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Interview: One Piece Animation Director Shigefumi Shingaki

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Toei Animation director Shigefumi Shingaki's resume of animation work might appear a bit short at first glance. He cut his teeth on Doraemon and picked up key animation work on series ranging from Dragon Ball GT to Air Master. Don't let the short list fool you, though. Shingaki's been very busy working on one of Toei Animation's tentpole series, a little anime called One Piece. He boarded the ship as a key animator and rose through the ranks. Now, Shingaki's sometimes takes the wheel as animation director as he has for the last decade.

Shingaki sat down with Anime News Network at Sakura-Con in early April to discuss his tenure on the beloved series and some of his proudest moments.

ANN: What was it like joining a show like One Piece? What was your impression of it in the beginning? Were you a fan of the manga?

SHIGEFUMI SHINGAKI: I've been reading the manga for a very long time and actually love Shōnen Jump magazine. I've read the magazine for many years, including from the first issue when One Piece started. When I got the call that I would be working on the series, I was really pleased since I've loved the manga for so long.

Currently, the One Piece anime is adapting an arc that isn't finished yet in the manga. Does that change anything about production for you? Does Oda share story details with the animation staff so they can account for it in the episodes they're currently animating?

When it comes to high level story details and which way the plot is going to develop, that's actually something relegated to the people above me, like the series director. He's going to be more directly involved in that than the individual episode directors. We do make a point to get as much information from Oda-sensei as possible. Down in the trenches, where I am, there are cases where the staff are talking to each other and say, "We don't know how this is going to turn out! What do we do in this scene?" and you end up trying to be as neutral as possible so it doesn't go too far one way or the other when we don't know what's going to happen. Even when we do that, the plot still might end up going in a different direction and we end up painting ourselves into a corner. We do worry about that but there isn't always much we can do.

Are you given more freedom to try new visual ideas in anime original content?

From an animation director's point of view, and this may be specific to One Piece, but One Piece is quite a famous anime and manga. I don't think the level freedom, when it comes to anime original content, really raises that much. It still has to resemble and obviously be One Piece. We can't depart from that very much, so we don't have that much extra freedom, unfortunately.

Is there a single animation cut or sequence you'd like people to know you by? Something you're particularly proud of?

Of the works I've really been deeply involved in, I'd have to say the One Piece: Strong World Episode 0 OAV. On that OVA I was actually able to do character design as well as serve as the animation director. Working on the character design for that made an impact on me, it's a good memory. I wasn't entirely sure of myself while working on the character design, but that's something that makes it worthwhile in the end.

The work itself was actually a campaign we did with House Foods. The company held a lottery and if you won, you could receive this DVD. The OVA was based on this free-distribution comic that was handed out in theaters. That's basically how this project came about. There were only 1,000 copies, so it's sort of a rare thing that only big fans may know about.

What words would you use to describe your approach to animation? Do you have a personal philosophy about your art?

I do have a philosophical approach to my work and I think the most important thing is to enjoy what you're doing. When you enjoy what you're doing, when you're really having fun, that becomes evident in your art and the character's expressive motion. I think that joy has to really be the foundation of what you're doing.

The TOHO theater ad for One Piece Film Gold animated by Shingaki

Which episodes were the most exciting to bring to life for you personally?

With One Piece, or any anime really, it's a group effort. You can't make an anime entirely by yourself, there's too much work to do. It takes a huge number of man hours to produce an episode, much less a whole series. We actually rotate the staff. I wouldn't be the animation director for 10 episodes in a row, it would be more like one in 10 episodes. So, that said, if I know a scene is coming up in a story that I really enjoyed in the manga, there would be no guarantee that I would get to work on that episode. It might be possible for me to look at an episode someone is working on and say, "Hey, can I animate that particular part?" but not always.

Instead, I've got to stay up to date on what I'm working on, since every episode is going to have something I could enjoy doing.

What's your opinion on the best way to handle pacing with a show like One Piece?

When it comes to pacing within the work place, I'm the kind of animation director that's involved with schedule management quite a bit. I make sure all the cuts and parts of animation get finished on time. I'm the type who can't relax and focus on my work unless I know how things are progressing. Normally when you are working on an anime, this is the producer's job. Most animation directors can just leave the scheduling to them completely and keep their heads down on their own work. But I can't relax unless I'm keeping tabs on things.

Thanks to Shigefumi Shingaki and Sakuracon 2018 for the opportunity.

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