Lately, something notable has been happening with the One Piece anime, particularly in the past few months. I can’t help but wonder how a long-running shônen anime like this managed to deliver top-notch animation consistently. In fact, some of the animation could be considered as some of the best this decade. I had this thought while watching the latest episodes, particularly during this breathtaking sequence from episode 1074, which we will explore in this Sakuga Expresso.
Have a look at that! It’s stunning, extensive, and, most importantly, entertaining. The animation team has done a fantastic job in creating a visual feast that embodies what an animated One Piece fight should look like. For those who are not familiar with the series, this is a part of Monkey D. Luffy’s battle against Kaido, the strongest pirate emperor, who has dragon powers. As you can see from the intensity of the scene, it’s the climax of the fight. Luffy has reached his infamous “Gear 5” form, which allows him to extend his rubber powers to not only his body but also his surroundings. Additionally, he transforms into a cartoon-like Looney Tunes character, giving him more freedom, which fits perfectly with One Piece’s theme of seeking freedom.
One interesting and often challenging aspect of the series is that due to production reasons, the anime can only adapt one chapter of the manga per episode (a One Piece chapter is approximately 17 pages long). This has caused pacing issues but also prompted the team to make creative choices to counterbalance this limitation. In this case, the scene from chapter 1047 in the manga is only five pages long and significantly different. It was mainly a fast-paced scene that provided a seamless transition to the next stage of the fight. However, in the anime, the team created this masterpiece of a scene to end that stage in an epic way, taking inspiration from the manga but not strictly following it.
This is all thanks to the talent of the young episode director Nanami Michibata and the storyboard artist and animator Sota Shigetsugu, also known as Hone Hone, who were both revealed during the Wano arc. Michibata has proven herself in several good episodes, including the wonderful 19th ending of the series. However, in this episode, she demonstrated that she can be just as exceptional as her colleague Megumi Ishitani, the top-class episode director of the Wano arc. Hone Hone has also shown that he is not only a great animator but also an exceptional action storyboard artist. The storyboard is the heart of the scene, making it captivating to watch. Despite all the impressive three-dimensional camera movements, each part is easy to follow and transitions seamlessly to the next, showcasing the talents of the different animators in a cohesive manner. I will break down each part of that action-packed scene and discuss both the storyboard and animation.
To begin an action scene that will give you chills and raise the stakes, look no further than the work of Shuu Sugita. This monster animator is incredibly skilled in many areas, including camera movements, energetic action with weighty lines, dynamic effects, and background animation. He also excels at adding subtlety to character acting. In this 36-second cut, he demonstrates all of his talents in the best way possible. The opening of this cut is particularly impressive, featuring a camera movement with background animation and effects that leads to a terrific composed shot of Kaido facing Luffy, who is preparing to launch a lightning bolt.
The rocks in the foreground are all drawn with very thick outlines to create a sense of proximity to the camera, while Kaido’s drawing has almost no outline, resulting in a silhouette. The effects animation and compositing, which were significantly improved in the latest episodes, contribute to the cut’s overall feeling of a massive storm in the battle arena. The compositing of the effects gives them a soft focus, adding a cinematic quality to the scene. This intro cut is a departure from what we’re used to seeing in One Piece and TV anime in general, making it perfect for building excitement.
In the next scene, we witness Luffy’s mouth as he prepares to deliver his powerful attack, starting with his signature “Gomu gomu no”. Shuu Sugita’s talent shines through as he expertly syncs Luffy’s lips with the dialogue, bringing a sense of realism to the animation. The simplicity of the drawing style, with chunky teeth and a round tongue, stays true to Eiichiro Oda’s style. By focusing solely on Luffy’s mouth, Shuu Sugita is able to create subtle yet realistic drawings without any awkwardness. This departure from the usual style of One Piece and anime is a clever way to build anticipation and excitement in the viewers and make us think that “something big is happening.”
