What is One Piece? – the most famous and popular Shōnen anime in Japan that needs to be watched

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Background

One Piece’s fame and popularity has only grown since its first serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump in July 1997. To this day, it is without a doubt the most popular Shōnen anime in Japan, with its long running weekly manga and anime and constant slew of events and movies released to further popularize it. Shōnen just means boy in Japanese, but it doesn’t strictly mean that it’s just for young people as many kids who grew up with anime series have gone to continue enjoying the series.

I recommend getting into the show. The show for many outsiders will look weird and odd, particularly as many of the characters look loopy and comical. Characters like Emporio Ivankov, Moji, Django and Bon Clay will certainly give you odd (maybe negative) first impressions. But time and time again, the saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover holds true in One Piece. The characters in One Piece are relatable and make the show great.

If not straight away, many people I know have become both addicted and captivated to this show. So, if you have a Netflix account, you should get into the show. You can watch the first arcs in English or its its native Japanese. For fans (like you one day), you will know what this means if you watch the Japanese dub: 海賊王に俺はなる! (Kaizoku ou ni ore wa naru!)

One Piece’s creator Eiichiro Oda has been heralded by many to be a once-in-a-lifetime genius. He is a private person and rarely shows his face, but he certainly loves his craft and is dedicated to it. (Long time fans always worry about his health and the long hours he commits to this franchise.) Eiichiro Oda has been at the helm of this series since its inception, and has surprisingly made a lot of really good decisions. It is remarkable that even with 20 plus years of runtime that the story of One Piece has remained both consistent and thrilling. The journey from the start to where it is now is both interesting, brilliant and believable. (Compare this with the start of Dragon Ball and the end of Dragon Ball Super.) The story, while not immune to the criticisms of power scaling like its predecessor and contemporary anime, has maintained a strong list of likable characters, both hero and villains alike, and a montage of interesting settings and plots. All this is set in a huge, exciting and breathtaking world.

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The quality of the storytelling is superb. Oda-sensei (as his fans call him) continues to excite with each passing arc/saga. The stakes for each character are meaningful and are followed-through to its logical conclusion and, at the end of each arc, I feel it ends in a believable and heartening way. There are so many iconic moments in One Piece and some joyful and some will leave tears. Oda-sensei will add the occasional twist and turn in the story and it is these moments that make his most ardent fans love his craft even more.

One Piece is unlike any anime before it. Not even Dragon Ball or Naruto come close to this anime. Yes, Dragon Ball, which came in the late 1980s, inspired One Piece and Naruto by putting in place a famous genre that has been replicated in various forms again and gain. But, One Piece which has taken over the genre is now leagues and bounds ahead of those shows, because of its strong focus on characters development through interesting settings and plots. One Piece gets so many things right and has moments that are foreshadowed well in advance of it happening that even the most clue-y fan will miss the hint the first time.

I have been reading and watching One Piece since the late 2000s. I can’t say that I have read every volume or watched every episode or movie, but I can say that I have read/seen more than two thirds of the material and its increasing each day. I am a huge fan of the series. I love the characters and have faith that the show will continue to deliver its high quality narrative to its last chapter/episode. If you aren’t on the bandwagon, it’s not too late. In fact, unlike me who has to wait week to week, you can binge read or watch most of the content to your heart’s content.

[Minor spoilers to follow]

Why the show is so good?

There are so many great examples of good story moments. I will do my best to name a few pivotal moments and will avoid key spoilers and deaths.

Monkey D. Luffy, the main protagonist and guy who wears an iconic straw hat, is similar to the character Son Goku in Dragon Ball. They are both naive, unreliable and willing to put their life on the line for their friends and family. Luffy is an archetypal Shōnen main character. Luffy’s desire is simple, he wants to uncover the hidden treasure from the last Pirate King, Gold Roger (this person’s name is important and so is its spelling), and become the Pirate King. To reach his dream, he knows that he will have to compete with some of the fiercesome foes in all the seven seas, some have bounties in the billions. As a pirate, an outlaw on the seven seas, he will also have to contend with the Marines and the World Government.

What makes Luffy stand out is his burning desire to help the people he comes across. Luffy is the type of person who won’t stop until he stops the big bad from terrorising the people he meets. In his journey, he takes on a charlatan who wants to become a kingdom’s ruler by instigating a drought and civil war, a self proclaimed god who willingly and self-righteously smites people with lightning, and a government assassin who can transform into a leopard that puts his crew in danger . Some of these enemies become the focal point for around 40 plus episodes in the anime, yet somehow you feel like its new and exciting each time. Luffy, time and time, again comes through against the odds and at the same time, he improves himself and becomes stronger and more self aware of his abilities.

The strength of Luffy also comes in the form of his friendships. Many of his crew are former enemies or adversaries and even some of his strongest foes have later joined him as allies. The changes that take place for each character is well established and crafted. I won’t go into each character, but I can say that Oda-sensei made the right decision to have Luffy lead his manga. I should add that Luffy isn’t 100% loveable, since he can drive people bonkers with some of his choices and steadfast determination to follow through with bad decisions.

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Elements of One Piece

One Piece introduces so many interesting elements from people having the powers of Devil Fruit, haki or just pure strength or mind. Some One Piece characters are defined by their Devil Fruit powers, whether its a person who can transform parts of their body into phoenix, become and be able to control sand or be able to string people up like puppets. Devil Fruits are fascinating and can be a source of humor. Some could say that Luffy’s devil fruit, body becoming rubber, is not useful, but you learn in the story that there are even more questionable Devil Fruits (not counting the artificial Devil Fruits).

The symbols in One Piece even have significant meaning. Luffy is often called Mugiwara or Straw Hat and his pirate crew is called the Straw Hat Pirates. The straw hat is not just an ornament. It has a history and a connection with great characters in the show. In some ways, the straw hat is Luffy’s physical treasure and he is never too far apart from it.

Probably the most interesting aspect of One Piece is the hierarchy in society. There is definitely a struggle between the rich and poor and the haves and have not. Many of the famous struggles in One Piece revolve around resources and people’s access to it, and in some instances, there are blatant displays of rich and/or powerful characters unjustifiable abusing their powers, e.g. the Celestial Dragons, a group of nobles, who wear bubble helmets to protect them from breathing the same air as people below them, are above the law and can do anything they want from enslaving people as their own pets without impunity and ordering the death of anyone at their whim. We are yet to see how the story will end with respect of the World Government and the nobles, but I am keen to see where this leads.

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Other things

One Piece has dedicated stores called Mugiwara Store (Strawhat Store). Below are tours of the stores in Tokyo (2019) and Nagoya (2017):

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The Tokyo Mugiwara Store is located at MAGNET by SHIBUYA109, Floor 6, 1-23-10 Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0041. You can miss it from the Shibuya Station.

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