Last month, after reading volume 63 of Eiichiro Oda's epic pirate manga 'One Piece', I sat down to review it for this blog. But as I was sitting there, thinking about things to write, I realized that I did not want to review it. And it's not because I didn't like the volume or 'One Piece' in general. 'One Piece' is actually one of my all time favorite mangas. It just didn't feel right. For one thing, my blog is new and I've only reviewed one volume of 'One Piece' so far. If I had been reviewing this long series from the beginning, I probably wouldn't feel the way I do now. Jumping in to the review game in the middle of a series is kind of difficult for me as a poor writer and new blogger. It's difficult for me to explain the context of this single volume in the middle of a massive story. A single volume of 'One Piece' is a small piece of a very large puzzle, and to make things easier on myself and to do 'One Piece' the justice it deserves, I think I ought to put some of those puzzle pieces together. So I've decided that I am going to not only review 'One Piece' by story arcs, but I am also going to start from the very beginning. So without further ado, in this first installment of my "One Piece Arc Review", I'll be taking a look at the Captain Morgan Arc, the Buggy the Clown Arc, and the Captain Kuro arc.
On the first stop of Luffy's quest, he meets up with a weak and cowardly cabin boy named Koby. Koby, who is skilled in navigation, is forced to work under the tyrannical "Iron Mace" Alvida. Koby secretly wants to be a naval officer, but is too scared to escape from Alvida's clutches. But after meeting Luffy and seeing his guts, a fire was lit underneath him. On top of that, Luffy even beat up Alvida, impressed that Koby stood up to her while knowing he stood no chance against her. Having heard of a great pirate hunter named Zolo that Luffy was intrigued by, Koby and Luffy set off to find him and see if he was right for Luffy's crew. What they found was this great pirate hunter, tied up and starving, taking punishment for hurting the vicious dog of a spoiled navy captain's son, while protecting a little girl from it. After learning that Zolo is a good guy and that the navy plans on executing him, despite making a deal with him, Luffy decided to free Zolo and make him his first crew member. But the evil and power hungry Captain "Axe Hand" Morgan won't let Luffy and Zolo go without a fight. Luffy is no slouch though and neither is Zolo now that he has his three swords back and can perform his signature, Santoryu style swordsmanship. Together, they take care of Captain Morgan without much problem, and free the island from his oppressive reign. Since Captain Morgan was hated by his naval underlings and the townsfolk alike, Luffy and Zolo became the heroes of the island and were sent off with a salute from the grateful navy.
This seven chapter story arc is a far cry from the epic, fifty chapter story arcs that occur later on. It's both odd and interesting to go back and revisit it and see how different the story structure was in the beginning. I suppose, being a new series in danger of cancellation, there was no way to start off with epics right off the bat. And while this arc isn't as substantial as later ones, it did it's job of introducing Luffy's main goal, his first crew member, and laying the ground work for later plot lines. For me, the highlight of these chapters was meeting Zolo, who dreams of becoming the world's greatest swordsman so that his name will become so famous that even his dead childhood friend and rival can here it in heaven. Zolo was all kinds of cool with his three sword style and I love his ambition. I liked him right away and can't wait to see him work towards his goal.
After finding his first crew member in Zolo, Luffy sets out to sea yet again, but Luffy and Zolo soon find themselves in trouble. Lost out on the open ocean with no food, they come to the realization that they are in desperate need of a navigator. After a set of odd circumstances bring them back to land, Luffy encounters a mischievous young woman named Nami, who just so happens to be an expert navigator. Of course Luffy immediately invites her to join his crew, but she refuses adamantly when she finds out he is a pirate. But realizing she can take advantage of the situation in order to get a hold of a hoard of treasure and a map of the Grand Line, Nami tricks Luffy and turns him in to the resident pirate captain, Buggy the Clown, who has been terrorizing the island. Luffy narrowly escapes from Buggy's clutches and learns of the affect Buggy's crimes have had on the island from it's mayor, Boodle. Sympathizing with Boodle's plight, Luffy and Zoro decide to help by fighting off Buggy and his crew. The fight is on and Luffy comes out the victor, exiling Buggy courtesy of a Gum Gum Bazooka. After seeing Luffy's exploits, Nami decides that he might not be such a bad guy after all, and with a map of the infamous Grand Line in hand, she reluctantly agrees to be his navigator, and they set off, liberators of yet another island.
