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Snail-like and steady wins the race

One interesting thing about Japanese manga as opposed to American comics is how intimately the former is tied up to a single creator rather than a franchise. A popular manga series can run for decades and have over a thousand issues with a single unbroken storyline under one creator. To my knowledge, nothing in American comic books comes even close to that and to find anything even close to similar you'd have to go to comic strips, which aren't the same thing at all.

I can't help but wonder if it's just a cultural difference between the two countries where the Japanese value continuity and longevity or perhaps simply lack the American public's increasingly short attention span. Is there a single comic property that hasn't gone through infinite reboots and redesigns to make them darker and edgier and basically doing whatever is necessary to rope in the readers once more? Not to mention swapping the authors/artists every few years makes everything seem new again just in the story and art style. One reason I never took up with comics in the first place is that continuity errors and rewrites drive me up the wall. It leaves a patchwork history that looks like a deranged hobo put it together.

Anyway, because manga series tend to run so long, the successful ones integrate themselves into the society. It'd be like the Harry Potter or Twilight madness if instead of lasting years, went on for decades. Can you imagine if book 48 of the Harry Potter saga were coming out and people were still nuts about it and dressing up for release day at book stores? The current king of Japanese manga is One Piece, a series about pirates. After 15 years of weekly releases and 60+ volumes, this past year it sold an almost ridiculous 38 million copies. Second place? Naruto with a paltry 7 million. It might not be exaggeration that this one work might be single-handedly keeping the Japanese manga industry afloat.



Because it's so incredibly dominating, it would have been almost criminal in my opinion not to watch the anime which has been running ever since 1999. I don't even remember when I first started but it was a daunting task. As of last year, there were already _500_ episodes out. If you consider the length of an episode, skipping and trimming off the OP/ED and perhaps a recap intro, it's still around 18 minutes a pop. We were talking about a runtime of 150 hours minimum or over six days straight. Even I can't watch something for more than a few hours a day on average without going completely batshit insane, so we were really talking weeks upon weeks.

I gave it the ol' college try. It would have been easier if the show wasn't so inanely horrible at most times. It was clearly geared towards kids, and my guess is fairly stupid ones at that. I felt like I was digging through a massive pile of stupid and I could feel my brain melting behind my eyeballs. So why didn't I stop after the first 20 or 30 episodes? Because I've realized that there's a byproduct of manga longevity in Japan. If you give an author/artist time to develop their work and it's still around 10 years down the line, it means that at some point it will grow a beard even if it seemed like an irredeemable piece of fetid crap in the beginning. Those of you who watch many sci-fi series will know exactly what I'm talking about. The first season of Stargate SG1 or Star Trek TNG or Star Trek DS9 anyone?

So I carried on. I got to around episode 195 when I just couldn't go any longer. 195 freaking episodes in and I knew from wiki that the entire crew was still missing two members. Almost all the episodes, were insipid crap and the plot points didn't seem to tie into anything about the rest of the world or really advance the narrative. In short, I just gave up.

Months passed and I saw more news articles about just how popular One Piece was and how each year it was selling more and more volumes, dwarfing the competition. I knew it _had_ to get good at some point, right? I mean, 38 million people can't be wrong every year, right? So I started watching the anime again and suffered through another 40 or so episodes before....ta da! I spotted some stubble! The current Water 7 arc actually seems spiffy. It starts to unlock facts about the world government, sets up powerful adversaries, and finally knocks the god damn characters out of their complacency. It's one of those points where if this were a movie, there would be a huge training montage starting within 10 minutes. Plot development, character development, FINALLY.

All I know is if this had been an American product, they probably would have canceled it in the first year and moved on to something else. It's hard not to be of two minds about it really. On the one hand, One Piece could end up being absolutely fantastic but I'll have only gotten there by slogging through God knows how many hours of mind-numbing crap. It'll probably be like Naruto, which I also feel like I suffered egregiously through at times until the time-skip which began Shipuuden. On a sidenote, there's also a time-skip in One Piece from what I hear though it doesn't happen until somewhere like episode 500. That makes the end of the first half of the series. Part of me gets the impression there's some likelihood I'll still be reading/watching 10 years from now. Well, if it's good anyway.

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