Awhile ago, I started a review of various shonen anime settings and general plot/series goal. Note, these were not complete reviews as these left out parts such as fight choreography or characters. I will now conclude that project by going over One Piece.
Now this review is mostly positive, but bear with me, as I do have some criticisms. Also, I have only watched to the end of the Enis Lobby arc.
For the most part, the series design is brilliant. I really get the feeling Eiichiro Oda understands the shonen genre, and wrote with it's limitations and challenges in mind. Let's take a look...
- The series goal is nominally to find the One Piece, a great famous lost treasure. Other than talking about it lovingly, we know almost nothing about it. For all we know Gold Roger was just messing with everyone when he said it was at the end of the Grand Line. I haven't seen an episode yet where they find a clue to where the One Piece is, or whether Gold Roger had been there or even what the One Piece IS. Normally I'd say that's a bad thing. However, here that's okay. Eiichiro Oda makes no bones about it being a MacGuffin, something for the characters to pursue. None of the issues I mention really matter because it's clear that it's the journey that matters, not the goal. I don't mean that in a saccharine way either. At this point, no matter what the One Piece is the adventures the characters have had are far more interesting than any random pile of treasure.
- The setting is creative, schizophrenic and well designed. One thing that kills many series is an inability to have good filler. The plot or setting makes it extremely difficult to put in more or new story lines. This is not the case with One Piece. Need filler? Have the characters run into a strange island, have a silly adventure with some fighting and then leave. Wash and repeat. They might not be the best stories, but they'll be entertaining and fun. Compare to Bleach.
There are somethings that trouble me though. Things like...
- You rarely see pirates acting like pirates. Real world pirates tended to...you know... PIRATE things. Rape, pillage and burn. Be criminals. The pirates in this series tend to be very caught up in their own politics and story lines, and the ones you do see engaged in criminal activity are treated like super villains or scum. Now, to be fair, Eiichiro Oda is clearly using pirates as an expression of freedom and adventure, but some of these pirates I are that just because they wave a skull and crossbones flag... not because they seem to have done anything.
- Eiichiro Oda has done research on real pirates for inspiration. I'm not saying the show is realistic, but it's great he does that. However, he seems to pass over his own country's history with piracy. The Japanese wako were so dreaded that a Chinese emperor regarded them as worse than Mongols. And none of that makes into the manga?
- The Grand Line spits in the eye of physics and reality, I get it. You need an unique way to navigate, I get that. But they NEVER MENTION THE STARS. People have been using the stars to navigate before they ever had compasses. Why can't these characters do that?
- Some elements are so conducive to writing shonen, that it hurts immersion. Ever notice how the logpose (I spell that right?) MANDATES they travel in the most complicated, convoluted way possible? It also guarantees the HAVE to stay on an island and get embroiled in it's troubles. And when the problem is over, the lospose is ready to go! It's hard to imagine a more obvious deus ex machina, it really is.
Over all, the setting and series goal match what the show needs excellently. Basically, an excuse to goof off and have excellent adventures. It doesn't make sense in large areas, but it never interferes with the story telling and often aids it.
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