ColumnFrame Jump

What Does One Piece Mean To Me?


I’ve been a fan of One Piece for most of my lifeIt’s surreal to look back and think about how the terribly dubbed anime I used to watch on Toonami has become one of the most prolific series of all time. Even looking beyond the anime industry, One Piece is one of the best-selling book series of all time, rivaling the likes of Harry Potter. Now, the series is entering what’s being referred to as its “Final Saga,” and even after decades at the top, One Piece remains a global phenomenon.

This month sees the release of Netflix’s attempt to adapt One Piece into live-action, and to say that I am approaching it with caution is an understatement. I’m not looking at the series from a place of utter fan devotion. I understand the Netflix series needs to make sacrifices and alterations and to have astronomical expectations would only do me a disservice. After all, this is the same company that decided to give the green light to their attempts at Death Note and Cowboy Bebop. If it’s great, then I’ll be sure to give praise where it is due, but I’m not exactly holding my breath for perfection. Competency, yes, but nothing more.

It’s safe to say then that I’ve had One Piece on the brain. I’ve decided to reread the manga, which now has 103 volumes in print in the United States, and I’ve just been filled with a wave of nostalgia as I’ve done so. I can remember where I was at certain points in my life, the friends I’ve made and lost, and just how One Piece has always been there for me in some way, shape, or form. So in lieu of offering some deep analysis of what the story of One Piece is, which would take multiple columns and thousands upon thousands of words, I’d rather talk about what One Piece is to me, as a fan who has been there since the very beginning.

Frame Jump #10: What One Piece Means To Me

In 2003, my mom brought my brother and I to a local comic book store, a store called New World Manga that I still visit to this day. Back then, my brother and I really only went to pick up Yu-Gi-Oh cards, but my mom wanted me to buy a book so I wouldn’t just be spending my allowance money on some cheap piece of cardboard I’d forget about in a week. So I browsed until I saw a book I remembered seeing in a copy of my brother’s Shonen Jump magazine. The series had goofy characters with wacky powers like the cartoons I watched every Saturday morning. I picked up the first two volumes of One Piece. From the moment I read it, I knew One Piece was an adventure series unlike any other.

The premise is that a young pirate named Monkey D. Luffy wants to become the greatest pirate of them all: The King of the Pirates. To do that, he needs to find the One Piece, which was hidden by former King of the Pirates Gol D. Roger. Luffy assembles his crew, sails the seas, and beats up bad guys using powers he got from eating the Gum-Gum Fruit. These powers allow him to stretch his body as if he were made of rubber.

I had never read anything like it before. Keep in mind, by this point I was still reading books with a lot of pictures in them, but American picture books always felt so static and bare. One Piece was kinetic. Each panel felt alive and full of personality, from the goofy faces Luffy and his friends would make to the frenetic and oftentimes brutal action. There was blood in this series, and it didn’t shy away from making our heroes lose. This wasn’t just a simple story where the good guy saves the day every single time. Luffy and his friends would be beaten, and they would strive to get better to overcome those odds. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Ranking the story arcs on One Piece from worst to best

I would go to the comic store every few months to grab a new volume. Even when my brother stopped playing Yu-Gi-Oh and had no reason to go anymore, I still went to get the latest volume. I watched the the anime as it aired, then read each of the chapters the episode adapted. I scoured the internet and researched stuff that I hadn’t read in those volumes, helping me develop my media literacy skills. By the time I was in middle school and the manga was reaching the end of the “Alabasta” arc, I was stunned to learn about an arc called “Water 7” and how that arc apparently was even better than “Alabasta” (and it is). But for all of my love of these adventures and brilliant moments of catharsis when Luffy  defeated the villain of the arc, I didn’t really have anyone to share it with.

There are two big reasons I hypothesize why One Piece never caught on in the States in the 2000s. The first of which was the abysmal 4Kids dub. To make a long story short, 4Kids was a company that released heavily censored versions of anime to fit into a children’s cartoon block. References to death were a no-go, as were guns and any form of extreme violence. It gave us some wonderful bits of absurdity, like Brock from Pokemon calling rice balls “jelly doughnuts,” Yu-Gi-Oh fabricating the Shadow Realm as a substitute for death, and One Piece having a myriad of alternations that changed character backstories, gave some lovably terrible accents, and just made the series come across as too kiddy. While Naruto and Bleach received more faithful dubs and weren’t compromised in their presentation to Western markets, One Piece was all but destroyed due to 4Kids realizing that unless the series was heavily edited, they wouldn’t be able to present it.

