Yesterday (well technically today since I ended at 4 in the morning) I finished catching up on the manga One Piece by Eiichero Oda. The manga is currently still running despite being a whopping 877 chapters long; an impressive feat as many mangas don’t even reach half that length. Oda has been drawing the manga since 1997 and thus this year of 2017 marks the story’s 20th anniversary. While it is absolutely unreal that this story still continues on to this day, it is even more unreal to point out that the manga shows absolutely no signs of slowing down nor of the story nearing its end at any time soon.
I will be frank, I am stoked for this. I hope Oda keeps writing this story and that it continues on for at least another 20 years. I say this because without a doubt it is the greatest manga of all time. And I am not saying that because it is in fact the best selling manga of all time, but because its story makes it deservedly so. This story is one of those rare occurrences where massive popularity and quality go together.
The story’s central theme of friendship is absolutely beautiful and the minor points that Oda makes along the way through Monkey D. Luffy & Co. and their adventures are often times spot on. Oda understands the human condition very well and the story moves the heart. To this date, One Piece is the only manga that has ever managed to make me cry, and One Piece routinely brings me to tears.
It is just that good.
I would also like to point out to you the reader that my undergraduate background is in the Liberal Arts and that I am no stranger to literature, especially the classics. Works I have read in their entirety include War & Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Heart of Darkness, My Antonia, Jane Eyre, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, The Bible, Dante’s Inferno, Gulliver’s Travels. Huckleberry Finn, and many more. When I say that One Piece has a truly spectacular story I am not saying this lightly, I really mean it.
The work reminds me very much of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Luffy embodies the spirit of Huck who really just wants to do his own thing, while also doing the right thing. Huck does this through running away from home and rafting down the Mississippi, Luffy does this through leaving home and setting sail as a Pirate, but he twists the profession to his own liking. Luffy has no interest in pillaging and stealing, but rather in protecting those that he comes to know as friends. Further he sees being a Pirate as opposed to that of the Marines who carry out the World Government’s orders. Luffy does not want to terrorize or do evil, rather the contary, but he sure as hell does not want anyone telling him what he can or can’t do, or where he can or can’t go. As an American, and as an existentialist, this is just great stuff.
Thus Luffy sets out on the sea to find the mythical treasure “One Piece” and searches for crew members to make the ultimate pirate crew so that he can be the next “Pirate King,” the one that rules the waves with absolute freedom. Again, the theme of freedom on the waters echoes Huck’s travels down the Mississippi. Though I have to say, as much as I love Huck Finn, Luffy is at the same time a thousand times more badass and a thousand times more retarded.
Luffy makes the story great. His character reminds me a lot of Michael Scott played by Steve Carell in The Office. Just like Michael is an awkward centerpiece for the show, you come to love him by the end, and when he is gone you realize how important he was. Luffy is the same way, his character is extremely silly but he grew on me more than any other character I have experienced, even more than Andrei from War & Peace. Oda’s ability to take such a silly protagonist and make him so loved is worthy of praise. Only a great writer/drawer can do such a thing. Unlike many stories there are no cool gimmicks that make Luffy appealing to the reader, such as a badass persona, a cool weapon, etc.
To his core, Monkey D. Luffy is an entirely silly character. He wears shorts and a strawhat (Huck Finn status), has a silly smile, acts like a goofball, his superpower is that he is made of rubber and can stretch (as opposed to say Whitebeard who can cause Earthquakes or Fujitora who can manipulate gravity to such a degree that he can bring down meteors to earth to smite his enemies), and finally his name is Monkey for Christs Sake. But, yet despite all of this, the story will make you fall in love with Luffy.
It is just that good.
Back to Luffy’s crew. As he travels he forms his crew which at first glance is a total trash Menagerie. The Crew includes Monkey D. Luffy who ate a certain devil fruit that allows him to be a rubber man at the cost of not being able to swim, Pirate Hunter Zoro who is a swordsman who wields three swords (one he holds in his mouth), Nami, a total babe thief and navigator, Usopp, (later known as Usopp THE GOD) a loser-liar marksman (his growth as a person is a great part of the story), Sanji the Black Leg, a runaway rejected child who is a Chivalrous Chef Karate Master who refuses to fight with his hands, TonyTony Chopper, the crew’s doctor, a cute BLUE NOSED Reindeer that happened to eat a Devil Fruit and thus became anthropomorphized and at times turns into a monster (my favorite character), Nico Robin, the “devil child” and sole survivor of a massacred village who while being hunted by the World Government ever since her earliest days has the powers to summon limbs from any location, Soul King Brook a skeleton swordsman-guitarist who’s former crew all perished, and Cyborg Franky a speedo wearing cyborg roboticist-shipbuilder. Wild crew huh.
But the characters don’t even begin to stop there. The friends they make, the enemies, the marines, the pirates, they are all just too good. Even the most ludicrous of all characters such as Baby5, a babe who is obsessed with wanting to be needed and can turn into any weapon at will, grows on you. And there are countless characters I could say this of. Something noteworthy of Oda’s characters is how often their personalities and their powers/abilities can be utterly hilarious combinations, such as Baby5. And characters like her are many.
Further the plot uses its wild world of the open ocean to address a wide variety of important topics. Through the crew’s travels to random islands some of which are under the sea, others in the sky, some filled with dinosaurs from another time, others that are wastelands due to wars or failed biological/chemical/nuclear experiments, Oda addresses a multitude of issues. His epic journey across the Deep Blue Sea addresses themes of racism, government control, greed, nobility, slavery, murder, forgiveness, xenophobia, power, love, and most importantly friendship, just to name a few. Oda’s universe is quite all-encompassing as well as characters (both good and evil) are influenced by cultures, religions, notable figures, art styles, etc. from all over the world and from history as well. Just looking at his drawings are entertaining in themselves, combine that with his story and you have the recipe for the greatest manga of all time.
Without a doubt Oda must have created the entire world of One Piece in striking detail before he ever set out to being writing the story about Luffy. As the plot carries on it is extremely impressive how everything fits together and just how in depth the story gets.
I urge you all to read this story, I know you will enjoy it. At the beginning it can be a little slow but if you can make it to the end of the story of TonyTony Chopper (Chapter 153 – but don’t you dare skip around, read One Piece chronologically or else it will be your loss) I know you will be hooked. God that story is the best, it makes me cry just thinking about it. Goddammit just now I opened a page from that arc and cried.
To conclude this post, One Piece is without a doubt the most moving manga I have ever read. Eiichero Oda’s ability to masterfully draw his characters and battles combined with his political/social commentary illustrated by his plot in his impressive universe makes the story simply amazing. Even though I just caught up to where the story is to this date, I am going to read it again.
It is just that good.