I read the first 101 chapters of One Piece. Here’s what happened.
“Don’t touch the hat!! It’s my treasure!!”
After years of mild curiosity, followed by constant threats to my person by LRM Online EiC, Joseph Jammer Medina, I’ve succumbed to external pressures and started reading One Piece, by Eiichiro Oda. What follows are my thoughts and impressions about the first 101 chapters of One Piece, which include significant SPOILERS. I’ll bottom-line it upfront for comic readers: if you have the means, do yourself a favor and check it out. For those that need a little convincing, follow me to the Grand Line…
The basic story of One Piece, at least as I understand it, follows Monkey D. Luffy on his quest to become king of the pirates. In order to do this, he has to sail to a particular part of the world called “The Grand Line” and find the “One Piece,” a fantastic treasure left behind by the Pirate King, Gold Roger, which he amassed over the course of his time plundering the high seas.
After that setup, the first 101 chapters of the manga is the story of how Luffy begins to assemble his crew, made up of Roronoa Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji. At the outset, it feels a bit like an RPG in the sense that Luffy is going around completing what are essentially loyalty missions for his core crew before going on to complete the main quest. Given its Japanese origins, that analogy checks out so far.
One Piece Missed the Boat
What’s initially striking about the book is less about the art or the overall story. It’s how the main crew members are familiar, yet altogether different. Luffy and Sanji, in particular, have relatively easy shorthand pop culture relatives for me to grab on to. Luffy strikes a balance between the naïveté and determination of Goku with a bit of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. Sanji and Spike Spiegel share more than a little DNA, between their lean forms, chain-smoking, and fighting styles. Likewise, Nami and Faye Valentine struggle with the same desire to be alone, yet not. Zoro is basically Ash Ketchum (gotta beat ’em all), if he was, you know, a killer. And Usopp is, well…Usopp.
It’s telling that my points of reference for all these characters originate in the mid to late 90s, as that’s when my reference anime characters made the jump across the pacific to the United States from Japan. During that time, I was consuming the likes of Gundam, DBZ, Akira, Cowboy Bebop, etc. The One Piece anime, however, did not make it to the States until the mid-aughts (and the first dub from 4Kids was…challenging, to say the least). Aside from the odd anime film here and there, watching a series had fallen out of favor with me. The show just missed the boat for me. The books came to the States in the early 2000s, but unfortunately, I’ve never been much of a manga reader (though, that may be changing).
I’m only about 10% of the way through this ongoing epic, but what do I think so far? Well, I think Jammer was right. I know. Just having to write that admission makes me a little sick. He said that by the end of the first 101 chapters I’d know whether or not I liked it and whether or not I’d want to keep reading. I definitely like it so far and I think chapter 101 was the perfect place to stop before I wrote this article, as the story seems to be ready to move on to another big arc, and I really want to see what happens next.
P.S. as I read along in my journey, I made random notes on the pages. So when you see some of the pages here in the article, you’ll also see the notes I made.
So, Here’s What Got Me Hooked
There’s a great mix of comedy and drama that’s timed pretty well. The leading characters are well rounded and by the time you get to where I am, you have a good feel for their motivations, thus far. At this point, my favorite character is Nami, with Sanji as a close second. I relate to Nami the most because she’s single-minded and isn’t ruled by passion. That last part is what separates her for Luffy and Zoro. She not only has a plan for how to attain her goal, it’s also selfless. When she’s first introduced, her motivations are the most opaque, and I liked discovering her story.
Nami has her own agenda and is consistently resistant to joining Luffy’s crew, as is everyone else, with the exception of Usopp. What makes her different in that regard is that she clearly thinks Luffy is a fool and, to a point, she’s right. He set off on this voyage to find a treasure that’s presumably located on an island, yet he cannot swim, navigate the ocean, and is lacking a crew or ship. She, on the other hand, has pledged her loyalty to Arlong the pirate, in hopes of saving her island.
Discovering Nami’s story is why the Arlong Arc is my favorite. It’s probably easiest for me, at this point, to identify the arcs by the villains the heroes face and Arlong is, for the most part, the last one they face before (I think), entering the Grand Line. Arlong is a complete bastard that tests the heroes physically and emotionally, more so than they had been, up to this point. Only Pearl, a henchman from the Krieg Arc, managed to get a rise out of me before Arlong.
