One Piece is a long-running shounen anime and manga series; the former written and illustrated by its author, Eiichiro Oda, while the latter, to which this review is intended, is an adaptation by the studio Toei Animation. The manga began serialisation in August, 1997, and is currently ongoing, having released 56 volumes, totaling 569 chapters so far. Its publisher, Shueisha, announced that they have sold 176 million volumes of the manga, making it the most popular and best selling in history. Similarly, the anime adaptation, which began in December, 1999, is consistently within the top 3 anime series in Japanese television ratings, averagely receiving a 10%+ share of the viewing audience. I am currently up to date with the anime series, having seen 431 episodes as of this writing, and have also watched every additional movie released so far, including the most recent, Strong World, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of the anime series.
So, where do I possibly begin with an anime series of this magnitude? Honestly, I’m somewhat apprehensive, in consideration of my undeniable bias that may potentially deter my objectiveness when reviewing. Still, this bias comes not without basis, of which I will endeavour to address throughout. Having watched the anime and read its manga counterpart from the very beginning, surpassing a decade (the longest I’ve tentatively committed to any series, and by an exponential margin), I can definitively state that One Piece is unquestionably my favourite long-running shounen anime series of all time. This is largely attributed to its stellar characterisation, which only succeeds in becoming increasingly more nuanced and in-depth with each subsequent arc. This is complimented by an established world setting, coupled with an easy to understand story-line of adventure and friendship. The animation and character design, while unique in its stylisation, and something of an acquired taste, enables the series to distinguish itself from others in its medium. All the more so in recent years with the introduction of high definition video (HD), whereby the animation style can finally be shown at its best. The plot, although simple in practice, is carefully considered and designed to remain interesting and entertaining, despite its length. This is where the wide majority of shounen series of this kind falter, tending to lose any momentum and interest they had established due to length. However, One Piece remarkably manages to not only maintain this, but to increase and arguably outdo itself with each story-line arc. Due to its traveling format from place to place, the series can introduce the central character cast, of whom we grow to love, to a completely different adventure, while ensuring that the overarching world setting they reside in is securely interlinked.
Despite all this, One Piece does not endeavour to “innovate” the medium, as such. Neither does it attempt to go beyond the conventional approach that long-running shounen of this kind tend to employ. It’s entirely unpretentious, in that regard, and knows exactly what it wants to be, and excels wonderfully at that. It has taken onboard every cue you’d expect from the shounen formula and does it incredibly well. Oda, the manga author and artist responsible, has openly stated that he’s heavily inspired by Akira Toriyama, who was responsible for the widely acclaimed Dragon Ball series, to which One Piece, while not directly, certainly bears similarity to. However, unlike the aforementioned, One Piece is less in keeping with its intended demographic, seeming more accessible to a larger audience. The fighting sequences, while frequent and enjoyable, aren’t dominant or necessarily catering for a male-only audience, but possesses a certain charm that can appeal to everyone, male or female, and of all ages. The pacing, on the whole, remains strong, avoiding any type of ‘filler’ which may deter or reduce interest.
Most notably, there are certain scenes throughout the series that provoke such emotion and feeling, unlike any other, and usually one of sheer satisfaction and delight. They happen at the pinnacle moment, normally involving the highly likable male protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, who will act upon his morals in such a way that I can’t help but form a big smile. It’s a rarity for any anime or manga series to achieve this, and yet, One Piece has managed to, time and time again. I’ll admit to re-watching any such scene over and over, simply because I wanted to recreate the feeling it provided.
Every character, specifically those that belong to the “Strawhat” crew, our main character cast, share a highly intimate bond that we, the viewer, can see flourish and develop over the series’ lengthly period. When executed properly, as in this case, the length of a series can really propel the characterisation to another level. This is the primary factor of One Piece’s strength, the relationships and interactions between its characters. Even if one such character isn’t to your liking (in my case, initially Usopp), it’s highly likely they’ll end up growing on you, simply because they will change and develop over the course of the series, usually to positive effect. The main character cast, in particular, aren’t stagnant or superficial, in that sense, they feel very much alive and will evolve accordingly depending on the situation.
The soundtrack by Kouhei Tanaka, although simple in its presentation, is in keeping with the pirate theme, creating the necessary mood for each scene and circumstance. Most importantly, it’s enjoyable to listen to, not seeming overly repetitive, despite not having changed all that much since the series began. This is a testament to Tanaka’s ability to write a score that’s in sync with the animation and voice acting. This will lead appropriately onto the voice cast, all of whom do an absolutely exceptional job in depicting their respective role, making them very much their own. All of the primary cast, in particular, are especially noteworthy. I can’t truthfully fault any of their performances, they are simply topnotch and bring each character to life. One Piece has undergone a wide array of opening and ending songs during its broadcast, culminating to 12 openings and 18 endings. I can’t possibly choose a definitive favourite for either, but will admit to liking some more than others. However, the very first opening song, ‘We Are!’, by Hiroshi Kitadani has become engrained in my mind. I deem it very much to be a theme song of sorts for the series, so if I had to select one, it would be the first.
One Piece has certainly been a journey, in my case, providing a significant contribution to the shounen genre. Unlike many of its ilk, which seem to focus predominately on a tentative plot-line, with plenty of action and battle sequences, One Piece conversely builds upon its characters and their development. Sure, it has all of the ingredients to compete with its contemporaries, but succeeds, in my opinion, in offering something far greater in the process.