By Eiichiro Oda
600 pages, black and white
Published by Viz
I remember reading One Piece when it was first published by Viz back at the launch of SHONEN JUMP and enjoying it. But in what was a modern golden age of manga translations, there were so many books being published at the same time that I quickly fell behind, and before long it dropped to the wayside. Now that Viz is putting a lot of publishing muscle behind the book (unleashing a wave of One Piece books to catch the series up to where it is in Japan, like they did before with Naruto, and releasing a series of 3-in-1 omnibuses), it seemed like a perfect chance to catch up with the series and see just what I’ve been missing.
Viz’s omnibuses are in general a good deal (they’re more or less priced at a third off the price for buying each individually), but I think it works especially well in One Piece. With three volumes in a single book, you get much more forward progression of the plot; even in these early chapters, it’s easy to see that this is going to be a series that rambles onwards, moving from one lengthy adventure to the next. So instead of getting just a portion of a single story, the potential is here for multiple stops and trips for the characters as Monkey D. Luffy tries to gather a crew in order to become the greatest pirate ever and find the hidden treasure known as the One Piece.
As these are the earliest chapters, a lot of attention is paid on forming the crew. (A trip to Wikipedia showed me that this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the full cast of characters.) What’s nice is that at least with these first characters, everyone has their own distinct motivation. Luffy wants to impress and live up to the pirate who helped him when he was younger; Zolo wants to become the greatest swordsman alive; Nami is along for the ride in order to gather money for her own personal purposes. Just having the three of them interact with one another is a fun experience; Luffy’s unbridled enthusiasm doesn’t come with a lot of experience, so Zolo and Nami each have their own skills and knowledge to add to the mix, and presumably further characters will also do the same. As for the stories themselves, I found myself getting into them with a lot of gusto. There’s a strong undercurrent running through all of them, that honesty and dedication always win in the long run; it’s a good message regardless of your age. For all of Nami’s sneaky plans and subterfuge (she’s almost a secondary antagonist in her first story), it’s Luffy at the end of the day who makes it all work out by being up front and himself.
Oda’s art is crisp and clean, a perfect example of a tight animation-level style that is expressive and energetic. It’s the perfect match for a book where the main character can stretch his body like rubber; Oda draws Luffy’s impossible shapes and lengths in such a way that they match up wonderfully with the rest of the title. Oda’s good with the crazier character designs, too; from a head and afro peeking out of a treasure chest to a clown-themed pirate, they’re all larger than life but mesh well with the more realistic looking characters like Nami. You’re never going to marvel at fine details and beautiful compositions from Oda, but as an action-adventure romp it’s just the right kind of style.
One Piece: East Blue 1-2-3 was more fun than I’d expected. I can’t say that I’d want to start buying individual volumes because the series on its own feels a little slight, but in these three-for-one editions I’ll probably pick up some more of the East Blue stories before too long. It’s a nice introduction to One Piece, and I can already see why the series has so many ravenous fans.