Home Interview: 'The Unique Blend Defining ONE PIECE’s Music' & Upcoming Special Las Vegas Show w/ Symphony Producer Julien Mombert

Interview: 'The Unique Blend Defining ONE PIECE’s Music' & Upcoming Special Las Vegas Show w/ Symphony Producer Julien Mombert

The answer to what makes ONE PIECE a special anime is likely the same as what makes anime a special medium. For many fans, the instant that any singular element peaked, be it voice acting or animation, it was probably in tandem with a soundtrack that induced a sense of awe or something similar and powerful.

Few will have spent more time alongside the anime’s soundtrack than the ONE PIECE Music Symphony’s Julien Mombert, founder, producer, and presenter of the world’s only official One Piece orchestra. Started over 10 years ago by his La Fée Sauvage, its worldwide tour comes to the United States this July to celebrate One Piece‘s 25th anniversary. Ahead of a special one-night-only event in Las Vegas, Anime Corner had the chance to talk to Mombert about what he believes lies at the core of One Piece‘s music, his unique perspective on developing the orchestra over the past decade, and the company’s plans in partnership with Anime Expo next month.

Q: The ONE PIECE Music Symphony performs mainstays like “We Are!,” “Sai sai saikyo!!!,” “Oitsumerareta,” and “Binks no Sake.” These are songs that have been loved for decades. The series has also updated these songs and experimented with different genres, as recently seen in Film: Red. What would you say is behind the timelessness of ONE PIECE’s music? And what things do you feel lie at the core of composing a ONE PIECE song?

Julien Mombert: Well, to avoid any misunderstanding, I want to start by saying that I am replying both as a fan and as a concert producer and presenter who has listened to the music countless times on CD, while watching the TV show, at rehearsals, and live on stage (for the most accurate answer, you would definitely need to check with the composer). So, my personal impression is that at the core of ONE PIECE’s music are both the ‘80s anime music genre and Japan’s jazz big band music from the ‘70s, meeting with classical music. Additionally, having started in 1999, the TV series’ music has evolved with time. I would say that it has evolved alongside both the adventures of the characters and the evolution of pop music as a whole. I think that this is the unique blend that defines ONE PIECE’s music.

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Q: You’ve said that your ONE PIECE concerts draw much younger crowds compared to others, like previous Sailor Moon ones. How excited are you about reaching new fans when the ONE PIECE Music Symphony performs during Anime Expo weekend this summer?

Mombert: The ONE PIECE Music Symphony has expanded its audience exponentially every year since we started more than 10 years ago, and I trust this is a mix of both keeping its audience and getting more and more new people on board. This is a bit of a unique situation in which something that lasts so long does not decline after reaching its peak but rather reaches a new peak every year! When you have worked so hard and so long on a project, it is extremely rewarding to still bring in some new audience members (as much as it is to still see some customers from 10 years ago!).

ONE PIECE Music Symphony 25th Anniversary World Tour

Q: How much is anime responsible for drawing you personally into music? Could you break your career into arcs/sagas for us? Extra points for fun names.

Mombert: Well, to the point that I literally would not be a music producer if not for anime… And I am not saying that to sound cool. I had a regular corporate executive career, and after more than 10 years, I left corporate banking to do this job. It was not supposed to become a full-time job at all. I just wanted to see an official anime concert with an orchestra playing my beloved music live, and at the time I started, this was just not happening. So I was like, “Ok, I think I can make that happen… Let’s try at least!” In ONE PIECE terms, I would say that I was a marine for about 12 years before joining the Revolutionary Army, for which the goal is not to save the world from tyranny but to spread Japanese anime music everywhere across the world!

Q: Before Anime Expo kicks off your North American tour, you have a special one-night-only stop in Las Vegas. You recruit talent for the concerts locally. Have you found that more people are familiar with the anime associated with the music you’re producing for lately?

Mombert: To be clear, our event is in partnership with and during Anime Expo but not at Anime Expo. We just thought this would be a good day to gather all anime fans. Many people cannot travel from far away just for one show, so we tried to give them the opportunity to attend this show at the same time. Then — and this might be surprising for some — while being an anime fan is necessary on the production team, especially among the people involved in creating the show (like myself), this is not at all a requirement for the musicians. The main requirement is to be a highly skilled professional orchestra musician, ensuring that the fans in the audience are blown away by the musical performance. But, of course, when such a musician mentions being an anime fan, it is always a great pleasure to hear this and have him involved in this project with us!

