Outside of mild picture spoilers, this post is spoiler free! My goal is to talk about my experience without needing to explain the plot in spoiler format. Enjoy the read and tell me what you think!  

Welcome to post five of The Month of One Piece! Today, I want to share a retrospection on my time with the series. Everything from when I first opened up a tankōbon and flipped through the pages, to the newest scanlations by the best translators out there. My journey with the series has followed me from my last year of high school to the middle of my twenties. Many pivotal moments of my life have come and gone, but one thing that has stayed consistent is a weekly chapter of Eiichiro Oda’s beloved pirate adventure.

When One Piece first started its serialization in 1997 I was only 5 years old. The series is actually older than most of its fanbase, and for those who are older, it is only by a slight margin. In the 20 years it has been ongoing, it has amassed numerous noteworthy feats to its credit. Easily the most laudable is the fact it surpassed the original Dragon Ball manga as the greatest selling series of all time. The spirit it has crafted is astonishing to witness. The series that inspired the Big 3 of the modern era of manga beaten out by one of them. That then begs a question of what makes the series so special. What x-factor is within One Piece that has not only continued its success, but progressively strengthened it over these past two decades? I honestly don’t think there is a clear cut answer for that inquiry. The scope it has reached is far too grand to quantify in such a simple manner. I for one have been following One Piece for 7 years. This is my story of how it has captivated me for that time-span, and why I love One Piece the way I do.

I will become King of The Pirates!

I wanna be a………pirate!?

When I was in my senior year of highschool in 2010, I began reading manga for the first time. Thanks to my connection to anime, I discovered the medium many of the shows I had seen were adapted from. I started with my beloved Dragon Ball, and made my way through several series before I even thought of touching One Piece. I wanted realistic appearances, and sword fights, and at first glance it looked like a colorful kid’s series. My first impressions were, well ignorant, to say the least, and One Piece was actually one of the last things I read from my school library. Finally though, after getting caught up to Bleach, Naruto, and reading series like Eyeshield 21 and bits of Shaman King, I began my venture onto the Grand Line.

Humble beginnings for the grandest adventure.

I opened my first volume of One Piece without a clue what I was getting into. Was this really a series for kids that I would be unimpressed by, or was that a baseless misconception for a single unjustified judgement from a glance. I can definitely say the true childish part, was my idea of something I knew nothing about. Never ever assume something isn’t quality or going to match your tastes without at least a firsthand exposure of some sort. You need to make the choice for yourself, and truly discover how you feel with experience. I was just a beginner in the medium and was already making decisions of how I would like a series without giving them a proper chance. I regret that and I have learned a ton from the lessons series like One Piece have taught me in their own way.

I proceeded to see what this pirate story could actually be about, and to my surprise it wasn’t what I was expecting. And of course it snuck up on me like Snake in a box taking out mercenaries! This was a light hearted romp about seeking freedom in the world before you. A kid with the innocence of Goku, and dreams of grandiose nature wanted to create his own path and future for himself. A simple, fun, and easy to follow premise. Everyone can relate to the idea of wanting to make their own dream become a reality, and with the hardest effort put forth it would come to actual fruition. I was hooked from that point, now they just had to make the road worth the price of admission.

A pirate’s life for me!

Going into the shonen series we all know as One Piece, I only truly desired a simple pleasure from it. If it delivered it like Domino’s does their fantastic pizza, then I would be ultimately satisfied to no end. I like pizza a lot so being disappointed would be difficult here. I wanted the series to produce great action and give me a consistent good time. Seems like a doable proposition for it to meet splendidly. And quickly the exhilarating nature of the genre came in at me in full force. I didn’t really have many expectations I wanted to have outside of those, and well this is where not expecting a lot out of something turns into one of the best decisions you could make.

Even on my most stressful days, One Piece delivers its comedy in spades.