Another short story arc that, in terms of scope, pales in comparison to later arcs. Still, we seem to be following a trend here. A second crew member has joined up with the very important task of navigating. Disregarding what I know now, I would say Nami doesn't come across as very likeable in her introduction to the story. I mean, she was very quick to betray our loveable main character, Luffy. You can see through her actions and reactions to true evil that she is not a bad person at heart though, and it is hinted that she has her reasons for doing what she does. I won't get to that until the next installment of my arc reviews when I take a look at the Arlong Arc, but I really can't wait because that is one of my favorite arcs in all of 'One Piece'. We also have Buggy the Clown, who is the second character introduced that has the power of a devil fruit like Luffy. I like Buggy's powers. They were quite useful against a sword user like Zoro, but Luffy pretty much made quick work of him. I can't say the fights have been impressive so far. Our hero hasn't been given much trouble. But things are building up and with another devil fruit user with more to come, we have the ground work for what can be a very imaginative combat system.
Sailing the open seas isn't easy. Especially for guys as unprepared as Zolo and Luffy. They are in desperate need of supplies and a more worthy ship if they are going to make it on the Grand Line. Their search for a new ship takes them to an island where they meet a young man named Usopp. Usopp is the village liar. The "boy who cried pirate", if you will. Every day, without fail, he runs through the village screaming of invading pirates. This is just a lie of course and all the villagers are used to his antics by now, if not a little annoyed by them. Usopp suggests Luffy and crew ask the villages sickly, young mistress Kaya, who is quite wealthy, to fund a new pirate ship. Meanwhile, Usopp goes to Kaya's mansion to tell her some tall tales to cheer her up, but the mansions strict butler, Klahadore won't have Usopp's bad influence rubbing off on Kaya, who he is sworn to protect. In a heated exchange, a rift is caused between Kaya and Usopp and he vows to never come back again. Later, while talking with Luffy, Usopp overhears Klahadore and a strange pirate plotting to kill Kaya and steal her fortune. Usopp attempts to warn everyone of Klahadore's evil plan, but with his reputation, nobody believes him. Not even Kaya. With no other choice, Usopp goes to hold off the pirate attack himself. Luckily for him, his display of courage inspired Luffy, Zolo and Nami to give him a hand. At the same time, Kaya finally learns the truth about Klahadore, and decides to confront him herself. While Luffy, Nami, Usopp and Zolo are fighting a tough battle against the Black Cat Pirates, we learn that Klahadore is really the former Captain Kuro, who faked his own death to escape the pursuit of the navy. After a bloody fight, Captain Kuro and his crew are defeated by Luffy and his friends and Usopp and Kaya's village is safe. Usopp could have become the hero of the village, but he swore everyone to secrecy, as to not disturb the villager's peace of mind, and he vowed to go out to sea and become a real "brave warrior of the sea", bringing his tall tales he told Kaya to life. Mistress Kaya, so grateful for their help, is not without a parting gift for Luffy and his crew. A brand new ship, called The Merry-Go is theirs for the taking, and Luffy invites Usopp to be the newest member of the crew. And so, with a new ship and new friends, they set sail towards more adventures that await them.
While knowing the true identity of the bad guy in the Captain Kuro arc lessens the impact quite a bit, Kuro is so far the most menacing villain introduced, and the fights are starting to get more satisfying. Luffy wasn't quite pushed to his limits, but he did have a hard enough time that things were sufficiently entertaining. A more threatening villain combined with the stakes being higher made for a more exciting arc than the previous two. Not only that, but we got to meet our third crew member, Usopp, who has a connection to Luffy's idol, Red-Haired Shanks, through his father, Yasopp. Usopp is easily the best thing to come out of this arc. He is weak and acts cowardly, but when the going gets tough and his friends are in trouble, he faces his fears like a real "brave warrior of the sea". His determination in the face of certain defeat is very admirable, and it is because of characters like this that I read shonen manga.
Before I started to reread, I thought that I might find the storytelling and art dated and inferior to the later parts of the story. It is true that the scope of the story was much smaller back then and the art was much less refined, but I enjoyed rereading these arcs immensely nonetheless. Early 'One Piece' was a different 'One Piece' than it is today, but it was not a bad One Piece by any means. While One Piece never loses it's sense of "fun", it does get quite a bit more serious later on, and while revisiting this early part of the story, I was really able to appreciate it's more whimsical nature. I think that I am appreciating the story more with this read through than when I first read it. I'm noticing things that I didn't notice before, and though knowing future events can kill the tension, it also helps me realize the great evolution that the story and characters go through. All that being said, these first few arcs are my least favorite in the series. Like I said, it's not that the story is bad. It's quite good actually. But it's not at a level of greatness just yet. For me, it reaches that level of greatness, without a doubt, during the Arlong Arc, which I plan on covering in my next "One Piece Arc Review". This rereading experience has been much greater than I anticipated, and now I look forward to taking a look at all my favorite arcs. If everything goes as planned, my "One Piece Arc Review" will become a regular thing. Stay tuned.