“Whether I’m sprayed with alcohol, doused with food, hell even if I’m spit on, most of the time I’ll just laugh it off and forget about it. But if you hurt a friend of mine, you’ll pay for it, regardless of your reasons.” – “Red Haired” Shanks
When people talk about anime, there are certain ones that spring to mind. Some people talk about the “Big 3,” but I think of it more as the Big 5. This basically refers to the most popular of the epic series’. While some anime like Detective Conan and Baki the Grappler are plenty long, these are the five that everyone talks about the most: Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, Bleach, Naruto, and, what we’ll be discussing today, One Piece.
I always found it strange that these popular Anime got so much negativity; they wouldn’t be so large if they weren’t popular, and I can’t imagine an anime getting so popular without being at least somewhat good. On the other hand, people tend to judge popular things more harshly, either because they think it’s too popular, it isn’t worth the hype, or because it’s too long. However, I believe that anything should be judged on its content, not based off of random word-of-mouth.
I must add a few disclaimers: while I’ll talk a little about the manga, this is primarily about the anime of One Piece. While I did read a great deal of the manga, it has been quite a while since I did so, and I’m not as familiar with it. Secondly, this is over the Funimation English Dub. As I’ve said before I had nothing against the subs, but I just prefer to watch it this way. Lastly, this isn’t a review of the whole series. Obviously One Piece is still running (the most recent episode was 756 and the manga currently has 82 volumes, being nearly 20 years old), and the English Dub currently only covers up to episode 491 (which means it hasn’t even reached the time skip, though it is very, very close). With those asterisks in mind, let’s jump right in to One Piece, the “Romance Dawn.”
For a brief summary, I’ll turn it over to, shockingly, the 4Kids opening.
“There once was a man named Gold Rogers who was King of the Pirates. He had wealth, fame, and power beyond your wildest dreams. Before they hung him from the gallows, these were the final words he said: ‘My fortune is yours for the taking, but you’ll have to find it first. I left everything I own… in One Piece.’ Ever since, pirates from all over the world set sail for the Grand Line searching for One Piece, the treasure that would make their dreams come true.”
(Most people give the 4Kids dub a lot of crap and while I agree it screwed a lot up, I though this intro was really well done. Except for the fact that Roger was not executed by hanging. Cough.)
One Piece, as those of you familiar with anime will know, follows Monkey D. Luffy, a 17 year old boy with a straw hat who sets off to sea in search of the greatest treasure in the world: The One Piece. As mentioned above, the treasure is what was left by from the former King of the Pirates and is the goal for every pirate in what is currently being called the “Golden Era of Piracy.” Luffy is far from a normal boy, however, having eaten a Devil Fruit that turned his body into rubber at the cost of his ability to swim. But One Piece lies at the end of The Grand Line, the most dangerous sea on the planet, and Luffy can’t do it alone. He searches for a worthy ship and crew before he sets sail, and along the way he’ll recruit a bounty hunter, a thief, a liar, a lusty chef, and more to create his ideal crew.
I’ll just jump straight into why I love this anime. The characters make it. Everyone who watches Fairy Tail can tell you that the arcs themselves are hit or miss and frequently cover the same ground, and what you’re really there for are the characters and the writing. That’s pretty much spot on for One Piece as well. Every one of the Straw Hat Pirates is unique and offers something to the crew, not just in their skillset, but their personalities. Certain characters clash, others are super close friends, and all hide secrets in their past. Learning about each character is its own joy, and as they move forward, they’re always evolving. These aren’t the flat characters you’ll see in some shows who just stubbornly stick to one methodology throughout, these are people who grow, learn, and stick by each other, and it breathes fresh life into each new adventure. At the point I’ve watched through, the full main crew has already been assembled, but I won’t spoil who eventually joins the crew… that should be a surprise.
Speaking of spoilers, I should mention that a main problem I have with the anime at least is that it’s constantly spoiling things. Since I read the manga before, none of this was new to me, but I noticed that certain episode titles flat out spoiled certain story elements such as who was going to join the crew, or a plot twist that was coming up. Whoever was naming these episodes needed to learn to be subtle. There was even one of the openings for the show that also spoiled the newest crew member one, which I was also mad about (especially since that one was my favorite!).
