Two decades after the Japanese cartoon series One Piece introduced the world to a swashbuckling pirate in a straw hat, anime fans are waiting for the 1,000th episode to release this weekend.
One Piece first appeared as a manga (comic book) in Japan in 1997, followed by an anime version (animated television series) two years later.
Since then, the franchise has grown into a global cultural phenomenon, breaking records and gaining fans around the world. However, it was not an immediate success.
“It’s a miracle,” said Ryuji Kochi of Toei Animation, the Japanese company behind the animated series, of the 1,000 episodes monument. “From the start, it was a difficult title. It wasn’t easy to put on TV, ”he said, adding that building a fan base for the show wasn’t easy either.
Kochi said it took the anime 13 years, following the adventures of the hat-wearing hero, Monkey D Luffy, to achieve cult status. Today, however, hundreds of millions of fans tune in to watch the hunt for the eponymous One Piece, the treasure coveted by all pirates. The popularity of the manga version also continued alongside the TV show.
Its creator, Eiichiro Oda, holds the Guinness World Record for “most published copies of the same series of comics by a single author” – 490 million. The 1,000th episode of the animated series will be released in 80 countries this weekend.
In Tokyo, a giant banner of the main characters was erected at Shibuya Station, one of the main transport hubs in the Japanese capital.
Special screenings are planned across the United States, while in France – the world’s largest manga and anime market after Japan – more than 100 theaters are planning a viewing marathon.
French fan Alexis Poriel, who leads a group of manga fans on the online platform Discord, said One Piece’s wide reach was one of the main reasons for its popularity.
“It’s about social issues, there is action, there is humor,” said the 26-year-old. “One Piece really manages to make the connection with social issues,” he added, from racism to geopolitical intrigue.
A live-action Netflix adaptation is in the works, with fans speculating that it could catapult the franchise to global surname status similar to Star Wars or Harry Potter.
Netflix announced the casting earlier this month, with 18-year-old Mexican actor Iñaki Godoy preparing to star as Luffy.