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What the Hell Is 'One Piece'?

By Alexander Joenks | TV | September 5, 2023 |

By Alexander Joenks | TV | September 5, 2023 |


The best part of opening Netflix is that once a week there will be a new giant banner across the top autoplaying a show you’ve never heard of, but are assured is the number one trending thing in the universe and just happens to be a Netflix Original, so it’s damned lucky you keep forgetting to figure out how to cancel that monthly charge. Last week was Suits, Dustin’s favorite generational epic about manila folders. This week is One Piece.

Like you, dear reader, my response was: “What the fuck is One Piece”?

I went to Wikipedia, which cannot lie due to the curse that powers its source code, and found a page approximately as long and detailed as the one for Buddhism, but with more cartoon characters.

Sorry, anime.

Our website doesn’t have enough hard drive space to explain, so I will instead summarize.

Let’s start by just talking about the sheer scale involved in this thing: One Piece is one of the most popular comic books in the world, and “one of” is probably selling it short. It has been published weekly in Japan since 1997, which officially makes it too old for Leonardo DiCaprio to sleep with and also makes it manga, if you were about to “well actually” the term “comic book”. Various statistics scattered around the web point to it selling somewhere in the vicinity of a half billion total copies. The American mainstays like Batman and Superman can surpass or challenge some of those metrics, but also have been around for longer than antibiotics.

Of course, they also reboot their entire universes and storylines several times per decade. A collected edition just of different iterations of Martha Wayne’s pearls rolling into the gutter would need to be a boxed set. One Piece has been a single story for all those issues. Oh sure, it has different story arcs and chapters, but the bottom line is that it’s fundamentally one narrative. One piece of art, if you will.

You know that set of ten collected Sandman volumes that you insist to your mother are graphic novels not mere comic books? One Piece has been collected into 106 such volumes. At this point, it’s well over 20,000 pages, for those of you wanting to envision the sheer shelf impact of collecting the whole thing.

Not to be outdone by the mere page count, the series has also been adapted into an animated television series since 1999 that more or less directly adapts the printed artwork and stories each week. It’s aired over a thousand episodes to date, which makes Law & Order: SVU look like Law & Order: Los Angeles.

Then there have been the 56 video games, 29 novels, 112 soundtrack albums, three themed restaurants, one dedicated theme park (sadly permanently closed during COVID), six stage plays, fifteen animated full-length feature films (box office over $500 million total), one stage musical, and of course absolutely essentially: not one but two cookbooks.

If Amazon and Netflix really knew what synergizing the world of commerce was about, there would be a little button where you could press “Buy it All Now” and in two days a large truck would arrive to drop off the entire franchise on physical media and in exchange take away your house.

Ah, but you might be thinking to yourself, I have been burned too many times. I have seen my love of The Walking Dead drown in the steaming chunks of pointless seasons, spinoffs, and special limited series even as more tumble off the streaming conveyor belt mounted to my television. And let’s not get started on adapting printed works that haven’t been finished yet. Mr. Martin, please be seated, we see you trying to sneak out the back.

Well not only has One Piece been written all this time by its original creator — Eiichiro Oda — but he insists that he knew the ending of the story from the very beginning. And while it took longer than the original five projected years of weekly issues to get there, the current story arc is the final one and will conclude the entire series in 2025 with the originally envisioned ending still intact. Let us assume it will work better than How I Met Your Mother and instead choose to be positive and assume that as with Tolkien, the tale grew in the telling.

The Netflix adaptation is a live-action one, and unlike the catastrophe of Cowboy Beebop and more or less every other live-action Netflix adaptation of existing anime, seems initially to be pretty well received by fans of the original.

Oh, and it’s about pirates and magic and vicious violence and the tension between freedom and authority and friendship and found family and swashbuckling adventure and that one dude has three swords. Ally is going to have a full and proper review up soon, but you now are armed with context when Netflix tries to seduce you this evening.