, how do you manage to do that?
If you think the work is exhausting, then it will seem even more endless. But when manga is your life, you become more aware of how much fun drawing is, so you don’t even think of it as real work anymore. For me, it’s actually more like I’m playing around a bit in front of me than actually working.
Do you actually party the same way as your characters? Meaning, if your readers had to imagine you, would you have a mug of rum in one hand and a big piece of meat in your mouth?
I can’t afford to party like a pirate every day, unfortunately, but I like to get psyched around people, so I party whenever I get a chance.
Have you ever been aboard a sailing ship? If so, what was it like?
I’ve noticed that it’s not as easy to pilot a ship as I portray in One Piece. But that’s okay, it’s a manga after all.
When did you first become interested in pirates?
I think it started with an anime about Vikings.
Of all the pirates that really existed, who excites you the most?
Blackbeard (Edward Teach).
Your manga is incredibly detailed. Do you ever use reference material for the weird-looking clothes, weapons, ships, and landscapes and buildings that appear in your manga?
I try to merge the past with the present, so I use a wide range of references.
As for the visuals, one interesting fact about your drawing style is that the character’s movements are very fluid and smooth as rubber (and I don’t just mean Luffy)s appearance, in a very exciting way. It’s very similar to the squash and stretch effect (note: needs link) from various American productions. How did you develop this style?
I just love the moves on Tom and Jerry.
Who is your favorite villain in the series? How do you design them?
Buggy the Clown. I just threw him together.
One of the interesting aspects about One Piece is that while the fights are very bloody, hardly anyone dies. Is that an effect of your characters’ superhuman powers, or do you think that if characters died by the dozen, it would change the carefree tone of your manga?
It’s important what kind of impressions people get after reading a manga. Even if there’s peace after a fight, it doesn’t feel good if people have to lose their lives in the process, so I don’t like it either. I think one good thing about manga is that people don’t hold it against you if you let your characters survive situations that would have killed normal people.
In your fan post page and in most of your cartoon comments in your books, you have a crazy, wacky, and relentless sense of humor. Do you think this covers a part of your personality that you can’t easily cover in the main body of the manga? How do you balance your wacky sense of humor with the classic elements of shounen manga: friendship, perseverance, and success? (jap. 友情 yūjō, 努力 doryoku and 勝利 shōri)
As for the SBS, it’s not that I’m weird, it’s the questions that are so bizarre. (He laughs) In any case, I get asked a lot of questions in the fan letters and I just wanted to answer them as best I could, which is why I set up this forum for light-hearted exchanges between readers and author. I don’t think about it too much.
You’re the number one manga artist in Japan and you’re still very young. Do you think that in 100 years people will talk about One Piece as your main life’s work, or is it just one of many manga you plan to draw in the future?
I don’t plan on continuing the series long enough for it to be considered my life’s work, but I think it will be a representative work of my work. There are a lot of other things I want to do in the future besides manga.
What advice would you give to someone who dreams of becoming a manga artist?
All you need to draw manga is paper and a pen. As for the rest, it’s a world where you need a thick skin. Still, good luck!
What if the person decides to become a manga artist by setting off from America to Japan in a rowboat to apply to be your assistant?
First of all, I would suggest that she should enter a rowing competition, and if she still insists on becoming my assistant, I would make her learn Japanese first, because I don’t know English.

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