“One Piece” is one of Japan’s most successful manga and anime series. I’m not going to go into the whole 4Kids controversy with this issue, as this is not a review of the anime. But if you watch the dubbed anime of “One Piece”, then I advise that you buy the manga instead because the manga is a version of the series where you don’t have to put up with censorship and messed up storylines. You will see why “One Piece” was Oda-sensei’s gold mine and why people consider the anime a classic. The story begins with a young boy named Monkey D. Luffy (Luffy for short) trying to convince a pirate to let him join his crew. But Captain Shanks doesn’t want to do this because he knows that the sea is dangerous, even for an adult pirate like him. His caution is justified when Luffy swallows a piece of Devil Gum-Gum Fruit. It gives him the ability to stretch like Mr. Fantastic, but he loses his ability to swim! And if you want to be a pirate, knowing how to swim is like knowing how to run when a mad bull is chasing you. That’s because you’re traveling on the ocean and you may fall overboard or have to save someone.
After a life-threatening incident in which Shanks gives up his left arm in order to save Luffy, the kid is so grateful and awed that he vows to practice using his powers before becoming a pirate. Shanks even gives him his straw hat, which Luffy will protect with all his might and even give it to a friend in need. So about seven years later, when Luffy is nineteen, he sets off in a little boat and goes off in hopes of finding the One Piece. What is the One Piece? It is the ultimate treasure that once belonged to Jolly Roger, the King of the Pirates. The person who owns the One Piece is the one who becomes King of the Pirates. Naturally, this isn’t going to be easy, as there are other pirates vying for it, but Luffy is optimistic that he’s going to win. And thus the story begins.
Don’t think that he’s alone, either. He soon gains crewmembers: Roronoa Zoro, a bounty hunter determined to become the best swordsmen in the world; Nami, a skilled pirate thief with a darker past than you can imagine; Usopp, a village boy who is very good with slingshots and telling lies; and Sanji, a cook with a deadly kick. If these all sound like the least-likely people coming together in a pirate crew, then you’re right. Oda-sensei relies not on stereotypes, but on interesting and well-developed characters. Also keep in mind that “One Piece” is an action-comedy, and an action-comedy that will make you laugh until you cry. Some villains are as scary as they are hilarious (Lady Alvida, for example) and some villains are plain scary. Even so, what makes the series funny is the way the characters interact with each other. For example, in Lady Alvida’s first appearance she is hideous. Perhaps aware of this, she makes all her crewmembers say that she is the prettiest lady on the seas. When Luffy sees her, however, he points at her and goes “Who’s that tough-looking old biddy?”
If this series were just a comedy, however, then I don’t think that it would mean much to read it. This series also has its share of dramatic moments. There’s one volume focused on Nami’s past, and this one was mostly depressing. It was funny how Luffy charged into a battle scene without even stopping to think, but the rest of the time the volume made me reflect on Nami and how much she went through as a young child. And it must be noted that although most of the main characters (that is, men) are idiots, all do feel compassion and understanding. When Luffy sees Nami stabbing herself and crying in the aforementioned volume, he puts his straw hat on his head and goes off the fight the villain who made her cry (he says this) and put her through so much agony. Even characters that we don’t think are going to develop go through changes because of these villains. And speaking of which, there are even villains that are complex. We may not like them, but flashbacks reveal how twisted they may be and why they have grudges against certain people.
I really have to give kudos to Oda-sensei in the way that he portrays his women especially. I’ve already talked a lot about Nami, but all the other female characters in this series are no wimps. From the bartender in Luffy’s home village to the girl that Usopp entertains, the women may not be drawn well in the beginning but we can tell that they are real girls. Speaking of which, the art is . . . well, it’s amazing, but I don’t think that amazing would do it justice. “One Piece” takes place in a wacky world where eating the Devil Fruit can change you and all sorts of strange creatures exist. Oda-sensei draws it well and we can believe in this world where pirates are not the menacing Sir Francis Drakes of our world but unusual people willing to set their strengths against each other. The men’s character designs are also done well; they spark in originality and liveliness. The cover art, though, is top-notch. Each chapter in this series has a cover page; Oda-sensei outdoes himself when he draws these. From bizarre images like Luffy banging cymbals with his feet to Zoro and a tiger lounging after a large steak meal to several images written as a story (“Buggy the Clown” is the first of these) that provide hints for upcoming arcs and let us know how other characters are doing, the cover pages should be done in color.
And here is where I have to explain why I can’t give “One Piece” a perfect grade. Remember when I mentioned that there is a controversy with 4Kids involved? Well, when 4Kids dubbed the anime, they changed a lot of stuff, including changing Zoro’s name to Zolo in order to not get sued by whoever makes the Zorro movies. (Why they would get sued is a mystery because the Zorro movies make enough money without having to go to court.) This wouldn’t be a problem except for this: in the first few volumes of “One Piece” Zoro keeps his name, but afterwards and currently his name is Zolo. A lot of people have complained about this, needless to say. I feel it was a pointless change because Viz had already established that his name was Zoro, but it doesn’t affect the overall story and character development. But add this along to the early women’s character designs and then you get an A instead of an A+. It’s a shame, too, because “One Piece” deserves a perfect. Oda-sensei, could you come to the US sometime? We’d like you answer some questions.
- -Review By Jaya Lakshmi - -