Frequently categorized with both Bleach and Naruto as one of the Shonen Big Three, One Piece is a romantic tale of pirates, treasures ...talking reindeer, panties, flying skeletons, Takoyaki selling Octopuses, and oceans roaming with Sea Monsters the size of which can take down fleets of ships. Crazy enough for you? This is the world of One Piece.
Being categorized with Bleach and Naruto, on the surface this might strike an unfamiliar reader as another generic uncreative Shonen series; but truthfully, comparing One Piece to Bleach and Naruto would be like comparing Disney World to an elementary school playground. If these three series are the
big three, then One Piece would be the boss sitting on a lavish chair smoking a cigarette, while Bleach and Naruto would be the two henchmen standing side by side of the boss and nodding at everything he says.
Set during the Golden Age of Pirates, the story follows Monkey D Luffy as he sets sail with his crew to conquer the sea which is inhabited by formidable pirates who all aim to become the Pirate King, the Grand Line and claim the treasures of 'One Piece' left by the late Pirate King, Gol D Roger.
Of course the goal of being Pirate King really is just a loose objective set forward that eventually throws Luffy and his shipmates into a giant boiling pot full of problems and adventures. What's special about this story is that it takes the most run-of-the-mill concepts and turns it into something fantastic and exciting. The concept of traveling from drastically different locations after locations is filled with endlessly creative characters and creatures that sets it apart from ever being dull, as opposed to say, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle where traveling to new worlds is a borefest and you can only hope the next world is interesting, and well if it's not ...have fun reading an entire arc on that filled with recycled characters.
The main plot device used in One Piece are the Devil Fruits, which grant anyone that eats them inhuman powers though at the deadly price of sinking like an anchor in the water; here the strange irony being that this is a series about pirates constantly on water. What makes this concept actually interesting is that every fruit has a different power and no two powers are the same, and Oda's endless imagination to come up with strange and hilarious powers. Above that, what makes this concept better than say, Bankai's or Kekkei Genkai's, is that you never know how two powers match up, so the weakest Devil Fruit powers in the current arc could very well be the key factor to winning a battle in the next, in that way, none of the characters ever seem so overpowered that they can completely destroy the other characters and it certainly adds an air of suspension and excitement to the battles that you wouldn't find in something like Sasuke vs. Konohamaru.
The story of One Piece may be simple and often straight out silly at times, but if you read deep enough, you'll realize that oftentimes the stories are much deeper and well-crafted than you would think they are, from the spark of a rebellion through misunderstandings to the questioning of an unfair God, One Piece can often surprise you through the story. One of the great things about One Piece when it comes to the story is that it's unpredictable, you never know where a fight is going, what's going to happen to the characters, who's going to win and who's going to turn out to be a good guy and who's going to be a bad guy, it's this element that makes everything that happens so intriguing and an extremely fun read.
Another well-done part of the story is that the stories of the characters are all intertwined so that it doesn't seem like the only thing holding all these characters together is through the main protagonist, the main antagonist of one arc may very well know the supporting ally of the next, and that just contributes to a more interesting read. Another strong point of the story is that Oda isn't afraid to bring back old characters, be it enemies or comical side characters and villains, they aren't just cut out of the story once their arc is over, they come back, some as allies and friends, this, in a sense, really fleshes out the One Piece world and makes the reader feel that the world does not revolve around The Straw Hat Pirates, but instead, the pirates of the Grand Line, all in all, it adds a sense of dimension to the story and makes it feel not as linear as it could be in the hands of a less skilled mangaka.
But what ultimately makes the story of One Piece so grand and exciting is thanks to two major components: 1) the emotional depth, and 2), Oda's masterful storytelling. The emotional depth in this series is amazing and can oftentimes leave one speechless, from the simple departure of a character to join the Straw Hats to the rescue of a friend in need, it's not emotionally complex ...it's just plain raw emotion of wanting to be loved or the sadness of losing a friend yet it achieves such a level of pure emotion and excitement that the likes of Bleach and Naruto can only dream of achieving. Now the second component that makes One Piece great is how Oda tells the story, he can build up the story to the point where you can feel the urgency, the sense of despair, and the feeling of something great happening. He creates cliffhangers, yet never makes it irritatingly frustrating, he inserts flashbacks, yet they never feel out of place or annoying to read, and the way he builds up the fights is just, for the lack of better worlds, epic. People say Gurren Lagann is exciting, well I'd like to see those TTGL fans have a taste of what it feels as the Straw Hats infiltrate Enies Lobby or when The Eleven Supernovas gather at Sabaody Archipelago.
