TOKYO, July 21 — He is the creator of one of the world’s best-known manga, but One Piece author Eiichiro Oda shuns stardom with a carefree attitude that evokes the beloved hero of his work.
The 47-year-old famously refuses to be referred to as “sensei”, an honorific typically used to address seasoned manga creators of his status.
He is even reputed to show up at fancy restaurants and hotels dressed exactly like One Piece protagonist and pirate Monkey D. Luffy, in a pair of short trousers and sandals.
“I want kids who read One Piece to think of me as their neighbourhood brother,” media-shy Oda said in a rare 2017 interview, published in a special magazine to mark the 20th anniversary of the franchise.
“I know I’m now old enough to be more like their uncle... so maybe a funny, easy-going uncle.”
It is a modest aspiration for a man whose tale about aspiring “pirate king” Luffy and a motley crew of fellow adventurers earned him a Guinness World Record for “most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author”.
On Friday, the cultural phenomenon that has sold about 500 million copies worldwide will mark the 25th anniversary of its serialisation.
It is now on the cusp of its final arc, set to begin in next week’s edition of Japan’s weekly Shonen Jump magazine.
One Piece follows straw hat-wearing Luffy and his team as they hunt for the titular treasure coveted by all pirates.
Loud, gluttonous and lovably simple-minded, Luffy is meant to be an embodiment of how Oda sees his stated target audience: Teenage boys.
“Every week I ask myself to assess what I’ve drawn: ‘Would I have enjoyed reading this when I was 15?’” Oda said in 2009.
There are few swoon-worthy romances in the series, as Oda believes his core fan base would not be interested.
“I know there are many adult readers nowadays, but if I align myself with their taste too much, I feel One Piece would lose its value,” he said.
And Oda’s childlike impishness makes him well-suited to keeping his younger readership in mind. He has turned his house into something of an amusement park, with features like projection mapping, miniature trains and a claw crane.
“You could say he is Luffy himself,” one of Oda’s closest editors once told a Japanese TV programme.
A native of southern Japan’s Kumamoto region, Oda entered Japan’s competitive manga world at 17, when his action-packed maiden work Wanted! won a Shonen Jump award.
It was not quite smooth sailing from there though, and it took several flops before One Piece was serialised, when Oda was 22.
The work, partly inspired by his childhood fascination with pirate anime Vicky the Viking, was all-consuming for Oda.
“I think I was too passionate about manga in my 20s. I was even ready to skip my parents’ funeral if they died while I was on the deadline,” he recalled in an interview five years ago.
Over time, he relaxed into his role but his passion never faded and he relies only minimally on assistants, drawing almost every character and object himself.
“To me, drawing manga is a pastime. I never get stressed about it, so I’m confident I will never suffer karoshi (death from overwork),” he told the 2017 anniversary magazine.
But for all his popularity around the world, Oda has yet to win over some of his own family.
“My daughter is into more girly stuff,” he said in a 2009 conversation with a musician published by Switch magazine, jokingly lamenting the popularity of Pretty Cure, an anime franchise featuring evil-fighting schoolgirls.
“Buying Pretty Cure goods for her makes me feel defeated.” — AFP