[Spoiler Alert! If you have not read the manga or watched the anime please do not read on!]
Why was One Piece so popular? What was so great about this series? These were the defining questions I had to ask myself when I was split between starting on One Piece and Naruto.
One of the biggest appeals of any series to me is its art style, of which One Piece was subjectively lacking in at the beginning given that the characters came across as largely cartoony, and definitely not as beautifully drawn as they are today.
What made it ‘worse’ was that this series was massive with its tremendous number of manga volumes. This definitely put me off to a certain extent; after all who would want to invest so much time and effort into a series only to end up in disappointment and exhaustion.
What was its appeal then? What made One Piece so great? After having avidly read the manga, this is my analysis of why this pirate series has managed to ensnare the hearts of many fans out there.
One Piece’s overall plot is relatively easy to follow and digest but aside from being simple, it does follow good plot structures with regards to each of its arcs.
One Piece starts off rather slow and isn’t very appealing to newer readers, especially for those who are looking for something more aesthetically appealing or a complicated plot. However, one can tell that One Piece still adheres to a good narrative structure. It starts off with how Luffy, our main character, was able to convince his current crew mates to join him in his pirate adventures by helping them solve their personal demons or their town’s problems.
Only when I reached the Alabaster arc (i.e. about 100 something chapters in) did I really begin to enjoy One Piece. The only ‘bad’ arc it really had was that of the Skypeia arc as it did not contribute much to the overall story and was rather draggy. (Spoiler alert) The main villain, Enel, was an electricity based devil-fruit user and it was way too obvious that he would indefinitely lose to the electricity insulated rubber devil-fruit user Luffy.
However, the next arc — the Water 7 arc, was an epic roller coaster adventure filled with thrills and feels. And everything from Water 7 onwards just went from grand to phenomenal.
Slowly but surely, the overall narrative trajectory of One Piece was on an uphill slope where things just got more heated and intense on a bigger scale. And Oda (the mangaka) certainly did a great job of blending in some humour and relaxing moments at some points of the narrative so our readers and characters could blow off some steam.
With One Piece, one of its high selling points is the consistent quality of the story where it not only retains a certain level of entertainment, but instead improves with each passing arc. It is clearly evident that Oda has a great master plan for his story. Other series tend to fail in this aspect as while they may be able to gain traction up to a certain point, the next few arcs following tend not to even remotely hit the mark, proving to be rather disappointing and a waste of time. This is one of the few aspects where One Piece triumphs in where others fail.
One Piece’s universe does not follow a linear trajectory, similar to quite a number of other series, but takes place in a rather expanding universe.
It is similar in a sense to several series such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Steven Universe whereby they introduce unique concepts and items at certain points of the story, and expand on it in terms of its value or lore. These items are mentioned constantly and do not appear only for an arc and disappear afterwards as if they never existed in this universe before.
For One Piece, this comes in the form of the Poneglyphs, Devil Fruits and the Yonkai etc. Poneglyphs were introduced during the Alabasta arc but it was later revealed as to why only Nico Robin was able to read it. Poneglyphs then gave us to another look into the expansive universe of One Piece by giving us a little lost piece of historical information leading to certain important aspects of the universe such as One Piece’s Ancient Weapons.
This makes One Piece interesting because while it appears rather whimsical and simple on the surface, there are certain mysteries in the deeper levels of the story that makes readers more engaged to its narrative.
One Piece has a large array of characters, spanning from the happy-go-lucky, hard-headed Luffy, to the grim and ever-serious Trafalgar Law and the secretly hilarious but deadly Boa Hancock.
One Piece is not short of unique and interesting characters, each coming from a myriad of backgrounds both good and bad. However, the main characters usually provide amusement and joy to audiences everywhere with their unique personality quirks such as Sanji’s perverted nature, Zoro’s horrid sense of direction, Robin’s unusual taste in what she finds adorable and Franky’s ‘hentai’ robotic moves.
Oda also does not neglect his older minor characters, having featured their progress in life with cover art and by making them reappear later on in the series.
While the characters do provide entertainment, Oda does not shy away from making them rather admirable and likeable as individuals in their own right. We watched both main and side characters endure through some hardships such as Nami’s Arlong Pirates saga where she struggled to steal riches to help those she loved, Chopper’s endeavour to help others despite being ostracised, and even Corazon’s unfortunate upbringing while acting as a spy for the World Government under the guise of following his brother Doflamingo.
We feel for these characters and sympathise with them through their struggles yet feel a wave of relief when we do see their efforts bear fruits with justice being served to those who have wronged them.
One Piece does a great job in character development and does not shy away from conflicts such as when in Enies Lobby, Ussop decided to leave the Strawhats as he wanted to stay with Going-Merry but in the end discarded his self-pride and inferiority complex because he wanted to continue adventuring with his friends.
Another case in point would be in the Summit War Saga where Luffy’s sworn brother Ace gave up his life to save him. Having ‘lost’ his brother, Luffy had his ever joyous and endearing fighting spirit broken and he wanted to give everything up. It was then that Jinbe reminded him to remember and appreciate what he still had left and snapped Luffy out of his despair.
This was a critical point in Luffy’s character development and by extension shows how Oda handles character development pretty well, not shying away from making his main characters go through a period of hardship and having them emerge stronger than ever.
Even with a pretty incredible and consistent story, an expansive universe and a plethora of amazing characters, this does not necessarily guarantee the huge popularity of One Piece (albeit it kind of does help to a large degree). One Piece also has something else up its sleeves that makes it so renowned and beloved by many around the globe.
This mass appeal that One Piece has is its joyous and hopeful undertones. This warmth and happiness it exudes is an element that almost every human being in the world tends to gravitate to.
One Piece is also relatively family friendly, with the exceptions of some fan service and curvaceous women, the series can be enjoyed by populations of various ages as well.
One Piece enchants newcomers with its story, characters and universe as well as providing many hours and even years of amusement for fans.
While I have lauded over the wonders of One Piece, it is of course not without its downfalls such as how long the series is, the unique early art style, lacklustre arcs and more. Regardless, it is still a timeless series that well deserves its spot as one of the most renowned and beloved manga of all time.