Have you ever had the niggling feeling that Yakuza: Like a Dragon felt an awful lot like an anime, with its mixture of palpable melodramatic drama and the cognitive dissonance of its wildly entertaining “filler” side-quests? Your feelings are now validated, because the game’s head writer says he was “massively influenced” by the popular shonen anime, One Piece.
During an interview with Crunchyroll News at Tokyo Game Show 2022, Masayoshi Yokoyama, the head of Ryu Ga Gotoku studio, revealed that Yakuza: Like a Dragon was heavily inspired by two of the “Big Three” anime: One Piece and Bleach.
Read More: Yakuza: Like A Dragon: The Kotaku Review
“To me, Ichiban is basically Luffy. And around him, there’s Zoro and Nami and basically the rest of the party, you know?” Yokoyama told Crunchyroll News. “One Piece’s party composition was on my mind so much during writing that it was a massive influence.”
In contrast to previous Yakuza games which were largely a one-man show, LaD featured a turned-based combat system where the rotating members of Ichiban’s band of misfits banter with one another in and out of combat. This also occurs often in One Piece’s various narrative arcs, which rotate the composition of its crewmates as they adventure on mysterious new islands, culminating in a great feast among the whole crew.
The anime inspiration even affected the game’s advertisements. Thinking back to the advertisements for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Yokoyama said the tagline “Life is an Adventure” was also inspired by One Piece, a property which always emphasized that the most important part of an adventure is the journey, not the destination.
“This is definitely not official, but in my own heart, Yakuza 7 was basically my ideal version of what would be Yakuza: One Piece,” Yokoyama said. “That’s how I got the inspiration to make it!”
Now that the cat’s out of the bag, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between Like a Dragon’s party of outcasts and Luffy’s Straw Hat Pirates. As Yokoyama mentioned earlier, Ichiban is clearly his version of Luffy because both characters are loveable idiots who fight to make their dreams come true. But what of the rest of the party?
In my estimation, Saeko Mukoda is definitely the Straw Hat’s aloof navigator Nami, because she’s initially callous but is a cinnamon roll once you get to know her. She’s also got a sister who looks an awful lot like her. Yu Nanba is the Straw Hat’s Usopp, given his penchant for being a jokester with something to prove. Koichi Adachi is Jimbei because he bleeds blue (as a former cop) and is the senior of the group. Joon-gi Han is Zoro, because of his massive tits. And the best party member, Eri Kamataki, is akin to pirate demon child and bookworm Nico Robin because of her cunning ethics as a saleswoman. I’m also gonna go on a limb and say Tianyou Zhao is LaD’s version of Trafalgar Law because of his tsundere-like disposition toward Ichiban despite the two of them basically being work husbands.
In addition to LaD’s party dynamic being inspired by One Piece’s Straw Hat Pirates, Yokoyama also revealed that the game’s dialogue was inspired by another member of the “big three,” Bleach. Bleach characters have a penchant for spelling out every minutia of their powers and plans to one another during battles, and indeed, I’d have to put down my controller for 20 minutes at a time during Like a Dragon’s extensive cutscenes.
While Yokoyama’s revelation about how One Piece and Bleach influenced the totally serious crime drama that is the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series, the series is no stranger to making overt homages to popular anime. Case in point is a scene in Yakuza 4, in which a man with panties on his face, not to be confused with Judgment’s Professor Panty (don’t ask), slips from a fire escape and plummets gracefully toward the loving concrete. Although the scene is played for laughs, it’s clearly a reference to one of the most revered anime, Cowboy Bebop, in which hero Spike Spiegel falls from a church tower after his gruesome battle with Vicious. The more you know.
Given all this, it seems likely we’ll discover even more anime references influences injected into the Like a Dragon series come the release of Like a Dragon: Ishin!, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, and Like a Dragon 8.