Now that One Piece is on Netflix, I’ve been talking a lot more about it. People are skeptical about the quality of the show because the animation style is unique (read “weird”), the story is long, and the title sounds like a bathing suit. The purpose of this article is to help new or potential audience members understand a little more what their getting into.
Anime has a history of weird titles. While many series are named after the primary protagonist, many are named after something tangential or seemingly unrelated. Take “Bleach” for example. This series has nothing to do with cleaning product. The series follows a group of teenagers who discover they have innate ghostbusting powers. Where the name comes from is that the main characters dress in black, white is the opposite of black, and bleach calls to mind white. It’s a round about way to reference the subject matter, but it’s also really cool.
“One Piece,” on the other hand, refers to a specific object, an invisible McGuffin, that the characters are all pursuing: the treasure that once belonged to the world’s most famous pirate. The beginning of every episode starts with a direct reminder of the source of the series’ title by recounting the tale of how Gold Roger, the King of the Pirates, ignited the Great Pirate Age by announcing at his execution that he left everything he owned at “that place,” which came to be understood as the One Piece.
Now, we don’t know yet what the One Piece is. It may in fact be swimwear, but given how the story has played out so far, the chances of it being a tankini are pretty slim. For now, we’re just watching and waiting for clues about the One Piece.
The Main Character
While most stories follow a protagonist as he or she faces problems, changes, and then solves the problem, that is not exactly the way One Piece’s main character works. His name is Monkey D. Luffy (pronounced “LOO-fee”), and that name should invoke the Monkey King, an archetypal character originating in Journey to the West, a Chinese fantasy novel that has proven one of the most important works of Asian literature. According to TVTropes.org, “Monkey King Lite” characters are identifiable by a set of characteristics common to all of them. In particular, these characters have monkey or animal characteristics, such as being dumb or silly, and having a large appetite. They also have telescoping weapons, such as an extending staff, and a mischeivous nature.
Luffy definitely fits the bill. He has no sense of direction, never thinks about anything, and acts almost entirely on instinct. He eats a ton, and demands meat whenever injured, which allows him to heal quickly. Although he does not have a telescoping weapon, he does have a rubber body that extends in combat. He also loves to prank his crewmates and steal their food.
The reason it’s important to understand Luffy’s nature is because he doesn’t change or develop in the usual sense. In most stories, external conflict highlights a character’s personality flaws allowing the character to change, and then solve the external conflict. Luffy bullheadedness may be considered a flaw in any other work, but in One Piece, it’s what drives him forward and endears him to other characters and the audience. Instead of Luffy changing to fit the world, the world changes to fit Luffy.
For the most part, One Piece is a linear narrative peppered with flashbacks to provide dimension to new characters. We follow Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates, his crew, as they island hop their way around the world having adventures, solving problems, and gaining clout.
The story starts in a sea called the East Blue, which represents a quarter sphere of the world of One Piece, where Luffy sets sail from his home village, sailing haphazardly to island after island, gaining crewmates and learning about the world. His first run-in is with a young marine-wannabe, Koby, and a sword-wielding bounty-hunter-turned-pirate, Roronoa Zoro. From there, he gains a navigator, a sniper, a cook, and a doctor, each with a tragic history and personal goal that drives them to the sea with Luffy. Along the way, Luffy and company meet shapeshifting clowns, fishmen, warlords, giants, sea monsters and secret criminal organizations. At every turn, the Straw Hats prove that they will overcome every challenge with pluck, tenacity, and a little luck.
I get a lot of repeat questions about One Piece, and I am going to address them here.
- I like this show. Where can I get more? One Piece has over 900 episodes available with subtitles and over 500 dubbed in English at http://www.onepieceofficial.com. You can also access episodes on Crunchy Roll and Funimation apps.
- Why is the animation style so weird? This series started airing in 1999, and the original style featured heavy caricature, but that style mellows somewhat into a slightly less stylized form over the first 40 episodes.
- When does it get good? I think it’s good from the get-go, but you may be tougher to please. I will say that if you don’t like it by the end of the Arlong Park story arc, you probably are not built to enjoy the series overall.
- Is it better than Naruto? Not only is it better than Naruto, it’s much, much longer, as well.
I hope you take a chance and watch this show. It’s been a good ride to me so far, and I’d love to have more people to discuss it with.