Q: Has there historically been a bias toward composing and arranging music that originated from anime? Has it changed?

Mombert: Well, I am speaking based on what I’ve heard from various game and anime composers. Prior to the ‘90s, it seems that it was really considered a poor job — kind of a failure. I am really talking about the perceptions of other composers (the ‘80s is where it all started for me, and I still treasure that anime music…). Then, the second generation came — the one that partially grew up with anime and gaming — and now, we are talking about the third and fourth generations, who take anime and gaming for granted in a society where these things have moved from an underground subculture to becoming completely mainstream. Now, we have a Grammy Award for video game composers. Joe Hisaishi was nominated to the Golden Globes this year for music in Studio Ghibli’s anime. So, things have definitely changed in a very positive way! Recalling the ‘80s, I would never have imagined that Japanese anime would become such a terrific part of mainstream culture worldwide!

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Q: You’ve developed this symphony alongside ONE PIECE composer Kohei Tanaka and worked with numerous other greats — Japanese and otherwise. Do you have any influences or profound moments?

Mombert: I do have many. I am particularly grateful to Nobuo Uematsu, who was the first composer we produced when I started this business, and to Kohei Tanaka, who trusted me to develop the ONE PIECE Music Symphony back in 2012. They have both supported us from then until now, and this really means the world to me.

Kohei Tanaka will attend this year’s ONE PIECE Music Symphony

Q: Are there any challenges/considerations specifically associated with arranging music made for anime rather than music of other origins?

Mombert: It depends on the music itself. Some music is already written to be very close to some classical orchestral music. But a question that regularly comes in concerns when nonclassical elements, especially electric instruments (e.g., synthesizer, guitar, and bass), are part of the original music. Some producers try to remove these elements and make the music purely symphonic. We have a different approach, as we believe that this often denatures the original music that we came to love, so we try to perform the music as close as possible to how people hear it in their heads and memories.

Q: You’ve been doing the ONE PIECE Music Symphony — the world’s only official one — for over 10 years. What trials and tribulations have you and La Fée Sauvage experienced? How have you changed ahead of your Las Vegas stop?

Mombert: Well, as we discussed before, when the project started 12 years ago, this was a different area for anime and game music. Most people over 35 had no idea what anime was, anime and manga were barely a thing in the US (except among hardcore fans), and the music professional world was looking down on it very severely. We had to strongly push to open any door available, and it was much harder to just rent a venue or have some high-level orchestra perform our show. This situation is gone now, and we do not have to convince people to have such shows anymore…

Q: What can you tell us about the new pieces you’ve developed for the Las Vegas show and how they exemplify this change?

Mombert: Absolutely. This year, you will discover the brand-new TV opening of “UUUUUS!” and enjoy the first performances of music such as the emotional “Haha naru Umi” (Mother Sea), the lighthearted “Sekai no ichiban oden da!!” (This is the best oden in the world!!), and the amazing “Ore no saikouchiten” (Luffy’s Gear 5 Theme). What has changed is that, in the past, a new opening or a new theme song like “Ore no saikouchiten” would have taken time to attract a concert audience. But not anymore, and I think that many people are like me and cannot wait for these songs’ first live performances.

ONE PIECE OST: “Ore no saikouchiten”

Q: Do you have any weird mental images or abstractions for writing and arranging music when playing with so many people?

Mombert: I am neither a writer nor a composer, so I cannot really reply to this question.

Q: Do you have a dream?

Mombert: I would love to have people rediscover anime music from the ‘80s and ‘90s. This might be hard from a commercial point of view, but who knows?

Q: What’s your message for those who are/might be interested in coming to your concert in Las Vegas?

Mombert: Well, you know, this is a special year for ONE PIECE and Las Vegas. We had the Sphere take over this week, we had the ONE PIECE Café Opening last week, and next, we are holding the 25th Anniversary Orchestra concert. There is definitely something special going on this year, and I would place a bet that the Las Vegas performance is going to be a very special one with a lot of passion in the room! So, if you have a chance to attend, do not miss it!

Will you be stopping by the new official ONE PIECE Cafe?

Absolutely. Can’t wait to be in Vegas and have a great meal at the place! Thanks for your time.

A big thank you to Julien Mombert for the interview and insightful answers. Readers can purchase ONE PIECE Music Symphony tickets from the official website and follow its founding company, La Fée Sauvage on Instagram.
©Eiichiro Oda/Shueisha/Toei Animation

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