Eiichiro Oda’s manga ONE PIECE (published by Shueisha Inc.) reached a milestone when it issued its 100th volume on September 3, 24 years after its first publication in 1997.
According to Oricon Inc., a website that supplies statistical information about the entertainment industry in Japan, 1.173 million copies were sold in the first week of sales.
The adventure of the swashbuckling boy who aims to become a “pirate king” and his friends has been popular across generations around the world, and its cumulative circulation worldwide is estimated to be an unprecedented 500 million. The publisher is fired up to provide an exciting finale to “the world’s number one manga.”
The main character, Monkey D. Luffy, is a young man who dreams of being a pirate king. He confronts his enemies, together with friends like sword fighter Zoro and navigator Nami, by making the best use of their respective strengths. The latest series, called Wano Kuni Hen is set in a country called Wano in the New World. It is not affiliated with the “World Government” that appears in the series, but is reminiscent of Japan with the appearance of the samurai.
“The story is developing faster than we thought,” said Yuuji Iwasaki, the 11th editor of Weekly Shonen Jump, who was talking about One Piece’s recent developments.
“It feels like it’s coming to an end, and surprisingly, there is a mystery unveiled every week.”
ONE PIECE was the debut work of manga artist Oda, who is said to have spent the last quarter of a century only drawing cartoons, except when he was sleeping.
“Talking with my former senior editor, I got the impression that Mr. Oda was an ‘eternal boy,'” reflected Mr. Iwasaki. He noted that Oda has been at the top illustrator for the Shonen Jump publication for 24 years, but that does not make him complacent or stop him from looking for something new and interesting to make him grow further. Some of his seniors describe him as “a scary child.”
In 2015, the manga series set the record for the “most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author” in the Guinness World of Records.
As of July this year, the cumulative circulation worldwide exceeded 490 million. The first editions of the manga surpassed 3 million copies each for 44 consecutive volumes (volume 57 to 100). “Usually, if one goes over 1 million copies, it is considered a big hit, 44 consecutive volumes may be unique in the world,” commented Iwasaki.
It is also popular overseas, and a live-action drama is underway in Hollywood. At the Tokyo Olympics, there were some overseas athletes who used their free time to post pictures of themselves posing as characters in the saga.
Just Keep Climbing
Still, there are also some problems facing the long-term series. After twenty-four years, a child who had been reading ONE PIECE from the beginning has become an adult, and may stop following the series.
Acquiring new readers is also a challenge. The publisher is making various efforts to attract manga fans “who have been away or have not yet read the comics.” Among the bold strategies they have tried, some, such as releasing a limited time manga app, are getting some results.
“We are getting new readers, and I feel that other readers are also coming back,” Iwasaki said.
Last year in 2020, Mr. Oda indicated he will complete the work in “five years.”
He has already decided the storyline in his concept notebook. He just has to figure out how to tell the story every week ー through trial and error, according to the editor.
What are the “ancient weapons” that appear throughout the story? Who is the “D Clan” in Luffy’s name? What is One Piece that the pirate Gol D. Roger spoke of before he died?
There are still many mysteries and hints that remain to be unfolded.
“With Mr. Oda, we talked about the ending, about the climax of Wano Kuni Hen. We just have to continue climbing up towards the finale,” said Iwasaki.
Free Streaming as Anime Approaches 1000th Episode
The ONE PIECE anime is shown at 9:30 every Sunday morning on Fuji Television Network Inc., and it will soon reach it’s own milestone ー the 1000th broadcast of the anime ー on November 21 this year.
The anime version is currently showing the Wano Kuni Hen. As Hiroaki Shibata, the Toei Animation producer commented enthusiastically, “I want to make the story of the 1000th episode enjoyable, to strike a chord with the viewers who have been watching from the beginning.”
As part of promoting the 1000th broadcast, the production company is making Wano Kuni Hen available for free streaming on the series’ official YouTube’s channel.
A total of 5 short dramas involving animation and live-action films are also being distributed. “We will continue to show episodes that we do not want you to miss,” Mr. Shibata said, “We will do our best to make it more exciting as we approach the climax at the end.”
The series started broadcasting in 1999. Among the anime that have been broadcast on Fuji TV, it is the longest lasting series after Sazae-san and Chibi Maruko-chan.
(Read The Sankei Shimbun story in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Eiji Honma