When you discuss One Piece, people like to fact-drop that it has been running since 1997, is watched and beloved by millions of Japanese people, has sold bajillions of copies of the manga and of course, that, in the words of Bill Nighy, “abomination” that shall not be named…
Does any of this have anything to do with One Piece?
Nope, not really.
The story is pretty simple: Gold Roger, the King Of The Pirates, upon his execution decrees that anyone can find the loot he amassed, it’s all in One Piece. OK, skip forward a few years and the young rapscallion, Monkey D. Luffy, decides it’s the pirate life for him and joins up with “Red Haired” Shanks and his crew. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gains the ability to stretch his body to fantastic lengths. The downside is that he cannot go near water as he will drown. Setting out on his own, he gathers his own pirate crew including Navigator Nami, legendary swordsman Zolo, wise-cracking cook Sanji and the cowardly inventor Usopp with the intention to becoming the next King of the Pirates. Together they set sail for the Grand Line, the vast ocean that makes up the bulk of the world of One Piece and seek their fortune.
I have, on occasion, stated my personal tastes in regards to Shonen fighting shows and manga. I am not a big fan of them. I like Hokuto no Ken (AKA Fist of The North Star) as I saw some of the old Manga UK dubs of it back in the day. But I can’t get into Dragonball and can’t into Bleach (trust me, three DVD’s of it are currently defeating me into not reviewing them) so when I learned of One Piece, I was of a mind to dismiss it as well. Add to that, the fact that my tastes, as I’ve gotten older, have started to veer into a more mature and analytical (at least, I hope they are) phase. Things like the Translucent Girl by Dark Horse or Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service take my fancy. Childish things like One Piece do not. Or, they didn’t until recently. For you see, One Piece has changed these ideas I had, somewhat.
Following a recommendation to read volumes 8-11, which comprise the teaser, main and wrap-up for the Arlong Park story-arc, I had to wait some time for these volumes to come in my local bookshop, as the local library didn’t stock much Shonen Jump titles, much less One Piece. But eventually, I did receive the volumes requested. I have to say that unlike most titles I dive into mid-way I didn’t feel left out all that much and for a shonen fighting manga, that’s a welcome thing.
First up, One Piece features some of the most frantic action set pieces I’ve ever read. People fly on wire-fu, stuff explodes and the action flows mercilessly against an open vista of the sea. Luffy is by far the reason to watch people fight in this story. The way Oda draws Luffy, it almost seems like he’s flying. Sanji and Zolo have their moments but at the heart of it their physicality is grounded in the real world so they don’t jump from four floors and hit the ground running. As per the rules of Shonen fighting stories, the villains are literally, huge. If Don Krieg was a real person, he’d be fourteen feet high. And be ten feet wide. You see my point? The real world never factors in for One Piece. There doesn’t seem to be a blood bank anywhere around so God only knows how they replace the amount of blood each of them loses in the fights they get into. They even make it a point with Zolo fighting the Fishmen of Arlong Park that his friends didn’t know if he could continue fighting with all the blood he’d lost recently! Oda is be commended that all this happens and never once do I feel that any of the characters, big or small, feel out of place. Having Nami stand next to Captain Arlong means you see how small she is next to him but we’re not talking ant-size.
Character is a big thing in One Piece. Luffy has this cheerful, devil-may-care attitude to life that I like. Never does he see the bad in people he considers his friends. Only the people who oppose him in his quest to be King of the Pirates feel his sharp tongue and even sharper fists and feet. He seems to be the eternal optimist in all of his dealings with the world. If his friend is having trouble, he is there right alongside. If a nefarious creature threatens to derail Luffy’s plans, then it’s time to bring out the big guns. It’s all or nothing with him. Sanji is a loner who cooks like a pro, fights like a sailor (no pun intended) and smokes like a trooper. In short, he is the scoundrel. Also he’s in love with Nami. Completely. Utterly. Moving on, Zolo I’m not so sure about. I’ve not read enough of him in the volumes covered other than he’s a Wolverine-I’m-the-best-at-what-I-can-do sort of bloke. Nami is excellent and I really like her character over everyone except Luffy. She has her reasons for joining Luffy in his insane plans. You find out some of them in this arc but not all of them. She really is a sweetie at heart but she knows how to keep the lads in line. If we were to apply a Star Wars veneer to the proceedings, then Luffy is Luke, Zolo and Sanji are Obi-Wan and Han and Nami is Princess Leia. Usopp is not Chewie. Because Chewie ain’t no coward.
The villains are the usual fare of insanely muscled behemoths with ideas about ruling the seas, world, blah, blah, blah. If I sound dismissive, please believe me, I’m not. It’s just this kind of character development is a stock rather than cliché of shonen fighting tales and frankly, I for one, would be put out if the villains weren’t set up like this. Don Krieg, as I’ve stated before, is a man mountain. That neck, it’s just friggin’ huge. Also the villains are villains in every sense of the word. Arlong is a fishman who honours the promises he gives but only to the letter of them not the spirit in which they were given. He, figuratively, screws Nami over and does it with a smile.
One aspect of the story is a vibe of people dying all the time but only for the right reasons for themselves. Pirates go to the gallows without a whimper, parents die to protect their children. Luffy standing his ground against foes who have blooded him. The main theme I pick up from, at least with these volumes, is stand your ground. Even when all around you have given up. You standing up will inspire people. It’s a nice theme. I’m glad that there are artists and writers who still have this kind of ability in them.
All in all, One Piece is a good, strong title. Worthy of being in your MAL manga lists. Strong writing, a wealth of material to sample and devour, great artwork. Another good series from VIZ. Word of warning for parents: contains some smoking, violence and blood.
Will I go on with the series? At present I’m unable to, given my country’s finances. So when things do pick, I will keep up as best I can. For now, I’m happy with my 4 volumes and if I need an immediate fix, there’s always the animated series from Funimation.
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