Epic. Has there ever been a word that has been run into the ground so much that it’s practically lost all meaning? Pounding a bunch of noobs at Halo isn’t epic. The meal you just had isn’t epic. Anything that spawned from 4chan isn’t epic. Do you know what does deserve the title of epic? One Piece. Make no mistake, I’m not saying One Piece is the greatest anime of all time. However, the sheer scale of the story, and the high level of consistency maintained for 13 years and counting qualify One Piece to confidently call itself epic.
The story revolves around a boy named Monkey D. Luffy who’s goal is to become the King of the Pirates. But Luffy is no ordinary boy. He ate a Devil’s Fruit, which grant their users strange powers in exchange for losing the ability to swim or float. Quite the handicap for someone who wishes to live their lives on the high seas to be sure. Luffy’s particular fruit was the Gum-Gum fruit, which turns him into a rubberman, allowing his body to stretch to great lengths, and also making him immune to most projectile attacks. The exception being anything with an edge to it. So, while he can repel bullets and cannonballs, arrows would prove to be deadly to him. But, Luffy is the sort who will just charge straight ahead, without fear for his own safety, and unleash all manner of attacks using his unique makeup.
But before you get to thinking that Luffy always kicks ass and takes names, make no mistake, he gets his ass handed to him. A lot. But a big part of Luffy’s strength is the fact that he doesn’t let adversity get him down. He’s very much of the motto “If at first you don’t succeed, punch them even harder the next time!” Unlike with some shows where the hero has to gain a new superpower to defeat a foe that just beat them, ala Dragon Ball Z, Luffy is often able to just come back and win without needing to rely on such things. Granted, there are a few times where he has to come out with a whole new move, but it just feels so much more believable and causes you to roll your eyes less than with some other shonen fare like the aforementioned DBZ and Bleach.
Now, becoming the Pirate King is no easy task, and one couldn’t possibly do it all alone. A lot of the charm of One Piece lies in the cast of characters that Luffy has for a crew. To avoid any spoilers for anyone who is either just starting or plans to start, I won’t list the entire crew. Heck, at the point where I’m at in the series, I think there have even been one or two more crew members added in the recent episodes that I don’t know about yet. So, I’ll limit the crew to his pre-Grand Line bunch.
The first person to join Luffy on his adventures is Roronoa Zoro (some translations call him Zolo since L’s and R’s are interchangeable in Japanese, but Zoro just looks better to me) who is a swordsman that uses three katana when he fights, one in each hand and one in his mouth.
As I said, they don’t always win, and often get their ass handed to them pretty bad. And this is a kid’s show! Zoro usually is a fairly cool and collected type who doesn’t let Luffy’s idiotic nature get the best of him, and isn’t phased by many things they encounter no matter how bizarre, although no one is completely immune to Luffy’s nonsense.
The next member to join up with Luffy was Nami. She was a thief who stole from pirates, although it was for a good reason and was one of my favorite arcs in the series. She’s also an expert navigator who is capable of reading weather patterns and plotting the safest course through practically anywhere.
Nami has a love for treasure and money in general, and she’ll do most anything to get her hands on it. However, she’s not much on fighting and will avoid it if it all possible. After all, hard to spend money when you’re dead! An interesting bit would be that Nami definitely, ummm, grows throughout the course of the show. This is a picture of her in an early appearance:
Now compare that to one from later on in the series:
I guess Nami is just a growing girl, and I thank Oda for being the pervert that I assume him to be!
The next one to join the crew is probably my least favorite of them all, Usopp. Maybe it’s his voice, or perhaps it’s his character design, or maybe I just don’t like his attitude. Whatever the case, I don’t really care much for him. Two things to know about Usopp, 1) He’s a liar and 2) he’s a coward. He makes Nami look downright heroic with the extents he goes to stay out of any danger. That’s not to say he won’t fight when the chips are down. Luffy would never allow anyone who actually ran away from their duty on their crew. Just that whenever he fights, he works best when he can use his lies and his considerable sniping skills.
The last of the crew I’ll mention here is their cook, Sanji. Sanji can basically be summed up as a guy who just plain tries way too hard to get women.
Unfortunately for him, Nami can smell a chump like that a mile away, so she takes full advantage of it whenever she can. Despite his obvious weakness for women, Sanji is a very good fighter, using kicks as his weapon as he believes a chef must not harm his hands. However, he is very chivalrous, in that he refuses to ever kick a lady. Obviously this is a bit of a handicap at times, as not every opponent they run into are men. But, barring that, he doesn’t back down from a fight if one is picked with him.
These are the crew members that Luffy takes with him to the Grand Line. Having only gotten up to episode 356 myself (the anime is at over 450 eps right now) I only know of 4 other crew members that join them after they reach the Grand Line, and that may have increased. So, for the sake of giving people something to look forward to on their own, I won’t be introducing them.
As one can see, One Piece has a fairly unique character design. This does take a little getting used to. I held off on watching One Piece for years because of it, but they do grow on you after awhile. Sure, the women have impossibly thin waists, and most of them have ridiculously large busts (thank you Oda!), but after awhile it stops bothering you and you are able to enjoy the story being told. And what a story it is! I can’t think of another series, anime, manga, or novel, that can run for so long and still be entertaining. We’re talking 60 volumes, which is well over 400 chapters of material written over a 13 year time span. For the anime, it’s currently on episode 480 and has been running for 11 years while maintaining consistently high ratings. If I had to hazard a guess as to it’s lasting popularity, I’d say it’s Luffy’s enthusiasm and simplistic way of living. He’s not some moody, woe-is-me type, nor is he fighting the forces of evil to save the world. In fact, if you want to get downright technical, he is one of the forces of evil that is working to destroy the world. At the core, this is about a pirate going up against the world government. He may not pillage and kill townsfolk, but evil really is how you view it. From the standpoint of the Marines, he is a criminal. But for the countless people who he has helped in his quest to become the Pirate King, he’s a sort of folk hero.
I feel that this is the anime of the decade largely because of its enduring popularity. It’s by far the highest selling manga of all time in Japan, having sold over 200 million copies. Additionally, it holds the record for the most copies of a single book sold when volume 60 sold 3.4 million copies in it’s first print run alone, shattering the previous record set by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In 2010, while an exact figure has not been made public, based on volumes sold and standard royalty agreements, it’s estimated that Eiichiro Oda made over $24 million. That’s in one year, not over his lifetime. That is an insane amount of money for a manga author. And the thing is, success hasn’t made him lazy. In the 13 years he’s been writing it the longest break he took was a 3 week break once, this year, and that was in part to set up the time skip he had planned. And when you realize that he’s serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump, which as the name implies is a weekly publication, the fact that he’s written chapters nearly every week for 13 years without jumping the shark is quite amazing. Further, according to Eiichiro Oda, while he does have an ending planned, the manga is only halfway done. 60 compiled volumes, well over 500 chapters, spawning 480 anime episodes, 10 movies, plus various tv specials and it’s only halfway done?
The only word that can properly describe that is epic.