One Piece is a story about Monkey D. Luffy, a boy searching for adventure, infamy, and perhaps in a deeper aspect a family. Along this journey, Luffy finds all these things and so much more in what can only be described as an epic, comparable in my mind to myths and legends from our own world. Eiichiro Oda created a dense and layered world filled with eccentric and wild characters.
The One Piece anime began airing in 1999. I was told about it since I was a young teen, and it was always the same person telling me about it. I had other anime to watch though — Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Bleach. I was new to anime and so tried to take it slow. It eventually happened that so much of One Piece had been published that I became intimidated by the colossal scope of Oda’s work. After all, this was a man who published a new chapter every week for years, and the series had begun in 1997.
Then came COVID and I couldn’t go anywhere, so I finally bit the bullet, planted my flag, and said, “Let’s go,” to my friends, as we set sail for adventure with Luffy and the gang. We watched it virtually, several of my friends and I. We would each host virtual watch parties and just go through dozens of episodes each weekend. The friend who had been pushing me to watch One Piece for decades watched it with us just so he could see our experiences with the series.
Now three years and 853 episodes later, my friends and I are a seasoned crew, each with our quirky takes on this bizarre and psychedelic anime. We laugh at the over-the-top proportions of characters, we guffaw at the gravity-defying buxom women, and we cry unexpectedly when characters leave, reunite, and die.
There is something magical about One Piece. It is likely the fact that no other world looks and feels like it. It’s a world where each island is unique and fascinating, where the flora and fauna could kill you in terrifying and bizarre fashion. There is a constant sense of chaotic ecstasy as more is revealed. As a fantasy fan, I particularly adore the multiple systems of “magic” in One Piece. From the Devil Fruits to the various forms of Haki and everything in-between, One Piece has something for everyone.
If you’re a fantasy fan, there is the Skypiea arc that delivers a mythical setting involving a mysterious people and a terrifying villain at its core. If sci-fi is more your thing, there is the Punk Hazard arc where a mad scientist is experimenting on children and trying to create an actual WMD. For you horror fanatics, there is the unnerving Thriller Bark arc with zombies, monsters, and strange chimera-like beings all trying to bring down the Straw Hat crew.
My personal favorite arc is a collection of arcs. Dubbed the Summit War Saga, this was perhaps the moment that cemented One Piece in anime history for me. It showcased something I never thought possible. It upended the status quo in incredible fashion. For a hundred episodes Luffy was separated from his crew and family and was battling to save someone precious to him. When a story is able to take away something integral, for example 90% of the core cast, and elevate its story, enhance its lead character, and shake up the world it is set in with such conviction — you are on to a masterpiece. When the saga ended and the dust cleared, I was in tears with my friends. None of us were together in person, and yet we connected watching two brothers hold each other at the end of all things.
One Piece for me is something exceptional. It’s the unique and terrifying characters that jump in and out of the story. It’s the way the narrative easily jumps from genre to genre with ease. Then come the wilder moments, when it jumps the shark. Oda always does it with style, passion, and, most importantly, charm. It keeps the world fresh and unpredictable, and for something as long-running as One Piece, that is impressive.
At the end of the day, the key element of One Piece that makes it so memorable, so fantastic, is the friends and the found family at its center. One Piece is a series about making friends and having adventures with them. And honestly, it is the only story where the line, “It was about the friends we made along the way,” will be appropriate if that is what the One Piece truly is.