Where does one even begin with an anime like this? Two decades of seasons, well over a dozen movies, an assortment of specials… there is a lot to go over here! I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning.
There is a treasure. On what appears to be a largely-oceanic world, somewhere in the chaotic seas, there is a treasure. It was left behind by the greatest of all pirates, called the King of the Pirates. He was executed a generation ago, but he left behind the legend of his treasure, and challenged the entire world to find where he left it. With these dying words, he ignited anew a great age of piracy. The treasure, it’s called the One Piece, and whoever finds it, they say, will be the next King of the Pirates.
That, however, is just the beginning, and even if that lies at the very core, it still does scarce justice for such a magnificent, epic anime as this. It’s currently approaching nine hundred episodes, if I recall rightly, and still a ways to go! Obviously, any simple summary of that much material is going to be a bit lacking, so I beg forgiveness in advance for everything I will miss here.
The story follows a young man, by the name of Monkey D. Luffy, and his crew. Luffy is exceptionally strong and resilient, and he gained the super-power of having a body with rubber-like qualities, due to eating something called a Devil Fruit. He sets sail and intends to become the next King of the Pirates, though it has a slightly different meaning than it does in most people’s lexicon. He actually wouldn’t know the word “lexicon,” I imagine, as he is something of an overwhelming idiot in some rather hilarious ways. As he sails the seas, he puts together a most formidable crew, called the Straw Hat Pirates in token of Luffy’s beloved hat. Together, they venture across many a strange sea, witnessing wonders and oddities, passing through countless dangers, defeating many dangerous foes, saving countless lives time and again, and, slowly but surely, altering the course of the world around them.
It’s a truly epic story, of which there are not really so many these days, and it’s mostly quite well-told. It would utterly fail if the characters were not fantastic and easy to love. Whether they be Luffy’s crew (including my crush, Nami), or their friends, or their enemies, or their frenemies, or random people everywhere, these people are all people, and they are what the story is truly about. There are powerful themes of freedom, order, justice, and more, especially rising from the ashes of defeat and despair, but it would all fall flat without the people. It is they who carry the story forward, make the wit and humor work, and deliver the incredible emotional impact to the audience.
The story of our heroes, both their individual adventures and the overarching plot, is put together in an easy narrative to follow, yet one that is constantly branching out to show everything we need to know about what is happening. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and end, a series of complications, a rising action, a climax, a falling action, a resolution, again and again, and all of the characters get their time in the spotlight, their chance to develop and grow. That is a very difficult part of the craft to master, and it has been mastered here.
The world, with all of its oddities, is wide and diverse and every new land we visit is unique in some way. The various arcs all draw on myths, legends, fairy tales, and more, creating a rich and varied texture, so no two adventures are quite the same. The animation is beautiful, even from the beginning, and the show has been running long enough that it has visibly developed and improved with the times. I can’t recall the last time the soundtrack was updated, but it has remained beautiful, haunting, and exhilarating from the start.
I short, One Piece is absolutely great!
In my not-entirely-humble opinion. 😉
But, of course, I must admit, there are imperfections in every work. The sheer bulk of One Piece can easily put off someone who has never seen it before, and within that mighty expanse, there are flaws to be found. Thing is, the flaws are understandable, to a point, and they vary. It’s not the same flaws which are present from beginning to end.
In one arc, for instance, they pulled one of those extending time things, which Dragonball Z is the most infamous example of, and they did it simultaneously with flashing back to things that had happened within that very same arc. Exactly how that came about, I do not know. Perhaps they just needed to extend the runtime a little.
On a similar note, and definitely understandable, the latest couple of arcs have dragged on a bit, roughly twice as long as any of their predecessors. The studio making it don’t have many options, though. Not only are these arcs longer, as we move towards the final crescendo and conclusion of the series (in just a few more years), but they’re trying not to outpace the source material, the manga. It’s a simple fact that anime can be produced much faster than manga, and over the course of a couple decades, they’ve come right up, hot on the manga’s heels. So, they have very long opening sequences and extend scenes to the max in order to fill out as much time as possible. It’s annoying, but they don’t have many options.
And, of course, there’s the aspect of death in the story. Much of the time, it’s reasonable, like someone falling down the stairs and breaking their neck, and it tends to be permanent. However, the show has also displayed characters who were ostensibly killed coming back at the end of the arc and some even survive being at the heart of massive explosions. That kind of undercuts the usual weight of death, ya know?
Oh, and it must be said, that while most of it is appropriate for the whole family, there are more mature aspects of the story which may not be entirely suited for children, making it a bit difficult to nail down a perfect demographic for its audience.
So, it must be freely admitted that it’s not “perfect.”
But it is pretty darn close to a masterpiece.
Especially for an anime that has run so very long already. Other such stories meander and stretch and forget everything about themselves. But not One Piece. From start to finish, whenever that finish arrives, it has a clear direction to go, and it remains true to the spirit it has had from the very first episode.
It’s fun and funny, weird and zany, gripping and tense, exhilarating and inspiring. It makes us laugh, it makes us cry, it makes us think. It has lovable characters, important themes, and a compelling story. It is a beautifully crafted work of art. And it is easily a forerunner among my favorites. That is One Piece in a nutshell.
Rating: 10 stars out of 10.