What makes Arlong a complete bastard is that he’s been terrorizing Nami’s home for years. He kidnapped her after murdering her adoptive mother in front of her and her sister. I love her because she didn’t fall into despair after this tragedy. She steeled her will and charted a solution to her problem that allowed her to protect her people and eventually liberate them. Her solution was selfless and admirable. On the flip side of that, we can debate the merits of making a deal with a murdering pirate all day long.
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What attracts me to her story is that it is one born out of a need to survive and protect, rather than a whimsical pie in the sky desire to be the pirate king or the best swordsman. She made a promise to protect the island and its people, which includes her older sister, to her adoptive mother. She even visits her grave to give progress updates.
As you can imagine, a deal with a murderous pirate isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And when the shit hits the fan, she finally breaks down and asks Luffy to help. This is what I like about the book overall. While the rest of the crew might not be practical, they all need each other. It reminds me of a quote from Babylon 5: Faith and reason are the shoes on your feet. You can travel further with both than you can with just one. Nami is the reason, Luffy, et al, are the faith.
The Appeal of Sanji
Aside from reminding me of Spike, there are two things I really like about Sanji. The first is that he vacillates from being cold to hot very quickly. Other characters do this, but it’s done with great effect with him. If he’s pining over Nami or screaming at Luffy, Sanji is staring down a lit cigarette ready to take on whatever challenge is in front of him. He just oozes cool, regardless of how great the enemy before him.
The second thing I like about him is his overall story. His setup as a character mimics Luffy’s in that at, a young age, he was saved by a pirate that saw much of themself in the adolescent. So much so that their mentors were willing to make great sacrifices to ensure their safety. While we don’t get to see how that plays out with Luffy yet, with Sanji, we see that he and Zeff, a former pirate himself, have an intense relationship.
Because Zeff sacrificed his leg to save Sanji, we can see Sanji working to repay what seems to be an insurmountable debt. The loyalty and admiration they feel towards one another are belied by their gruff exchanges and bouts of violence towards one another, to the point where everyone else, to include this reader, is certain that they just flat out hate each other. When the depth of their connection is finally revealed, it’s incredibly satisfying.
If I had to say who should read One Piece, it’s easily anyone that has a passing interest in comics or anime. The story does a good job of making you care about the characters and their quests. It does this with a good combination of drama, comedy, and well-placed flashbacks. If I had to mention a weakness, some of the art during the fights isn’t the best and looks a little confusing.
On the flip side, one of the aspects of the art that I love is the way the sounds are drawn. Oda adds an extra bit of emersion to the stories when he does this. Another standout characteristic of the books are the covers for the chapters. They reveal side stories that, at first I thought were a joke, but they are legitimate single panel stories that actually lead somewhere.
What I Want to See Next
Aside from the rest of the story, I need Usopp to grow and be more than just a buffoon (editor note: oh-ho. Just you wait). Though he has a big heart, he’s a coward and his antics were probably the most groan-inducing of the story thus far. I get it. A lot of stories need a joke character, but it’s oddly distracting. I suppose it could be worse, he could be Minoru Mineta from My Hero Academia.
What would I like from Usopp? I’m hoping that being surrounded by the likes of Luffy, he becomes a worthy member of this crew. We catch a glimpse of that during the Arlong arc when Usopp is separated from the group and facing off against one of the fish-men. He thinks of why he left his island and of Luffy, who inspired him to do so and grows as a character. I’m hoping that trajectory is consistent.
After the Arlong Arc, it’s apparent that the crew is destined to run into old enemies again. Alvida and Buggy from the beginning of the series are back, have teamed up and are tracking our heroes, though I think they have different intentions for the kid in the straw hat. I’m hoping their union brings about a loss for Luffy. I’m at the point of the series where I want to see what happens when his crew and boundless determination just aren’t enough to overcome an obstacle. I want to see how he handles true adversity that comes from losing.
I think that’s enough, right? As you can tell, I think this is a cool book and I get the fandom around it. I think it’s given me the right level of curiosity to tackle other anime I’ve enjoyed, like My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan. That last part is funny, because I’m still not quite sure if this will spur me to watch the One Piece anime. I caught a clip of it, just recently, actually and, yea, hard pass. Luffy’s voice just didn’t do it for me. Jammer raised a valid point that that kind of voice is a trope and while I get it, it’s just not how I hear him in my head. It’ll be interesting to see if I fold and find a reason to start watching at least the movies.
So, what are your thoughts on One Piece, crap-geezer? Without spoiling it for me, should I keep going or hang it up?
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