Friday, February 3, 2012

Cool Japanese Thing #93: One Piece

Settle down for a moment and listen to this: I read manga. What is manga? マンガ is roughly the Japanese equivalent of American comic books, although with a much wider reader base and variety of genres. Manga take up huge sections of Japanese bookstores and are shelved in literally every convenience store. If you visit 7/11 after school, you can see half a dozen students through the windows, reading manga. My favorite manga is called "One Piece."

 It's a simple story: In a world where most people live on islands and piracy is huge, a young man decides that he wants to become The King of All Pirates. The best way to do this is to discover the long-lost treasure, One Piece, hidden away by the former pirate king. The boy assembles a crew, gets a ship, and sets off on a grand adventure.

The manga has been running since August 1997, publishing 18 pages of black-and-white artwork every week for the past 15 years. It is literally the most popular manga of all time in Japan, with its most recent volumes breaking records by selling over two million copies in the first week.

Why do I read stuff like this? It's not the same as reading Superman comics. Manga are long-running serials that do not suffer from the same types of "problems" rampant in the American comic book industry, such as canceling series, changing artists, and altering continuity. The manga is drawn by a lead artist (usually the creator) along with a number of assistants who do things such as inking and backgrounds.

Issues are produced on a weekly basis (opposed to monthly in America) and combined with other series in a weekly magazine. Manga artists rarely employ digital methods, and prefer strictly hand-drawn artwork. Though the manga is always black and white, occasionally the first few pages will be printed in color, in the case of an anniversary or an important narrative arc.

I enjoy most of these elements. I like reading a story that does not suffer from inconsistency. If any of you can remember a time where your favorite comic book or novel author died, and was replaced by a fresh face who took the series in an entirely different direction, you can relate. Dune, anyone? Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? The artwork is fluid and vibrant, and the absence of colors allows the reader to focus on the subject matter instead of being distracted by a plethora of digital effects and contrasting hues.

My attention span is short, and this is not a trait purely inherent to one person. People tend to forget about things after enough time has passed. Producing an issue every week keeps the series fresh in the minds of its fans. Though many series tend to rely on cliffhangers to bring their audience back week after week, One Piece never makes it feel forced, and always justifies its actions with the following chapter. There are literally thousands upon thousands of manga out there, and many of them are gripping reads, but for pure fun, I will always turn first to One Piece, along with the millions of other dedicated readers out there.

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