“One Piece”: five questions to understand the phenomenon

Two weeks after having known the thousandth episode of its television version, the hundredth volume of the manga One Piece arrives Wednesday December 8 in France. Its French publisher, Glénat, has announced a print run of 250,000 copies, including a very popular collector’s edition in brown imitation leather.

The opportunity to immerse yourself in this literary phenomenon which has sold more than 26 million albums in France. Alongside Son Goku (Dragon Ball), Naruto or Deku (My Hero Academia), Luffy, the hero of One Piece is one of the most popular manga characters.

What is “One Piece” about?

Published one chapter per week since 1997, the series chronicles the adventures of a teenage boy in a straw hat with a red grosgrain ribbon, Monkey D. Luffy, determined to become the greatest of pirates. In doing so, he seeks to get his hands on the “One Piece”, a famous treasure hidden by the mythical Gol D. Roger.

According to his adventures, Luffy will constitute a crew. One counts among his meetings Zoro, the swordsman with three sabers, Nami, the pirate thief and peerless navigator, Sanji, the very flirty dandy cook or Tony-Tony Chopper, anthropomorphic reindeer and doctor. To accomplish his purpose, Luffy can also rely on superpowers: by ingesting a Devil Fruit, he has become an elastic man. However, the fruit afflicts the sailor with a rather crippling curse: he loses the ability to swim.

One Piece was born from the imagination of Eiichiro Oda, a mangaka born in 1975 in Kumamoto, Japan. Big fan of drawing, from the series Vic le Viking, from rakugo (a form of traditional theater and only on a humorous scene) and especially comics, Oda will decide at a very young age to become a manga artist. High school student, he submits drawn stories to manga competitions organized by Japanese publishing houses to recruit young talents.

Awarded in 1992 and 1993, he caught the eye of the editorial staff of Weekly Shonen Jump – prestigious manga magazine and purveyor of successful series aimed at teenagers – the only publication by which he swears, he who is a fan of Dragon Ball.

After various unsuccessful proposals and internships with confirmed mangakas, the obstinate Eiichiro Oda will submit to his publisher a story of pirates, a theme however not very popular in the manga at the time. And thus realize his dream: One Piece starts to appear in the Weekly Shonen Jump in July 1997. It only took a few weeks to make his series one of the magazine’s most popular. Almost 25 years later, Eiichiro Oda is still in charge of what has meanwhile become the best-selling manga in the world, with more than 490 million volumes sold.

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One Piece is also, since 1999, a television series which counts more than 1000 episodes. Broadcast every week, it is produced by the historic studios of Toei. There are also several films, video games and an upcoming serial adaptation with real actors on Netflix.

The crew, the “Straw Hat”, named after Luffy's famous headgear (center).
  • Who reads (and watches) “One Piece”?

And One Piece is a manga said shonen, Originally intended for an adolescent and male audience, built around archetypal values ​​such as surpassing oneself, bravery or friendship, its readers are numerous and their profiles varied. Since its publication in France began in 2000, the series has sold over 26 million copies. The hearts of fans, now in their twenties or even thirties, discovered the children’s series when it was broadcast in the mid-2000s on TNT, at the end of the day. There are also their elders who, already fans of Japanese comics and animation since the programs “Récré A2” and “Club Dorothée”, continued to read manga or got back to it by discovering One Piece. A series that they then pass on to their children or share with those around them, when they are younger.

The current young generation is discovering it in turn, if we are to believe the sales figures in bookstores: in 2020, the first volume still sold more than 78,000 copies, according to its French publisher, Glénat. On ADN, one of the streaming platforms that broadcasts One Piece in France since 2018, the animated series has already accumulated 200 million views. The first week of its broadcast, each episode recorded 150,000 views. Many rappers, athletes, comedians and actors also claim to be fans of One Piece and sometimes allude to it in their profession.

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Four volumes of One Piece, each grouping together several chapters, appear each year in France. The most frequent readers discover the series online, chapter by chapter. The Japanese publisher of One Piece, Shueisha has also been offering a French version of its free online reading app, Manga Plus, since September.

The animated series is broadcast almost simultaneously with Japan on Sunday morning, on streaming platforms such as DNA or Crunchyroll. The series is also broadcast on the Game One, J-One, Mangas or TFX channels.

  • How to explain this success ?

Eiichiro Oda has never ceased to take his readers the wrong way and to distill riddles in his saga that he only solves years later, the better to keep them going. The very nature of the treasure which gives its name to its series remains, for example, still a mystery.

With each publication, One Piece appears at the top of the most popular discussions on networks

One Piece Therefore generates a lot of discussions, debates and, as the debut of the series coincides with the arrival of the Internet in homes, several sites and forums have, from the beginning, been devoted to it. Since then, with the development of the YouTube platform, many channels carefully analyze each chapter or episode. With each publication, One Piece appears at the top of the most popular discussions on social networks, including Twitter.

Readers of One Piece also salute the coherence of a very vast universe, with stopovers inspired by the landscapes of Spain, Egypt or the United States. “Oda has conceived his story as a sort of gigantic amusement park, with atmospheres and atmospheres specific to the regions in which we find ourselves”, explains Benoît Huot, manga editorial manager at Glénat.

In addition, Eiichiro Oda is committed to carving out his characters – heroes or enemies. Whether they are wacky or very serious, extras or members of Luffy’s crew, Oda endows them with a well-defined style but also with a past, a journey and dreams that they will try to achieve. “We work with an index of proper names, attack names, etc. which today must be 35 or 38 pages “, entrust Djamel Rabahi and Julien Favereau, the French translators of the manga.

One Piece is also known to be full of emotions, making you go from laughter to tears. Eiichiro Oda’s characters deliver their feelings and cry openly. Under an epic exterior, One Piece also addresses many themes such as slavery, xenophobia, corruption of leaders or ecology. The series also conveys many values ​​such as courage, fighting spirit and friendship.

  • When is the end expected?

If he did not give a precise deadline, Eiichiro Oda hinted that the plot of his manga was entering its last big part. A plausible hypothesis since the current sequence takes place in the Land of the Wa, a sort of feudal Japan inspired by prints and manga classics, while the mangaka had never placed his crew in his native country. A sort of conclusive and particularly epic home game where he has a lot of fun and places many cultural references, such as those evoking the rakugo that he loves.

But let fans be reassured: the series could last a few more years. Some are betting on an epilogue in 2027 for the 30 years of the saga.