One Piece review
Have you ever wondered why this series is so popular? Why the manga is rated so highly on so many websites that give ratings? How is this series still so popular even though it is already 20 years old? Have you ever wondered why the anime isn't rated as highly as the manga, apart from its sub-par animation? Why is One Piece so huge? If you ever wanted the answers to these questions, continue to read.
I have been a fan of the series since 2005. Back then I was just 12 years old when I was first exposed to the anime of One Piece.
My first thoughts were: "What the fuck is this shit? A guy who can extend his body limbs? What is this is silly artstyle? What the hell?"
I was only exposed to shows like Dragonball Z, Digimon and Pokemon, among some others before. Then I discovered One Piece and as I had nothing better to do I watched the anime on the TV canal where it ran on. And I still follow the series today.
Now, 12 years later, I have finished so many things in my life. I'm an adult. I earned my first money and I'm soon attending a University to study. I finished school a long while back. And in all this time I have read the manga as I transitioned from the anime to the manga at one point. Why am I still reading it?
Because and this is also the reason why One Piece is held so highly throughout the fans and manga community in general:
One Piece is one of these rare series that actually got better the longer they went on. You won't realize this by just "reading" it. You won't realize it by just reading the first 300 chapters. And you will never realize it if you decide to burst through pages at some points just because they feel rather boring to you. Oda's story-telling is simply masterful. There is no other way to describe it. He manages a consistent form of foreshadowing that you will not witness in any other manga or work of fiction in a very long time. Clocking up at 851 chapters at the moment, he has been carefully planting hints and foreshadowed events throughout the entire series. There are still so many people who don't realize this because they simply don't bother with it. In the beginning, it's not that clear, as the manga was relatively "small" in its start, back in 1997. The anime fails to adapt it correctly as it buries many things under annoying repetitions and fillers. It sometimes even contradicts with the content of the manga, pacing is horrible, it borrows sound design from DBZ and Toei doesn't even get the proportions of characters right. The manga however doesn't have these issues. Oda offers the best kind of writing in this regard. It can be compared to a movie that gives the audience the normal stuff like action, dialogue and other scenes in the foreground. But when you, as a viewer, decide to dig a bit deeper into it, examining dialogue a bit more or looking for hidden imagery in the background, you will be rewarded. It gives the whole movie a deeper meaning and it leads to a bigger picture. This is what Eichiro Oda does with One Piece. One Piece becomes this bigger picture, if you decide to look beyond the stuff in the foreground. What happens in general is, of course, important too and very good. But you will only realize the actual amount of depth of One Piece if you ever decide to create links between situations and scenes. Of course, the manga itself is huge even without that background stuff. But the additional planning and careful placement of hints and evidence adds an additional layer to everything that happens in One Piece. Things and events are foreshadowed, sometimes even hundreds of chapters before they occur while the main stuff happens in the front. And he has been doing it consistently in the past 20 years as the series has been made. Just search for "One Piece foreshadowing" online and you will be flooded with confirmed theories, evidence and massive throwbacks in terms of hidden background details, imagery and hidden dialogue meanings in thousands of forums. This is One Piece. Things like Ace's tattoo that seemed to be a misspelling by the tattoo artist got a whole new meaning when we saw Sabo's pirate flag. Usopp's funny lies that he tells and the made up stories that he told Kaya actually became real as they happened in the story. Back then they were played for laughs but then, if you remember it or re-read the manga, it simply makes click. This is the foreshadowing that I'm talking about. And this is just the tip of the iceberg that One Piece offers. The world and depth it has is just humongous. This may sound very pretentious what I'm writing here but it's simply the truth. You don't have to look everything up online to make a connection but it does help. Of course you can make all these links by yourself, even if it takes a bit time. While other artists simply fill out background just for the sake of filling them out, Oda plans it.
