Surprise announcement comes at 20th anniversary celebration of pirate manga, as producer hopes to make “most expensive TV series ever produced.”

Eiichiro Oda, the creator of the One Piece anime/manga franchise, recently took a moment to thanks fans for their support over the decades, and also to remind them that one day the comic he’s been drawing for the last two decades will come to a close. But hot on the heels of that declaration of an eventual ending comes news of a brand-new beginning for One Piece.

Hiroyuki Nakano, editor-in-chief of publisher Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump anthology, appeared at an event at Tokyo Tower on July 21 to commemorate the manga’s 20th anniversary (One Piece’s first chapter was published in Weekly Shonen Jump in July of 1997). While there, Nakano made the shocking announcement that not only is a live-action One Piece TV series in the works, but that it’ll be produced in the U.S. Handling production on the series will be Tomorrow Studios, the production company which counts Marty Adelstein, producer of Prison Break, among its members and which is also working on a live-action adaptation of 1998 anime Cowboy Bebop.

At the event, a statement from Oda was presented, in which One Piece’s creator said:

“There have been talks of making a live-action One Piece movie many times over the past 20 years, and we began seriously perusing the idea three years ago. There were many twists and turns along the way, but we’ve found a good partner, coincidentally just as the manga’s 20th anniversary comes. I am very happy.”

Oda went on to say that he has placed a condition upon the live-action project, specifically that it “absolutely not betray the fans who have supported the franchise for 20 years.”

A statement from Adelstein was also presented, in which the producer said that he has been a fan of One Piece for 20 years. He also predicted that the live-action One Piece will be the most-expensive TV series ever produced, and that given the worldwide attention he expects the adaptation to receive, such investment will be well justified.

No details were provided regarding when the series would begin airing, nor which parts of the 872-chapter (and growing) One Piece manga would be adapted.

This isn’t the first time someone has announced a live-action One Piece, but it is the first time for Shueisha itself to be doing the talking. Adelstein’s professed enthusiasm for the project is also encouraging, although his numerical claims seem a bit suspect. To have been a fan of One Piece for 20 years, he’d need to have been importing Japanese-text versions of the manga or patiently sifting through online scanlations in the dial-up Internet age, since One Piece wasn’t officially published in English until 2003 (the anime didn’t start in Japan until 1999, and wouldn’t reach American airwaves until 2004).

And while any producer would salivate over the prospective freedom of working with the largest TV budget in history, it’d take some phenomenal wheeling and dealing for Tomorrow Studios to obtain that sort of financial backing. One Piece may be a proven cash cow in Japan, but despite building up a respectable fanbase in other countries, it’s never achieved the same level of popular support as many other major hits in English-speaking anime fandom, such as Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, or Evangelion.

Throw in the abysmal track record live-action adaptations of anime have, especially those produced overseas, and investors probably won’t be fighting each other to throw money at a live-action One Piece. Even Japanese investors are likely to be lukewarm on the idea of bankrolling a TV series that will need to be translated and dubbed into Japanese before it can air in the franchise’s native country, and is almost virtually guaranteed to feature not even a single bankable domestic star.

Still, at its heart One Piece is a pirate story, and the lack of Japanese settings and characters mean Tomorrow Studios can avoid the difficult decision between retaining Japanese aspects and confusing newcomers or scrubbing ethnic elements and upsetting existing fans, which has resulted in backlashes against live-action versions of Ghost in the Shell and Death Note. Whether that will be enough to provide smooth sailing for the live-action One Piece is something we’re going to have to wait an indefinite amount of time to see.

Sources: Daily Sports Online, Sponichi Annex
Top image: SoraNews24

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