Of all the manga and anime in the world, one is closer to my heart than all the rest: One Piece. I’ll usually either read the manga, or watch the anime of a series, it’s seldom that I do both, but not with One Piece. Foolish, you may think, given the infamous length of One Piece, but it has so much to offer that I can’t help but inhale as much of it as I can. It also helps that I mostly watch English dubs of anime, so there is a decent divide between seeing and reading the same arc. But I am here to tell you that despite its prodigious length, One Piece has something in it for everyone, and is well worth diving into in either of its formats.
My Start With One Piece
I started reading One Piece as a manga when I was 10-years-old. The hook was a golden age of piracy swept over the world, with folks pouring onto the seas in search of a treasure beyond their wildest dreams, and also some of them have superpowers. For my young brain, that was the coolest goddamn thing I had ever heard of. The main character, Monkey D. Luffy, is made of rubber, which reminded me of Mr. Fantastic at the time. But now, as a learned adult, I can say with supreme and utter confidence that Mr. Fantastic is a little bitch compared to Luffy. Luffy would beat the absolute hell out of Reed Richards, and that is a fact.
Monkey D. Luffy
But what’s endearing about Luffy? Well, he’s an idiot. Very much so. But there is nothing he does that’s half-assed or without sincerity. He goes balls to the wall on everything, completely devoid of fear, and knows beyond the shadow of the doubt he’s not going to die until he achieves his dream of being King of the pirates. He is literally too stubborn to die. Also, it’s actually pretty hard to kill rubber and only gets harder as the series goes on. I’m starting to believe he might survive the whole thing. At least, if it ever comes to an end, which seems unlikely at the moment.
Luffy only really cares about two things. Well actually three things, because it would be disingenuous not to include food as one of his greatest priorities. But his friends and his freedom are the two things he holds most dear. He will never fail his friends in any situation, and he will never surrender his freedom to anyone. Being a pirate isn’t about breaking the law to Luffy, it’s about being able to travel, live life without structure or order, Does he break the law? Yeah, quite a bit, but only because it gets in the way of him doing nothing less than exactly whatever he feels like doing at any given moment. He’s not pillaging and raiding villages and ships, he’s looking for treasure and fighting anybody that gets in his way of enjoying life. He’s reckless and needs to be reined in by his friends, but he’s not dangerous. Not to innocent people at least.
Much of the beginning of One Piece is dedicated to Luffy assembling his crew and acquiring a ship, as we get to see his journey from the beginning when he has nothing but a devil fruit that grants him his rubber abilities, an inability to swim, and a dinghy. The curse of the devil fruit is the same for everyone who partakes of it. In exchange for a wild variety of powers and transformations, you lose your ability to swim, and sink like a stone in the sea, robbed of your power. As if the oceans are trying to keep a level playing field, avoiding being overtaken by scumbags and thieves. Because yes, there are many very shitty pirates as well. It’s naturally mostly bad people that are attracted to the idea of ultimate wealth, so there are many who get in the way of Luffy and his crew.
The Straw Hats
Luffy’s crew is composed entirely of dreamers, like him. I am resisting the urge to just quote the 4Kids One Piece rap theme song, as it introduces everyone so succinctly and eloquently, but I digress. Zoro becomes Luffy’s first mate, a bounty hunter who specializes in catching pirates. Luffy’s charisma and natural pull are on display from the start, overcoming this man’s prejudice against pirates by being himself and dedicated to helping. Nami is the navigator that gets recruited next, who, go figure, also specializes in aggression against pirates, only she is a thief. Usopp is the marksman of the crew, and also a local asshole in his village, but Luffy’s passion for his dream inspires yet another to follow him. Finally, he gets Sanji, the cook of the crew as well as a phenomenal douchebag from time to time when it comes to women. He is what would happen if Pepé Le Pew was given life as a human, but was at least a skilled fighter. There is also Chopper, their reindeer doctor who is probably the most useful member of the whole crew. Luffy’s resistance to tyranny and fighting spirit ultimately win Chopper over.
This is supposed to be largely spoiler-free so that’s all I have to say about the crew themselves. They each bring something important to the dynamic of the crew, and each contributes something significant to the continued function of the ship. They’re united by a shared passion for their own individual dreams and are of course fierce pursuers of freedom so they can keep going down the path they’ve started. They range from basically just a normal human, to almost as strong as Luffy without the need for a devil fruit. Their individual utility and usefulness are successfully utilized time and time again across the series, and your favorite character will change constantly, as the spotlight itself shifts as well.
As for the more badass part of the series, the villains that Luffy and his crew have to face, range across the board from a mildly obnoxious clown that’s hard to kill, to hard-hitting giant men made of materials that are downright deadly, even to rubber. The danger is always there and is constantly escalating throughout the series. There are foes with such incredibly strange power sets, it yields fights of immense grandeur constantly. The action in One Piece is second-to-none.
At its core though, One Piece really is all about the journey. There is so much heart in each story arc, you will weep, you will cheer, you will laugh. One Piece delves into a wide array of emotions and posits many questions about things like imperialism and class warfare, to name a few. The adventures of Luffy and his crew have been ongoing for over two decades now, with no indication of coming to an end any time soon. What better time to dive into this vibrant, gorgeous world, filled with some of the most colorful and fascinating characters in all of fiction. Above all else, One Piece is memorable.