With its manga counterpart surpassing a thousand chapters and a live-action Netflix series coming, One Piece, one of anime’s longest-running shonen series, will make franchise history this week with the premiere of its 1,000th episode. The landmark episode will stream on Funimation and Crunchyroll on November 20.
It’s been 22 years since Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat pirates first graced the screens of Japanese TVs in October 1999 and embarked on their journey to find the legendary pirate Gol D. Roger’s hallowed treasure, the one piece. Ahead of the premiere, Kotaku spoke with three of One Piece’s English voice actors, Eric Vale, Mike McFarland, and Colleen Clinkenbeard.
Although there is excitement in the air, reaching such a milestone didn’t come without its difficulties. Vocal wear and tear is a common issue among the English voice actors, especially considering the characters’ styles and how long they’ve been at it.
As Clinkenbeard’s battle-hardened lungs can confirm, her character Luffy has a gruff tone, more so than it was meant to initially even. Playing Luffy hurts enough to warrant an exam. When the dubbing for One Piece returned in 2020 after a brief hiatus, Clinkenbeard got a laryngoscopy to check on her vocal health. She surprised her doctor with how her vocal cords tightened after they couldn’t resist asking her to “do the voice.”
“I think that differentiates [Luffy] from a lot of other boy voices that I play, because he is so thoroughly who he is. There’s no waffling about it. He is that character. It does hurt, but it’s also completely worth it,” she said.
And getting that voice just right, wasn’t just a question for Clinkenbeard. For Vale, achieving the perfect tone for the Straw Hat’s chain-smoking chef for years relied on morning breath, apparently.
“We settled on Mike’s idea of my character voice being my morning voice. That scratchy, horrific, kind of smokery voice that everyone wakes up with in the morning before they’ve brushed their teeth is where [Sanji’s] voice sits,” he said.
As both an automated dialogue replacement director for One Piece and the voice actor for Buggy, McFarland needed to find the ideal clown-to-pirate ratio for the character.
McFarland found his clown-to-pirate ratio through the influence of his character’s artwork, accompanying music, and the strong vocal performance by his Japanese counterpart, Shigeru Chiba.
Being seasoned veterans of the show, whatever pain the three voice actors underwent to bring their characters to life has proved more than worth it in the long run.
“As an actor, a lot of the time when you’re thrown in a booth, you are trying to do justice to what you’re seeing in the original Japanese. Part of the process is to be like, ‘Okay, so why am I doing that? Should I be happy about that? Should I be manipulative about that?’ And I don’t have those questions with Luffy. I just know him,” Clinkenbeard said.
And whether his character speaks softly or at the top of his lungs, a near guarantee with the Star Clown Warlord of the Sea, McFarland says he makes conscious decisions about every detail in his voice acting—even on episode 1,000.
“Rather than just hitting all of the technical aspects…it all needs to sound like this is a real world where everything is happening and it doesn’t need to be anything less than that,” he said.
Part of dubbing One Piece for so long means ensuring the groundwork set by the original Japanese voice actor’s performances and the spirit of its source material is preserved.
A thousand episodes is daunting not only for those who work on the show but for viewers as well. One question actors often receive at conventions is how newcomers should begin the unenviable task of starting One Piece. The movies can be a good starting place rather than combing through the 1,000 episodes, Vale and McFarland recommend.
“I think that those are a great place to just jump in and find out what’s going on in a little encapsulated [movie] where you’re not just watching the first 30 [episodes],” McFarland said.
Vale tells people who are intimidated by the sheer number of episodes not to watch them all in one sitting, if that were even possible. Maybe, instead, start with just one.
“You’re never watching a thousand episodes at once. You’re just watching the episode you’re watching. So sit down [and] watch it. If you like it, there’s going to be another one,” he said.
Clinkenbeard, too, cautions away from binge-watching the series. One Piece is not about the destination, she says. It’s the journey. Clinkenbeard likened the task to eating a whale, one bite at a time.
“Don’t try to race through it. The worst thing you can do is try to catch up because that means that you’re not enjoying the journey,” she said. “Plus, Luffy would be pretty mad at people who go in wanting to reach the end instead of having fun on their journey. Just enjoy an episode at a time, and don’t expect yourself to get anywhere with it. That’s not the point. The point is to enjoy it.”