Adventure, camaraderie, loyalty, strength, humor, sadness, and the Golden Age of Piracy. What is not to endear One Piece to the general populace?
I have a confession to make. I've been following the One Piece anime for five or six years by now, and it is still by far one of my favorite series within the anime and manga universe. Now, at over 500 episodes and 50 volumes of manga later, this love for the series has not abated, and it is only surprising that I haven't reviewed this sooner.
One Piece is an adventure series penned by Eichirou Oda, whose pirate-related works include Wanted! and Romance Dawn (he was also an assistant of Nobuhiro Watsuki, who did Rurouni Kenshin, but that's digression...). The series follows Monkey D. Luffy, a 17-year-old pirate who aims to become the Pirate King during the Golden Age of Piracy. This is a fairly difficult feat, considering that at the beginning of the series, Luffy doesn't have a crew, let alone a ship he can call his own. Furthermore, Luffy is a Devil's Fruit user (a person with a particular type of superpower) who is also an anchor (someone who cannot swim because of the ingestion of a Devil's Fruit). So, while Luffy dreams big, there is just a bit of almost-impossibility to his more-than-optimistic goal.
Throughout the series, we see his predicaments change, as volume by volume, the Devil's Fruit user gathers crew members to his cause, starting with a first mate (the more than amazing swordsman, Roronoa Zoro) and ending with--so far--a musician (who also happens to be a skeleton swordsman, don't ask...). The first number of arcs works at an introductory pace, giving the reader a view of each crew member's past and relevance in Luffy's team, the Straw Hat Pirates. Like most of the ongoing manga series popular in Japan, One Piece is divided into several arcs and sagas, each telling a particular story, whether it is about a character's goal to save a kingdom with the help of Luffy and his crew, or the struggles undertaken by the Straw Hats to save a member and friend.
I don't want to delve into each series arc or saga, but I will point out that I did not like One Piece from the very beginning. Watching the first episodes of the anime had not left me with a great amount of impression, though yes, I did laugh a bit. It was only through the suggestion of a friend that I plowed through, all the way until the Arlong Arc, which, in my opinion, was what won me over to the series. The arc itself introduced not only a cruel, strong villain, but it also gave one of the most heartbreaking pasts I've seen to date; and trust me, as the series goes on, there are numerous depressing flashbacks, most of which still cannot hold a candle to the past experienced by the Straw Hat navigator, Nami.
Admittedly, this lack of cohesion in plot could turn people off, since the first half of the series really is focused on separate events and adventures undertaken by the Straw Hats. That said, by the halfway point, this lack of cohesive plot changes, and it is clear that Oda has been gearing for a merging of the plots. The Arabasta Arc is probably where things start to form a bigger picture (with the involvement of the Seven Warlords, the World Government, the Four Emperors, and at some degree, the Revolutionaries), though it is not until the emergence of CP9 and then, later, the Sabaody Arc where the reader/watcher realizes there's more to the adventure that meets the eye.
I love One Piece, from the character growth and interactions, to the animation and illustration, to the action-packed scenes and--especially in these later volumes--the more complex themes that have begun to surface and take form. I don't think I've laughed, cried, and cheered in equal measure as I have in this series, and heavens willing, there is more to look forward to in the second half of the series.