On the August of 1997, Manga Writer and Artist, Eiichiro Oda, took the first steps of introducing a brand new modern day myth: One Piece, a story of one boy’s dream to become the greatest pirate in history. It was a tale so large and so ambitious, that the young visionary (only 22 years old at the time) anticipated it would take him five years of his life to tell. Fast-forward over 15 years and 626 chapters later and the king of Weekly Shonen Jump declares that he has reached the “half-way” mark of his entire series. In this time, One Piece has officially become the all-time best-selling manga series in Japan, with its first 46 volumes selling over 140 million copies, and on May 29th 2011, its anime released its 500th episode.
- Sometimes, a show can last as long as it wants, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
A children’s anime series reaching 500 episodes, in-and-of-itself, is not that difficult a task. It has been done before. Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT combine to a total of 508 episodes. Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, and Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s have 554 (with the new series ZeXal coming soon). Then there is Pokemon, which has a current total of 697 confirmed episodes. However, what IS a difficult task is reaching 500 episodes while maintaining the exact same cast you started with, continually moving forward with the exact same goals you established back in Season One, creating elaborate enough adventures and characters to keep the story fresh, but also successfully intertwining them with all the past story arcs so that the show flows in perfect harmony, not to mention keeping the overall quality of that story at an all time high, and yet still have the audacity to say you are only “half-way there.”
I think we can all agree that Z is the only portion of the Dragon Ball Trilogy that really matters, with Dragon Ball being a glorified origin story, and GT a glorified epilogue [Pranger's Note: I can debate that]. Yu-Gi-Oh GX and 5D’s are both Frankenstein spinoffs nowhere close to as compelling as the original series (I say this without actually seeing them myself, so correct me if I’m wrong). In the case of Pokemon, it’s just a given that a new season will be churned out for 8-year-olds every time Nintendo releases a new video game. None of this applies to One Piece. It’s just that awesome.
Before I go any further, I should probably confess that I am actually a very new One Piece fan. As a teen, I was aware of the show during its original American run on Jetex, but simply couldn’t wrap my head around actually watching it, putting it off as looking far too silly for my personal taste. It wasn’t till years later when an old Nakama (friend) of mine was just about ready to force feed the original Japanese run of One Piece down my throat. Keep in mind, this is the same guy who introduced me to Gurren Lagann (which you should all watch if you haven’t), so clearly I should have given him a little more credit. Anyway, I finally caved just this last September and began watching torrents of the original run, translated by Kaizoku Fansubs. It started off as just a few episodes at day, but it wasn’t long before I began burning through arc after arc, night after night. Now, One Piece is officially standing proud in my Top 3 Favorite Current Animated Series.
It’s perfectly understandable that people may take one look at a show like One Piece, notice that Shonen Jump and Toei Animation license it, with an artist that has openly admitted to being greatly inspired by Akira Toriyama, and assume that the reason it is so long is because it falls into much of the similar tropes that the original run of DBZ is guilty of (in fact, even I assumed that): for example, annoying instances of padding in the form unnecessarily long stare downs and power up sequences, episodes of training, or worse, terrible instances of filler in the form of bug planets, Bulma, and fake planet Nameks. (If you would like more elaboration on this matter, my editor Mr. Pranger would be more than happy to enlighten you.)
While it is true that the Anime had to create several small filler arcs all their own to make time for the Manga to catch up, One Piece is never guilty of padding its episodes with stare-downs and power-ups, nor do they have long instances of the main characters just training. No, the real reason the show is so long is because the plots themselves take a lot of time and effort to develop. I have a teenage brother who, when I introduced him to the series, compared it to one of his favorite JRPG’s, Tales of Symphonia, in the sense that the plots are very intricate and can sometimes leave us little mysteries that we don’t get an answer to for hundreds of episodes, and that’s what keeps people watching. The protagonists, Luffy and his entire pirate crew, are all extremely dynamic, each given their own unique back-stories, dreams, and loads of personality.
