In celebration of the recent release of episode 1000, there's no better time than to discuss the ridiculously popular, highly debated anime that is One Piece.
If you've been watching anime for a while, you likely already know the story of One Piece, but I'll tell it anyway because it's a good story to tell. The infamous pirate known as Gold Roger was executed after turning himself into the World Government. But before his final breath, he encouraged the world to seek out the treasure he left at the island of Laugh Tale, which is located on the most dangerous ocean in the world, the Grand Line. Hungry for riches and adventure, pirates from around the world sailed off to find the late Pirate King's elusive One Piece.
This takes place 22 years before Luffy's journey begins. In present day, the age of Roger has long past, and the world now is swarming with pirates of all shapes and sizes, all of them reaching their hands out towards different goals. Luffy's goal is to become the next Pirate King, and he works towards this by building up his tightly-knit crew of strong, passionate, and charismatic members, like Sanji the perverted cook, Chopper the bashful reindeer doctor, Usopp the compulsive liar/sharpshooter, and Jinbe the battle-hardened Fish-Man. Not to mention, each crew member has their own individual goals. Along the way, they meet hundreds - no, literally hundreds - of equally unique and interesting allies and enemies, travel to various landscapes of islands, and ultimately change the course of history in exponential ways.
I know it's a lot, but author Eiichiro Oda strives to take a simple concept like pirates fighting over a single treasure and expand upon it a hundred times over. Each island has its own history, culture, and atmosphere, each character has their own backstory (often tragic), and each major event of the series has serious effects on the rest of the world. It's always exciting to watch play out.
My one major flaw with the story is this: the pacing is complete garbage at times. I don't blame this on the source material at all; it's definitely Toei's fault for adding all the additional padding and filler. During the Enies Lobby arc, for example, right before the Straw Hats begin their big fight against Cipher Pol 9, they bombard the viewer with backstories, flashbacks, and filler episodes, making the impact of the scene much weaker in the process. If it wasn't for this, I'd give this section an easy 10, but I just can't when the pacing can be so bad.
When I started watching One Piece (about Feburary of 2020), I was shocked by the animation. Not by its quality per se, but just by its style. If you've only seen recent promotional material for the show, I guarantee you'll be similarly shocked by the difference when you watch the pre-timeskip seasons, primarily pre-Water 7. If I had to describe it, I'd say it looks like if someone animated an old picture book like The Berenstain Bears or Frog and Toad. The backgrounds are all really detailed, the characters seem to pop out at you, and it overall just has a 2000's anime feel to it. Not to say that the current animation style is bad. It's certainly good in its own right, but there just seems to be more charm in the older style in my opinion.
However, I think the newer seasons has more moments with jaw-dropping animation than the older ones. I couldn't tell you why this is, but it just is. I can think of several fights off the top of my head that made me gasp at the animation in current seasons; meanwhile, I think back to the previous ones and the only moments where I truly felt stunned was when something emotional happened and not so much when I was blown away by the animation.
Of course animation isn't everything, but it's very obvious that sakuga is Toei's focus when animating. Sakuga, for those who don't know, is when an animation studio puts out higher quality animations for a climatic moment in an anime but lower quality animation for less important moments. I won't say that this doesn't make sense, but from an artisitc standpoint, it's still unfortunate to see so blatantly used in such a massive show as One Piece.
There's one word I can use to describe the sound design of One Piece: goofy. Just about everything about One Piece is goofy, so it makes sense to have goofy sound effects, goofy voices, goofy music, etc. This can be a drawback to the show at points, like when a weird sound effect is used during a more serious or intense scene, but goofy isn't the only way I'd describe the sounds of this show: satisfying. Punches, kicks, sword slashes, metal clanks, and various other effects sound very satisfying when in action. They're also very iconic, like Luffy's stretching sound, the main battle theme, and, of course, We Are by Hiroshi Kitadani.
But, my one major gripe with the show's sound effects is that no matter how satisfying or iconic they are, they get overused. Maybe that should be expected with a series airing 1000 episodes and counting, but I sometimes find myself surprised to be hearing some of the same sound effects from the start of the series.
One Piece's ensemble of characters is one of the most impressive I've ever seen in a show. As mentioned before, they come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and species. You've got characters like Big Mom, a giant of a woman who's obsessed with desserts and the color pink and has the ability to steal people's souls and imbue objects with those souls to bring them to life. You've got Kaido, quite literally a beast-man with horns and skin as thick as steel that can transform into an enormous dragon. You've got Whitebeard, another towering man with a large, crescent-shaped mustache whose body is covered in scars with the ability to create earthquakes on any surface, including the air. The list goes on and on.
I haven't even mentioned the Straw Hats yet, which are easily some of the best of the series. As previously stated, the Straw Hats have their own collection of colorful characters with unique desires and passions driving them forward, all the while wholeheartedly supporting Luffy on his quest to becoming Pirate King. And, of course, he's doing all he can to help them with their own goals as well. It's a dynamic that isn't always used to its full extent, but when it is, it's extrememly powerful.
Additionally, they come across many other people that help them along the way and almost act like side quests. On one island, they'll be saving a desert nation from a civil uprising, then on another island, they'll be traveling into the sky to visit sky islands. The people they meet are just as diverse as the lands they traverse, and many of them form relationships with Luffy and crew that affect the story later down the line.
Furthermore, relationships and organizations are seldom everlasting. Frequently, groups of people will form, break up, and reform differently than they were before. These formations are often determined by a catalyst of some kind that's sent shockwaves throughout the world and is likely affecting other groups similarly. It's always interesting to see who will break up or team up next.
Unfortunately though, many characters, including the Straw Hats, can feel very one-note at times. Instances like these make me understand why some people may be turned off by the series or may assume it's for kids. I would by no means agree with them on that, but it can be a bit grating to see the same old anime tropes recycled again and again between arcs or during an arc's downtime.
For me, One Piece is more than I can fully put into words, for it's an adventure like no other. And when I say "adventure," I mean adventure. No other anime I've seen thus far can compare to the excitement and scope of the events of this show. Most anime have a handful of moments that make it memorable or set it apart, but One Piece has dozens of those. The current arc, for example, features an antagonist that's been built up for the past several years - and I mean in real life. He's had ties with enemies faced multiple seasons ago and thus has been a major player in the current story without us even knowing. Not many anime can claim such a thing.
Eiichiro Oda truly has a vision when it comes to the story of One Piece. He's made estimates as to when it'll end multiple times, but even he doesn't know when it'll all come to a close. If I remember correctly, I believe he once said that the story isn't his, he's simply putting it to paper; he's not guiding the story as much as he's being guided by it. I think that explanation helps to understand how the world, characters, and events all feel so interconnected to one another, how they all feel to contribute to a bigger purpose, something we just can't see yet. Something like that not only excites me, but also can never be replaced.