That was undeniably a major roadblock that set me back. Here I was liking this show people called childish, while the real teenagers would talk exclusively about Naruto. The other shoe dropped when we reached 2010. Because of the glacial release schedule of Shonen Jump and Viz Media at the time, One Piece in the West was leagues behind what was happening in Japan. So in late 2009, the publisher announced a major push to catch up to Japan, and in six months, they would be publishing 30 volumes of One Piece. I could keep up when it was one volume released every three months, but the rate Viz was going at was impossible for me to keep up with. I was in high school and between buying games and saving up, I couldn’t justify spending $300 on One Piece volumes, so I dropped the series for most of high school. I was content to have my memories of One Piece be the 4Kids dub and leave it as a permanent fixture of my childhood.

Frame Jump #10: What One Piece Means To Me

A friend of mine later told me about fansubs. I couldn’t tell you the site, it’s probably defunct now, but he said I could read all of One Piece there for free, and they even had chapters that weren’t published yet. I read everything I could over the course of a winter break just so I could catch up to the Japanese release schedule and follow along from there. I decided to buy those 30ish volumes whenever I had the chance, opting to go for single volumes instead of the 3-in-1s so I could have a vivid and lively shelf. In college, I continued to read One Piece as each volume came out and slowly but surely filled in the holes of my collection, all the while recommending the series to my friends. No one would take me up on it, though my roommate and I struck a deal that when One Piece ended, I would loan him every single volume of the manga for him to read as long as he didn’t engage with the series until then. He agreed, and that deal is still alive to this day.

The only person who took me up on my offer to get into One Piece was the woman I’m currently dating. When we were first talking, she was interested in getting into anime and didn’t know where to start. Me, being the sadistic fellow I am, recommended that she should watch One Piece. It was the pandemic, after all, and there wasn’t really much to watch. She wanted to watch a long show to pass the time, and by that point, it was approaching 1,000 episodes, so why not? It met her criteria. And so she did. She watched every single episode over the course of six months, all to make sure she could watch the 1,000th episode as it aired. Why? Because it aired on her birthday, and she wanted to celebrate with One Piece.

Now, whenever I recommend One Piece to a person, I always provide them with the means to access it. I’ve recommended it to multiple people now who have either watched it from my Crunchyroll account or read the volumes I loaned them, and they all have loved it. Without the asterisks of the 4Kids dub and being relatively on par with the Japanese releases, One Piece is more accessible than ever. It’s still a mammoth of a task to sell someone on dedicating months, if not years, of their lives, to catching up to a fantasy series that has been ongoing since the ’90s and shows very little sign of ending any time soon. Theoretically, though, it’s easier now than ever now to sell your soul to Eiichiro Oda’s masterpiece.

joining one piece manga anime 26 years in friendship found family yada yada

But that’s one of the most beautiful things about the series — it’s always there. I’ve lived in several countries, held down numerous jobs, wrote for several different outlets, and One Piece has always been constant. It hasn’t defined my life, but it has been an element that factored into my upbringing. I wouldn’t be into anime today if it wasn’t for One Piece piquing my interest all of those years ago. Even though I can’t remember concretely, it was also probably influential in helping shape my reading abilities and gave me the wide vocabulary I have now.

I’m happy now that One Piece has become one of the defining pillars of the anime industry. While other series have seen their stars rise and fall, One Piece continues to shine. Hell, One Piece recently broke Crunchyroll because of the debut of Luffy’s Gear 5 power-up. One Piece just elicits joy in those who experience it. The world is massive, and I wish when I was growing up I had the communities today to discuss the latest chapters or episodes, but I don’t regret not having them. I still was able to find enjoyment in Luffy’s epic journey to become the greatest pirate in the world, and I’ll be there to see the final panel when it’s all over. One can hope that the Netflix series will be able to encourage more people to get into the series, but if not, then I’ll still keep recommending the manga to newcomers. Why mess with perfection?

About the author

Jesse Lab
Jesse Lab is a freelance writer for The Escapist and has been a part of the site since 2019. He currently writes the Frame Jump column, where he looks at and analyzes major anime releases. He also writes for the film website Jesse has been a gamer since he first played Pokémon Snap on the N64 and will talk to you at any time about RPGs, platformers, horror, and action games. He can also never stop talking about the latest movies and anime, so never be afraid to ask him about recommendations on what's in theaters and what new anime is airing each season.