January 21, 2011

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One Piece Volumes 2 and 3

Written by Eiichiro Oda
Illustrated by Eiichiro Oda
Viz

In this set of volumes, Luffy, our stretchable Pirate who can't swim, goes head to head with one of his own kind, Buggy the Clown. The Clown is a ruthless Pirate who lives for destruction, with a town in his grasp that only Luffy and his friends can save--if they decide to stay on his side of the fight!

Later, Luffy encounters a pirate who lives in a treasure chest and prepares for a new adventure in a town that faces a threat from yet another pirate without honor. It's hijinks and high adventure in these two volumes of One Piece!

I finally broke down and started reading One Piece late last year, even though I had a few reservations. It's a shonen manga, which I seem to like more than I used to, based on current reading habits, and it's really long. The two factors held me back in the past, but now I'm on the One Piece ship and looking forward to the voyage. After all, sometimes there's a reason things are popular, even if I personally will never understand why so many folks like Ferris Buehler's Day Off.

I mentioned last time that if I hadn't already been intrigued by the story of Luffy, the introduction of clown pirates would have sealed the deal. That means that the bulk of my enjoyment this time around comes from the idea that a band of clown pirates a) exists and b) was considered perfectly normal on other ships. I mean really, how can you not admire the innovation of Oda in creating such a world? I love it when comics make the extraordinary seem perfectly normal within the contexts of their world. That makes the entire setup far more plausible, even if it's "just" a comedy like One Piece.

I admit that I was a bit disappointed that the clown pirates aren't a bit more buffoonish, given that they are clowns. We get some great verbal and physical comedy at the opening of the second volume, but after that, the clowns turn into serious opponents. I guess that's necessary for the shonen to operate within its genre, but I do think Oda missed a chance here to make the whole thing even more absurd.

As it stands, the arc with Buggy the Clown is still very good. Each of our major characters gets a chance to be a part of the action, and the danger for Luffy feels very real. Just how can he defeat a person who is effectively a human lego? The answer is perfect, and allows for a revenge match sometime in the future.

Behind the brawling in this arc, however, are some strong positive messages. Luffy shows his determination in the face of adversity, refusing to leave the town in the hands of the killer clowns. Zolo shows that honor can win the day, as long as you keep your integrity (and inner organs). Nami learns that treasure doesn't always involve money. Even a dog provides a role model for young kids reading this series. Sure there's action in the fine shonen tradition, and the jokes are what draws me into the story. But I also like that without trying to preach, Oda shows that doing things the right way will ultimately win the day, even if things look bleak.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I appreciate it when a creator puts an affirmative message in their story--as long as that message doesn't overpower the story itself. Oda does a great job of this, I think, and it's part of what makes One Piece stand out as such a good comic.

As much as I enjoyed the clown arc, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed at what comes after. The story of the man in the treasure chest felt like filler. It's a cute enough idea with its own moral, but I'm hoping that this was a setup for something bigger or that we avoid one-shots like that in the future. I'm also not sold on the new arc, but hopefully it will pick up as I read the next few volumes of the series. It's probably not fair for me to want every villain to be as outrageous as a clown pirate that can chop himself to pieces, but it's Oda's own fault for setting the bar so high this early on!

These early volumes of One Piece are still a little rough around the edges when it comes to the art. The characters are consistent, which is good, but you can tell there are times when Oda has an idea that's just a bit outside of his ability to portray it. I do love the addition of three kids that look like the items they're named after, and so far, the villains of the piece have enough distinction between them that it's easily to tell them apart. Part of the fun for me should be watching Oda's art catch up to his storytelling ability. I already love his dialog and plotting--when I start getting into the art, too, this manga is really going to sing.

Given how late I'm getting on the One Piece bandwagon, I'm not really expecting to have anyone start reading the series because of me. Rather, this is probably an amusing romp for those of you who are already somewhere in the 50s, volume-wise, nodding sagely as I sing Oda's praises. Give me some time to catch up, folks, and I'll be right there wit you. One Piece is definitely a series I plan to keep reading for a long time.