One Piece originally hit North America back in the early 2000’s. During that time, my mother, who was in the Air Force, was sent on her second tour of duty to the Middle East. This second tour was going to be the longest tour yet and would last nine months. Because of the desolate location, she wasn’t able to communicate with my family very often. She’d call about once a fortnight over the phone and we’d only have 30 minutes to talk to her. Because of this lack of communication, one of my teachers at the time suggested I write her a hand written letter. “Write about anything,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be important. Just let her know, you’re okay and you love her.” So I did just that. With the first letter, I wrote about this new show that had came up on Fox’s Saturday Morning Line-Up, and that show was One Piece.
Thinking back on it, it is very strange that I even wrote about the show at all. I wasn’t that big of a fan of the series yet. I had begun to move on to more mature titles like, Ghost in the Shell and Akira. But, here I was, writing on pen and paper to Mother in a war torn country about Devil Fruits and evil pirate clowns. I’m still not sure what compelled me to say, “Hey, I know death is all around you, but you need to hear about this Mr.Fantastic knock-off.” I talked with my mother about this recently and she remembers getting the letter but not so much the contents. So if teenage me was trying to convert a person into reading One Piece, you failed bucko.
I didn’t really watch the show much after it stopped airing on Fox Kids. Lost interest I guess. Moved on to other things.
About two years ago, I decided to start reading One Piece again. Not because of peer pressure or anything like that, but because I needed something long and lengthy to read while I was at work. So I figured, why not? I needed the distraction. What I didn’t expect from my experiences reading the adventures of the Straw Hat crew was that it would become one of my favorite pieces of fiction I’ve ever read.
For those unfamiliar with One Piece, it is a pirate-themed adventure series staring Monkey D. Luffy as he rises from his humble beginnings traveling the seas in a barrel, to leading one of the most renowned pirate crews, the Straw Hats, across the Grand Line. He sails the seas with the goal of finding a legendary treasure known as the One Piece and with it, claiming the title of “King of the Pirates.” Luffy’s journey takes him from a dessert kingdom torn by civil war, to lost islands that are the home of warring giants. From the deepest depths of the ocean to fabled lands in the sky, Luffy’s journey takes him everywhere imaginable. And with every stop, he meets a vibrant, colorful cast of characters every step of the way.
What I love the most about One Piece is its scale. When I say scale, I don’t mean length, I mean the size of the world these characters live in. The Grand Line is home to many different moving parts: from its various bands of outlaws, to its shady government, the multiple towns, races, social classes and its rich history and lore. All of these dynamic aspects play a role with each other in one way or another.
To scratch the surface of what I’m talking about, let’s examine the race of people known as the Fishmen. The Fishmen are introduced in the Arlong Arc, and are presented as stock villains. Arlong, a Sawshark Fishman who is the leader of a rogue band of Fishman pirates, hates humans and terrorizes a small village on a daily basis. The Straw Hats stop Arlong, and the matter is put to rest for a few dozen volumes. It’s not until we reach the Sabaody Arc that we learn the Fishmen have a long history of being kept as slaves. Their masters were a rich, higher class of humans known as the Celestial Dragons. When the Fishmen approached the World Government about this issue, the World Government turned a blind eye. As it turns out, the World Government is funded by the Celestial Dragons. With the World Government unwilling to go against their benefactors, they allow the slavery of the Fishman people to continue for centuries. The Fishmen tried multiple times to resolve the issue between their races peacefully, but an agreement couldn’t be reached. The Fishmen would later split off
into two groups: those who wanted to live in seclusion away from the humans and those who wanted to fight back to get revenge against the humans for enslaving their people. Arlong belong to the latter group, giving his character more motivation for his actions. While his acts of terrorism upon the villagers in the Arlong Arc are not excused, this explains where his hatred for humans comes from, and makes his character more sympathetic.
Arlong is the perfect example of how all of the moving parts of this world, the races, history, government and people come together to mold a single character. Every character in One Piece is somehow shaped by the world they live in. Each moment is a major life changing event to someone in this series; there’s never a wasted moment in this ongoing 78+ volume series. While the story might take awhile to get going in the first few volumes, the series is laying the ground work for bigger and more epic scenes later down the line. One Piece is one of the few series I’ve read where it feels the time I’ve invested into the series has paid off tenfold.
Epic is another word I would use to describe One Piece. Everything about Luffy’s adventure is larger than life itself. Between sailing up waterfalls, fighting dragons and taking down Warlords, there’s never a dull moment with the Straw Hats. Luffy doesn’t just fight a “villain-of-the-week” like in most other Shonen manga. Luffy declares war on ideas, governments, icons and gods. It’s never enough for Luffy to have a beef with a dude for being an evil jerk. There are deeper reasons for him to raise his fist. Take the Skypiea Arc for example. During that Arc, Luffy is pitted against a self-proclaimed god named, Eneru. Eneru is hellbent on destroying the legendary lost city of Skypiea, and it was the Straw Hats mission to stop him. While Eneru is going to kill tens of thousands of people by destroying Skypiea, that is completely secondary to Luffy’s motivations for wanting to take Eneru down. Eneru is standing in the way of Luffy being able to prove the legends of Skypiea’s existence. Luffy promised a fellow explorer that he’d find this fabled city, and Luffy keeps his promises. He makes the impossible possible, and he wasn’t going to let some god stand in his way.
At its core, One Piece is about family. With every team member Luffy brings on board, he gains another brother or sister. Like most siblings, they aren’t perfect and they come with a lot of baggage. Some members were criminals, like Nami who is a greedy thief when we first meet her. Others are just lost souls, like Brook, a living skeleton looking for a purpose for his mystically extended life. But regardless of where they came from, Luffy loves them all. He sees people others would consider to be a lost cause and gives them a place to call home. He makes them feel welcome and accepts them for all of their shortcomings. They fight and struggle to get along, but at the end of the day, they love each other. They stand together, side by side, to make their wildest dreams come true.
So, to summarize, One Piece is an epic adventure across the high seas filled with perilous lands, larger-than-life villains and so much heart, you’ll gag. I know it’s a long series, but if you stick with it, you might just experience
the greatest adventure the world has ever known. I’m still confused about why younger me felt the need to write to my mother about One Piece all those years ago. Although I will say this, after embarking on this journey again, I still feel the need to call my Mom and share the adventure with her.