A Return to Blogging and a Review of One Piece
Wow, been a couple of years, eh? Not that anyone will read this other than myself. But that’s okay. I’ve been wanting to practice writing longform content again and never forgot I got this blog. @Matt, if you see this, I got a 5 year plan for write.as because I believe what you and your team do is fantastic and I’m glad to be a supporter in this way. Even if I don’t blog but 5 times in 5 years, I’m happy with my “purchase”.
Anyways, in January 2023, I began watching the One Piece anime with my spouse. We’d seen a few of the movies together (Baron Omatsuri, Stampede, and Film: Red), and they were interested in starting up the 1,000+ episode behemoth of a series. Over the course of 2006 through 2013, I watched the anime in spurts up to the timeskip. And since 2010, I have read the manga’s weekly release and have not missed a single chapter. My spouse, on the other hand, was limited to the three One Piece movies out of context. I had a lot of parts of the series I was excited to see them experience, and it has been fun to shape their expectations in a way such that they will continue to be surprised.
I’d really like to take this post and turn it into a review of all the sagas we have watched up until this point. I’ll talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the arc from both of our perspectives, and some special parts that are extremely memorable. I'm no literary professional, but I'll try my best to reflect on why I find certain parts significant and avoid just giving a synopsis of events.
The start of the story is one of the weaker parts of One Piece, and I love it for that. It has the most carefree attitude during most of the arcs present. Eichiiro Oda starts by making the world of One Piece feel small and large. Luffy travels from island to island, and in the East Blue, many of the places they go are ‘boring’ places where people just live. Luffy is truly getting started on his adventure and finding his nakama that will stick around for the rest of the series. We learn some of the backgrounds for Luffy, Zoro, Usopp, Sanji, and Nami in such a way that plenty more can be told later when Oda chooses to build upon them. Of these cast members, Nami’s story is the most developed at this time. Arlong Park is the highlight of the East Blue islands. We see how Nami was forced into slavery by fishmen, and when she is just about to ‘win’, the fishmen set her back to an empty slate. Nami has nowhere to go, so in an act of desperation, she asks Luffy for help. Luffy is generally characterized as a carefree, creative protagonist who doesn’t think much. But one of his biggest strengths is his strong sense of empathy towards those he interacts with. And when it is his friend who is hurting, he will fight anyone to protect them. This moment has such emotional weight but is still early in the story. I would hope most people who try to watch the series at least get through the beginning to Arlong Park. One fun bit from watching the series with the spouse was in Loguetown when Dragon saves Luffy from Smoker. I made the remark “something crazy about this character, to this day, we don’t know anything about who this was or why they saved Luffy”. Later on in the story when Dragon was revealed, it was a huge shock for them.
Spouse review: High Point: Arlong Park as the culmination of all the previous islands. A delicious first course for how Oda builds tension and then resolves it Low Point: Syrup Village. Captain Kuro is not an enthralling villain and the pacing slogs
If East Blue was the start of the story, Alabasta was the start of the Adventure. The crew enters the Grand Line, and this is where the magic of the One Piece world happens. Giant Whales! Giant Cactuses made out of headstones! Giant Giants! Where East Blue was
small, the Grand Line makes up for it and more. The saga starts with the Straw Hats nearly crashing into the enormous whale, Laboon. We get yet another example of Luffy's strong empathy, as he convinces Laboon to no longer hurt himself trying to break down the Red Line (Laboon was trying to get to the other side of the Red Line to find his pirate friends from over 50 years ago). In Whiskey Peak, the saga's overarching tension is built even further. One of the people who tried to kill Laboon is actually an undercover princess trying to take down a criminal organization! The goal of the arc is to take down Crocodile and help Vivi save her country! Little Garden has its lore, but really feels like a passthrough island for the story from my perspective now. The characters Dorry and Broggy are fantastic, and I love how Usopp commits to building his character to be more like the giants. But as far as building the saga, not much is done other than introducing a few new Baroque Works members and a cool segment where Sanji gets to interact with the main antagonist, Crocodile. Drum Island on the other hand.... After leaving Little Garden, Nami comes down with a lethal illness. With the approval of Vivi, the crew takes a detour on their trip to Alabasta to find a doctor. They find the Sakura Kingdom is in the process of rebuilding after their corrupt leader abandoned them to a pirate attack and took all the country's doctors with him, save for a few outlaws. This is the first instance of One Piece having a take on leadership of a country, and is far from the last. Nami is cured of her illness, and the corrupt leader is physically exiled by Luffy, and the country is able to rebuild itself again. Luffy yet again shows his empathetic muscle and tells Chopper to join the crew. Without actually saying it, he addressed Chopper's insecurity that he is just a monster that shouldn't be exposed to the outside world. I love in Alabasta, the delay to save Nami has an immediate impact on the story. The crew is late and rebel forces have already begun taking action to prepare for an attack. Time is an immediate pressure for the crew, and they have to cross a massive country multiple times to try to save the day. For the first time, Luffy is defeated, and is defeated multiple times at that. Crocodile does not hold back when fighting Luffy, and Luffy only lives because of luck. In retrospect, I do think there is a bit of a power-scaling issue in the Alabasta arc (Marineford Crocodile is a beast), but it's very easy to suspend disbelief especially when watching the series from the start again. In the end, the corrupt figure is expelled, and the country is able to rebuild itself again.
