While I do think it is safe to say that while Dragon Ball is the most significant series to come out of Shonen Jump, it is One Piece that is its greatest. While it has not finished yet, I think we can say as we approach the final arc that the series is shaping up to be Jump’s Magnum Opus. I have full confidence that Oda can stick the series landing, because if he does, then hoo boy, is that going to be something.
Of course with a series this popular there are hundreds of people wanting to discuss, pick apart and analyze the series. It’s a cottage industry and while I have no interest in doing the same thing, I do think I can talk about my thoughts regarding the series. So in Shallow Dives fashion, here is a to the point, direct, and easy to digest post on the first third of the series: Romance Dawn to Alabasta!
- The first chapter remains a fantastic intro to the series, with a great introduction to Luffy, Shanks, and the series most iconic moment with the passing of the Straw Hat.
- Coby and Helmeppo’s story arc is great and seeing these characters grow throughout the series is one of the nice treats. Alvida is a decent baddie at the start, but doesn’t do much aside from being a hump that Coby has to get over. The same can be said for Axe-Hand Morgan, who just feels like a bully.
- Zoro’s three sword style helps set him apart from the legions of other anime swordsmen and instantly makes himself different from Luffy’s antics. His flashback is kinda ‘eh’ though, with Kuina just dying off screen. It’s really not until Sanji’s flashback that the stories get that level of grief the series is known for.
Orange Town Arc (Buggy the Clown)
- Buggy the Clown, a case study in the concept of ‘failing upwards’ is the series first real recurring character. I’ve never been a big fan of clown characters, but Oda makes him work well with a great devil fruit power.
- Chouchou and his desire to keep his owner’s last bag of dog-food is a cute little story, showing that the treasures of the series are more than just gold.
- I love how Richie the lion is always thinking of food while the action is going on. He’s always a fun character to see.
- Nami’s introduction is not bad, she is a character who sort of gets re-introduced in the Arlong Arc, but it’s alright here, there seems to be a lot of Bulma in there.
- Luffy getting stuck in the iron cage is the start of a recurring thing where Luffy is removed from the story so the other characters can have their moments. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
- Oh and the mini chapters with the dude in the chest is alright.
Syrup Village Arc
- The Meowban brothers fucking suck. I think they might be the worst lackeys in the entire series. The designs feel way too cartoonish, even for Oda.
- On the other end, Kuro is the series first real serious villain, with a great power and a devilish scheme. He feels genuinely menacing and is a real threat to the characters.
- Considering how Zoro gets to be so powerful as the story goes on, seeing him struggle to walk up a goddamn hill is funny looking back at it.
- A lot of people run hot or cold on Ussop until Water Seven, but I think he serves as a good ‘normal’ character that bounces off the more zany other characters. He is a coward, but knows when to step up to protect what is important to him. His desire being called ‘Captain’ is a long-running theme of having to respect Luffy, not just be his friend and it pays off in spades.
- This is probably the last ‘normal’ arc of the series, where the crew shows up at a regular looking island and works on a problem that is ‘local.’
- This is my least favorite arc of the series. I just think it is bad. The plot is all over the place, Mihawk showing up completely overshadows Sanji’s introduction. Pearl is fucking stupid and Don Krieg is just a bad character. It just doesn’t work as a story for me.
- That said, Sanji’s backstory is a good one, Gin is a pretty good character and the banter at the start between the crew is quite funny.
- Johnny and Yosaku are the first real ‘guest characters’ of the series and I’ve always enjoyed them.
- Nami’s abandonment is the first sign of arc-to-arc connections that will later dominate the story which helps move the story out of the episodic feeling it had until this point. Ditto for the crew splitting up.
- Considering how ‘eh’ the Grand Line ends up being in terms of danger, it’s strange to see Don Krieg being so torn apart by it feels like Oda was planning otherwise.
Arlong Park Arc
- Arlong Park is wildly considered to be the story arc where One Piece finally ‘arrives’ as a series, and I agree completely. Before this point the story has been ok, but not at the level it would be come. While Alabasta ends up solidifying the ‘Oda formula’, it is Arlong that first introduces it and is a massive step-up in storytelling. This is the story arc you show to fans who might want to get into the series.
- Nami’s ‘help me’ is another iconic moment in the series, as is Luffy’s response to it. Her stabbing her arm in a rage over Arlong’s betrayal is another ‘wow’ moment too.
- The flashback concerning Bellemere and Nami’s can be real tearjerker, especially when you merge it with the Fish-Man Island arc that comes later. While Arlong is a great villain, the best one up to this point, he is one created by an environment of hate, not just evil for evil’s sake.
- Each of the fights between the Straw Hats and the Arlong Pirates is great, especially Ussop who really steps up to the plate. His rubber-band is a great gag too. Though my favorite is Sanji’s because apparently biting gills actually works!
