November 28, 2010

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One Piece Volume 1

Written by Eiichiro Oda
Illustrated by Eiichiro Oda
Viz

After a brief break, the Manga Movable Feast is back! David, our lovable Manga Curmudgeon, is hosting again, which is appropriate given his love of the series.

The Manga Movable Feast is a chance for those of us who hang out on Twitter to all write about the same series. We've discussed things as different as Yotsuba&! and To Terra over the past months, but I'm pretty sure that One Piece is the most popular of the books we've selected so far.

You can see David's introductory post here. He's also keeping a master link of all MMF postings for One Piece here.

I have to admit, I wasn't sure about One Piece. I tend to be on the shojo side of the shojo/shonen fence as a rule (just look at the difference in entries for the two tags if you need any proof), and the drawing style from the snippets I'd seen made me think that One Piece was more in a style for boys who like pirates and exaggerated drawing, and that's not generally in my wheelhouse.

Still, I'd had the first volume kicking around for a bit, and since it was the MMF title this month, I figured it was time to see what this fuss was all about. It turns out that inside the book is some pretty cool stuff that I definitely enjoyed more than I expected to.

One Piece is set in a world that seems pretty modern but is definitely beset by pirates. A legendary treasure is out there for the taking, and there are quite a few folks who want to be the King of the Pirates--the one that gets the prize. Luffy is one such boy, but he's got a problem--he can't swim. This is made worse by his eating a special fruit that turns him into Plastic Man but prevents him from ever being able to learn how to be a swimmer.

Luffy won't be denied, however, and soon he's off on his own seafaring adventures, navigating without any clue as to where he's going. This leads to meeting up with a comically large and vain pirate lady (which I could have done without, honestly), a mean marine, a sword-fighting pirate hater, an insecure yet brilliant sailor, and, my personal favorite, clown pirates.

Yup. Clown pirates.

If I hadn't been sold on the series by then, clown pirates hooked me. Clearly Oda is going to find the most outrageous ways he can to work other ideas into the pirate theme, and as I observed this further and further along into the manga, I slowly became hooked. As with some of other other shonen manga that I've enjoyed, there's more going on than just the requisite fight every other chapter (though that's present, too). Oda has a lot of cool ideas to throw out to the reader, and I am looking forward to seeing them. I should have picked up on this when Luffy started acting like Eel O'Brian, but it took me a little bit longer than it probably should have to see what was going on.

I also appreciated the fact that Oda has a positive but subtle message written into the story. Luffy won't give up, even when others tell him he can't achieve his dream. Bullies are put in their place several times in this volume, and the idea of loyalty and friendship are rewarded, not mocked. Maybe I'm just reading too many depressing comics these days, but those traits stood out to me. This is a comic I'd be glad to give to a young man or woman and not have to worry about the message being sent. I'm hoping that continues in future volumes.

About my only disappointment in One Piece is that I'm still not all that fond of the art. Oda's style is extremely cartoonish and reminds me more of the manga I've read for younger audiences instead of things with a teenage audience in mind. There were times when I couldn't figure out what was going on as a result, which is a bit frustrating. On the other hand, I do love what Oda does with faces. They can be preening, angry, desperate, caring, or fearful, as the need arises. You can tell a lot about what is going on just by looking at the facial features. I wish some of that care had been applied to the rest of the art as well.

One Piece was a nice surprise that I'm glad I started reading. I'm not really looking forward to catching up to the 50 or so volumes, but if they are all this engaging, I'm sure I'll have a very fun, if long ride. At the end of the day, I think you have to appreciate the relationships of the characters, which are clearly just getting started, to really like this manga. I don't think it's going to be for everyone, and I think that the art style is what keeps it from being more popular. There's more going on that just out and out action, but I could see how that could get missed when just flipping through the pages.

If you're looking for a few series that's good for both kids and adults (perhaps as a read together activity), I think One Piece might just fit you perfectly. Give it a try, and see if it's a pirate's life for you!