The lighting and shadows in this scene and throughout the entire sequence are masterfully well composed. They move with Luffy as he positions the lightning bolt, creating a 3D volume that enhances the character’s presence. Some may argue that Luffy’s Gear 5 form seems more realistic and less cartoonish than in the manga, but Shuu Sugita cleverly incorporates funny and effective key poses from the source material.
The sense of three-dimensional depth in the drawings is enhanced by the values present in the colors used. Values refer to the contrast between light and dark areas in a drawing, which is crucial in creating a sense of volume. Therefore, color choice plays a significant role in achieving this effect. In this example, the drawing exhibits a clear high contrast between dark and light areas, resulting in good values. In contrast, in episode 1073, the color choice results in less impactful values, which creates a flatter feel compared to the example we’re looking at. While that episode has many excellent corrections by Mamoru Yokota, a skilled animation director, the importance of color choice is evident. Additionally, the animated shadows in this example contribute to a perfect cut. Notably, the choices made during compositing are just as significant as color selection in the creation of an anime.
Luffy in One Piece episode 1073
Luffy in One Piece episode 1074
The scene continues with a shot plunging into Kaido’s eye with effects creating a cool square around it. This is actually a callback to Koudai Watanabe’s cut in episode 870 of the anime during the climax of Luffy’s fight against Katakuri, the big fight of the previous arc. That episode came just before the start of the Wano arc, and several changes in the production started to be noticed. The callback is a smart way of emphasizing that this is the climax of the current conflict and that both sides are giving it their all to determine the eventual winner.
Close-up on Kaido’s eye in episode 1074.
Close-up on Katakuri’s eye in episode 870.
The scene goes on with something completely unique and original that is not found in the manga. Luffy combines lightning bolts and imbues them with his rubbery abilities, causing Kaido to bounce around in various directions. The sense of speed and bounciness is exceptionally well depicted, thanks to the line drawn in the center that shows Kaido’s movement and the variation in angle, thickness, and hatching of the lightning’s drawing. Additionally, the compositing is excellent, producing a beautiful effect emulating chromatic aberration, an effect resulting from a lens’s inability to accurately absorb white light, breaking it down into several color fringes.
The wild opening sequence by Shuu Sugita has come to an end. Toei has shared the genga version of the shot on their Twitter account, which is worth checking out. It’s fascinating to observe how Sugita employs various colors in his work, possibly to aid the compositing team. The chromatic aberration effect in the final cut is prominently visible in the genga due to the use of colors.
Next up is a predominantly original part, with Hone Hone taking the reins and animating almost a minute solo. It seems he crafted an impressive storyboard, so much so that he probably felt he was the only one who could do justice to this particular segment. The scene opens with Luffy bouncing on rocks, accompanied by a striking but straightforward distortion effect on the background art. It’s worth noting that Toei has publicly shared the entire genga art for this sequence, allowing us to appreciate Hone Hone’s artwork and clearly observe his intentions while drawing the deformations.
I love how Luffy’s knee strike looks so exaggerated. It’s a key pose inspired by Eiichiro Oda’s dynamic silhouettes in his panels. However, Kaido counterattacks and shoots Luffy, which results in an amusingly cartoony hurt face. The lighting effect adds a 3D feel to the character, emphasizing his ridiculous expression, which I particularly like. Hone Hone’s storyboards also do an excellent job of knowing when to slow down the action just enough to give emphasis to each funny drawing. Despite the short sequence, we can still remember and appreciate them.
The scene continues with Luffy bouncing on multiple rocks, providing us with amusing cartoon images and some outstanding background animation. It’s clever that there is a circular light focus around Luffy, as it saves Hone Hone from animating every detail on the rocks while also enabling us to concentrate on Luffy’s actions and understand what’s happening.
