I've always said I want One Piece to last long enough for me to be able to build a fort out of the manga volumes — just a big castle in the middle of the living room with a sign on it that says "No Hody Jones fans allowed." Either that, or I want to be able to finish the last volume, sigh in relief, and then have the stack of manga topple on me, crushing me to death. "He died doing what he loved," my friends and family will say. "Falling victim to easily avoidable problems."
For a long time, it didn't seem like THAT bizarre of a prediction. But recently, One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda announced, after a long-deserved break for a month, he was going to be heading into the manga's "final act." After the conclusion of the lengthy and momentous Wano arc, One Piece is finally entering its endgame. This story, which celebrates its twenty-fifth year in July 2022, is a far cry from the narrative that Oda intended to produce at first. Long-time fans may remember it was originally going to last for around five years when he first started it and that he kept it going because he thought the idea of Seven Warlords of the Sea sounded too cool to NOT expand his series for another two decades.
So was it gonna be as simple as the Straw Hats lining up Mihawk, Crocodile, Kuma, Hancock, Doflamingo, Moria and Jimbei and knocking them out like video game bosses until a "The End" screen appeared? Nope. In a 2007 interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, Oda said he was gonna keep it going for as long as it took for Luffy's journey to finish. I adore how cryptic that is. I can only one day hope to go up to my boss and say "The spreadsheet I'm working on will be finished when the journey of Column A Row 3 is complete."
In 2009, though, Oda went from cryptic to realistic, stating in an interview with the Japanese magazine MEN'S NON-NO One Piece probably won't end "for a long time." In 2009, Oda was wading through Impel Down and the Marineford War, so it sounds pretty fitting he killed off Ace and thought "Yeah, this is gonna take a while." Then, in 2012, Oda admitted if he wrote everything in One Piece that he wanted to, it would "never come to an end." That's right. There are over 1050 chapters of One Piece and IT'S THE ABRIDGED VERSION.
That said, Oda did say in a 2012 issue of One Piece Shimbun the series was around 60% done. Jump ahead to 2016, though, and it's only 65% finished. Greg, who is the One Piece columnist at Shueisha and Toei and participates in the terrific One Piece Podcast, mentioned a few days later that actually, Oda stated it was 70% done in an interview with Fuji TV. He also mentioned whenever these percentages are brought up, Oda is talking about the amount of story left, and that we're not dealing with actual time. And that's great news for me because math is scary.
In 2018, Oda said in a Yomiuri Shimbun interview One Piece was 80% finished, a number that did line up with his 2019 interview with the members of the comedy group Fischer's where he stated that he wants it to end after five years. It also corroborated the 2020 forecast that it would conclude in "four to five years." His very loose five-year plan at the beginning has evolved into a very loose five-year plan to end One Piece and now, with him throwing the word "final" around, it finally seems like One Piece might actually be reaching the finish line.
But I think the thing we need to take away from all of this, more than any number, is Oda stating One Piece will finish "as I please." Personally, I'm pretty grateful for the circumstances of Oda's magnum opus. So few creators are granted the time and publication space to finish long stories on their terms. So few are able to keep up with the trying work conditions involved in the manga industry. One Piece is truly a once-in-a-lifetime story.
So often, when a creator does become attached to a particular story or brand for a long time (with Oda, twenty-five years, plus the earlier years where he was working the kinks of the Romance Dawn story out), one or two things end up occurring: There is some kind of fan backlash because they feel they're unable to maintain the quality of the beloved story or they jump to the backseat and let someone else take the wheel. With Oda and One Piece, neither has happened. One Piece remains intensely popular and adored.
It's hard to imagine my life without One Piece. It's been a part of it for fifteen years now, and with a destination on the horizon, I'm not sad about its end, but grateful that I got to experience the cruise. It's not just become one of the greatest stories that I've ever experienced but an awe-inspiring testament to the power of a creator being able to deliver their work on their terms. Thank you, Oda, for One Piece.
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!