Manga-ka: Eiichiro Oda
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: June 2010
Synopsis: “The Straw Hats are in a desperate battle against time and Gecko Moria to get their shadows back before dawn. Gecko Moria unleashes his devasting power of a thousand shadows, but Luffy counters back with his “Gear” powers. To save his crew, will Luffy have to make the ultimate sacrifice?”
Part of One Piece’s charm is its madcap, anything-goes mix of adventure and comedy. The plot sounds like something an eight-year-old might come up with between swigs of Red Bull: our cast of heroic pirates run into one of the seven warlords of the sea, Gecko Moria, a bad guy who steals the crews’ shadows in order to become more powerful. If they don’t get their shadows back before the sun comes up, they’ll die. With the sun starting to peek over the horizon, Luffy engages Moria in a no-holds brawl in order to save his friends – and that’s just the first couple of chapters! The rest of the book packs in a fight between swordsman Zolo and warlord Kuma, the tragic back-story of a musical skeleton named Brook, and the introduction of a new storyline involving a mermaid and an undersea island. All that and the crazy comedy and action One Piece is known for.
Whenever I pick up the latest issue of Shonen Jump, One Piece is the title I enjoy the most. But following the series through Shonen Jump has its drawbacks. Viz made the decision a few months ago to jump ahead several story arcs, skipping over thirty volumes of material in order to get the graphic novels out faster. That means if you’ve been following along in Shonen Jump (like me) you’ve missed out on three major story arcs and a ton of new characters. The other downside to reading One Piece in magazine format is that a few chapters a month just isn’t satisfying. But with Viz releasing five One Piece volumes in the month of June alone, it’s easy for One Piece fans to get their fix and catch up.
Volume fifty of One Piece starts with the climactic battle of a previous story arc. Having very little idea what was going on, the summary at the beginning of the book helped a lot. A second reading helped me understand what exactly was going on, but even before that I at least enjoyed the crazy fights and character moments.
One Piece’s random nature is both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes, even when you know what’s going on, it’s still hard to keep track of it all. There are so many characters, some who reappear after being out of the story for dozens of volumes. The characters have such bizarre abilities and fighting skills that the action scenes sometimes require a second go-over just to figure them out (an example of weird powers is Kuma’s hands, which have paw pads on the palms. They allow him to deflect anything, even air, turning his hands into a kind of air pressure cannon).
Thankfully Oda is skilled at creating distinctive character designs, making it easy to tell who’s who. I do feel sorry for him concerning the growing main cast though; it must be hard to cram all of them into the reaction shots.
Speaking of the growing cast, I was at little worried when I saw that Straw Hat pirate crew had grown to nine. While I love pretty much every character in the series, I was worried that a larger main cast would make it hard for everyone to get their time in the spotlight. Oda does a pretty good job at giving everyone their moment to shine, though I do hope my favourite character, the ship’s doctor and resident reindeer Chopper, gets more page-time in future volumes.
I also underestimated Oda’s gift for creating memorable new characters. In this volume Brook, a living skeleton who loves music, agrees to join Luffy’s crew. At first I wrote Brook off as being too crazy and out there (even for a series that has a talking reindeer doctor) but in a flashback Oda shows Brook heartbreaking back-story and I was won over completely. It’s sad without being angsty and sweet without being too sentimental (it also has an adorable baby whale in it, so there’s that as well). The way Brook takes his sad circumstances in a stride and with good cheer is not only touching, it encapsulates the heart of the series.
I love the fact that for a shonen action series One Piece has really strong female characters too. Aside from Nami and Nico in Luffy’s crew, in this volume there’s also Captain Lola, the captain of a crew of pirates who have also had their shadows stolen. Lola is a strong captain, having kept her crew safe over the years by keeping them out of the sun during the day. When she makes a stand against Moria, it’s one of the more badass moments in a volume full of badass moments. Later in the volume we meet Camie, a cute mermaid. It’s hard to say at this point if she’ll also be a strong character, but from the little bit of her shown so far in the series at the very least she’s very funny.
While One Piece is for the most part light-hearted fun, it’s also pretty dense in terms of story telling. There are often a lot of panels on each page, and each of those panels is filled with detail. The art itself uses a lot of thick lines, meaning that often there seems to be too much stuffed onto a page. Oda uses wide gutters between the panels, which give a bit of white space to act as a relief, but it also makes the panels smaller and more cramped (though if the panels were bigger, Oda would probably just fill up the extra space anyway). It’s a distinct style, but sometimes it’s a little much. Oda does put his many panels to use though: the story moves along quickly and it’s amazing how much plot he can fit into a single volume.
It’s unfortunate then that Viz’s redone sound effects clutter up the already busy pages. I can see why redone sound effects might be a good choice for a manga aimed at a younger audience (the teen rating is there mostly because of tobacco use), but I still prefer to see the original sound effects with a translation drawn in at the side.
I think Viz made the right choice releasing a ton of volumes on mass, but I think this would have been a great chance to use the omnibus system to get the volumes out. Instead of releasing five volumes in a month, why not a couple of big editions containing all of them? The main reason I’ve followed One Piece through Shonen Jump instead of buying the books is that I don’t have enough cash to follow a fifty-plus volume series. But if the books came in the bigger, cheaper omnibus edition, I’d be ready to commit.
I said before that the plot in One Piece sounds like a child came up with it, and I meant it as a compliment. The series is light-hearted, imaginative, and fun. It manages to blend absurd visual gags with crazy action and an interesting plot. For the characters who inhabit the crazy world of One Piece adventure isn’t just a way of life, it’s a state of mind. It’s an outlook that anyone, pirate or not, can benefit from.