'One Piece' pace in U.S. accelerating


POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In the great debate between whether pirates or ninjas are the cooler faction, the results have been rather one-sided as far as anime and manga published in the U.S. are concerned.

Representing ninjas in the anime and manga world is “;Naruto,”; the 300-ton gorilla that sits atop U.S. sales charts every time new installments are released. Much of the promotional love shown by Viz in the past few years has gone in the direction of “;Naruto”;—multivolume manga releases to bring the U.S. and Japanese editions closer to each other and Internet broadcasts of the latest anime episodes being the most prominent initiatives.

In Japan, though, it's a different story. There, the pirates of “;One Piece”; reign supreme, with Monkey D. Luffy and his fellow crew members starring in the second-highest-selling Shonen Jump series of all time behind only “;Dragon Ball.”;

Yet there wasn't much smooth sailing for “;One Piece”; in the beginning of its run in America—the first English-dubbed version of the anime was heavily edited by 4Kids, alienating many anime fans. It wasn't until 4Kids dropped the property and Funimation picked it up in 2007 that those fans started returning. As for the manga, while it's sold in respectable numbers, it certainly isn't showing up on national best-seller lists as much as “;Naruto”; has.

The heavy focus on “;Naruto”; may be shifting somewhat, though, with the news last week that U.S. “;One Piece”; anime and manga releases soon will parallel the Japanese releases.

The anime catch-up initiative begins with a fully subtitled episode 391, available now on www.onepieceofficial.com; subsequent episodes will lead up to the online debut of episode 403 at 4 p.m. Hawaii time May 30—one hour after the episode debuts in Japan. Future episodes also will be posted weekly online.

As for the manga, Viz has revealed plans for the latest chapters to run in the U.S. edition of Shonen Jump starting this fall. This leaves one question that Viz has yet to answer: namely, how exactly they plan to get from chapter 195—the last chapter in volume 21, the most recent released in the U.S.—to a handful of chapters beyond chapter 542, the latest chapter published in Japan. That's about 33 to 34 volumes' worth of catching up to do by this fall, by my estimates.

So will Viz have, say, an “;Oodles of One Piece”; promotion, one similar to “;Naruto Nation”; where piles of manga volumes are released at once? I'd be surprised if it didn't happen. Will “;One Piece”; sell as many copies as “;Naruto”;? Doubtful. But having two high-profile series can only help Viz in the long run.

Coming up Sunday

“;Naruto”; and “;One Piece”; are certainly high-profile series, but for “;Drawn & Quartered”; in the Sunday Today section, I'll be looking at an anime and manga series with a much lower profile. Join me in discovering the quiet, subtle joys of “;Mushishi.”;

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