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Let’s kick this off with the king of the pirate manga, One Piece!
As a child, Monkey D. Luffy dreamed of becoming the King of the Pirates. But his life changed when he accidentally gained the power to stretch like rubber – at the cost of never being able to swim again! Now Luffy, with the help of a motley collection of pirate wannabes, is setting off in search of the “One Piece”, said to be the greatest treasure in the world…
Everyone likes pirates, right? And yet, the market for pirate themed stories is surprisingly small. Luckily, there’s One Piece. Not only is it massively popular but it has enough chapters to substitute for at least 7 other series. But is it any good?
The overarching plot is pretty typical; young boy dreams of being something, boy gains power, boy goes to accomplish his dream by finding something and fighting people along the way… It’s the details that flesh out this plot that matter. In this case, One Piece fleshes the plot out well.
Luffy is a typical shonen protagonist; loud mouthed, determined and fiercely loyal. After eating the mysterious Gum Gum Fruit, Luffy gains the ability to stretch his body like rubber. Unfortunately, this newfound power also means he will sink in water, which is kind of a problem if you plan on being King of the Pirates. Nevertheless, Luffy sets off on his journey and it’s not long before he starts making new friends and gathering crewmembers. Along the way he encounters enemy pirates, which leads to battles that can span multiple chapters.
Eiichiro Oda’s style is deceptively simple; characters generally don’t have much detail and backgrounds are scarce. However, Oda has thought long and hard about the locations within One Piece, so when we do see a background they are often full of personality and visually impressive. Likewise, Oda puts care into his character designs, creating quirky characters whose appearances sometimes look more like an American cartoon than your typical shonen manga character.
Or, the men do, at least. Women, or at least, young women, generally all look similar, with the same body shape and appearance. Generally, the only exceptions to this are when a woman is either meant to be fat and ugly, such as Iron Mace Alvida, or when it is an older, motherly type figure. While this isn’t a great problem within volume one, as the only important female character introduced is in the last chapter, it is a disappointing contrast to the eclectic designs of the male cast.
The cast’s personalities are as diverse as the designs, albeit rather by-the-numbers. Luffy doesn’t break any new grounds with his personality, but playing it safe isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nami, albeit only introduced at the end, is a refreshing character, loving money and using her wits to trick even the most frightening pirates. Although we all know she’ll join Luffy soon enough, her crafty personality makes you wonder how much you can trust her. There’s Zolo, the mysterious and tough swordsman who is actually a nice guy with a tragic past and Koby, the cabin boy who wants to become a member of the navy. While they aren’t extremely inventive characters they’re developed well enough to keep you interested in their plight and the relations between the characters is enjoyable.
The fights are drawn well enough, but there’s not a great deal of excitement when you know Luffy and the gang will win every time. It’s also hard to shake off the feeling that Luffy is basically invincible in that regard, as he and the team will always develop a new way to defeat an enemy. It falls heavily into the old “Verse an enemy, enemy is too strong, power up and defeat enemy, new enemy appears, rinse repeat” formula that many shonen titles inevitably fall into. Thankfully, the battles are quite inventive. Zolo’s three-blade fighting style is done well, and Luffy uses his stretching powers in some creative ways. Likewise, the enemies fighting styles are all a bit different, dependant on the designs of the pirate – or monster – of the week. For example, we see a man with an axe for a hand that can cut through a fence, a character who stubs out his cigarette in an enemies face during a fight and the aforementioned Alvida who wields a big mace. There’s a lot of action happening in the fight scenes; sometimes too much, with some panels confusing or just a crash of sound effects and speed lines.
While One Piece is not the most inventive, nor mentally stimulating series out there, it’s a fun adventure. Your mileage with the series will depend on whether you enjoy the battle-a-week formula, and the over the top designs may be too much for some viewers. But as far as a typical action-adventure story goes, you could go a lot worse than One Piece. Plus, there are pirates. Everyone loves pirates, right?