After a two year saga, I am within 20 chapters of being up to date with the weekly publicized manga series One Piece.
I won’t go into the heavy detail of One Piece besides saying it’s a huge investment on anyone’s part. Considering Shonen Jump recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the series, it’s no wonder people will gasp in shock when you tell them you started reading it (yes, this happened with two friends of mine). It has nearly 900 chapters, 770 anime episodes, 13 movies and even a mini theme park in the Tokyo Tower. It’s truly a titan of a series.
A recent article stated that One Piece is approximately 70 per cent complete. That is insane since, as I’ve mentioned, it’s going on 20 years. If I had to guess, the series will end before it reaches 1400 chapters, but who knows, it might be forcibly extended by editors (see Dragon Ball Z and the Cell arc). With the amount of merchandise it sells, I wonder if a small percentage of the Japanese economy relies strictly on One Piece…
I started the series about two years ago after I finished catching up with the mammoth Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (which recently celebrated 30 years publication!) I follow a manga forum regularly and I wanted to be in on the fun of One Piece. I, like many in the anime community, was familiar with the first few story arcs thanks to 4Kids back in the early 2000s. I asked this forum if it was worth starting from the beginning or if I could skip (I really didn’t want to go through the Arlong arc again – don’t even get me started on this).
I was told, however, that it is 100 per cent worth it to start from the very beginning. Talk about daunting when you’re looking down 800 chapters and growing. But that’s what I like about manga versus anime; it feels like a smaller time investment.
Manga, in my opinion, is great for how easy it is to pick up. Most are an average of 18 pages if released weekly and around 40 pages if released monthly. For comparison, an adapted anime is approximately three chapters of the manga, ex. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (Apparently the One Piece anime is one-to-one with manga chapters, but I can’t confirm that).
With manga, I find I can read it anywhere and finish a chapter in a short time. With anime, I don’t like pausing and coming back later to finish, so I have to ensure I have time to finish a 24 minute episode in one sitting. It sounds like a small difference, and I do enjoy both mediums, but I’ll usually read a series’ manga first or read it after an anime’s season finishes.
I also have a terrible habit where I’ll have some video or T.V. show on in the background while I read manga. I can’t do this with anime since I do have to focus on reading the subtitles. Though a bad habit, I did recently binge 84 chapters of Himegoto-Juukyuusai no Seifuku while Captain America: Civil War played and I really liked that series so… I’m not complaining.
One Piece has certainly earned its reputation. I was really surprised at how captivated I was. I didn’t have any expectations going in, just a vague awareness of things. 500 chapters later I’m crying for Nico Robin and the friendship she shares with the rest of the crew.
The art evolution of the series is also fantastic. It started out very solid and has generally improved, though I find it plateaued somewhere in 2004. The two-page spreads of One Piece are fantastic; so much is crammed in but it still has such great detail. My only problem with the art is the lack of body diversity with women. All the “beautiful” women have one shape (extreme hourglass) and those with larger bodies are either treated very differently or are villains.
My issue of catching up with One Piece is the waiting. Once I got past the plot I was familiar with, I was rushing through chapters. I wanted to know more about the history, see more of the world, see the end of plot lines, understand character motivations, etc etc. There were only two story arcs that I found lackluster and paused my enjoyment of the story for a few weeks.
I was told by a friend that one arc, Water Seven, was the peak of the story. I agreed temporarily since the following arc is boring and gimmicky in comparison. The Impel Down and Marineford arcs, however, are shockingly good. I really do mean that – shocking. I was holding my breath, gasping, yelling, and crying at some of the crazy shit that happened in this arc. I was gobbling up every chapter.
Which is exactly why I’m reluctant to catch up. Once I am up-to-date, I’ll be waiting once a week for releases. It’s a strange concept to me since I just spent two years having unobstructed story telling. Worst yet, I’ll probably be waiting another 10 years until the series concludes.
I’m at a crossroads. Do I want to catch up or should I wait another few years and then binge? I’ll likely go with the former, since I want to enjoy the weekly discussions, but I’ll miss these good times.
Manga is a unique medium. With it’s weekly releases, the creator needs to balance plot progression with cliff-hanger anticipation to ensure readers will come back next week. Eiichiro Oda, One Piece’s author, is truly a master at this. I’ve never thought in the ~850 chapters I’ve read “this was a filler,” or “nothing happened.”
I would recommend One Piece to any manga/anime fan if they aren’t already reading it. The length is absolutely an advantage since it allows so much time for story, world and character development. I’m looking forward to all future arcs and I’ll be sad to see the series end, even if it takes ten years.