And the best part is, they all fight. Unlike millions of shows where only a handful of characters do everything while everyone else cheers on the sidelines, even the weakest members of the Straw hat Pirates have to pull up their frilly stockings, tighten their thongs, and quit being pansies for a couple episodes (I’m looking at you Usopp… you too Nami).
I believe it’s also worth mentioning that for a show that is almost twice as long as DBZ, it only has maybe a tenth of the plot holes. Eiichiro Oda has done a splendid job of keeping his story patched together pretty tight. Sure there are a few that poke up now and then, but that’s to be expected with any series this long and culminating so many characters and super powers. Plus none of them I can think of are too jarring to the point of being distracting and ruining any given moment of the series (cough Heroes cough).
Now for the ugly truth. The best way to describe the reception One Piece has received over the years is that it is to Anime as Soccer is to Sports: it’s popular everywhere EXCEPT for America. Which is odd when you first think about it, because DBZ was all the rage in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and not long after One Piece was released, two other Shonen Jump Animes were released, Naruto and Bleach, both of which were extremely popular in the states. You’d think with One Piece getting a head start on the competition, not to mention the whole Pirate motif being the in thing since the release of The Curse of the Black Pearl, that it would do great state side. But it never caught on save for a niche audience, and I’m not even sure why.
Now I remember. I said earlier that I didn’t watch One Piece when it was airing on Jetex during my teens because it looked too silly. While the show is indeed silly at times, it takes strenuous levels of localization (or in this case, LOLcalization) to censor and culture-wash an anime to the point where it goes from looking a little silly, to just downright bull****. Yup, we’re talking about them again. To be brief, 4Kids’ One Piece has become notorious among Anime fans as the absolute worse instance of poor English Dubbing of any Anime ever. This is an extremely violent and bloody series about war, politics, tales of death, underage drinking, pirates that are constantly swearing, and superpowers coming from MacGuffins called “Devil Fruits.” What business did 4Kids have to license this franchise in the first place?
Long story short, 4Kids eventually lost their hold on One Piece to Funimation, who have gone back and re-dubbed the show from scratch, keeping the animation almost completely untouched from it’s original Japanese rendition. As far as the English voices go, I’m still uneasy with a few of the choices (namely that the whole show comes out sounding like “The cast of Dragon Ball Z and Fullmetal Alchemist as pirates”), but the few choices that were really good made up for it. In particular, I am very happy how all the music turned out. For example, here was the show’s original theme:
(Apologies. Embeds do seem to be working.)
Beautiful. It perfectly captures the spirit of adventure and companionship that the show represents.
Now for the Funimation version:
Not bad, not bad. Sure, I miss the sound effects in the background, but the song itself is close to a perfect translation as you’re going to get.
I mean, it could be worse… right?
WHY!!! Seriously 4Kids, didn’t I just get done praising the music you did for Yu-Gi-Oh not two weeks ago? Good god, that was painful! I have to do something to cleanse that awful sound from my mind, and fast. Someone! Anyone! Please help me!
Ah… much better. Thanks Sogeking. I knew I could count on the legendary warrior of Sniper Island.
While One Piece is currently not airing on any US network of my knowledge, you can catch the latest episodes, in both dubbed and subbed format, online at Funimation Entertainment, as well as Hulu.
Early this year, when I first began Authentically Awesome Anime with my Gurren Lagann Retrospective, I set out to introduce stories that I felt could be enjoyed no matter how limited people’s knowledge or even interest in Japan may be. I have no qualms with saying right now that Eiichiro Oda’s masterpiece, One Piece, may potentially be the most universally appealing animated series I’ve seen (not just including Japan). It literally has everything. To call it the Dragon Ball Z of a New Age, as true as that may be, is doing it a grievous disservice, because it does so much more than that. So much so, that I realize I have reached the end of my article today without even getting a chance to discuss so much as the basic plot or even the central characters of the show.
So when I return, I will begin my official retrospective of One Piece, starting where it all began, 15 years, 61 volumes, and 500 episodes ago.
The East Blue.
Until next time, check out these other Anime Series: