Over thinking Japanese cartoons: Probable reasons why One Piece is the most popular Weekly Shonen Jump series (1).

So tired…Trying to stay awake so I will sleep all night… Trying not to get out of bed too much because my back feels like a giant robot stepped on it (Maybe a Gouf?). Trying to get entertainment out of the only things close to me at the moment This laptop and the One Piece Omnibus I was reading some days ago.

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Thinking about about it is really interesting. I have said before that the idea of how popular One Piece is in Japan is almost, if not more so interesting to me the the series its self (Which I am actually growing to love more and more as I think about it. This may be a problem).

I think the question is just so good; “Why One Piece?”. Now there is lots of pretty easy answers to this question mostly stemming from it just being a really well written and action-packed comic/cartoon that kids and adults can easily get into. It also helps that Oda’s art is really Unique and fun, and also quite complicated if you really look at it. But those two things do play a huge part in why it is so popular.

I think at the heart of why it’s so popular is for lack of a better word; its heart. I think One Piece delivers the kind of power fantasy that everyone at one point or another can really get behind. Just hanging out with your best friends in a big endless world, paling around on your own personal pirate ship, Doing dumb and silly things but putting on a serious and proclaiming how much your friends mean to you when you have to, Getting into intense knock-down drag-out fights that you have to scrape yourself off the ground of just to get up but to always land that final punch, and always winning the day in the end no matter what the obstacle is.

Now a lot, a lot, a lot, A LOT, A LOT of shonen do some of these things, maybe one or two of them. But One Piece does it all with such gleeful abandon with a huge simile plastered on its silly face the whole time it is hard not to be infected by it and smile right along with it. If you think of the thing that was mega popular before One Piece that did pretty much the same things; it was Dragon Ball and I think there are some pretty deep running similarities there that I don’t even have the knowledge to touch. Aside from the fact that if you look at all the stuff that is super-mega mainstream anime in Japan it does not really tend to look like what people commonly associate with “anime” for example Naruto or Black Cat. The things like One Piece, Dragon Ball and even Detective Conan all kinda have this simplified almost American-but-not-really style going on for them (Heck, even look at Berserk [though not simplified in the least bit] still does not really look like “anime”). In that way I think they are very easy for kids to be able to draw and remember them, because they are so simple yet full of personality.

I also do think that the pirate theme does really have something to do with it as well, maybe not as big as some of the other reasons but it is part of it. I have a feeling kids in Japan get excited about pirates like Western kids would about ninja and Samurai. I’m not saying Japanese kids don’t flip out over those things either but I think it goes back to the power fantasy thing, the pirate crew of close friends who travel the world on a big boat is maybe more exciting and magical then a Ninja that can blow fire or make illusions.

The characters as well are also a lot more fun and kinda relatable then say Ichigo form Bleach (Or, hell, any one form Bleach). Everyone in One Piece has a fun silly side as well as a serious powerful and emotional side. It is true that they are pretty much shonen caricatures but, they are super heartfelt and relatable ones. None of them are perfect yet they all complement each other in a way that makes mixing them up a totally different dynamic. For example: In One Piece you could probably have a whole arc of say, Sanji and Chopper going to get some bread, yes it would be silly but even as you read this you can kinda see how that would play out. Stuff like that is pretty rare. If you were to take Kiba and Sasuke from Naruto and tell the same story I think it is way harder to think of how those characters would mesh or bounce off of each other aside form just being antagonistic towards one another.

I fear I might be coming off as slamming other shonen things here. That is really not what I am trying to do though. I am trying to figure out why the series in question; One Piece sells way more than any other shonen thing in Japan.

I love a lot of shonen, If someone were to put a gun to my head and ask me a dumb question like “what is your favourite kind of manga” I would answer with shonen. I love the feeling it can give when done really, really well and I think One Piece is an example of a series that hits that core shonen feeling right on the head. And that might be the biggest reason of all. Just all those crazy over the top shout at the top of your lungs shonen feeling that One Piece just exudes from its self.

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PS: I remember thinking I had a lot more to say on this. I put a “(1)” up top just in case I ever remember the other things I was gonna say. I think that they were a little more interesting (I hope). I am not really the right person to write about this in any kind of authoritative manner but these are some (I think) kinda interesting Ideas that could be mauled over more later.

PSS: If you actually read this, I am sorry. I am so sorry.

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Awesome Series: 15. Welcome to the NHK (Boys into Men! – Shonen Week!)

Now, before you say anything, Yes this is indeed shonen. Welcome to the NHK ran in Shonen ACE so it is a legitimate shonen series. Here at slapped together shonen week we don’t care what a show is like as long as it ran in a magazine aimed at boys in Japan. That said, even though Welcome to the NHK does not look like something that would be a shonen series. It really is ment for the kind of people, specificity Japanese people that all they do is think about manga, or games or how the 3D world does not live up to their 2D reality. Because this series, mostly in its early episodes is a harsh truth disguised as a comedy.

Welcome to the NHK is about a lot of different people with horrible problems that are effecting the main protagonist, who him self has a lot of personal problems. There is one single ray of hope from this one girl who wants to fix him who also has a lot of problems of her own. It can get pretty messed up the obsessions that rub off on him from other people. No spoilers here but I am pretty sure the only one that could be only kind of messed up and mostly funny would be when he gets addicted to MMORPGS.

I think it is one of the best series that represents the the kind of shut in or “hikikomori” culture that has be going on in japan. This is not really about “otaku” it involves them but I would not say the main character is “otaku” in the Japanese sense because he is not focused on just one thing. I think the series can be very, very funny but it is also quite dark epically in the manga version. Though I do have to congratulate studio Gonzo on making a pretty good show that does not 100% fall apart after the first hand full of episodes. I think if you are interested in this kind of thing you will get something out of Welcome to the NHK at the expense of poor poor Saito.

Awesome Series: 14. Detective Conan (Boys into Men! – Shonen Week!)

(I had to use the English opening because I could not find a T.V. sized vershon of the Japanese. Oh well it is the very same song and video just in English.)

Detective Conan is something that much like One Piece it is super, mega popular in Japan. Though over here in the U.S. and Canada not too many people care about it, but I think people at least know about One Piece here even if they have not seen any of it. This is pretty sad because Detective Conan or “Case Closed” as it is know here is actually a pretty good show. When it would show on YTV here (a Canadian broadcast station that used to show anime on Fridays) I would always tune in to check out the new episode. Weather or not the mystery in the show is actually very good never really mattered to me it was just fun to watch.

I think some of the problems people have with Detective Conan that are not into it are things like: Its very sit-com-ie in how it is run and American anime fans don’t normally take well to things that are not one solid story. I think this could stend for a bit of “Japanophila” in the way that Detective Conan is kind of like an american animated sitcom that resets at the end of every episode and the view especially among younger fans is that they don’t want their cartoons to be anything like American ones. Honestly to me is pretty funny because the shows that are  most popular in Japan would have no chance here at all. Things like Dorimon, Sazae-San, Chibi Maruko Chan and of course Detective Conan. I understand that American fan culture  is very, very different from what normal Japanese people are watching on T.V and by extension are still very different from the way Japanese Otaku work. But that is a topic for another day.

There is also another problem with this in the way that  Detective Conan is a show meant for families and kids in Japan. Here there is no way a show like Conan could fly on T.V. with the kind of air play it gets in Japan the show is just to violent for kids T.V. standards here. Half of the market is cut off right there and put on top of that what we just talked about that most anime fans wont give it a chance. That is another fairly large market cut off. The only people you have left watching your show are people who already know about it and already like it. I think this is the toughest part of trying to sell Conan to en American audience, who is the audience? 

Detective Conan runs in Weekly Shonen Sunday and has been that way for almost 20 years now. Also at the time of me writing this has just passed its 666th episode which is a ludicrous amount of episodes. I am not sure what the show with the most amount of episodes in Japan is but Conan has to be up there. Right now here in North America we have about 130 episodes and a hand full of movies of the series to watch. I understand 100% why Funimation has not licensed any more Conan, I mean why would they? No one probably buys it (I my self am guilty of this but those Viridian collections look pretttttty good). The Japanese probably want an insane amount of money per episode because it is so popular there. It is a sad thing, but this can be changed! everyone, Detective Conan is awesome and also super cheep! There is no reason for anyone to at least not give a couple episodes of Detective Conan a chance. Who knows, you may just think that it is awesome.

Remember everyone, One truth prevails!

Awesome Series: 13. Get Backers (Boys into Men! – Shonen Week!)

Get Backers is super gay. I am not using ‘gay’ in the way that dumb teenagers use gay to mean ‘something I don’t like or is stupid’. Get Backers is awesome gay. Awesome gay in the way that the show is almost 90% dudes and all of those dudes are wayyy more into each other then anyone else.  I was super into Get Backers in high school, it was probably in my top 10 for a long time. I don’t think it is any more but I still think it has a lot of really cool parts to it, also some really silly parts; cloths that repair them self anyone?

I think the best thing about Get Backers like most things is its characters. Are they really stand out characters? Or genera defining characters? No, not really but they work very, very well in the way the are implement and work well in the crazy world. The powers that the characters have can be kinda cool especially when it gets into the one-up mans ship that shonen series go into a lot of the times. The powers range from things like electircty to things like sliding scalpels out of skin to the ability to control animals. Get Backers ran in the same magazine as Hajime no Ippo, Weekly Shonen Magazine (not to be confused with Weekly Shonen Jump).

I think someone looking for something different then the average shonen adventure series would enjoy this a breath of fresh air. Maybe you would not like the whole thing but I think you could get something out of at least the first season. Get Backers is a lot like a bottle of Cream Soda. Its pretty sweet, it feels silly drinking the whole thing but it was fun to drink when you were drinking it. So yeah, it is indeed a good time just don’t expect the world just expect the awesome gay!

Awesome Series: 12. Hajime no Ippo: New Challenger (Boys into Men! – Shonen Week!)

First off, why New Challenger? Just because I like the song a tiny tiny bit more then the original Ippo themes. That is it.  Also I know Ippo did not run in Weekly Shonen Jump but in Weekly Shonen Magazine, that still counts in the rules of Shonen Week. The main reason I am doing Hajime no Ippo, or Fighting Spirt now is becasue it shares something with YuYu Hakusho. They both started in the same year, that same year also happens to be the year I was born; 1990. Why am I bringing this up at all? ! Why does it matter what year a sereis started? Well for Ippo in particular, is because the series started one day after I was born (It started on February 17th.) The series started in Japan, and the time difference bettween Japan and here is 13 hours and I was born at night. Which means Hajime no Ippo and I were born in the same 24 hour span. I think that is kind of cool.

I honestaly have not seen a great deal of Hajime no Ippo, maybe ten or so episodes of the original seires. I did really like what I have seen and heard about it (I have a friend who was really into it for a while). I will get around to it one day because I do really love a lot of sports anime. Heck, Eyeshield 21 may be my favourite manga. On a side note, I wish the manga or New Challenger would get licensed here but I 100% understand why it does not. It makes me sad that fans here in North America wont give sports shows a try just because they are “sports shows”. Let me tell you something kids! Sports anime and manga are as “shonen” as it gets. Most of the time they are much more well written and have better characters then things like Naruto, Bleach or D. Gray Man. Now I am not slamming those things. I am saying that if you like those kinds of things there is NO reason you would not like stuff like Ippo or Eyeshied. Because just like in things like Naruto, the story is not about being a ninja it is about the characters with a ninja theme. Hajime no Ippo is the same it is about characters with a boxing theme. Instead of throwing fire balls they throw punches in a ring.

MADHouse really looks like the put their best efforts into Ippo be it the older series or New Challenger. I like that they did not change the character designs to try and make it more “Shonen-ie” as it were. Though as far as I know stuff like Ippo is very popular in Japan, I just wish it was here too  I really want to see more stuff like Ippo come out of Japan in the future. Yes we did just get Cross Game (though not shonen it is very, very good) but I want to see the next sports show that is over the top like Eyeshield and has awesome animation like Ippo. I know I will love that series when it comes. I’ll be waiting Japan! I will be waiting! Everyone start spreading the word about how awesome sports anime can be! People will listen one day, if they want to see true shonen, true boys turning into men material they will watch stuff like Hajime no Ippo!

Awesome Series:11. YuYu Hakusho (Boys Into Men! – Shonen Week!)

If someone were to ask me what the best shonen series for someone to start with I would say YuYu Hakusho. I belive that YuYu hakusho hits every single one of the neo-shonen beats that a shonen series is expected to hit and hits them very well.  As far as tournament themed power escalation shows go YuYu hakuosho is told very well. I did not see YuYu until long after I should have , not till i was about 17 and I still really liked it, a lot actually. I still kind of feal that it is a little hard to get into it because the first of the four arcs of the show is pretty slow. But once it moves into the second, the arc that everyone knows about even if they have not seen the show “The Dark Tournament” arc. I think that while the second arc is awesome, the third arc or “Chapter Black” is where the show really shines in my opinion.

The series follows a very typical shonen formula for this kind of show but does it very well. All the the character stereotypes are turned up to 11 but it really works for YuYu hakusho because I think it is using those things very well. A great deal of shonen series now a days  use the character tropes a lot as well and it can really come off as forced, such as “This character is the guy who is kind of antaganistic towards the main character but really he just wants a friend” or “This is the happy-go-lucky guy but he is actually really dark”. While I do really like a lot of the shonen tropes, sometimes it can come off as really cynical. Though in YuYu Hakusho I think it is probably the best use of those tropes I can think of. I mean what kid does not think Hiei is awesome? or doesn’t want to be like Yusuke? No kid that’s who! even the girls!

I think like shaman king this is a very good shonen seires to show people when they are pretty young. I think YuYu maybe for kids a little bit older then that.10-12 maybe? I think this and Shaman King both make excellent first shonen seires for kids. I think YuYu works on more levels for people that are older too. It is a little deeper then shaman king and the things it can deal with at times, especially in the “Chapter Black” arc can be kind of disturbing. That said, I do think it is one of the most fun shows to just pop in when you just want a cool fight or something going on in the background. I think out of all the things that have been animated out of the things that have come from Weekly Shonen Jump, YuYu Hakusho is probably my favourite adaptation. I do love the manga, but I think the anime has something very special all its own. I think it may have something to do with the full ‘IM A MAN!’ yell of “SPIRIT GUN!” that Justin Cook puts into his performance of Yusuke that makes me prefer both the anime and the English dub of the series.

Awesome Series. 10. Shaman King (Boys into men! – Shonen Week!)

Welcome to; Boys into men! – Shonen Week. I know it is kind of near the end of the week. Though who says you can’t start a theme week on a Thursday and have it run till the next Thursday? No one, that’s who! This is just kind of a spear of the moment kind of thing and I was looking on my book shelf for some theme ideas. There was a couple shonen titles I wanted to talk about (and by shonen I just mean ran in a boys magazine in Japan) so thought heck with it, I will just do a theme week.

Shaman King is probably the first true-blue shonen series I ever got into. I missed the boat on Dragon Ball and Z mostly because we did not have satellite for a really long time. There was G Gundam but that was just the TV series and as far as I know the show came first there. So Shaman King was first shonen anime and also shonen manga I ever read, volume 4 was the first manga I ever bought. I really, really liked the show  and it caused me to seek out things like the manga for the first time leading me down the nerd path I lead today. Shaman King volume 4 is responsible for me having over 700 volumes of manga, all of this silly knowledge about Japanese cartoons and comics, and by extension making me want to create comics for a living. I will always thank Shaman King for that.

I think that Shaman King kind of shaped what I like in my shonen series. A cool hero that slowly gains a group of friends over time and faces all the odds no matter what. That kind of stuff really pushes all of my buttons. I think that might be one of the reasons I like FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood so much. I love the antagonist that becomes a good friend thing, I love the villein is much, much more powerful then the hero situation, and I love it when there is a good mix of comedy in with all the seriousness. Maybe a lot of series have pressed my buttons but Shaman King built the button machine.

All of that aside, Is Shaman King actually any good? I think, yes, it is a very,very good young boys series. I think kids 8-14 would love shaman king. Actually I am of the opinion that it is one of the best shonen manga for kids. So at what it is trying to be; a boys comic book, it does very well. Would the series as a whole do anything for adults though? Hm, that is a much harder question. I think that if you like a lot of shonen things you would probably get something out of it, but it is very typical shonen fair. I think if you are an adult and you have an intrest in Shaman king in anyway the best bet would be to go for the manga over the anime adaptation. The manga takes a few more risks especially near the end and after the artist finds his own style a couple of volumes in the art becomes very creative and striking.  If you are not really into shonen stuff, then I don’t really know what to tell you, you probably would not like this at all because this is totally shonen and neo-shonen at that. But if you don’t like shonen at least sometimes where is your heart!?

Shaman King actually ties in quite well with what tomorrows post will be. Ghosts and such.

Awesome Theme: 4. Baki the Grappler

I love Baki, but it is the first anime that ever made me feel sick to my stomach. I don’t know why but every time they start talking about  different muscle related things and how to tear nerves and stuff just makes me go pail and feel faint. Its totally awesome but I cant watch it for long.  This song is awesome and basically the reason I watched the series after a friend lent it to me. I was going to skip over it because back in the day I was kind of a snob about “anime” art and thought Baki was ugly, well it is, but in an awesome way! Baki is the perfect “shonen power creep” show in that if you wanna show how strong someone is just show them beating up the guy that used to be the strongest. It’s a no fail system! I think I am one of a few people that is still waiting to see what happens next in the anime! I know there is tons of manga for it but I really want to see Baki animated again. Though I don’t think that day will ever come.

Awesome Theme: 2. FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Disclaimer: This is not the first opening theme of FMA:B, but as this is now just “Awesome Themes” I think it is safe to say it does not have to be the first opening.

FullMetal Alchemist is probably my favourite shonen series of all time, topped only by its self FullMetal Alchemist brotherhood. I don’t like it better because it follows the manga, that’s not a reason to like something more. The reason I like Brotherhood better I will get into in a future post, but basically the series presses all of my buttons that a shonen series can.The only other anime that has even come close to FMA:B for me is maybe Yu Yu Hakusho.(mostly just for its third arc)

This song, much like the series is probably my favourtie FMA opening. That used to be Rewrite from forth opening from the first series. As much as I do love Asian Kung-Fu Generation I think that period is a little bit better for me personally at least. I can listen to rewrite maybe one or two times before I don’t want to hear it for a while but, man, Period I can listen to it over and over and not get sick of it. This opening does a very good job getting you excited for what you are about to watch. Normally with anime openings after you hear them once (or depending on the show, zero times) you tend to skip them, I did not skip period once.

What is your favourite song from FMA or FMA:B? I would like to hear some other opinions.