One Piece segment on NHK World
Note - This is not the full segment. I came in about 16 minutes into it, so anything before hand I didn't get. I'll try to find it, but if anyone can give me a video or let me know when else it's on, I'd greatly appreciate it.
"I am very interested in entertainment that recreates that era. I want to depict the soul of Japanese people."
Such feelings thrill Japanese viewers. Suzuku (Toshio Suzuki, Producer for Studio Ghibli) believes the characters embody good old Japanese values which are also reflected in One Piece. Suzuki says the main characters in such films risk their lives for the sake of others and some of the films end with the characters dying. He says that in contrast, people tend to think only about themselves in the real world and they don't really consider others. He finds it interesting that a manga, whose motif is thinking about others, is popular these days.
The manga could influence how people live. Takahiro Sasaki is a 40-year old resident of Ibaraki Prefecture. He managed to pull himself out of despair with the help of the words of a character from One Piece. He shows us his collection comic books. One Piece is his guiding light. He has read the story over and over, tagging the phrases he finds most meaningful. He says his favorite scene is one which features the simple phrase, "I want to live."
Sasaki was once a confident sales man working the front lines of his field for many years. But things changed drastically after the economy worsened. His performance became sluggish and he was forced to work overtime until late at night. He was also abused by his boss. But Sasaki put up with it and continued slogging away in desperation. But one day four years ago, he suddenly became unable to go to the office. He had fallen into a depression. He became withdrawn at home and went for days without meeting anyone except his family. Sasaki recalls that he saw himself as totally worthless. He thought that everything he had achieved until then was pointless. His younger brother recommended that he read One Piece.
Sasaki was fascinated by the situation of a female character. Robin grew up being rejected by others because of a certain extra sensory talent. She was living a soul-less life, but after meeting Luffy and others, she came to trust in friendship. She then cried out the words she had kept inside. "I want to live."
Sasaki, who felt he was not worthy of living, says he burst into tears at these words. Sasaki too says he wants to live. He repeats it with emphasis. But it's not just a question of wanting to. He says he has to, to accomplish what he has failed to do so far. He tells himself there's no need to bite off more than he can chew, but just to do what he does best. Instead of competing with others he wants a job in which he can help people. He began studying with the aim of becoming a physiotherapist. He has enrolled in a vocational school and is now moving in a new direction. Sasaki says that when he finally gets qualified in physiotherapy, he wants to use what he has learned to heal people. He wants to make himself of use to society. Sasaki says that to him, One Piece, is much more than a manga. He takes the messages that come through in the work deeply to the heart.
Anchor: Joining us is Professor Nobohiko Baba of the Konan Woman's University. As we just saw there are people like Mr. Sasaki who was influenced so deeply in One Piece that it changed the course of his life. It was first published 14 years ago. Many of its readers are now in their 20's and 30's. What's the reason for this mega hit success?
Professor Nobohiko Baba: I believe it has a lot to due with social conditions. The first volume of One Piece appeared in 1997, during the post-bubble economy period, when Japan was on the brink of recession. Against this backdrop, young Japanese were increasingly struggling to find jobs. Firms began cutting back, doing away with lifetime employment. Children also felt trapped. Japan, like other developed countries, was caught up in the rapid surge of cellphones and internet. As net users became engrossed in back worlds, they also became more isolated. They began to fear such new phenomena as internet bullying by anonymous attackers. The collapse of lifetime employment and job cuts for the middle-aged and elderly may have reconfigured society into a form where only graduates of elite universities or those with higher degrees get social status. In the past, people were told that those who did their best would be given opportunities and individuality was emphasized and respected. But from the late 1990's, people began feeling that individuality had become meaningless. The hit song about it being better to be the only one rather than number one seems to confirm that this value is already of the past. While insisting that individuality was not meaningless, adults began urging young people to face reality rather than pursue their dreams. One Piece was published around the time people were growing increasingly conflicted between ideals and reality and one's real intentions and stable reasons.
Anchor: Society virtually stopped rewarding people who tried hard. Indeed in this manga many of the characters have endured setbacks and are traumatized. How does One Piece resonate with readers who have suffered at the hands of society or in a distressed mental state?
Professor Nobohiko Baba: Of course not everyone has been the victim of major setbacks, but any active member of society might always carry some sort of vague fear. And likewise, Luffy, the hero of the manga, and his comrades, all secretly harbor regret. A sense of failure. An inferiority complex. And a sense of loss from what they've experienced in the past. The characters feel helpless and in order to feel positive about themselves, they adopt an outsider role - namely pirates. In some ways you could say pirates are the diametric opposite of the social elites, those with the elite schooling and such degrees. The characters may be powerless over what's happened in the past, but their comrades are with them, supporting them. And the reader is regularly reassured that the past cannot suddenly return and assault them. This, together with the sense of mate-ship, enables the characters to step into the future as one. This element of the tale appeals very much to readers.
Anchor: In the survey we conducted, many One Piece readers wrote that they were deeply inspired by the value of having friends. They were moved by how the character is showed complete faith in each other. They also wrote that in today's society mate-ship is a rarity, but is there any denying that the real world is different from the world portrayed in manga?
Professor Nobohiko Baba: We are often taught these days about being able to take hints or read between the lines. School students bad mouth fellow students who can't take hints, while businesses insists that communication skills are a must, but what exactly does taking hints imply? It's the ability to quickly grasp how others are feeling in order to ensure communication in a smooth and efficient way. Corporations have long demanded that job seekers have good communication skills, but what does this really mean? That could be that job seekers shouldn't convey their true feelings anymore. In other words, if one speaks from the heart, it can create fiction or people may think one is strange. To avoid this, people maintain a facade. In such an environment, how does one nurture mate-ship in which friends can speak their minds. It could be that our present environment has encouraged us to crave comradeship.
Anchor: In One Piece, Luffy and his friends clash all the time and act quite rashly, but it's because they clash with one another that their bonds deepen and this may touch readers. Because so many people obviously empathize with this manga, can you explain how they view present-day society? And what could be done to improve this society for such people?
Professor Nobohiko Baba: Ultimately, the reader's want to narrow the gap between how one feels and what one says. That's not to say we should accept these two things are totally separate, but rather that society could become a place that doesn't scoff at people who reveal their dreams or express their inner thoughts. That's the society One Piece readers want to belong to.
Anchor: A world that supports dreams.
Professor Nobohiko Baba: Yes.
Anchor: Thank you very much.