The scene then goes on to showcase Hone Hone’s background animation skills. Luffy grabs a rock with his immensely long arm and turns all around the flying battle arena of Onigashima, showing a really nice slow-down shot of the skull of the island. Once more, Hone Hone’s storyboard slows down the action to give us just the right amount of time to remember the strong images of the sequence and allow everything to connect in our minds. You can observe a slight tilt in the background the moment Luffy turns around the island, giving the scene the same sense of circularity he is making. This kind of detail makes for such an ambitious shot work in animation and shows how Hone Hone knows what he is doing and is an exceptional action storyboard artist. I also like how Luffy’s arm goes from just being a thin, beige line to being outlined. Hone Hone lined it in red in the genga to show when it has to be a simple colored line. Luffy charges towards Kaido, with the animation showing light trailing behind him to minimize background detail.
Do you think the display of skill is over? No, it’s just beginning. The choreography is so generous and never-ending. The scene shifts to a Luffy POV, where we see him grabbing Kaido’s tail and turning him like Mario vs. Bowser-style in the air. The background animation and Kaido’s cartoon expressions with his eyes popping out are hilarious, and the sky background tilts according to the movement. Then, Luffy punches Kaido to the ground, creating a big bouncy effect that was also well done in the manga paneling. I love how Kaido is thrown out of the bouncy rock quickly, and his movements are very subtle and realistic. The genga drawings of him are rough but show that a lot of thought was put into every pose he makes while in the air. I wonder if Hone Hone was referencing the movement of people jumping on giant trampolines or even bungee jumping.
I really enjoyed the following scene where the camera follows Kaido from behind, as he reacts quickly to Luffy’s speedy movements, represented by quickly succeeding flares, around the motionless rocks in the air. This was a great example of Hone Hone’s ability to slow down the action for better storytelling and emphasize powerful imagery. Following this, Kaido blasts Luffy after finding him, and we see vertical lightning effects in the background as Luffy is thrown into the air. This helps us understand his next move, where he transforms the lightning into a rubber band and moves quickly around Kaido. Kaido then jumps towards Luffy using the transformed rocks, which is an original idea not found in the manga. Overall, Hone Hone’s storytelling and storyboarding skills are excellent, as it makes the animation easy to follow and understand. I believe that most of the time, when people find animation “unreadable” or “too hard to follow,” it is due to the storyboard rather than the animation itself.
Next in the sequence is Yuu Yoshiyama’s part, a skilled animator known for her expertise in effect animation. She has demonstrated her talents at Toei on numerous Precure seasons and movies. The cut starts with an entertaining, almost subliminal drawing of Luffy racing past the camera at full speed, emphasizing the character’s lightheartedness.
The sequence that follows is all about speed. The lightning effects of Luffy rushing at a shooting star-fast pace are truly stunning, and the distorted background rocks in the foreground further emphasize the feeling of speed. Kaido then appears in purple and clashes with Luffy, showcasing the black lightning with a red outline that represents “Haki,” or the power of will in the world of One Piece. The animation effect in that shot is simply breathtaking. The asymmetry of all those effects feels like glass breaking, and even though your brain may not see all of those drawings, it still understands the chaos that it represents. This animation style is reminiscent of Yoshinori Kanada, a legendary animator who has influenced multiple generations of animators. Kanada would often use asymmetrical and subliminal forms like this to enhance his animation. During the first and last frames of the Luffy and Kaido clash, you can even see a sun-like bow and arrow and a dragon progressively deformed by the Kanada-like asymmetry. The “sun-like” forms you can see amid all those lightning effects probably evoke Luffy’s transformation in the story as the “Sun God.” You can also see the onomatopoeia “ドン” many times, which is the most used onomatopoeia in Eiichiro Oda’s manga, evoking a drum sound for a sense of grandeur and surprise. It’s used as an effect animation that transforms into the Romaji version of “DON.”
