It’s considered the most popular anime series in Japan, yet it cannot garner the kind of fandom that Bleach and Naruto have acquired over the years. Of course we are talking about One Piece, and how the show STILL needs to prove to anime fans that it’s worth the investment to watch. The show has had to deal with jumping major hurdles which may be too great to overcome. When analyzing the show as a whole, it’s hard to picture why it has trouble gaining fans, since it’s your typical shonen series. Yet, after careful consideration there seems to be one overarching reason that I believe is why the show cannot pick up new followers in droves. Which will become clear after looking at specific issues with the series.
It felt like a bonus due to Toonami reacquiring the show after the 4Kidz Entertainment dub. After all One Piece was on the block during the block’s earlier run on Cartoon Network. On Toonami’s second run, it was decided to start the series in the “Long Ring Long Land” story arc (Over 200 episodes into this story). This way fans of the show wouldn’t have to dredge through filler arcs as well as the “Skypiea” arc (which many felt went on too long with no reward). I don’t mind watching filler, but casual fans might want to learn more about the actual story. I thought it was brilliant, due to how many fans of the show state that One Piece’s story amps up at the “Water Seven” arc and beyond. I just recently decided to re-watch said arc and you can feel the difference from earlier episodes, as well as seeing some truly amazing scenes. Yet the future “King of the Pirates” cannot seem to gain more fans, even with the show being broadcasted right in the thick of a juicy story.
When looking at the rough estimate of viewers, it’s rare to see One Piece have more than seven hundred thousand. Some could say that due to its time slot at 2:30 a.m., fans should expect these type of numbers? However before One Piece was in that time slot, it was airing earlier in the night. Toonami’s hands became tied due to low viewer numbers, and had to keep pushing the show further and further down the lineup. I’m sure Toonami has to be pleased with the amount of eyeballs on their block at the time One Piece is on, but it seems that the show still needs to win fans over to truly be safe on Toonami. I’m troubled about the low views especially with all One Piece has done for fans.
Eiichiro Oda has given the anime world one of the longest running shows ever. There are over 700 episodes and it’s still going strong. The manga has reached 800 chapters and is still ongoing. Fans have been given truly beautiful moments like “The Going Merry” being burned, to Zoro’s sacrifice for the crew against Barthlomew Kuma. We’ve been able to watch amazing battle sequences in the show, as well as some much needed humor that will leave some in stitches. One Piece is the complete package and has something for every fan or non fan of anime. It should be celebrated more than hated.
The biggest problem going against the show is that it cannot outrun its past. The 4Kidz Entertainment Dub will be held over the show’s head till the end of time, which isn’t fair at all. Funimation has done a wonderful job recreating a show in the image that it’s Japanese counterparts wanted. But whenever someone talks about One Piece, you usually hear, “you mean that horribly dubbed show back in the early 2000’s?” The edits back then were brutal (Sanji’s lollipops, deletion of entire episodes, tough lines to listen to) and left a bad taste in fans mouths to this day. Still there has to be more behind the rationale as to why anime fans sail far away from One Piece.
Another issue I hear about the show is how it’s drawn as a whole. It’s not your typical style, especially when looking at the eyes of characters (like Nico Robin and comparing it to characters like Lelouch from Code Geass). Some believe that because the drawings look basic in some instances (fights, characters, scenery), that everyone working on the show is lazy. People don’t like change when it comes to something they love. I think One Piece takes that type of hit due to how fans become accustomed to what they like with anime art. Fans like pretty eyes! Not to mention that the way characters are drawn so disproportionate and unrealistic compared to other shows. Sadly One Piece doesn’t give casual fans much when it comes to the usual art of an anime show.
What the show does bring later on is a whole lot of fan service. Just look at the evolution of how female-lead Nami is drawn, to show that she is very sexualized as the series progresses. Sure a lot of shonen series have fan service, but just look at how Nami’s wardrobe changes throughout the story is alarming (she isn’t the only one, but seeing how drastically she changed during the two-year time skip really jumps out at you). The same can be said about Nico Robin, Boa Hancock, and Rebecca when it comes to how they are portrayed in the show. While they all look like they could work for Victoria Secret, people rarely get to see these women fight in the show. That can detracts their value in One Piece. Female characters in One Piece look like they are being turned into sex-symbols over being actual characters. That greatly hurts the overall value for the show. It comes to a point where maybe Oda and the One Piece team should try to show a little modesty when dealing with their female characters. Or at least make them act realistic fighters instead of bikini models.
Fans can come up with a million things to complain about as to why the show isn’t beloved. After a while, people will find faults at every chance available. But I think the biggest reason as to why One Piece cannot gain fans goes to one central point.
It’s very long.
As stated earlier it is over 700 episodes and still going. Not to mention that the dub Funimation is doing has at least reached up to 433 (going by home media releases). Imagine getting into anime and you hear about the episode count on a show involving pirates. That’s daunting to try and catch up with even if viewers skip every filler episode. Unless you have a Funimation subscription there’s no real way to catch up with this series. Thus it’s hard for the casual anime fan to just jump right in to where the series is at on Toonami. It’s difficult for casual fans to get involved with a story when they wouldn’t understand what’s going on Toonami. So the block made the decision to start where many fans agree is when the series starts to get really good. That way Toonami would keep fans of the show, without losing any viewers. However, being able to gain more of a following will take more of an effort on the fan’s side than Toonami’s. If there was some way to have a marathon of One Piece (more often than just a one time thing), then maybe the show could gain a bigger following (Adult Swim streaming site is a possibility). Sadly the show will forever be stuck as the “red-headed step-child” thanks to being dubbed by 4Kidz.
However, the length of the show can be a blessing just as it can be a curse. Why didn’t Bleach and Naruto suffer the same fate due to it’s ridiculous episode count? Thankfully to those shows, they were dubbed by a different company. Viz Media made sure the acting went well and casted popular voice actors/actresses that made fans go wild for their shows. If One Piece was dubbed by Funimation before, I guarantee it would have a larger following. The longer a series, the more the lore of a make-believe world becomes endearing (as well as the characters involved). Look at the world of Adventure Time. More and more episodes give fans a glimpse into why that world is interesting and gives fans more reasons to continue watching. One Piece should have similar success with how the world is constructed. It’s a universe where the planet is made up of almost exclusively islands. The only typical land mass is the “Red Line” which isn’t normal compared to the real world. How about the mystery of the island Raftel at the end of the “Grand Line”? Or the mystery of the “Blank Century”? All of these add to the lore of One Piece and Oda has built a fascinating world that should leave fans hungry for more answers.
I do think the show is getting a raw deal from viewers due to past mistakes made by others. I have re-watched One Piece from the very beginning to hear what Funimation did during the early episodes, and I have greatly enjoyed what I’ve seen. Not only would fans get a nostalgic feeling, but it would be enhanced with the acting that Funimation provides. Yes, One Piece is not for the casual fan, due to its length. If there was a way to have the show run through it’s episodes, the fan base would grow. It just depends if more die-hards for anime can take time out of their day to go and watch the show. Plus sharing One Piece with casual fans so they can see how amazing it is. If the casual fan finds One Piece rewarding to watch, its fan base will grow. So for fans of One Piece, it’s just a pleasure to have it back on Toonami. While new fans will be hard to come by, the loyal fanbase will once again be rewarded by watching the series continue to grow where it belongs in the U.S.