Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One Piece, Arc By Arc: the first 100 chapters

I've decided to spend some time talking about One Piece. One Piece is a Japanese comic/cartoon (often called manga/anime, because that's what the Japanese call it). It's very good, despite what some people think, it's probably one of the best written pieces of media ever made and is far beyond most manga and anime that I have read and seen. It's also better than most American things too. It's just really good, so I'm committing some time to talk about it.

There will be spoilers, so don't read if that's a thing you don't want, and this will be written more like a literary review than anything else, so it might be a little complicated and full of deconstruction. Also, I'm going to talk about it in terms of the manga, so I'll use phrases like book, chapter, panel, and what-have-you.

The first 100 chapters of One Piece judged on their own are only above-average. They're good, but almost incomparable with what's to come. The writing hasn't come into its own yet, and the characters are a little flat. The art is good, but not great. It's really the epitome of what a good thing should be, at least in the beginning. Rereading the chapters many years later, I almost find it painful.

The chapters stand up, they're just no where near as good as what comes after. The outstanding feature of the first 100 chapters is how fucking consistent the series is. Luffy from chapter 1 is the same Luffy in chapter 700, 15 years into the story. This is the same for each of the Straw Hats. Zoro, Sanji, Nami, and Usopp are all the same, and it's amazing how well they're set-up in these chapters. No character separates from their paradigm.

The characters are written with flaws, but also features. Each character has their quirks, that are almost totally represented by the art. Art and writing meld together to well represent the world and the characters, but this is a common theme of One Piece. Art in One Piece isn't weird or misrepresentative: crazy shit happens, but it all has weight. This is another paradigm set in these chapters.

Each character has a meaningful background story that stays with them. Each have their own personal goals, but all come together for one objective: One Piece and making Luffy pirate king. Pirate King is Luffy's mantra, but it never looses meaning, and this is a thing I'll repeat often.

The reason I lump all of these chapters together and not go arc by arc is because the arcs are boring and very short. Alabasta, which starts right at chapter 100 or so, is over 100 chapters long. None of the stories are bad, but they aren't as deep or well written. One Piece's writing style just isn't suited for these chapters, which is a thing I'll explain better later, but know these chapters are a foundation for a reason.

Many, many seeds are planted in these chapters. Characters who are very important later are mentioned and given a place. Many themes are started here, only to be revisited with feeling later. Jimbe is introduced in these chapters, but he doesn't appear for literally 500 or so chapters. 500 chapters is ten year's worth of story. It's hard to pinpoint everything like this, but it's spread throughout these chapters. These elements are what makes rereading worthwhile, because One Piece runs deep. Every bit of information given, every character met, is used later and maintains its meaning. Nothing is wasted, and these chapters are proof.

That's all I really have to say. Like I said, the writing isn't bad, it's just not as good. One Piece's best feature is its foundation, and the foundation on top of that. It only gets better with each chapter, but the foundation itself has nothing holding it up. We'll get there, but right now it's a little boring.

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