The next two shots of Luffy and Kaido’s faces are particularly impressive as they mark a shift in the overall style. The angular and dramatic drawing of the characters emphasizes the gravity of the situation and evoke the thrilling and epic vibes characteristic of shonen anime. I have seen some viewers who have mistaken these shots for the work of Naotoshi Shida, a talented animator frequently called upon to heighten the stakes in climactic moments of the series. This is especially crucial in a fight such as this one, where Luffy’s fantastical abilities can occasionally detract from the intensity of the battle.
Hone Hone is back at it again! It’s another cool cut that is absent from the manga. The storyboard choice of tilting the background upside down when Luffy steps onto a cloud in the sky is really neat. I especially enjoyed how Luffy’s body and face get all jumbled up when he grabs the cloud, similar to Weilin Zhang’s work in episode 1071, which reminded me of The Mask – and I think it’s no coincidence that the same sound effect was used again.
Hone Hone’s deformed Luffy in #1074
Weilin Zhang’s deformed Luffy in #1071
Luffy then uses his famous “Gear Second” pose fans love so much. This pose allows him to absorb the lightning energy from the cloud. As he strikes the pose, Hone Hone includes numerous impact frames for our enjoyment, with a few easter eggs hidden in the scene, such as another “ドン,” much like Vincent Chansard’s style.
The electricity effects animated in the following cuts are what we’ll see throughout the rest of the sequence. The animation of electricity is distinct this time, making it feel more fluid and lively, similar to the flow of water and fire. Each strand of electricity has its own movement, and the shot of all of them converging toward Luffy like living blood vessels is truly impressive. This technique of animating electricity in a lively, flowing manner is often referred to as “Kutsuna lightning,” named after the animator Ken’ichi Kutsuna, who is known for his realistic and highly dynamic animation of this element. However, it is worth noting that sometimes this term is used inaccurately to describe other forms of electricity animation.
Example of Kutsuna lightning by Kenichi Kutsuna in Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.
I believe that in certain scenes, such as the one where Shuu Sugita returns and there is a remarkable display of Haki electricity, it’s clearly appropriate since the emphasis is put a lot on the liveliness and flow of the electricity. If you are interested in Ken’ichi Kutsuna, we suggest you read our interview with him from this year.
Hone Hone’s cuts end with a shot from above of Kaido running, with Luffy’s giant shadow looming over him, suggesting Luffy’s transforming in his giant form once again.
The next cuts are from Yen BM, an incredibly talented animator who, like Vincent Chansard, is part of Toei’s Western crew. Yen BM has consistently impressed everyone whenever they work on an episode. I particularly want to highlight two aspects of Yen BM’s sequence that I enjoyed. First, there’s Kaido’s elegant running and jumping as he avoids Luffy’s electrical attacks at 00:04 in the clip above. The strength of Kaido’s animalistic design is evident, with his dinosaur-like legs and tail flowing behind him. Kaido’s hybrid form is especially unique, with complex details such as scales and animal features. It must have been challenging for the Toei animators to animate him for so long, but this sequence is a fitting farewell to him – or maybe a liberation from him.
Yen BM continues with smooth and beautiful Kutsuna-like electricity effects, transitioning into one of my favorite moments of the entire sequence at 0:13, where Luffy wonders where Kaido could be.
The character acting is simply stunning here. Luffy appears to be floating in the air, but he slowly regains balance and moves his head in all directions in a way that many can relate to. The animation of the floating effect is also exceptional. Luffy’s hair, which looks like a cloud, appears very light, and his hat, which is suspended by a thread around his neck, can be felt. The movement of Luffy’s head affects the thread that holds the hat, causing it to move around in his hair. The subtlety of this animation is impressive and adds to the intensity of the fight scene. Kaido then returns and strikes Luffy like a shadow, with no defined outlines, just brush-like forms. I appreciate the diverse ways in which the characters are drawn throughout the sequence.
