One Piece directors reveal how they made Eiichiro Oda's 'wonderful, crazy, mad characters feel real'

The series is out now on Netflix

One Piece (Netflix)
Jeff Ward as Buggy the Clown in One Piece (Netflix)

The creative team behind One Piece put a lot of thought into adapting Eiichiro Oda's beloved manga and making his unique and quirky characters, like fish-man Arlong (McKinley Belcher III) and Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward), come to life onscreen, director Marc Jobst tells Yahoo UK.

"You're always coming from the inside out, [because] then there is a chance that these wonderful, crazy mad characters feel real," the director says.

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"If you just do it the other way around, if you stand on the outside and say, 'well, this is what I look like and this is how I'm going to play the part', it'll never feel grounded in truth."

Netflix's take on the classic manga follows Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) and his quest to become King of the Pirates by finding the One Piece, to do so he puts together a crew of loveable rogues and together they face several formidable enemies.

Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in One Piece (Netflix)
Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro in One Piece (Netflix)

One of the first they go up against is Buggy, the self-proclaimed genius jester who has taken a whole town hostage and kidnaps Luffy and his crew in order to gain access to a map they stole that leads to the Grand Line, where the One Piece is believed to be hidden.

For Jobst there was a "really delicate balance" to be made to ensure the manga translated well into live-action, such as when it came to re-creating Buggy's look without making him seem ridiculous given his ability to remove his body parts and put them back together again.

"We spent a lot of time working that through, we tried lots of different aesthetics, we tried lots of different make-up, lots of different hair, because it's one thing in a still image and it's another thing when you then start to move.

One Piece (Netflix)
Jeff Ward as Buggy the Clown in a behind the scenes still from One Piece (Netflix)

"What does the hair do? What happens when you punch the head off the body? Does the hat stay with the head as it's turning?"

This was also something to consider for villains like Ax-Hand Morgan (Langley Kirkwood), who has a metal armoured plate along his jaw, and Arlong who looks like a shark and has a saw-like nose.

Read more: One Piece director shares Netflix's intentions for live action adaptation

Jobst adds, "Then you have these prosthetics that they wear, Arlong with his nose and Morgan with the jaw, and you have to go back to basics.

One Piece (Netflix)
Langley Kirkwood as Ax-Hand Morgan in One Piece (Netflix)

"You say, 'OK, what's the character behind this? What's the reality behind it? What's Arlong's story? Why is he? How he? What has got him to this point?"

Villains like Klahadore (Alexander Maniatis) were a challenge to get right, director Emma Sullivan also tells Yahoo UK, because she was keen not to go "too far" with the character.

Sullivan directed episodes three and four of the Netflix series, which sees Luffy and his crew encounter Klahadore after meeting Usopp (Jacob Romero) and his friend Kaya (Celeste Loots), who is secretly being poisoned as part of a dark plot to get her fortune.

One Piece (Netflix)
McKinley Belcher III as Arlong in One Piece (Netflix)

Maniatis' approach to the character helped to ground him in reality without giving too much away about his true motivations, Sullivan says: "He did so much work and so much prep in advance, kind of inhabiting this butler character and so it's just a matter of having a few options.

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"You set them up as one thing, and then, without [giving away] too many spoilers, you reveal another side at different moments.

"So that's a really nice challenge, the balance is always 'when do you think people are going to guess?' Of course, you're always trying to judge you don't go too far. But working with Alexander was a lot of fun."

Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro, Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Taz Skylar as Sanji in One Piece (Netflix)
Jacob Romero Gibson as Usopp, Mackenyu as Roronoa Zoro, Emily Rudd as Nami, Iñaki Godoy as Monkey D. Luffy, Taz Skylar as Sanji in One Piece (Netflix)

The story was adapted quite a bit at the script-writing stage, Sullivan adds, in order to condense Oda's original narrative and make it fit the small screen.

The director explains, "I think they did a really good job in advance. The script goes through so many iterations, the writers do lots of drafts, they work with Oda, everything gets sent back and forth and so by the time it gets to me as an episode it's really working, it's good.

"I can't take credit for condensing and changing the manga because that work has all been done. What my part is is to bring it to life and to make it look visual and creative and keep it exciting, [and make sure] it's still as exciting as it was in the manga, it's just a bit different."

Vincent Regan as Vice-Admiral Garp in One Piece (Netflix)
Vincent Regan as Vice-Admiral Garp in One Piece (Netflix)

Reflecting on the challenges of adapting a manga as vast as Oda's One Piece, Jobst adds: "There is sometimes a danger in world building shows that you spend all your time and money building the world. It's technical, it's difficult, it's involves lots of different departments.

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"It's important to get it right, but for me coming into this show and reading the manga I really wanted to turn that around, I wanted to spend all our time with our actors.

"I wanted them to be centre and front of this show and I wanted to try to engage the audience to come on this adventure with them, not to show them."

One Piece is out now on Netflix.

Watch the trailer for One Piece