One thing I hardly consider when picking up a series is if it is funny. I’m a hard person to impress on that front, and usually setting myself up for disappointment if I do go in with that intention. Boy oh boy is One Piece a barrel of laughs though! I’m pretty sure I’m accurate with the following statement: No other manga has made me laugh more and as consistently as One Piece. Everything from simple gags to complex running jokes, the series thrives on the essence of comedy. Part of it is to give the series some space to breathe between more action fueled portions, but I think honestly it’s part of what makes the series endure as much as it does. Anytime I sit down to read a few chapters of One Piece, I’m pretty much guaranteed a few laughs in various sizes. Few things make my reading time more rewarding then the feel good nature of laughter. It is almost an all curing panacea for a poor mood. Do you want to cheer up a bit? May I recommend a volume of our finest One Piece!

Hook, Line, and Anchor

After becoming fairly engrossed with the action and laughs of One Piece, I didn’t think I could desire much else out of it. Apparently a few more things were waiting for me though. Compelling dramatic stories are one of the most alluring reasons to get into anime/manga. However, just like any other story telling medium, that means they require a lot of effort and forethought into their narrative structure. Once again, this series delivers without any issues. One Piece is chock full of serious arcs with islands full of history and the people who live there feeling real and a part of it. I can definitely say one arc is the one that got me fully involved with this series.

One Piece not only creates perfect waifu, but some of the most fleshed out and memorable side characters in the entire shonen universe.

You see, when I was reading One Piece I had to stop at volume 19. My school and public libraries were both missing the 20th volume in the series, and I was stubborn to make a transition to the digital scans with my preference being to a physical book. At the time I was in the middle of the Alabasta arc and the Straw Hat crew was mostly all trapped in a prison cell that was to be flooded and drown them. I remember it quite vividly, since I waited it out for several months before volume 20 was finally there. When I returned to reading it again after that time, I decided to revisit a few prior chapters for a refresher, and then continue with my memory hopefully serving me well. And this is where I truly fell in love with the series as a whole. The story of Vivi trying to save her kingdom at all costs, even going as far as to entrust it all to pirates who are strangers, was incredibly compelling. She didn’t have the strength to change things alone, but with the power of an alliance that would become a true friendship, she was able to persevere to create a brighter and better future. The amount of time and development that went in to just this first large scale arc was just the tip of the iceberg that would define many years to come.

Each subsequent arc built upon the huge world that the Straw Hats inhabit. It started small and quickly became a fully realized place.

The move to digital

No longer were physical copies of One Piece available for easy access to continue my journey. I had just fallen in love with Vivi, her story, and the entire world surrounding them, and now I was left ashore with only one choice. I moved to the world of scanlations eager to consume more of this epic. I definitely have to give a shout out to the best scan team I’ve come across in my 5-6 years of reading online now, Mangastream. They are as good, if not better, than the official Viz Media copies you can purchase in the States. The following part of my journey was pretty much a steady diet of small waves in front of me. I took in about an arc or two at a time before taking small breaks to not get burnt out like I did with Bleach and Naruto for several months. I didn’t want to threepeat that fatal mistake and diminish the value of my time with this series.

Robin’s backstory, Sogeking’s emergence, Straw Hats v. CP9, and so much more was at the heart of why One Piece made me fall for it so much.

At this point I was already heavily attached to the little gang that made up the Straw Hats. It was around 2011 at the time and I was steadily making it through arcs of the manga. I started with the high world of Skypiea, and then arrived at Water 7. I didn’t think you could make an arc be broken up into two huge sections like this and still feel like one long continuous story.  The Water 7/Enies Lobby portion of the series elevated my massive adoration even further. I went from being a big fan to a life long companion of the Straw Hat crew. The slow build up of tension, mystery, and a desire to see the outcome was all matched by a resoundingly brilliant climax with full satisfaction in every single way you could imagine. And when things weren’t wrapped up, they were meant to be left open for the stories to come. The formula would become how One Piece would structure itself for the rest of it’s run for the most part. Like the great ocean they were exploring, the story would come in waves. Some larger than others, but the biggest one was always right around the corner. The constant chronicles of this small band of characters on their way to building the strongest relationships possible with each other through their struggles is what makes the series so special.

