Eiichiro Oda was born into “Wasamon”. The Kumamoto native kicked off his career in comedic style with a brief appearance in Yudetamago’s madcap comedy, Kinnikuman. From these humble, fanboy beginnings to becoming the undisputed king of manga, just what is Oda sensei’s secret? This week, I hoist the flag and set sail into the surreal mind of manga’s biggest star.
Name: Eiichiro Oda (尾田 栄一郎 Oda Eiichirō)
Born: January 1, 1975
Place of Birth: Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan
Speciality: Swashbuckling Adventure with a Twist!
Hailing from Kumamoto, the land known for its love of innovation, Eiichiro Oda grew up on a diet of Dragon Ball and TV animation. A mainstay in the Oda home was Vicky the Viking, a Japanese/German production centered around a wily and quick witted Viking boy and his band of inept pirate comrades. The show was an entertaining riot of comedy, clever slapstick and jam packed with clever solutions to absurd problems, proving to be a vital seed for this future superstar of manga.
With his roots firmly planted in humour, Oda jumped at the chance of answering Shueisha’s call to design a character for their star-billed wrestling comedy, Kinnikuman. Thus, Pandaman was born, a character that both wowed creative duo Yudetamago, and became a recurring character in Oda’s future work.
Pandaman kicked off Oda’s need to create manga, and at the age of 17, he submitted his first work, Wanted!. The fast paced adventure about a bounty hunter on the trail of his prey, not only earned him an abundance of awards, it also secured his first paying job with Weekly Shonen Jump. By working as an assistant to big names, including Shinobu Kaitani, Masaya Tokuhiro and Nobuhiro Watsuki, it was only a matter time until the training wheels came off, and a much anticipated debut exploded onto the pages of Jump.
In late 1996, and encouraged by the great creators he was working with, he submitted his first One-Shot to Shueisha. “Romance Dawn”, a swashbuckling pirate adventure, featuring a certain Monkey D. Luffy, was originally envisaged during Oda’s High School days. So with a little fine tuning, the kid from Kyushu unleashed his masterpiece idea to unanimous critical acclaim, and changed the face of manga forever.
One Piece burst onto the scene just one year later. With the addition of the Pirate King and the titular treasure in question, little changed from Oda’s original concept. From the very beginning, One Piece was always about one thing… ADVENTURE!
A Guinness Book record holder for “the most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author”, Oda could be forgiven for taking a long break. But instead of resting on his laurels, the tireless star of manga has actively become involved in all incarnations of his brilliant series. From scriptwriting, designing and executive producing big screen versions of One Piece to producing lavish art books, Oda not only displays a protective, almost fatherly attitude to his creations, but also shows us that a great mind is always in search of the treasure that is “creativity”!
As a proud citizen of Britain, comedy is in my bones. From the surreal escapades of the Monty Python crew to the hold-no-punches, acid wit of Ricky Gervais, it is generally accepted that Britain is a master of dark comedy. So when I first discovered the works of Eiichiro Oda, I instantly felt on familiar ground.
Much like Naoko Takeuchi and Harry Potter creator, JK Rowling, Oda sensei is very much a victim of his own success. One Piece is huge, I mean HUGE. With record breaking sales that have dwarfed every other title in the history of manga, Eiichiro Oda’s pirate adventure will undoubtedly overshadow any of his future work, yet at the same time, he has squarely and firmly hit the nail on the head of creativity. His secret weapon? A story about friendship, told with a smile.
Looking at all three incarnations of One Piece, from the hastily pencilled characters in Oda’s High School text book, through to a slightly tweaked version for his hopeful one-shot, and onto the series we all know and love today, I was immediately struck by how similar they all were. With only a few minor changes here and there, the core of the idea remains the same: a bold boy on the search for adventure. But it’s his use of tragicomedy in crafting stories about friendship that really resonate with his readers.
Friendship is at the very heart of his work, and with friendship comes many an untimely end! Here, Oda seems to be juggling many concepts; the bonds of friendship, adventure and tragedy, all tempered by comedy. Accomplishing this is no mean feat, and the fact that these juxtaposing elements are so seamlessly melded together, brilliantly illustrates just how masterful Oda is at twanging our emotional heart strings.
Respectfully covering subjects such as war, slavery and genocide, interwoven with madcap, absurd comedy is what Oda excels at. We are, at once able to understand and emotionally invest ourselves in the tragedy on the page, yet remain “buoyant” throughout due to perfectly timed injections of comedy. The use humour here does nothing to detract from the tragedy, indeed, it allows us to digest the gravity of the situation much more easily.
Eiichiro Oda may well have created an uncontrollable behemoth in One Piece, much to the delight Shueisha’s accountants as well as his army of fans, but he’s also shown us how to digest many emotionally charged themes with a smile. Never a truer saying could be attributed to Oda’s body work than “comedy is the best medicine”.
- Wanted! (1992)
- God’s Present for the Future (神から未来のプレゼント Kami Kara Mirai no Purezento, 1993)
- Ikki Yakō (一鬼夜行, 1993)
- Monsters (1994)
- Romance Dawn (first version, 1996)
- Romance Dawn (second version, 1996)
- One Piece (1997 – ongoing)
- Wanted! Eiichiro Oda Short Stories (WANTED! 尾田栄一郎短編集 1998)
- Ikki Yakō Cross Epoch (2007) – crossover between Dragon Ball and One Piece with Akira Toriyama
- Taste of the Devil Fruit (実食! 悪魔の実!! Jisshoku! Akuma no Mi!!, 2011) – crossover between Toriko and One Piece with Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro
NEXT WEEK: Masamune Shirō
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