~by Eiichiro Oda
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda is an extremely popular series in both Japan and the United States. It is also a long running series. Publication of the collected volumes began in 1997 in Japan; the manga is currently up to sixty volumes and it's still going. The English translation by Viz Media first began in 2003 and the fifty-fifth volume was released in October 2010. Despite the manga's popularity, I'm actually not very familiar with it at all, although I have seen bits and pieces of a few of the anime episodes. I was surprised to discover that my local library currently only has the first volume of the series, Romance Dawn, although there are plans to purchase more of the books. I was happy when One Piece was selected for the Manga Moveable Feast because it gave me an excuse to finally get around to reading a well-loved series that I've heard so much about.
Ever since he was small, Monkey D. Luffy has been determined to become King of the Pirates. This is a rather ambitious and daunting proposition since just about every other pirate out there is after the same thing. Starting out with nothing more than a rowboat, Luffy heads off to assemble his pirate crew. But he does have one advantage. After eating a gum-gum fruit his body gained rubber-like properties, making him difficult to injure and virtually impervious to bullets. Luffy is also a bit odd and shows absolutely no fear; understandably, some people think he's not quite right in the head. Undeterred, he throws himself wholeheartedly into his quest and the first person he targets to recruit is none other than the dreaded pirate hunter Roronoa Zolo. He might take some convincing though--who ever heard of a bounty hunter teaming up with a pirate?
Oda's artwork in One Piece is energetic and bombastic, nicely pairing with the absurdity of the manga's story. Character designs are cartoonish with exaggerated facial features and expressions. I absolutely adore Luffy's ecstatic grins, for one. So far, the more over-the-top and extreme designs are reserved for the series' villains. Sound effects play a pretty substantial role in Oda's work and are often quite prominent. There is plenty of silliness in both the story and the art (frequently, I was reminded of Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball) and even the more serious parts have a fair bit of levity. Even considering the joyful ridiculousness of the manga, I can't quite get over the fact that Luffy, having eaten the fruit of the gum-gum tree, will never be able to swim. Though, seeing as the fruit basically turns his body into rubber (which Oda uses to great effect), I'm assuming that he can at least float.
Romance Dawn was fun, but it didn't make much of a lasting impression on me. I enjoyed the manga, but I wasn't really grabbed by it. Not that I would turn away subsequent volumes, I just don't see myself investing in such a lengthy series based on the first volume alone. However, as with most series, some story arcs are just going to be better than others. Romance Dawn provides the backstory for two of the main protagonists in the series, Luffy and Zolo, which I quite enjoyed. However, I was less engaged by the story that connected the two. A third protagonist, Nami, also makes a brief appearance in this volume, but little is actually known about her yet other than she is quite capable and cunning. I do like the characters and so far the manga is entertaining. While I might not feel compelled right now to go out and read every single volume of One Piece, I do think it would be worth pursuing some of the later books to see if it can capture my interest.