‘One Piece’ Manga Enjoys Unprecedented Popularity

MANGA MANIA — Copies of the latest volume of the manga comic titled “One Piece” are put on sale Dec. 4 at Forest in Kinokuniya bookstore’s main office in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. Kyodo News photo

TOKYO — The popularity of a manga comic titled “One Piece” remains unceasing with the circulation of the latest 56th volume put on sale this month totaling 2.85 million copies, marking the highest number for a first printing in the history of comic publications.

The figure brought the total circulation of “One Piece” (featuring a boy named Monkey D. Luffy who travels the oceans in search of treasure) to 176 million copies since the first volume was put out based on the series that first appeared in 1997 in the weekly “Shonen Jump” published by Shueisha Inc.

The story written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda, 35, is simple, centering on Luffy who trains his sights on becoming king of the pirates as he sails from island to island, looking for the treasure One Piece.

His body expands and contracts like rubber, something he gained from eating a supernatural fruit. He fights his foes and makes an all-out effort to protect his buddies while the secrets of the world become known.

The circulation of his comic has been establishing a record for first printing since the 24th volume outpaced Takehiko Inoue’s “Slam Dunk” in 2002.

Young women and male high school students picked up copies of the 56th volume piled up in a salesroom at Kinokuniya bookstore in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on Dec. 4 when it was put on sale.

A 40-year-old company employee who was also there said, “I have been reading it ever since the first volume was published. I was moved whenever the new volume came out.”

A clerk at another bookstore said it was amazing that the volume just released is being sold to one person after another. A man associated with the publishing industry said it is difficult to gauge the sales of “One Piece.”

Fuji Television Network Inc. has been broadcasting One Piece’s TV anime and getting high ratings, including about 10 percent in the Kanto region that embraces Tokyo.Kosuke Kitajima, gold medalist in the 100-meter and the 200-meter breaststroke at the Athens and Beijing Summer Olympic Games, spoke the dialogue in dubbing in “Strong World,” the 10th movie version of “One Piece” released Dec. 12.

A publishing industry insider said sales of Oda’s volume may increase further in connection with the release of the film.

Oda said he has drawn illustrations based always on whether he would be excited by them if he were 15 years old. He described the popularity he enjoys as just luck.

He also said his manga readers consist of roughly equal numbers of men and women ranging from upper grade elementary school-aged children to those in their late 40s.

Reactions from readers vary. A 14-year-old boy said, “The ideas are funny, such as Luffy’s expanding rubber body.” A 22-year-old female university student said “the characters are cute.”

A 23-year-old woman said she particularly liked Luffy’s “absolute friendship with his companions,” while a 48-year-old man said he is fond of the “nostalgic theme of adventures and friendship.”

Miki Kobayashi, an editor of “One Piece Pia” at Pia Corp., said, “Togetherness among the characters is strong because ‘One Piece’ is a story about buddies and adventures. Universal elements of the story on friendship and bonds among fellows may bring about strong emotions even today.”

Comic artist Jun Ishikawa said the popularity of “One Piece” lies in its composition that is simple and easy to understand.

A bookstore employee said explicitness about not to betray companions and the story’s fast evolution may match the sensitivity of Net-generation people who seek out direct expressions.

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