But that does transition into the fact that this show has excellent openings, closings, and music. It’s of course mostly J-Pop-ey stuff that a lot of people don’t care for, but I like it. For the first five themes Funimation had its voice actors sing the songs, but eventually they gave up and just used the original Japanese version. I like those versions as well, but I wish Funimation could have kept going with their versions, if only so we could have those alternate versions, and Vic Mignogna does such a wonderful job of singing that I wish I could have heard him do just a few more songs.
Voice acting is on point, and I especially found it fun to spot famous Funimation voice actors in this dub, since it’s so huge that they have to use just about everyone. Zoro is played by the legendary Christopher Sabat, who is also known for playing Piccolo, Vegeta, Kuwabara, and Elfman, Usopp is portrayed by Sonny Strait (which totally sounds like a name that Stan Lee would come up with, now that I think about it), who also played Krillin, and one of my favorites, Chris Rager, who played Arlong in One Piece and is also well known for playing Hercule Satan and Mr. Torgue. All of the actors do a wonderful job as Funimation usually does. It really makes me question the sub purists who always say that the dubs sound terrible. Sure, dubs will sound weird if you’ve watched dozens or hundreds of episodes of different people doing characters, but that just makes them different, not bad.
The animation is colorful and beautiful. The animators clearly knew what they were doing, and they know how to create a fun, pirate adventure. The sea is clear and beautiful, each setting in the world is unique in its own way, the characters are cleverly (and even bizarrely) designed, and the fights are brutal and action-packed. That being said, I do notice the quality of animation will randomly drop at certain points, which does make some sense. Animating by hand is very time consuming and impossible for a small group to do on its own, so some animation is contracted out to other artists and animators who will do it more quickly, but less efficiently. A really well known example of this took place in one of the early episodes of Dragon Ball Super, where the animation at one point was so bad that just about everyone noticed and there was a huge uproar about it. I’m not too upset about it here, though; it’s pretty high quality for most of the anime.
I made the comparison to Fairy Tail before where Fairy Tail was better because of the characters and the story itself was sort of hit-or-miss, but I honestly think that One Piece is much, much stronger on the story end. Because the setting is constantly changing, it lends each adventure to be fresh, new, and exciting, whereas something like Fairy Tail can stagnate a bit. My personal favorite arc is about 300 episodes in and is the “Water 7/Enies Lobby” arc. It’s really a brilliantly written, genuinely emotional, and action packed arc that really has everything (Let me clarify something quickly though because I’ve had people misinterpret this point: while I love the arc that is 300 episodes in, it does NOT mean that you have to wait 300 episodes for it to get good. One Piece is plenty good right from the start). Certain other arcs like Alabaster can drag a bit (ironic, since the Water 7/Enies Lobby arc is more than double the length of Alabaster), but even at its weakest, One Piece can still bring a smile to my face… usually.
Now, before I discuss this, let me point out that the following point is a problem with just about every single “Epic” anime. Fairy Tail (Geez, you’d almost think I was writing this review about Fairy Tail instead of One Piece…) tends to be the least bad about it, but now we have to talk about filler. Compared to something like Naruto (which ended with 83 STRAIGHT episodes of filler and no that is not an exaggeration) or Bleach (which was comprised of 45% filler, according to animefillerlist.com), One Piece’s 13% doesn’t seem so bad, though that’s still over a hundred episodes of filler total. The filler episodes themselves are hit or miss. The ones that go deeper into each Straw Hat as a character do pretty well, and the ones that are random adventures tend to sputter and die because they have nothing to do with the overall plot or the story of each of the brilliant characters. In fact, that amazing arc that I mentioned liking last paragraph? I liked it a lot better in the manga because in the anime, it stops in the middle of the climax for no, not 5 episodes of filler, but five RECAP episodes in a row, which was a complete slap in the face to me. After that, I just skipped all of the filler episodes happily.
So was One Piece worth the hype? I certainly think so. At the very least I don’t think it deserves the hate that it gets. It’s a fun adventure fills with interesting characters and pulse-pounding action definitely give it a shot if you have a chance, and join everyone on the Grand Line as they search for the legendary One Piece.
And yet, after all of that, I’m left in a conflicting state for my final verdict. I really like One Piece so it gets a positive score for sure, but does it get that 5? Does it push beyond? Yes and no. While yes I would ordinarily give One Piece the 5, with the slap in the face filler and strange changes to the story that make it clunkier (especially when the manga is a literal instruction manual for how to correctly make the anime!), I don’t think I could got the full 5/5. The manga for sure gets that, but…
I give One Piece a 4 out of 5.