One Piece Editor Alexis Kirsch On What It’s Like Working on the Craziest Pirate Adventure Ever

Monkey D. Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates have been searching for the treasure known as the One Piece for the past 20 years, but the fact that they haven’t found it yet is money in the bank for Eiichiro Oda and his crew—One Piece is the top selling manga in the world, with over 415 million copies in print.

Last week we asked some fans and critics to tell us what they liked about One Piece, and this week, we posed some questions to editor Alexis Kirsch, who currently oversees the English version of the series for Viz Media.

When did you first hear about One Piece? Were you reading it before you became the editor?
I would have first read One Piece in either 2000 or 2001. That was when I started buying Japanese editions of Shonen Jump magazine from the Japanese bookstore in Los Angeles every week. But I think it took a year or two before I started seriously following the One Piece story. I didn’t become the editor of it for another decade.

How long have you been working on it?
I started working on One Piece in late 2009 or early 2010. At the time, Viz Media wanted to mass release the series so it could be caught up with the Japanese version. This meant a staggering five volumes a month for six straight months. I was put in charge of this initiative while the main editor worked on the newest volumes that had been released in Japan. I was one of the newest editors at Viz at the time, and I suspect they put me on this project because all the other editors knew how crazy it would be and said no. I worked with two other editors to get all 30 volumes out that year, and eventually I took over as the sole editor of the series. One Piece has had many editors over the 80+ volumes, but I think I must be getting close to being the editor who’s worked on the most number of One Piece volumes.

“I was one of the newest editors at Viz at the time, and I suspect they put me on this project because all the other editors knew how crazy it would be and said no.”

What was your first impression, and how has that changed after so many years of working on it?
My first impression reading it was “What’s going on? There’s so many characters!” And that was when the series was only a few years old. It took me a year or two of casually skimming the chapters before it got its claws in me. Now I devour each chapter the moment it comes out. That’s my job, of course, but I always read it as a fan first, before reading it as an editor.

Do you have a favorite character, scene, or story arc?
This series has so many amazing scenes and characters, it’s nearly impossible to pick just one. One of the strengths of the story is how unique each arc is. Eiichiro Oda takes advantage of the fact the main characters are a crew of pirates to show off so many fantastic locations. We’ve seen a desert kingdom, a city in the sky, a gigantic haunted house, [and] an underwater mermaid oasis. The current arc is on an island made of sweets! You will always be amazed and surprised while reading One Piece.

How far ahead are you of the readers? Do you have delicious secrets to share?
Because the Shonen Jump digital magazine is published simultaneously with the Japanese release, we are basically only a week ahead of the readers. So no real juicy secrets. But it’s great to be working on an exciting new chapter and know that I’ll get to share it with the readers and hear their impressions in only a few more days.

“My first impression reading it was ‘What’s going on? There’s so many characters!’ And that was when the series was only a few years old.”

What’s your favorite part of editing—and what’s the biggest challenge?
First, that I get to work with two of the finest people in the industry. The translator Stephen Paul and the letterer Vanessa Satone are as good as you can get, and make my job very easy. I’m very lucky to have them. Second, editing One Piece is very rewarding because we have many fans of the series in the Viz Media office. Coworkers come by and share their excitement with me every week. That will never get old. In terms of challenges, it’s really no different than editing any manga, except that the series’ popularity means that fans will catch any mistake that we make! Luckily, we are a digital magazine, so it is easy to make corrections immediately, or when we go to print for the graphic novels.

Why do you think this series has lasted so long—and is the top seller in Japan?
This is a tough one. There is no obvious thing that I can point to. It has a laundry list of strengths, but so do many less popular manga series. We do a Shonen Jump podcast every week with the former editor-in-chief of the Japanese Shonen Jump magazine, Sasaki-san, and even he has admitted that they never imagined that the series would become so huge. One Piece seems to have achieved something that is a bit of a contradiction in that it is incredibly unique and yet at the same time can appeal to anyone.

“We do a Shonen Jump podcast every week with the former editor-in-chief of the Japanese Shonen Jump magazine, Sasaki-san, and even he has admitted that they never imagined that the series would become so huge.”

If someone likes One Piece, what manga would you recommend for them? Or, conversely, what series do you think have an affinity with One Piece, so if you’re a fan of them, you’ll like One Piece as well?
Dragon Ball, Hunter x Hunter, Naruto—all have pure-hearted, powerful, funny main characters. They also have fantastic worlds full of lively entertaining characters.

What’s your quick pitch for someone who has never heard of One Piece?
The craziest pirate adventure ever! The wacky saga of Monkey D. Luffy, who proclaimed he’d be King of the Pirates. Eighty manga volumes later, he’s well on his way.

Have you started your One Piece Journey? Tell us how you got into it in the comments.

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