Company: Toei Douga Animation
Format: Countless episodes
Dates: 10/20/99 — date
“Pirates aren’t the lovely things you make them out to be.”
Monkey D. Luffy sets out to be King of the Pirates, joining countless others in the Golden Age of Pirates in search of the greatest treasure in the world: the One Piece. With his trusty straw hat perched atop his head, Luffy gathers a bold and quirky crew and sets sail.
summary by Papa-san
Highs: the characters, especially Luffy himself; character design, artwork, music
Lows: animation sometimes seems a bit jerky, overuse of stills panned over to suggest movement, stories seem to hang up and drag at times, more than a few plot holes
It is difficult, perhaps unfair, and maybe even futile to adequately review a series which has been running for more than 15 years and consists of more than 800 episodes. However, as One Piece is possibly the most wildly successful and popular anime series EVER, it is likewise an injustice to disregard it completely (aside from the several specials which already appear in our curriculum). This review is based on the first season’s 61 episodes, East Blue Saga.
Boisterous, roisterous, rollicking, rowdy are just a few adjectives to decribe this much-loved and enduring series.
Our lead character, Monkey D. Luffy, is a cut above your average seafarer. Having eaten of a magical Devil Fruit, his body has acquired amazing elasticity, which he often uses for combat. Luffy seems to be extraordinarily strong and resilient, even beyond his magical elasticity. He is also a natural leader, and comrades practically fall in line for the chance to sail with him. Luffy usually acts quite recklessly, seemingly thoughtless and impulsive at times, but will often stop and comment reflectively on the events around him. Luffy reminds me of a somewhat older, male, Pippi Longstocking.
Supporting characters are far too numerous to look at here, save a few words for the crew: young and insecure Usopp, who fancies himself a courageous fighter, Sanji the chef who fights only with kicks to spare his too-valuable hands, Roronoa Zoro, swordsman and master of Three Sword Style, and navigator Nami. Over the first 2/3rds or so of the first season, we learn the backstories of all these characters and how they happen to end up pirates with Luffy.
Story arcs usually have some soft sentimental touch somewhere which contrasts nicely with the prevailing combat and conflict. The episode which concludes a major story arc (the Arlong fishmen pirates) detailing Nami’s history is an emotional wallop; and the other characters’ histories are likewise revealed. Individually, episodes do a heckuva job closing with nailbiting cliffhangers! Production evidently conceived this from the start to be an epic series: the first 61 episodes are spent getting Luffy, along with his crew, in achieving his stated goal of “entering the Grand Line”, one of the oceans or seas of this fantasy world. And this is where the One Piece saga really begins.
Artwork is very good overall. Backdrops look like Impressionistic-style watercolors or sometimes soft pencil drawings, in sharp contrast to the bright, vivid animation. Character designs, for the most part, are unique and distinct. Nami is inutterably cute. Music is astoundingly good. Seiyuu work is quite good.
A few character names are quite amusing; e.g. Navy lieutenant Iron Fist Fullbody, which is reminiscent of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s banter. Much of the series’ humor relies on wordplay and puns, in Japanese, of course, and so much is lost on the non-Japanese speaking viewer. For example, swordsman Zoro calls one of his signature attacks oni giri, which can mean “demon slash”; however, the customary meaning of onigiri is “rice balls”! Elsewhere, Zoro refers to Nami as a “small fry”, and ladies’ man Sanji interprets that as referring to her bust: some more apparent punsmanship which does not come across in English. (On a related note, there is almost no such innuendo or fan service/cheesecake as might be expected, considering the target demographic.) In another place, one of the bad guys declares that he would rather “cut his belly open and die” than welsh on a money matter; a reference to seppuku ritual suicide. An entire companion book could likely be written on all such usages, however, this cannot be considered a negative, only an unavoidable limitation on the medium.
There are just a few negatives.
My chief criticism is that some of the story arcs seem to bog down quite a bit, especially the first real story sequence with the Captain Buggy pirates. Of course, it’s possible that demented clowns are just not my cup of tea, but I did get a bit bored early on with Buggy’s crazed cackling, repetitive shots of “Buggy Balls” (painted cannonballs) at Luffy and others, and his own Devil Fruit power of dis- and re-memberment at will as a combat ability. Yes, kiddies, as if clowns weren’t scary enough to begin with, this one can fill his hand with knives and then send the hand itself flying through the air after you. (He turns up later in the season as a much more comical character.) In contrast, at least one story , concerning bounty hunter “Daddy the Parent”, occupied just a single episode, and of all the stories, this was one I would have liked more of.
As with other epic fighting anime series, quite a bit of time goes to characters expounding on their combat techniques before actually fighting; I don’t think it’s intended as parody. A bit more time than average goes to not only title/closing sequences, commercial break eye-catches, and not only episode recaps, but sometimes even first-half recaps after the break. A few plot holes here and there are noticeable only in retrospect, and do not spoil the story.
A very small criticism of the title song, it ends in mid-note with the words “We are — ” leaving the melody hanging. Slightly annoying. Also, that full phrase is “We are on the cruise.” I think “voyage” would have been a better word there, with all its connotations of travel and quest. The title song and sequence change for the second half of the season to a livelier techno song, “Believe In Wonderland”, which although I like much better musically, seems somewhat out of character for the series.
Bottom line: a must see, even if you only see parts. But definitely put this first season in your lineup.