And don't imagine Oda being like: "Oh, I will just put this thing here and then I will come back to it 600 chapters later". This isn't what he does. What he actually does is, he creates characters and scenes in the way, that he can use them as a link point for a future reference or connection and then later he simply picks it up as he feels it as most appropriately. This is what he has been doing with characters, items, scenes, story moments and more throughout this entire time. Everything feels connected. Character re-appearances never feel forced, they all become logical. They actually feel like actual characters in an actual functioning world and they don’t just behave the way the plot demands them to like in many other manga. This is what sets One Piece apart from so many other shonen manga and this is one of the main reasons why it's held so high by fans. Some say: "It's the humour", other say: "it's the action". But these are subjective. The foreshadowing is an objective strength of One Piece and there isn't a single manga that can keep up with One Piece. And I love this aspect of it. And back then I didn’t even realize it. I just paid attention to the stuff in the foreground. And when I re-read everything back then and followed some discussions on online forums I was blown away about how much I have simply missed by not paying entirely attention. How is he (Oda) able to do it? Well, he simply devoted his entire life to the creation of the manga and he simply loves writing for it. Yes. He simply loves One Piece. It's that easy. One could argue: "Oh, he is just after the money, it's the most successful manga series of all time after all". Ask again: This is a man who has been working 90 hours (125 when he works on a movie) every week since 1997. Working conditions of mangakas are among the worst in the world but he takes the lead. His breaks only serve for further story writing and are never used for vacation and he only sleeps 3-4 hours a day. Since 1997. He doesn't have any time or room to spend his money on anything. I read every interview about him as I find him simply fascinating. This guy breathes the manga and the level of dedication to the manga is reflected by the quality of the manga. Even at its weakest moments, One Piece still stands higher than many other manga at their weakest times in terms. Oda's dedication is reflected in his art as well. Just look and compare the amount of detail that is put into panels and pages of One Piece with other manga. I adore his style and I know many think his style feels childish, silly and I used to think this too but the amount of work that he puts into his creatively made pages is impressive and I have great respect for him. Look up "One Piece colorspreads" to have an idea about it. And even in black and white it's just beautiful whenever he showcases his islands. And even the smallest panels are filled with rich background details. It's the embodiment of the joy in adventuring a mysterious world.
The series is unpredictable while retaining a basic formula but also offers a lot of variety. And the sense of awe. (Some spoilers here)
From character design, to abilities and motivations. Every manga and artist behind it has a formula. Even writers like Stephen King have found their formula how to make their stories. Oda has a formula too. While being very focused and rather small compared to what happens currently, the beginning of One Piece already had these kinds of aspects of story that Oda would continuously improve upon and further flesh out. The great idea of Devil Fruits that offers an endless set of interesting villains and interesting abilities is just one of the great aspects of the series.
The formula boils down to this: The strawhats appear on an island, they are in awe as they don’t understand what is going on on this weird island. They find out the population has problems or is oppressed. They try to help them while maintaining their actual goals. They beat the arc antagonist in the end. Quite simple, isn’t it? One could say that Dressrosa is a re-skinned Alabasta formula and they are kind of right but Oda switches things up a lot throughout the series. While this formula is Oda‘s basic formula on how to create arcs, he divides it often to offer more variety. Sometimes the strawhats have to interfere in a civil war that is under control of a Warlord (Alabasta). Sometimes they have to do a rescue-mission as they suffer a betrayal (Enies Lobby), sometimes they have to fight a giant on a huge island-ship before the morning sun burns them alive (Thriller Bark), sometimes they have to take action when a racist person shoots down one of the Strawhats friends and their actions lead to the call of an Admiral and a force too big for them to handle. And even taking part in an All Out War where one of the characters suffers a major loss is in. Oda has his core formula but he switches things up so often that it barely feels stale. One of the aspects on why the series is unpredictable in its core content is that Oda doesn’t write for the next cliffhanger but always has the bigger picture in mind. He takes risks. And he pulls them through. One of these risks was the death of Portgas D. Ace, Luffy’s brother and a favorite among fans, despite not being a core character of the series. Until that point it was an unspoken rule that no characters actually die in the series. And then it happened and it was a shock but also brilliant writing as nobody expected it, with amazing build up. Oda pulls his risks through, opposed to many others who make big cliffhangers and then go back to what they have always been doing. And if anybody who has read the series ever wondered why Peru (the falcon guy from Alabasta) survived his sacrifice where he flew the bomb into the sky: Back then 9/11 happened in the USA and out of respect for the people that died that day, Oda let him live. Originally he was supposed to die. Additionally to all of this, the story of the series is written like a path from A to B. It always moves forward. There are many shows and manga where everything just happens in the same place but in One Piece the characters always move forward, giving the entire series a feeling of progress.
Another aspect for the unpredictability and Oda’s knowledge of his own series and his understanding for the characters is the understandable power level system in One Piece. There isn’t a character that can literally destroy planets. There isn‘t one that seems to be the strongest in the entire galaxy. Every character has their limit. And while the main characters, the strawhats, win the majority of their fights (they are the main characters after all), they still lose some fights. In the beginning we get introduced to Zoro, a skilled swordsman who seems to be almost on par with Luffy. Then later we meet Hawkeye, the man that Zoro wants to beat to become the best swordsman in the world. And he doesn’t stand a single chance. Hawkeye beats him with ease. We learn that the strawhats are not the strongest. Later we get to meet Aokiji, one of the Admirals and he singlehandedly beats the entire crew. Oda understands his characters and he knows it’s boring if the main characters win every single fight. It also takes away the excitement if it’s done like that. Not in One Piece. Luffy must have lost about 6 fights so far. The power level system is well done in terms that it offers unpredictability in guessing how strong a character is but also enough evidence to kind of know and learn about the strength of a character and their limits. And one of the main aspects why the series still feels fresh is the amount of creativity that Oda has in terms of world and ability creation. There is a sense of awe as you read One Piece that is also reflected by the main characters reactions as they stumble upon creatively created islands with their own unique eco systems. My best comparison I can make is that this is a world that you want to fall into. Live in it. The best kind of fantasy worlds. Similar worlds that I have experienced in this level are the Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings. Next point: the story and the world of One Piece.