Wait why does that sound familiar?
Spouse review: High Point: Chopper's Backstory. It did, in fact, make me cry. Low Point: Pell. What the fuck. The climax of Alabasta is a slog though, honestly. It's got the cliche of “I'm gonna detonate this bomb in 20 seconds”, but nothing happens for viewers for multiple episodes. Everything past the “Pell Incident” sours the otherwise perfect buildup in Alabasta (sans all the times Vivi falls)
The entrance to this saga is absolutely incredible. A galleon falls out of the sky with absolutely no context. Nobody knows why this would happen, and it is accompanied by the quote “Anything man can imagine is a possibility in reality.” This single panel embodies what makes the world of One Piece so fantastic to me. Jaya is a great arc to show the growth in maturity of Luffy. Having put up with Bellamy without reacting, Luffy embodies his hero, Shanks. Zoro stayed by his side the entire time, and I believe grew his respect for Luffy to recognize when a fight isn't worth it. Luffy shows that he does not care what others think of him and he will always follow the beat of his own drum. Even the series' antagonist, Blackbeard, respects Luffy for his belief in the Sky Island. In the entire series, Skypiea is one of my favorite arcs. Luffy yet again being another force of liberation. But this time, he defeats a god. Luffy is the natural enemy of god here, and that comes up again and again later in the series. Though this arc is physically separated from the rest of the world, I do believe there are some very important pieces of lore Oda gave us that are still yet to be understood about Skypiea.
Spouse review: High Point: All of the interactions with Bellamy, particularly both of the one-sided 'fights' Low Point: The depiction of the Shandians. It is not the worst allegory to indigenous people, but still not great.
Ah, Long Ring Long Land. What is there to say that everyone else doesn't already think. While it is probably the weakest arc in the entire series, I do like how it is the most fun arc, filled with different games and a tension that doesn't involve political turmoil. The Davy Back Fight is a really cool concept in the pirate world that I could see being more common, just that the Straw Hats haven't run into it more often. There isn't a life or death consequence, just the loss of crew members and your pride (aka jolly roger). With how serious the arcs before and after are, Long Ring Long Land is a great canon-filler. Now for Water 7, ho-ly crap. I was immediately hit with a sense of dread when Luffy, Nami, and Usopp went to convert some of their treasures to cash. I knew what was to come and I just wasn't ready. Then Robin absconded and I wasn't ready. Up until this point in the story, the tension had to do with things happening in the world around the Straw Hats. Now the tension is within the crew, and they are falling apart. Those remaining have no idea how to stop the bleeding, and are stuck until they get a new ship. I bet many crews in the One Piece world hit this internal tension and fully disband because they cannot heal from it. The arc culminates in a fight between the captain and the weakest crew member, and Usopp puts up an incredible showing of wit and determination. He leaves the crew, and the rest have to regain their composure so they can try to save Robin. The best part of Enies Lobby for me was how Robin's trauma around the Buster Call was shown. She is the sole survivor of a genocide, and the world has constantly been a cruel place to her. She has refused to die up to this point, but now she has people she does care about and she would rather die than have to experience that genocide again. It is only when Luffy, the master of the empathy punch, shows Robin that he would fight the entire world to keep her safe, that she chooses to live. She WANTS to be with the Straw Hats. They are her family, and travelling with them is what gives her life purpose. Post-Enies Lobby is a great celebration point, and a somber moment for the death of one of the first crewmates. Luffy's grandfather shows up and spills the beans that they are related and also Luffy's dad is the leader of the revolutionary army (and the spouse finally found out that I'm a big fat liar when I make statements about characters in the future). Usopp's tension is resolved, and he rejoins the crew, alongside the new member, Franky. The cast of characters is getting pretty big but we still have one more to go before this post is done...