Next is a very cool short sequence made by Keisuke Okura. Luffy is falling through a storm of electricity, with a really cool balloon-deflating effect that perfectly suits Gear 5 Luffy. It’s especially effective, given that Luffy is getting beaten up then. One thing I love about this sequence is that most of the electricity we see is actually static and drawn in the background art rather than being animated. It’s a smart choice that really adds to the overall impact of the scene.
The long-awaited cut has arrived, featuring the talented animator Vincent Chansard, the French GOAT – or should I say “La Chèvre,” who has gained immense popularity within the One Piece community since his debut on episode 957 as an animator. Not only is Chansard a skilled animator, but he is also a devoted fan of the series, which is evident in his understanding of the characters he brings to life. Chansard expertly captures the cartoon-like quality of Gear 5 and the ferocity of Kaido, creating a memorable and impactful scene. The cut begins with Luffy’s fall, and Chansard masterfully portrays the elasticity of his spaghetti-like limbs as he takes on the monstrous shadow of Kaido. I’m convinced Vincent might have taken inspiration from the French spaghetti-like brand of cheese named Ficello! Additionally, the compositing of the scene is impressive, with a switch between hard and soft focus to convey the sense of speed and storm.
Even in the next shot, Luffy’s cheek and lips bounce around in a rubbery manner, while Vincent consistently injects humor and liveliness into Gear 5. Additionally, a zoom on Luffy’s eye reveals a dragon emerging from it, with no outlines but rather a seamless blend with the surrounding world. This leads to an intense animation as the dragon chases Luffy, with numerous impact frames, including a striking image of hybrid Kaido. Overall, this sequence effectively conveys Luffy’s fear of Kaido’s impending attack, making it materially visible to us. Vincent, was that in the storyboard, or did you come up with this on the fly?
I think one of the best-animated scenes in Gear 5 Luffy is when he gets caught in the electric vine with all those hilarious drawings merging seamlessly. It’s so satisfying to watch. I’m sure Vincent had a blast animating it, coming up with the funniest poses, and trying to connect them. Now that I think of it, the way he animates those spaghetti-like features of Gear 5 reminds me a lot of Olive from Popeye. This is exactly what I was hoping for when I first saw Gear 5 in the manga.
Vincent is a fan of both Luffy and Kaido, but he particularly loves the latter. He has expressed his admiration for Kaido numerous times, and this is evident in the drawings he creates of the character. Vincent pays great attention to detail, meticulously drawing every single scale on Kaido’s body and animating them with ease. His depiction of Kaido’s tail and its perfectly drawn scales that flow seamlessly in a circular motion is truly impressive.
The next amazing cut is Luffy is forced through a rubber rock so forcefully that it breaks and tears the rubber, another original idea added to the anime. The swirling lines around Luffy create a sense of being engulfed, and the subliminal, humorous expressions on Luffy’s face at the end of the scene are so enjoyable. Vincent, you had a lot of fun animating this scene, didn’t you?
One of the most impressive cuts in the sequence is when Luffy is thrown onto a large rubber trampoline. The animation’s bounciness timing is perfectly in sync with the storyboard, which is truly remarkable. The scene is quite ambitious in terms of staging, as it shows Luffy engulfing himself once again in a rubber rock, temporarily changing the point of view to an underground perspective. Every shot changes with a duration calculated according to the timing of the bouncy animation, making the bounciness feel real. As Luffy gets deeper into the rock, there are more frames of him getting squashed, while the bounce when he gets outside is swift. Despite the scene having two completely different points of view – underground and outside – it still works seamlessly.
The depiction of Luffy being flattened against the ground is impressively rendered with accurate shadows and depth, resembling someone pressed against a window. Additionally, the rubber trampoline’s gelatinous texture and the animation of objects sinking into a liquid are both well-executed.
