It feels weird to say that I’m nearly caught up on a series when I still have well over one hundred chapters of content left to read. With most other manga, one hundred chapters is the one-third mark. That, or the series would already be nearing its ending. But considering how massive this story is, and how long it took to get to this point, that one hundred chapters isn’t that far off.
In case you haven’t noticed that I’ve written a One Piece article every week for the past month, let me explain. A few months ago, I decided to tackle the greatest challenge anime/manga has presented me since I became a weeb: catching up on One Piece. Even when I first got into anime, way back in 2013, One Piece seemed like a colossal beast. Now, in the hellish year of 2020, it’s a story one thousand chapters strong. And don’t even get me started on the anime!
But I was a mere boy back then! A child who thought that Dragon Ball Z was the longest an anime got! Now, I am a man! One who has experienced the suffering of great shows discontinued, terrible shows with several seasons, and countless filler seasons of Naruto! If I can’t handle a story one thousand chapters long, then I may as well hand in my weeb license!
(Note to self: print out a weeb license.)
With my journey nearing its end, I figured it time to look back on everything that lead to this point. From the East Blue all the way to the New World, I’m gonna review each and every arc of One Piece. Is this gonna be my life for the next year? Yes. But it’ll be worth it.
*Note: I’ll be focusing on the writing aspect during these reviews. When I reach the last one and I’m all caught up, I’ll write a more broad article about the series as a whole, focusing on stuff like the artwork. Until then, let’s focus on the story itself. Cause there is a lot of story to tackle.*
Prologue and Luffy’s Childhood
One Piece has one of the strongest openings to any manga I’ve ever read. The prologue alone would be enough for me! The King of the Pirates, sending the whole world on a treasure hunt with his dying breath?! Sign me the hell up!
But then our protagonist stabs his own face to get street cred and I was even more on board!
This flashback does a fantastic job of establishing Luffy’s character. Or at least, the character he was. As compared to other Shounen heroes, who were always the upbeat idiots that we meet at the beginning, we see how Luffy comes to be who he is. All thanks to his interactions with Red Hair Shanks.
I love the dynamic between Luffy and Shanks. You can tell that the two have a lot of genuine affection and respect for each other. It’s really cute watching Luffy’s admiration of Shanks in action while Shanks tries to keep the brat out of trouble, whether he’s trying to get him to spit up a Devil Fruit or protecting him from bandits or sea monsters.
It all cultivates into two of the earliest emotional gut punches in the entire series: Shanks losing his arm and giving Luffy his straw hat. These two scenes are so touching, perfectly paying off the relationship that we saw building throughout the opening chapter. Plus, it sets the stage for a long-lasting objective for the series: return the hat.
Which probably won’t happen. I doubt the Straw Hat pirates would give up… you know, the straw hat.
Luffy’s first outing at sea is a fantastic follow-up to what we got in the first chapter. There, we saw a young and stupid Luffy who didn’t know the first thing about being a pirate. Here, we get to see just how Shanks’ influence changed him as a person, making him the man that he is today.
This growth is accentuated by his interactions with Coby, the tiny little coward that couldn’t do a damn thing. He is a perfect foil for Luffy; he’s a negative Nancy, someone who always points out the impossible. Luffy, in turn, pounds him in the head and says “I’m gonna do it anyways.”
As for Alveda and her pirates… meh. It’s fun watching Luffy hand it to a cocky bitch and her idiot crew. It becomes especially hilarious when you remember what’s gonna become of said bitch later in the story. But in itself, it’s just a fun little pirate fight. One that’s easily forgotten in the battles to come.
Much like the next battle.
Zoro and Axe-Hand Morrigan
It’s so weird to think back to the early days of the Straw Hat crew. Back when it was only Luffy and Zoro in a tiny boat, fighting a wannabe badass Navy man and his whiny brat. When you consider the massive, world-changing feats these two would achieve later in the story, it makes their origins seem all the more… I dunno… humble.
The story itself in this mini-arc is pretty decent. Watching Luffy prove himself to Zoro, earning the pirate-hunter’s respect and loyalty, is really satisfying. Plus, Helmeppo and Axe-Hand Morrigan, while forgettable in the grand scheme of things, make for a fun duo for the two new comrades to defeat.
This little arc also contains Zoro’s flashback. This one is pretty decent, though not nearly as strong as what we would get from later crew mates. Zoro’s rivalry coming to an abrupt and unsatisfying end is a great backstory, especially since it established a character flaw that is sort of explored later: his inability to properly fight women.
Now, as for Axe-Hand Morrigan and Helmeppo… well, they’re much like Alvida and her crew. Not very interesting in themselves, but watching them get their asses kicked is fun. Even if both of them go down in a single hit and are swiftly forgotten. But to be fair: Helmeppo would at fun redemption arc on a later cover story!
It’s really fun to see how the Straw Hats began. Especially when you know just how far they’ll go. In retrospect, this arc is incredibly tame, but also incredibly charming. Because this, these few chapters, is where it all began. This is where the legends of Straw Hat Luffy and Pirate Hunter Zoro began.
And they’re only two of the legends of the Straw Hat Pirates.
That seems like a decent place to wrap up for now. As much as I’d love to tackle the rest of Romance Dawn right now, I do feel that those arcs deserve more time than I could give them in this article. So, as much as I want to talk about Luffy kicking a clown in the balls, that’ll have to wait until next week. Maybe later.
The beginnings of One Piece are so much fun. It’s so rare that a series’ early chapters become more fun after reading the later stuff; usually, the stark differences between early and later content makes one or the other feel jarring (cough cough Dragon Ball). Here? These chapters are more enjoyable now than they’ve ever been!
Still, this isn’t where One Piece truly hits its stride. Not yet. It’s good, but it isn’t incredible. We still have a few arcs to go before we get there.
*Distant fish man laughing grows slightly closer*