Sometimes the series isn’t afraid to tug directly at your heart strings.

As I started to get ever closer to the inevitable current arc of the manga, the series was building up not just to another ordinary climax. They actually put a character’s life at stake, separated the crew forcibly, and try to construct a frenzy leading into the halfway point of the series. There is a time skip in One Piece that I wasn’t aware of while reading it, and as I arrived to the battle of Marineford, One Piece took it up another notch again. The strongest characters from all over the huge sea were all in a free for all battle for different reasons. Luffy was desperately trying to accomplish one thing, only to have it crushed right before his eyes. It set the stage for what to expect, but even bigger, when the series finally does draw near the true conclusion. The first part of the series ended on a somber, yet hopeful note, and I, like always, was ready for more.

Same lovable cast, just a little older and stronger.

An old story, a new world

Very early on into the second part of One Piece, I caught up with the manga. It was during the Fishman Island saga. Right as it was drawing to a close, I hit the point of having to wait weekly. I couldn’t believe it, after almost two years of reading the series at a decent pace, I had nothing more to read until new stuff came out. Honestly when I first read Fishman Island I was pretty unimpressed. Looking back I know it was because I had read huge build up after huge build up, and I was still on a massive kick from the Marineford and Post-War Arcs. The series was at a point where it had to take its time again to properly set up the things to come, and I wasn’t being patient with it.

Waiting for my One Piece fill has been a serious change of pace from how I began.

For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been reading One Piece as it has come out. At first during the course of the end of Fishman Island and the start of Punk Hazard, I was reading it every single week. I would binge read the latest chapters of a variety of series, and call it a day. Yet, after a while a single chapter of 20 pages or so wasn’t enough to satisfy me when One Piece was the only thing I was reading often. I created a new schedule for myself, and to this day, I still use it. I wait anywhere from 6-10 weeks to bank up enough story for about the same amount of content as a single volume of manga. While it isn’t a ton, it gives enough satisfaction for a single sitting. A typical volume would take me around 45 mins or so, and with scouring the pages fervently for every little hidden detail, nowadays it takes me about an hour to get caught back up with One Piece every 2 months or so. I read about bimonthly and it still creates the same effect as it did all those years ago when I first began, of pure fun and happiness.

How has it all changed for me?

Like the stellar villains of One Piece, I’ve faced many hardships and had to adapt and find ways to grow to best them.

You know it has been a long and wild ride for me. I started One Piece when I was just becoming an adult. I read the hard copies when I began, and wasn’t immediately hooked by the story. When I was forced to take a break because there were no more copies is when it all changed. I desired to continue, and when I did it was as satisfying as I was hoping it would be. As One Piece has grown up and changed, so have I. A bit of constant flavor is always there for both of us, but we both have expanded greatly. Since I started the series my life has changed in many ways. I’ve started working, I’ve graduated college, I’ve started my first serious relationship, and I’ve lost as many things as I’ve gained. Ever since I’ve become an adult One Piece has been a part of my life.

Where do I go from here?

As One Piece grows, so will I.

I really don’t think there is much for me to do honestly. For 20 years One Piece has been running. It has kept the same promise from day one. Luffy will find the treasure some day and become the king of the pirates. It is a true story of self-liberation, and really taking life by your own two hands. For the first 7 years of my adult life, many things have brought me up and many have brought me down. I laugh, cry, and stubbornly struggle to achieve my own desires above all else. I think part of that lesson was taught to me by this series. Everything Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, Robin, Franky, and Brook have gone through has been something I could learn from and apply to my own life. They are all part of a crew of people trying to forge a life meant for them alone. Through friendship and self-actualization it is possible. You won’t be perfect of course, god no, you won’t. But I do think that is part of the point of One Piece. The series makes you feel everything you come across on a daily basis. The great funny jokes, the hardships of your past, and the optimism of the best future possible for you. Thank you, Eiichiro Oda, for 7 years of an adventure that has now become a part of who I am. It truly has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a fictional universe. Cheers!

To many more of the best years of my life! Thank you Oda-Sensei!