Here in the US, I hear a lot of people say that One Piece is TOO LONG to start reading. Fair enough, One Piece is quite long. It has been more than 20 years since it first appeared in Weekly Shōnen Jump (週刊少年ジャンプ) in 1997. I still remember my very first manga, which was the first volume of One Piece that my grandpa bought for me at a local bookstore…
Although One Piece has been around so long that people hesitate to read it, it is not the manga with the highest number of volumes. In fact, Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen Mae Hashutsujo (こちら葛飾区亀有公園前派出所), aka Kochikame, became the longest series of manga throughout the entire manga history of Japan. Kochikame had been serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump for 40 years since its debut in 1976. Due to its popularity, Kochikame was also made into anime, musical, and live-action dramas and films.
It was just two years ago when Osamu Akimoto, the author of Kochikame, decided to lower the curtain of the life-stories of Kankichi “Ryo-san” Ryotsu (両津勘吉) full of ups and downs. This crazy and cunning policeman character has been entertaining Japanese people for more than 4 decades and Akimoto’s legacy has been influencing the younger generations of artists in the manga industry.
Unlike other Shōnen mangas, like One Piece or NARUTO, that target the younger generation in Weekly Shōnen Jump, Kochikame has been popular among middle-aged salary-men/businessmen who grew up reading Ryo-san’s life-stories. So, what exactly made Kochikame continue THAT LONG? Here are my three answers to this question:
1. Kochikame is FUNNY.
As a genre of gag manga, Kochikame provides kaleidoscopic episodes of Ryo-san. One of his primary life goals is making money out of other people’s pockets. Contrary to a typical role of policeman often associated with the concept of justice, Ryo-san implements various techniques and tricks to deceive people. His creative and unreal schemes to make money have been entertaining the readers. For instance, Ryo-san often uses an evil design in order to steal other people’s luxury. Keiichi Nakagawa (中川圭一) and Reiko Akimoto (秋元麗子), co-workers and millionaires working at the same police station, are often the victims of his schemes. However, because of karma, Ryo-san always ends up with being punished by people surrounding him or most typically by Ōhara Daijirō (大原大次郎), his supervisor.
2. Kochikame is HEARTWARMING.
Kochikame is not just comic/funny but it is sometimes very touching/moving. It has various anecdotes of Ryo-san’s childhood that provoke a sense of empathy even though the readers do not share the same Shitamachi (下町) experience, the physically low part of the city along and east of the Sumida River (隅田川). In one of the episodes, Kinjirou (金次郎), Ryo-san’s younger brother, got stuck in traffic on the day of the entrance exam for a private school. This type of episodes also involves the idea of parting when Ryo-san’s new friends, teachers, and acquaintances to leave somewhere new.
3. Kochikame is CRITICAL.
If you like American animated comedy shows such as South Park and The Simpsons, Kochikame might be the best equivalent that I can think of in terms of Japanese manga/anime industry. As South Park makes fun of a socio-cultural phenomena or a scandal triggering huge discussions in the United States, Kochikame has been serving as a bit more indirect but matured social critic of the contemporary trends or incident in Japan. As a social caricature, Kochikame could be a good reference to get to know the social environment of each year since Kochikame has been published more than 4 decades.