Spouse review: High Point: I'm getting chills thinking about Robin's story, from Ohara to “I want to live”. Low Point: Davie Back Fight? More like Baby Crap Fight. Cuz it stinks.
What a fun little arc after such a tearjerker in Water 7. The zombies of Thriller Bark are so weak on the powerscale chain that they really just give comedic relief throughout the arc. The unease of this spooky place is very lighthearted and gives off the vibes of a Scooby-Doo episode. The antagonist, Moria, is shown to be extremely lazy as a pirate and has no real drive to do anything for himself. But even still, his main crewmates adore him. It's not explained why, but the story keeps their relationship open-ended outside of Moria's need for someone like Hogback to make the zombie bodies. The end of the arc is also great with a second warlord coming in to clean up the mess. Nobody is prepared to fight, but Zoro offers his own life in exchange for Luffy's. But in the end, “nothing happened”.
Spouse review: High Point: The Scooby-Doo shit in Thriller Bark is just so much fun. Low Point: The pacing can get weird because of how resilient zombies are.
This saga is the culmination of so many moving parts up to this point. Characters from so many points in the story are brought back. In Sabaody, the crew runs into Hatchan from the Arlong Pirates. He has some friends he really cares about and regrets everything he did to Nami. She forgives him and recognizes that he wasn't the real problem from Arlong Park. Some of the worst of the world is shown in Sabaody as well, with Camie being kidnapped and thrown into the slave trade. We have seen racism, discrimination, genocide, but human slaves are a whole different issue. There is a class system in this world and we find out about the top and bottom of the chain. Luffy's punch to Saint Charlos is extremely satisfying, but has its consequences. From when the Celestial Dragons were introduced, civilians and pirates alike show respect as to not draw unwanted attention to themselves. They are a class above all others and will do whatever they want whenever they feel like it. Luffy's punch to Charlos leads to the separation of the Straw Hat crew and the beginning of Luffy's downward spiral. Being sent to a country with closed borders, Luffy struggles to get the support of their leader. It isn't until he helps hide the secret that she and her sisters were slaves that she helps him. Again, Luffy immediately reacted with empathy to help others. I seriously think that is Luffy's biggest strength. In Impel Down, Buggy, Mr. 3, Bon Clay, and Crocodile/Mr. 1 make their returns. I absolutely LOVED Bon Clay here. Even though he was an enemy of the Straw Hats at one point, he will always be their friend and he comes through here time after time. Though a fan translation, I will always say “Queers never die” after watching this arc. Marineford's strength has to be showing Luffy as a small fly compared to everything else going on. But even then, a small fly can cause trouble if left unattended. Something I wish were different about this arc would be having built the Ace/Luffy history a bit more to add context for why Luffy would feel as bad as he does. After the Post-War arc, I felt worse for Luffy because at that point I had a better frame of reference for why Luffy cared for Ace so much. The Post-War arc is another fun one. The flashback sequence for Ace, Sabo, and Luffy growing up together is so much fun. It could have been another 10-20 episodes of filler and I would have been happy. It's honestly surprising that it took this long to get a proper flashback for Luffy, but it really did accomplish what it needed to and more. I'm not sure if it would have been quite as impactful shown anywhere else in the story up to this point.
Spouse review: High Point: I cannot decide between the ASL flashbacks and Bon Clay + Level 5.5. Low Point: Marineford suffers from its length, and the animation does not show a sense of scale. It felt like a long One Piece battle and not a grand scale war.
And with that, we’re all caught up! We finished the Post War arc on 12/14/2023. At this rate, we will likely get caught up with the anime sometime in 2025. I’d like to write more summaries of these sagas as we complete them. Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two about how to actually put my thoughts and feelings to words for others to experience. Until then, thanks for reading.