- Capping off the series first major saga, Loguetown helps get the characters ready for the jump into the Grand Line with some new swords, new foes and some old ones. I love that Buggy comes back to try and get Luffy one more time, but Smoker is better. Gruff but kind, devoted to justice but not blind.
- Tashigi on the other hand is kinda ‘eh’. I feel like her resemblance to Kuina is a concept Oda started on, but has since abandoned. Though her sword-hobby is great for showing Zoro getting his new swords.
- Considering that (as of this post) that Dragon has barely done anything in the story, seeing him being introduced here shows how far ahead Oda planned the story. I hope it pays off.
Reverse Mountain and Whisky Peak Arc
- I’m combing these two arcs because they are both relatively short, but in terms of the Laboon story, it is again mostly laying the groundwork for the later Thriller Bark arc. I’ll get into that later, but the introduction of Vivi here is pretty good, though her character-switch from villain to princess is quite sudden. Also Crocus is cool and I like the connection to the Roger pirates.
- The concept of the Log Pose for navigation is a really awesome concept and makes the Grand Line stand out compared to a normal ocean, which is important because…
- This is probably the most dangerous the Grand Line is in the series. After this it really is just a normal sea which is a bit disappointing, though the Calm Belt provides a fucking great full page spread.
- Whisky Peak is probably the most ‘meh’ of the arcs from here to Marineford. It’s great to see Zoro cut-loose and Miss Valentine has a fun power, but the rest of it feels like the last vestiges of the East Blue Saga’s style of storytelling.
- That said, it helps set Vivi up as the next ‘guest character’ of the series and the overall beats of the Alabasta arc. There is a sense that the Straw Hats bit off more than they could chew, which is par for the course for this gang.
Little Garden Arc
- First off, Zoro more focused on being a statue than afraid of being frozen is both hilarious and kinda out of character, though his faith in Luffy continues to show why is the first mate.
- Mr. 3 probably has one of the coolest powers yet, using wax to create things is just damn interesting.
- Don’t much care for Miss Goldenweek however, she doesn’t even feel like a character but thankfully Oda does a bit better with Sugar in the later Dressrosa arc.
- Dory and Broggy are fun characters and I like how their argument mirrors Sanji and Zoro’s rivalry, and they also help Ussop get a second dream to go to Elbaf.
- I was surprised that they didn’t show Nami getting bit by the bug that sets off the next story arc. They do that in the anime and it feels like a bit of an oversight.
Drum Island Arc
- Oh man, look at Chopper there and be amazed at how much his character design and changed. Oda revealed recently that he didn’t intend to make Chopper a mascot, but the anime voice actor convinced him otherwise. I will say that I prefer the more recent design, but he is still cute here.
- And yeah, that flashback is a fuck tear-jerker, enough said about that.
- Doctor Kureha is probably the most bad-ass grandma that shonen has ever seen.
- Wapol feels like a comedic villain done right, compared to some of the stuff seen in the East Blue Saga. He’s funny, but also nefarious and his disdain for his country plays into the bigger theme of the rich and powerful looking down on the world.
- Dalton’s line “What will become of this country’ is probably my favorite in the arc, compared to Hiriluk’s monologue that is a fan favorite.
- Chopper’s Rumble Balls help keep his powers fresh and unique especially as the Zoan-type devil fruits become more common throughout the series.
- And god damn does that final scene just get you, if anything Oda can really make those scenes hit.
- If Arlong Park is the arc where the series ‘arrives’ as a series’, then it is in Alabasta where the series finally solidifies what a One Piece story is about: Massive battles, the fate of a country in the hands of pirates, multiple rounds against the big baddie, poignant moments, multiple points of view, and plenty of tidbits about the wider world. Alabasta is really where the series becomes what it will be for the rest of its (still current) run.
- Crocodile doesn’t have the level of hated that Arlong does, but he is a deceptive and great villain, enjoying the pain he causes for Vivi and reveling in his apparently invincibility. That’s why when Luffy finally lands a punch on him, it is one of the series most cathartic moments.
- This is also Nami’s first real fight in the series and her throw-down against Doublefinger really helps her stand apart from other female characters in shonen manga. Rukia and Sakura never got what Oda gave Nami and that remains a highlight for her.
- Same can be said for Zoro’s fight against Mr.1, who has a fucking cool power. I only wish Sanji’s against Bon Clay (who is a great character) had the same stuff.
- Pell’s death fakeout starts a trend of Oda being very hesitant to kill off characters, something that he has only recently started to change. Honestly he should have just died from that explosion. It’s probably only real serious flaw in what is a tightly told story.
- And yeah, I’ll say it. Having Ace show up in this part of the series is great, but this is honestly all he does for the entire story. I’ve never had the love for Ace the fans have, he is more of a plot-device than an actual character. Let’s be brutally honest here.
- Vivi’s farewell is another one of the series most iconic moments. It is a shame she doesn’t stick around, but considering she is replaced with Nico Robin, it is a definite upgrade. I think she is a character who has been forgotten as the series has gone on, and I hope she does something as we reach the end of the series.