One Piece, a title that could probably not be any more unfitting, considering that anybody who actually tried watching this show in one sitting should most definitely be committed to an insane assylum. This thing is huge! At the time that I am writing (updating) this review One Piece has had 702 episodes. Going with an average episode length of 24 minutes, this adds up to 16848 minutes of One Piece or 280.8 hours of One Piece or roughly 11.7 days (!) of One Piece. Which makes you wonder how anybody could have even watched all of it. But then again, it is a show that started years ago and probably a childhood favourite for many, me included. I remember watching this on TV in the early 2000's and it is still going! Holy shit, that is impressive! But sometimes you have to put nostalgia aside, for example when writing a review, and all things considered, One Piece just doesn't hold up (anymore).
So, let's start with the good stuff: One Piece has one of the most interesting and definitely most immersive worlds I have ever seen in anime. If you heard that this was a show about pirates and nothing else, you would be expecting anything but this. The character designs are great, diverse and keep you invested in the show. The entire thing just screams adventure. In that regard there are few things to complain about, the art style is fantastically creative and is sure to suck in every interested viewer. Now, if the same could only be said about the animation ...
In recent years Toei Animation has obviously stopped trying. I mean this is One Piece, doesn't matter how much effort we put into it, this shit will sell either way. Ever since the time skip happened I have been constantly disappointed by the animation as well as the art. It lacks detail and looks cheap. Character designs no longer have the edge they had before, looking way too clean, which stands in contrast to Oda's original art work. Considering that One Piece has the unfortunate problem of having started in the late 90's, the early episodes are of course not really anything impressive either. In terms of animation, all that I actually like are the episodes between the start of Enies Lobby and the end of the war, which aren't that impressive either and only account for less than one third of the series. This is probably the only show that looked better in 2005 than it does in 2015. That alone is straight up pitiful and it doesn't help that it tends to get worse with every passing week.
Then there are the characters and the problems continue. Let us start off with Luffy, our main character and the man who wants to become the Pirate King. Luffy is naive, hungry, a funny guy, but if anybody tries to hurt his nakama, he will end you. So, he is basically a copy and paste version of Goku from Dragon Ball Z. Not only that, but Luffy hardly develops over the course of the anime. This is bad since he is the main character and we want to see him mature and grow on screen, yet he never really does.
Next we get the rest of Luffy's pirate crew and while they are all engaging and likeable enough, there are some big problems that need to be adressed. Here is One Piece's biggest flaw concerning characterization: They manage to create characters that are great initially, fantastic back stories, interesting personalities, all of that. But they don't know where to take them after that, there is literally no real character development happening in this over 700 episode long anime, the main characters are exactly what they are introduced as. Luffy's nakama is pretty much the problem incarnate. Almost all of them have a great tear jerking introduction arc, where they are presented and fleshed out as characters, but they never go anywhere past that, being stale for the rest of the show. Of course, you will inevitably feel attached to these characters, just because you have spent so much time with them, but I can't really call that good character writing.
What I can't call good writing either at this point are the tear jerking introduction arcs themselves. That is not too say that I don't like them, I think that most of them are incredibly emotionally engaging, but the writer has definitely overused the plot device called „tragic past“. The back story for every single member of our main cast is pretty much the same. Their parents are dead (or not around in two cases) and there was some tragic event in their past where either someone close to them died or such a person sacrificed him- or herself to save the character. This applies to every single member of our crew and it's gotten pretty tiresome at this point, especially because the „tragic flashback“ device is also being used for at least one side character per arc.
Speaking of side characters: One Piece's approach to side characters is the good old way of adding individual oddities. Almost every side character that is of some significance has at least one of the following things: A funny name, a weird speaking habit, a unique design or some kind of odd quirk. Oftentimes it's all of them. I have to say that I actually enjoy a lot of the creative character designs that One Piece has to offer and its side characters are a lot of fun. Looking at it from a critical point of view, this is a review after all, you could argue that this is mainly done to cover up that a lot of One Piece's side characters don't have much depth to them. Still, even taking this into account, I find One Piece's cast of characters to be enjoyable enough to give it a pass.
Now let's talk about the story: I do not care what kind of story you write, but if you are 702 episodes in and barely halfway through, you have failed as a story writer, I am sorry. While One Piece's initial story is engaging, it takes far too many detours. There are 50+ episode arcs in this thing, where absolutely nothing gets accomplished. It makes you want to go and scream at the writer to be done with it already.
When it comes to the individual story arcs all I can say is that they are of varying quality. There are some that can be considered amazing while others don't even come close to the same level of quality. One Piece's arcs can also be fairly formulaic so I wouldn't blame you if you get tired of seeing what it is virtually the same stuff happening over and over again. The main story on the other hand, when you really come down to it, is basically just an excuse to explore as much of Oda's rich and detailed world as possible and while I don't like this concept at all, I can't really flaw it too much for this either, seeing how the world is just so immersive.
But the main problem of the One Piece anime lies in the pacing. Good god, One Piece has horrible pacing. And I am not even talking about the amount of episodes here. Just the simple structure of an episode is enough to get you really annoyed at this show. So, let's look at the reason for that. One Piece is based on a one chapter per week manga, which wouldn't really be a problem, if One Piece wasn't a one episode per week anime, almost never missing a week. Different shows try to deal with this problem in different manners, Naruto, for example, decided to torture us with filler for years to make up for that. While there is definitely some filler in One Piece (around 14% according to my sources), this anime goes a different route, trying to stretch out the content of a Manga chapter as much as possible. The result of this is that One Piece is probably the slowest anime you will ever watch, conquering even Dragonball Z in that regard. Your average episode consists of four minutes of opening, four minutes of recap, one minute of preview, three minutes of actual stuff happening, two minutes of reused footage and ten minutes of reaction and establishing shots. Yes, One Piece is pretty much "Reaction Shot The Animation". There is so little stuff happening in each episode, most of the time you can sum up what happened in the last ten episodes in two sentences. And while I am not a big fan of filler either, I consider this to be far worse, because you can skip filler, you can't however change the pacing of an episode and it takes away most of the enjoyment I could have potentially had with this show.
Overall, do I recommend watching One Piece? No, most definitely not. If you haven't started it yet, there is no reason to try and catch up. While there are good and interesting things about this show, I wouldn't even call it bad, the time you would have to put into this is just too much to be worth it. There are so many great anime you could watch in the time it takes to watch One Piece, I cannot say that it is a good use of your time. And if you happen to be interested in the story or the characters, then just go read the manga. It takes far less time to do and you'll probably enjoy it a lot more since it doesn't struggle with obvious pacing issues like the anime does. If you are however caught up with this, there is nothing I can tell you, you will keep watching One Piece anyway, as will I. As bad as it has gotten at times and as mediocre as it really is, we have spent so much time on this, there is no way we'd be dropping it now. And also, sometimes nostalgia just trumps quality.