Next, Luffy is shown badly beaten, with stars swirling around his head and spirals in his eyes. What makes this moment stand out is the incredible attention to detail in the artwork, which gives Luffy a sense of 3D volume and perspective. The moving shadows are also expertly drawn, even on the spirals and stars. You can see from the screenshot how accurately the cast shadows are portrayed, adding to the palpable feeling of immersion in the scene. Although Luffy is a cartoon character, the artwork creates a sense of realism that draws us in. The combination of 3D and cartoonish elements gives the scene a unique “low poly era” video game feel.
After that, we witness more of Kaido’s impressive abilities. Vincent adds shadows to his scales, causing him to overpower the stunning Kutsuna lightning effects with his purple Haki energy. The following shot of Luffy and Kaido appearing as horizontal flares adds to the already legendary and epic vibe of the scene.
One important point to note about Vincent Chansard is that his animation style is highly representative of the Yutapon influence that is prevalent in the new generation of animators. Yutapon refers to the style of legendary animator Yutaka Nakamura acquired after Star Driver and Space Dandy, although he had already earned that nickname at the time of his work on Overman King Gainer in the early 2000s. This style is characterized by simple yet impactful drawings, with a strong emphasis on geometry, volume, and 3D effects, and features action scenes that often incorporate fluorescent colors like the blue electricity of Luffy and the purple Haki of Kaido. Additionally, the animation may include unique impact frames that significantly alter the style, as well as simple background animation with the “Yutapon cubes” that have become famous. The influence of Yutapon is not limited to just Vincent Chansard’s work but can also be seen throughout the entire sequence, particularly in the next part, animated by Shuu Sugita. This demonstrates the significant impact this style has had on the current generation of animators.
Toei also posted Vincent Chansard’s original genga sequence on Twitter:
I noticed something intriguing while looking at Vincent’s digital artwork. He has the ability to utilize various brushes, including a thick circular one, to animate the electricity in a Kutsuna-like style. This made me realize how the animation process is much simpler and quicker compared to using a pencil to draw outlines. Such effects are an advancement that was only possible with Kutusna’s use of digital software such as Flash.
The sequence ends with Shuu Sugita’s work, just as it began. I don’t want to bring up Kutsuna lightning again, but this time, I truly believe that they are the highlight of the entire sequence. The initial purple lightning effects that flow onto the camera against a black screen resemble Haki blood coursing through veins, which creates the eerie feeling that we’re witnessing Kaido’s final attack. The compositing of these lightning effects is incredibly effective because the veins in the background become progressively darker based on their placement, creating a sense of volume despite the black background.
The final strike from Kaido feels monstrous, and the foreground debris is given a cinematic storm effect using the same compositing technique as in the opening cut. Oh, and did I mention those incredibly fluid Kutsuna lightning effects that destroy rocks to conclude this spectacular sequence?
I appreciate how the focus throughout the sequence is on Luffy’s ability to control electricity with his power. However, towards the end, Kaido’s Haki overpowers it using the same animation technique. This is in line with the dialogue between Kaido and Luffy, where Kaido emphasizes that despite the strength of one’s devil fruit power, Haki (willpower energy) is ultimately the most crucial factor.
That’s the end of Shuu Sugita’s amazing work on One Piece. I’ll never forget the first time I saw one of his cuts in episode 978 – it was during an incredible action sequence, and his work was simply phenomenal.
At that moment, I realized something amazing was happening to the series, and more and more incredible episodes followed. Sadly, Sugita won’t be working on One Piece for a long time since he’s now employed full-time by WIT studio. Obviously, we will keep an eye on his work there and keep witnessing his talent!
Shuu Sugita was also an animation director on this episode, meaning that he corrected some drawings. Here are some he shared on Twitter.
This very lengthy Sakuga Espresso (or should I say Sakuga Lungo Americano?) concludes here! I hope you enjoyed reading this detailed breakdown of one of my top three favorite action sequences in the One Piece series. The Wano arc has been particularly impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the final episode has in store. I will continue to write One Piece-related articles on fullfrontal.moe, as well as fresh interviews we keep for you in store. Please look forward to it!