ANN’s coverage of Anime Expo 2023 sponsored by Yen Press!
One Piece has become one of the largest multimedia franchises in the world, with a top-selling manga, long-running anime, various video games, and a live-action Netflix series on the horizon. The anime, in particular, has gained worldwide acclaim, currently in the middle of adapting one of the longest arcs in the franchise, thanks to its remarkable presentation and direction. At Anime Expo 2023, Anime News Network sat down with the current architects of the anime, series director Yasunori Koyama, animation director Kenji Yokoyama, and production manager Tetsushi Akahori. All are veterans of the animation industry, with Koyama making his anime director debut with Toriko in 2013, Yokoyama working as an animator for forty-five years, and Akahori having worked as a production assistant at P.A. WORKS and A-1 Pictures before joining Toei. All three have had prior years of experience with the One Piece anime before the present day, so we asked them about some of those experiences as a group.
How are you all enjoying the convention?
Kenji Yokoyama:So speaking for the group, it’s quite a stimulating experience to come here; we get to meet many different kinds of people who enjoy and appreciate the series in a diverse way. So that’s been enjoyable for us as well.
What would you say are each of your goals? What do you hope to accomplish with the One Piece anime adaptation? What do you hope to accomplish storytelling-wise and animation-wise?
Tetsushi Akahori:Of course, what we really love to do is take the really fabulous original manga by Oda and animate that. We love creating movement and taking elements that were not fully developed in the original manga and pushing those forward. That’s really, I think, what we’re hoping to do.
Could you share some moments you expanded upon from the original source material in the anime adaptation? And what was that like?
Yasunori Koyama: One example would be Hawkins. So there’s the straw doll called Hawkins, and the themes are, of course, in the original, but the particular details of it are not. So we were able to expand upon that and flesh it out a bit more. Of course, with One Piece, action is very important, but there’s also a significant emotional component, and I think in the adaptation that we’re doing, we are able to expand that emotional dimension.
How do you decide what gets expanded upon and what is better left as is?
KOYAMA: So I take the original screenplay, and of course, each episode has a particular theme or idea to it. When I’m expanding it, I’ll see what kind of thing is necessary to kind of round everything out. That’s how I make the decision.
Does Oda himself give any input on those types of things?
KOYAMA: So it’s not as if Oda is giving direct commands about orders or suggestions. We basically go and kind of take each episode one by one. But there are times when the production staff will ask questions about what’s going on.
Does it ever get difficult to keep track of such a large world with so many characters and moving parts?
KOYAMA: Yeah, it can get really hard. You know, each of the characters has stories to them and their own particular relations. Some of these are much more complicated than we realize, and it can be a real challenge to kind of maintain all those.
For a complete novice, can you give a rundown of what the production pipeline looks like to get those weekly episodes out?
KOYAMA: So first, we take the original story, and then we create a screenplay. Then based on that screenplay, we will create a storyboard. Then we go into checking individual images and developing the individual sakuga as well. That’s the simple rundown of it.
Have there ever been any production hurdles that you don’t mind sharing? And if so, how did you overcome them?
KOYAMA: So when we’re moving from a screenplay to storyboard, it’s not as if we can just go and copy the original drawings from the manga. The areas of greatest difficulty tend to be when we’re kind of translating from the original manga into animation. For example, in the manga, you might have one frame and another frame of two opponents fighting, and then in the next scene we see, one is toppled over. Those in-between elements are in the original, but there’s not an actual representation of them. So for the anime, we kind of filled it in. When we’re in the process of filling in, there needs to be a collective understanding of what has happened, and that’s usually one of the areas that’s always a challenge or can be a challenge. We’re filling in the blanks, so to speak. We’re filling in between the frames.
Have there been any standout moments, particularly recently in the Wano Arc, that have really stood out to you in terms of either spectacle or storytelling? Or are there any moments that leave you really proud of how they came out?
YOKOYAMA: So when we receive, like, a real expansive world and there’s a lot of elements that are being brought in that we are sharing, I think what’s especially important is the way in which we have developed what you could call the vocabulary or the world while still respecting each other’s interpretations. As far as animation goes, we really kind of turned towards good block printing. So, particularly if you look at the trees that appear, they tend to be like the Bonsai-style tree. Or when we look at waves, they’re typical of the waves in Gioia prints with their kind of little deformations.
A lot of fans, at least here in the West, have made note of the stylistic shift the series has made once the Wano Arc started. Can you tell me a bit more about what went into that creative decision?
YOKOYAMA: So, as we alluded to before, we decided in the Wano Arc to kind of go back to something that’s more traditionally Japanese aesthetic. And so there was that collective understanding. When we thought of turning to an old motif, there was also a discussion of the kind of shift we would even draw in the line itself.
With the anime continuing to get such global attention, the Netflix series now around the corner, and even being at this convention, does it ever catch you off guard, or are you at all surprised at just how beloved the series is around the world?
AKAHORI: Yes, we certainly are surprised! Of course, the original is the original, but still, the fact that so many people around the world would see something we’ve made is just stunning to us.