Oda understands his characters, his series and his writing. And he looks upon our world as well.
From the very first chapter, Oda has made the goal of the series clear. Finding One Piece. This is the ultimate goal and it still is, after 850 chapters. The world of One Piece is a huge, functional world, filled with so many diverse mysteries, islands, characters, all with different motivations and it could actually work in real life too. Oda understands them all. He has created over 800 characters that populate the series and they all feel distinct enough to not be mistaken for others and remarkable enough to at least remind you that you have seen the character before if they re-appear. While some people think that his artstyle is kind of silly, because characters look so vastly different, it helps with this aspect of creating so many characters and making them look very distinguished from each other in the long run.
Apart from the ultimate goal, he gives each of his main characters an ultimate goal as well. Luffy wants to become the pirate king, Zoro the best swordsman, Sanji wants to find the All-Blue (an ocean in which all kinds of sea creatures live) and the others have their „dreams“ as well. While character development is not the main focus of the series (Luffy still behaves a lot like he did in chapter 1) it is not completely absent and some characters like Zoro or Robin behave different than they did back then. Characterization is done well, you understand their motivations, their flashbacks are tragic while not feeling completely forced and they are well done and well implemented. Where One Piece also shines is the depiction of various themes and subjects that exist in our world as well. It deals with racism, slavery, drug-tests, oppression and even depression at one point. It does these themes so flawlessly and barely they feel out of place or forced. Like I said, the world in One Piece feels like an actual functioning world with all its problems that plague our world as well. Tyrannical warlords exist, children get used for drug tests, racism happens between humans and fishmen and vice versa, slavery is used upon those that are deemed as the lower race by those who think that they stand higher (Celestial Dragons). The thing is, Oda inserts these subjects into the series without making a huge fuss about it. He doesn’t necessarily write them in for us to hate those characters for the sake of hating them but he takes neutral points. Characters like the Celestial Dragons have actual reasons why they behave like that and you can actually understand them up to a certain point. This is something that many mangaka don’t understand when they create characters like that. We want to understand them at least slightly. In the end it’s a shonen manga and is aimed at 13-17 year old boys but the amount of subject tackling, depth it offers is simply impressive. And all of these things is part of something bigger. The bigger picture. At its core, The Dark Knight by Nolan is just an adaption of a comic book series that is created to the appeal of young people, as comics were very huge back then. But it offers entertainment and depth for both, young and adult people. The best kind of writing. Entertainment in the front. Depth in the background.
The Will of D., the ancient weapons, One Piece, the revolutionaries, the poneglyphs, the final island Raftel. There are many mysteries that still have to be answered and Oda has given many answers throughout the series while never doing it in a painful, obscure way as done with the sci-fi series Lost where, if you get the answer to something, five new questions pop up. Oda gives us the answers where it feels most appropriately. Because he doesn’t write a series for the next cliffhanger. He writes a story that feels connected and builds upon itself since chapter 1 and while I know that Oda’s original plan in 1997 was to work on it for 5 years, he has found the right ways to make the world bigger and create more interesting mysteries and turned One Piece rightfully in the best selling series in the world. And it deserves it. I hope my „essay“ here gave you the answers on why so many people rate it so highly. For the most part I gave objective answers in terms of planning, foreshadowing and world building that Oda has consistently created throughout the series. I never talked about the negative aspects of the series and to not make it even longer, I’ll keep it short as I only intended this review to be the answer to the question why One Piece is still so popular even after such a long time.
- Not enough pirate ship battles in a series about pirates
- Pacing can be an issue at times but barely gets a problem. Biggest pacing problem was the overly long Dressrosa arc but even then OP still held a good level of entertainment
- Some characters like Zoro behave different than back then and while it’s entirely understandable, I still prefer the old Zoro
- A few hiccups in terms story telling in the first half
- Some of the villains motivations are a bit lackluster
- Not enough female villains
- Some of the later female characters suffer from same-face shape syndrome but he has noticed it as well and offers now more variety.
I hope you enjoyed my review. Thanks for reading. If you want additional thoughtful analysis of One Piece, look up SupereyepatchWolfs video "The Appeal of One Piece". It's a good watch.