A Brief Glance at the Phenomenon that is ONE PIECE

Mugiwara 9

The 9-member Straw-hat crew.

 

Its following was modest in the beginning. A year later, its fan base began to spread towards its targeted audience and for a long period after the start of what is now the mega-hit series, ONE PIECE has been acknowledged as an upcoming popular shounen series in Japan. Eventually, along with NARUTO and BLEACH, it became one of the star titles serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Shounen Jump. Now running for more than thirteen years, ONE PIECE, created by Oda Eichirou, has steadily and unsurprisingly climbed the ladder of recognition.

Back in early 2000, although its place in Weekly Shounen Jump was secured, ONE PIECE was still just considered a manga series directed towards a specific audience of young males. After all, it had all the makings of a typical shounen– an adventure series set in an exciting world consisting of rowdy pirates, crazy fruits that give the consumer a random power, action-packed fights, odd hybrid animals, and main characters that have all the necessary characteristics of a teenage boy’s image of what a hero should be. Yes, ONE PIECE was popular and the boys loved it, but what most people didn’t predict was the all-consuming age-wide ONE PIECE fan explosion that started sometime back in 2008 (or slightly before that). This fan explosion has become so intense that its most recent tankouban sales have consistently reached the 3-million sales mark.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that ONE PIECE has reached a new level beyond any manga title in history. Who knows… perhaps early fans that had started reading ONE PIECE when it was first published in 1997 may have pictured its brilliant future potential in the year 2011. But even as a follower of ONE PIECE since 1999, I must admit that I had never thought that ONE PIECE would have become the sheer giant that it is now, surpassing even shounen mega titles such as Dragonball, Slam Dunk, Hokuto no Ken, Meitantei Conan, and Touch, in terms of sales and audience diversity.

ONE PIECE Reader Demographic

ONE PIECE Reader Demographic

 

In fact, ONE PIECE has surprisingly become a general favorite for adults, and according to a NHK program, 43% of its readers fall under the 19-29 age group, 32% in the 30-49 age range, and 13% are above 50 years old. That means 88% of ONE PIECE readers are adults. Only 12% of its readers are under 18.

If we consider the statistics and look at this situation in a larger perspective, this is really not so surprising at all. Considering ONE PIECE began in 1997, those who started reading as children have no doubt aged thirteen years, making many of them adults in the present time. Is it so unusual that these children-turned-adults have not outgrown shounen manga and comics? And due to its longevity, kids that start reading today must go out of their way to purchase the earlier tankouban in order to catch up, which might explain why the readership percentage is lower in that age group.

First Glance Mugiwara

First Glance- The Straw-hat members as they were first introduced.

 

Either way, the fact that ONE PIECE has become a wide-known favorite among adults above 19 years of age just shows its far reaching effects. A manga that was intended for growing teenage boys in the first place has become an inspirational comic for age ranges six to one hundred.

Why is this? As fans know, ONE PIECE is no mere shounen manga—there are many different themes and components in the series that attract the sensibilities of all age groups. Within the world Oda-sensei has created, there are stories of camaraderieship and loyalty among friends and allies and even villains, stories that give inspiration and hope, touching and emotional chapters that pull on a person’s heart strings, and well-woven and intricate plots and twists to satisfy even the most picky of readers.

A program that NHK did about ONE PIECE even interviews a man in his 40’s by the name of Sasaki Takahiro who was suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide as he dealt with societal and career pressures. However, after reading ONE PIECE, he finds hope and inspiration to live for himself rather than for the satisfaction of other people who had put pressure on him.

The NHK program gives us the impression that ONE PIECE appeals to a world-weary audience that have suffered from societal values and beliefs. That may be true, as in the case of Sasaki, but as I’ve mentioned before, ONE PIECE has many other elements that appeal to a wide-range of people. This includes people like me, who read it for the great storytelling.

Mugiwara 2 Year Time-skip

The Straw-hat crew after a two year time-skip, thirteen years into ONE PIECE's serialization.

 

What amazes me is Oda’s ability to spin a fanciful yet realistic facsimile of the world using imperfect characters that grow and become stronger because they want to live freely in their own way. His storytelling is refreshing in the sense that he references back to own work in order to fill in potential plot holes or loopholes. Characters we see in the first volume remake their appearances in the latest volumes so characters don’t just disappear, characters aren’t killed off for indiscernible reasons, and many references mentioned in the past are seen once again in the future in a larger scope so we get more of a sense of what is going on gradually—I believe that it is these elements of good storytelling that set ONE PIECE separately and far above other series.

So we have the group of world-weary readers and the group of people who appreciate good storytelling. Who else is there?

I believe there is yet another group of fans that read ONE PIECE, and that is because everyone else does—the bandwagoners. These are the people who read ONE PIECE because their boyfriend/girlfriend, family member, or their next door neighbor reads it. I’m not saying these people can’t transition into the first two groups, but I’m pretty sure there are those who give the appearance they read ONE PIECE just because they want to be like everyone else.

Of course, I’m not saying that there are only three groups of people who read ONE PIECE. After all, what makes ONE PIECE phenomenal is its ability to attract many different kinds of people in all age groups and nationalities.

So what group of fans do you fit under? And if you don’t belong in any group, what type of fan would you describe yourself as?