Combine this with the perfect blend of humor (this manga is absolutely hilarious) and the sheer creativity of Oda and you got yourself an adventure of unequaled proportions.
The bad thing with the art is that Oda's action sequences are so fast-paced and ambitious that it often times becomes muddled and a bit too messy; it gets hard to tell what's happening in these fight scenes and it takes a bit of imagination to understand what Oda is trying to do with these fight scenes, or else they come off rather cheesy at times, such as Luffy's Gomu Gomu no Gatling or Zoro's Kiki Kyūtōryū: Ashura.
The good on the other hand outweigh the bad of the art through the creative character designs that Oda just never seems to run out of, even if it's a character that appears in one panel and may never show up again, the utmost attention is given to his/her design so they never appear out of place compared to the other crazy designs he gives his characters. From the Okama Mr. 2 to the CP9 crew, the characters are all so different in appearance, size, and demeanor, it's hard to imagine how Oda keeps up. The sheer variability of the Straw Hat crew itself is a primary example of what a creative mangaka Oda is, as opposed to the recycled designs of his peers, Kishimoto and Kubo. Be it skeleton, reindeer, cyborg or witch, anyone and everyone is a likely candidate for the Straw Hat crew.
Aside from character designs, Oda really make the scenes feel cinematic and exciting, the tension and the sheer majestic and romantic quality of the adventure of the Straw Hats would never be fantastic without Oda's use of great art, from the crew getting ready to bombard Arlong Park to the storming of Enies Lobby, the examples go on. In short, Oda really knows how to pump you up through his art.
Lastly, the exaggerated expressions sometimes are just downright hilarious. I swear I laughed my ass off for at least five minutes when Enel made that huge WTF face after confronting Luffy.
This is where One Piece is particularly strong in, and where this series shine at its greatest. One Piece's cast is colorful, hilarious, and unpredictable. Currently, the Straw Hat crew consists of a rubber man, a pirate hunting pirate, a thief, a long nosed sniper, a womanizing cook, a transforming reindeer, a "witch", a cyborg that doesn't wear pants, and a walking skeleton.
Each character is unique, and when you throw a bunch like them together, the chemistry and interaction between the Straw Hat crew is comedic gold. And while they are almost always fooling around, each Straw Hat member has their own back stories that truly make them much deeper than what they appear to be at first. Brook is not just a joke character for variety, Nami is not just there to act like the straight man, Luffy isn't always a senseless fool, and Robin isn't just there to act like a damsel in distress (okay maybe she is ...kidding). The thing that needs to be pointed out is that the Straw Hat crew is a complex cast that is often much deeper than meets the eye.
Outside the crew, both the friends the Straw Hat meet and the villains they confront are so freshly colorful and original, it never gets boring. The Shichibukai are just a perfect example of the variety of the One Piece cast, as well as CP9 and of course, Baroque Works. I would say it's pretty hard to find another cast so distinctive and creative as One Piece's. Of course the Devil Fruits certainly help in bringing the characters to life.
Like previously mentioned, a strong point of the characters is how connected they are. The connections between characters are complex and can get pretty surprising sometimes. Who may appear as an old man could very well be friends with the former Pirate King and that whale that you saw at that mountain? Oh he's related to a guy you'll meet up with in a couple of hundred chapters. Some authors pull this kind of stuff out of nowhere (see: Kishimoto), but Oda plans out these kind of relations so intricately and carefully, you can't help but be impressed.
Are there weak points to the characters? Certainly, there's a storyline that seems awfully repeated for the female crew-members of the Straw Hats, but the scale of the story is so big, that in the end, it doesn't matter that much and that one little slip-up never seemed like a big deal to begin with.
This is the most enjoyable manga I have ever read. It's an absolute pleasure to read. Are there dull parts? At the beginning of every arc, there is always some exposition to be done, but once things enter full swing (and that is rather fast), damn, the chapters fly by in the hundreds, this is crack in manga form. If you want to know, I have spent entire days reading One Piece, that is how addicting this stuff is. With One Piece breaking records in sales in Japan, I think it speaks for itself when it comes to enjoyment.
One Piece is my favorite manga. Period. The story is such a grand and epic adventure, with each arc topping the previous; the characters are so tear-inducingly hilarious, and the art is so cinematic and exciting, One Piece is without the doubt, the greatest Shonen manga I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and I doubt it will be topped anytime soon, if ever, as my favorite manga series. Cheers to Oda for creating this Shonen masterpiece, and may he continue to keep on going, One Piece is a manga that I love and hope to read for many many many years to come.
Yohohoho a pirate's life for me~