I’m pretty sure that the only thing more popular than AKB48 in Japan is One Piece, a manga/anime series. The series is based around pirates looking for the biggest treasure in pirate history. The Straw Hat Pirates crew is lead by Luffy a teenager who has elastic abilities accidentally gained by eating a special fruit. The rest of the crew includes a swordsman, chef, sniper, navigator, and a witch-doctor / anthropomorphized reindeer named Chopper Man, musician skeleton, and cybernetic shipwright. The series follows the misadventures of the Straw Hat crew as they search for the “ONE PIECE” (huge treasure) and Luffy aspires to become the pirate king.
This was the first bit of Japanese pop culture I really became familiar with. It started when I noticed that almost all of my students has this round, horned, hat wearing character on their pencil cases. Once I noticed the guy he was popping up everywhere. At first I didn’t get it, the character isn’t cute so why would the girls like him, and why would the boys be ok with liking the same character as girls? After further investigation and questioning I found out that he was comedic relief of the One Piece crew. This discovery opened up a world of characters and understanding for me. One Piece merchandise is everywhere. Pencil cases, charms, t-shirts, cell phone covers, croc charms. This isn’t just kids either, I’ve seen adults who are just as crazy about it. When I went wakeboarding, the burly guys I went with had the little One Piece stickers all over their wakeboards.
The popularity of One Piece isn’t based on my observation alone, I found some official numbers to back up my theory. It is the most popular manga (comic book) in Japan, selling 230million (that’s right million) copies since 1997. The anime series started in 1999 and is around episode number 515 or so. The only show older than that I can think of is the Simpsons, and we all know it just isn’t the same as it used to be.
After all this hype I figured I should see what its like. I tried a few episodes on for size and I wasn’t disappointed. It was entertaining, almost funny. I’ve tried watching other Japanese anime and just couldn’t get into them. This was better than others. That’s all I can tell you. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.