As a child, Monkey D. Luffy was inspired to become a pirate by listening to the tales of the buccaneer “Red-Haired” Shanks. but hislife changed when luffy accidentally ate the fruit of the Gum-Gum Tree, and gained the power to stretch ike rubber…at the cost of never being able to swim again! Years later, still vowing to become the king of the pirates, Luffy sets out on his adventure…one guy alone in a rowboat, in search of the legendary “One Piece”, said to be the greatest treasure in the world…
By Eiichiro Oda
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Teen
One Piece started serialization in 1997 and has been going practically non-stop for the last 13 years. The adventures of Luffy and his motely crew of pirates are filled with fun, adventure and more than little drama. These first four volumes introduced Luffy, swordsman Zolo, navigator Nami and marksman Usopp as they start their adventures and face off against both other pirate crews and the Marines, the arch-enemies of pirates.
One Piece opens with the introduction of Luffy as a young boy trying to impress the captain of a group of pirates, “Red-Haired” Shanks, so that he will take him on his ship. He ends up learning some hard lessons about being a pirate, but also the importance of friendship, a lesson that he takes to heart when he starts on his own journey to become a pirate. You can really see Shanks’ influence on Luffy. He has a cheerful attitude and is very friendly, just as Shanks was to him and the people of his village. He is honest and frank, a trait that isn’t very common among pirates. Neither is his strong sense of justice. Luffy is looking for the fun and excitement of being a pirate, but he just can’t stay out of a situation where innocent people are being injured or terrorized by either pirates or the navy. This is what gets him involved with most of the battles in these volumes.
Friendship is another thing that is important to Luffy. He’s willing to do anything for someone he calls a friend. After meeting Coby, he does everything he can to encourage and help him. He even starts a fight with Coby so he isn’t thought to be a pirate and can join the Marines. Even though it means they will be enemies, their friendship is more important than whatever side they stand on. Luffy and Zolo become fast friends too, their friendship being forged in the fire of battle. They make a great team, working together and watching each other’s back. And Zolo’s goal to become the greatest swordsman in the world works with Luffy’s goal to become Pirate King. I would have been satisfied to read about just the two of them, with maybe Nami to keep an eye on them.
Nami is a harder sell. She can see there is something different about Luffy, but she isn’t ready to trust him. She hates pirates because she lost someone dear to her because of one. Luffy is aware of this and doesn’t press her on it, something she seems glad for. Nami also has a goal, to buy back a village, which is why she’s a thief. Luffy’s disinterest in treasure in general suits her, so she’s willing to work with him, for now. Usopp, who is introduced in volume three, turns out t have an interesting connection to Luffy through Shanks. His father is a member of Shanks pirate crew, so they hit it off well. Usopp is a coward with conviction. Despite his fear, he’s determined to defend his village from the Black Cat pirates, which earns him Luffy’s, Zolo’s and Nami’s help, though not quite respect.
In these four volumes, Luffy, with the help of his growing crew, takes on a Marine base, the Buggy the Clown and his pirate crew, and as volume four ends, takes on the Black Cat Pirates. There is plenty of action in each volume as the characters are introduced to the readers and to each other. There is lots of humor throughout, such as Luffy getting caught by a bird he was trying to catch to eat. But what really makes these volumes of One Piece fun is Luffy’s infectious joy. It’s hard NOT to want to cheer him on, even though technically, he’s not supposed to be a hero and he knows it. Luffy is well aware of what it means to become a pirate, as he explains to Zolo (who really doesn’t have a choice from the position he is put in), but Luffy seems to make the word pirate not such a bad word, as his deeds win over villages and even marines, alike.
While One Piece is essentially a comedy, there are some good dramatic moments that make our heroes who they are. The scenes where Shanks rescues Luffy from the sea monster, Zolo’s background, and when Luffy fights Richie the lion for the dog Chou Chou, are all great moments where the laughing stops, but the smile doesn’t go away as we see the right thing happen.
The art is a little rough, and you can see Oda improve as the volumes progress. His designs for the themed pirate crew are great. Buggy came out especially well as a clown you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Zolo’s transformation from average guy to demon pirate hunter is great too. The title pages Oda creates for the chapters are really fun. They usually involve the One Piece crew interacting with animals in some way, such as Nami teaching a monkey to read a map, or Luffy painting his pirate flag on a bear. They are whimsical and fun.
One Piece is a series that starts out slow, and doesn’t really hit its stride until around volume 8. These first four volumes might not seem all that great, but just think of them as building the foundation for something really great yet to come. If you’re not sold by the “Arlong Park” arc, then One Piece is probably not a series for you. But I’ll guarantee you, it won’t be any time you will regret losing. These volumes only give a glimpse of one the best manga you will ever read.