Steve Aoki Hypes One Piece's New Movie and Anime's Big Boom in Exclusive Interview

Steve Aoki is a lot of things, and an anime fan is just one of them. The award-winning music producer has fans spanning the globe, and his immaculate style is hard to mistake. From clothing deals to NFT trades, Aoki has his fingers on pulse of pop culture, and it turns out one of his biggest dreams is coming true soon thanks to One Piece's new movie.

Recently, had the chance to speak with Aoki before his upcoming appearance at Anime Expo 2022. The artist is slated to perform a show for guests to hype One Piece Film: Red, and it turns out the opportunity is a dream come true for Aoki. The artist has been following the series since it hit TV years ago, and as the anime industry continues to boom globally, the musician would love to work with more of Toei Animation's top IPs.


Q: What I want to know from you first is, how were you introduced to One Piece?

Steve Aoki: I guess back, back in college, I guess, what was it? 1995 to 2000? I was in an anime club. During that time I was out there, we'd always take over this student hall, and it was maybe 30 nerdy guys and girls get together and geek out about the soundtracks and watch our favorite classics like Ghost in the Shell and Akira. Then there was all the new stuff that was coming out, and One Piece was around that time. I forget, but I remember it was like one of the new ones I was introduced to around that time. I to give it up to the curators of the anime club. I wasn't the head, I was just like going there and getting my weekly dose of anime. 

Q: What is one of your favorite things about One Piece? What is the thing about this anime and this manga that's really stuck with you as a favorite highlight?

Aoki: I'd say obviously there's a lot of great through lines and storylines that stick out to a lot of people. But the thing that kind of connects to me personally is like the fact that I tour with the crew. I've always got my own Straw Hat Pirates. I don't want to say I'm like Luffy, because he's like the man, but it's similar. We roll around, we do adventures, and we kind of like cruise around and have fun. The Straw Hat Pirates and Luffy, the relationship they have is, it's really cool. It's really, all these years later, over 20 years later, here we are doing something similar in my own way. You know what I mean? And I love that. I think I always go back to that and I think that there's like this empathetic relationship there and how they all just kind of like roll together. I love that.

Q: What does it mean to you to be partnering with One Piece and being able to celebrate Luffy and his Straw Hat crew with other fans in America?

Aoki: Well, this is a really big deal for me because One Piece is definitely one of my favorite stories. I always have so much respect and look up to Toei Animation as a company that fulfills what anime is as a culture. It's a big one for me. I mean One Piece has been around in the anime culture for so many years and now it's like, I'm going to be part of that culture. It's just a big deal.

Q: You've said that, you remember meeting One Piece during the phase with the anime club and alongside One Piece, are there any other anime series from Toei or just out in the world right now that you would really love to try to find a way to partner with?

Aoki: I have worked with Toei before on Dragon Ball. We did a remix which was really cool idea. Xenoverse 2,  when they dropped that, I did two remixes and then created a Goku version of Steve Aoki inside the game. You had to find this NPC and  it looks like Goku with long hair and it's so cool. They worked with their IP and then worked me in there. And then when you find the NPC, the easter egg is that you could download two free remixes that I made of "Cha-la Head Cha-la" and another one. 

That's the only way you could ever hear those, those Dragon Ball Aoki remixes. I hope to work with Dragon Ball again because I'm such a fan. I mean, Sailor Moon too. I just would want to work with them and Digimon as well. I love TCG. I love Pokémon because Pokémon went so deep into the TCG space with all the cards and stuff. I have my own TCG company called MetaZoo. So really, really love the TCG community and culture. But yeah, and not just with, with music, I have my own like clothing line and merch line.

We do collabs with a lot of anime IPs. We did a really sick Dragon Ball collection that just dropped and did extremely well with all different kinds of pieces. We're doing exclusive One Piece anime merch collection with skateboards and all that fun stuff. And actually we're going to have our own booth --  my brand is called Dim Mak --  and we're going to have a booth during the Anime Expo. We're going to be showcasing our One Piece Dim Mak skateboards. I'm really excited about that too. 

Q: Finally, what is it about anime that inspires you and your team to make these collaborations? What is it about Anime itself that just resonates with you?

Aoki: I think for me, historically as a legacy, anime is very Japanese and I'm Japanese. I have a strong affinity to Japanese culture. I love when Japanese culture really touches people's hearts around the world. As an Asian American, it's like anytime there are any sort of Asian parts of culture that can really influence or disrupt or do something magical in culture in any way, I'm always empathetic to it. There's a strong magnetic energy to it. I remember growing up as a kid, Bruce Lee was one of the only Asian faces in popular media that everyone was fascinated by. It made me feel so special that I was like, 'Oh, his face is just like mine.' I found that kind of affinity so close with anime, like when you go to anime clubs and everyone's just so obsessed with Japanese animation. You don't go in there and there's only Japanese kids; You go in there and it's like the world, there's kids in from Europe, kids from America, kids from Australia.

People just love anime, and then I love the fact that they come to Japan. So for me, that's where it all stemmed from as a kid. As you grow up, it's like that doesn't always play into it, but it's always kind of like riding behind the scenes. As I got deeper into anime at a young age, you just love the art, the style, and how much of an influence it has on other animation from different parts of the world. The thing about anime in Japan that doesn't exist so much in other countries is that anime in Japan is literally in every part of the culture. Like at restaurants, on the clothes, when you're sight-seeing and you're a tourist, it's literally part of everything. It's not just for kids. It's like for adults and grandparents and the elderly and everyone. I also love that... it's embedded in all of Japanese culture.