The reigning king of Shonen Jump manga has continued to be one of the longest running and most consistent series ever. Over the many years it has broken several world records for volumes sold and continues to be one of the best received series out there on a week to week basis. I remember starting One Piece at a young age and collecting all of the volumes. Even now I read each new chapter every week and continue to love it as I have since first starting it. It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to reread from the beginning and now I’m going to begin my review of each major arc in this incredible story. It all starts with the East Blue arc where we first get introduced to our hero Luffy.
From the very beginning this series gives us a take on the world of piracy. A fictional world of piracy, but one that very much delves deep into the history of our own piracy. While it never tries to mix real life with fiction, it does take time to reference known pirates whether by name or by details that we can relate back to our known age of piracy. The biggest references are names like Blackbeard. He isn’t at all similar to our understanding of the real Blackbeard, but author and artist Eiichiro Oda takes time to utilize real world people to help influence some of his characters. It makes it a nice blend between real life and fiction that series like Naruto and Bleach can’t compare with. With that being said, the first volume of One Piece introduces us to our main character Monkey D. Luffy who by no means has any reference whatsoever to any known pirates in the real world.
The first volume takes a brief amount of time to set up our story and our hero, but I believe it nails everything with its first chapter better than most series have. In what is the longest chapter of the series, chapter one not only introduces us to our main character, but it also gives the driving force of our heroes expedition as a pirate. It also gives us an interesting take on powers that characters in this world can have with Devil Fruit. I think it’s a bit difficult to explain how powers work in a series that makes it unique and different from everything else. While the fruits give us a simple explanation as to how people can have powers, it’s the ramifications of having those powers that sets itself apart from others. My point being that’s lot of times, stories will introduce powers or abilities and there’s no downside really to having them, but One Piece changes that. It changes that way of thinking in an interesting and ironic way. If you choose to eat a Devil Fruit to gain powers, you are also giving up your ability to swim with water being the weakness of having Devil Fruit abilities. Water. In a world where the characters are surrounded by mostly water for the majority of the story and where our main character is a pirate is incredibly ironic but also perfectly balanced. It makes sense and works perfectly as a kryptonite to our hero. He is always at risk when traveling the world with his new found abilities gained by accident.
Ultimately it is assumed that to be truly great in this world means to have some sort of power or Devil Fruit ability, but that’s also not entirely the case. In the first chapter we see how powerful Shanks’ crew is even without the use of powers and a hint at an even stronger power that doesn’t require any sort of action whatsoever. This comes when Shanks is able to scare away the sea creature with a simple glance. Now if you’re just getting into the series then you’ll just assume that he has some kind of death stare that’ll scare any kind of beast away, but this is of course a small hint in the coming revelation of more powers or abilities at hand. It’s something that will continue to be hinted at but not fully explained until later on.
I wanted to highlight this first chapter more than the others because of how important it really is. In a short amount of time it gives us so much whether it be the introduction to Luffy and his new powers, or the introduction to his idol Shanks, or even the simple line from Roger regarding the “One Piece”. All of this sets the stage for where our story is heading by giving us a clear goal for our hero and a clear drive that he has to become the King of the Pirates.
The rest of the arc really focuses more on building Luffy’s crew before heading to the grand line and that all starts with Zolo. It’s not that Zolo is forced into teaming up with Luffy over a debt of gratitude but rather it shows more of who Luffy is as a character. This only expands as he continues to build his crew full of friends that are unlikely comrades. Zolo was only the first and joined because of Luffy’s attitude to right any wrongs regardless of who the enemy is. He’s selfless and a genuine good at heart person with a carefree attitude but also with skills to back up his big talk. It’s easy to see Zolo join him not only because of how Luffy saves him, but also because of his leadership personality. Zolo never intended on becoming a pirate, but it’s the fun and powerful leadership Luffy has that pushes Zolo to become a meme bet of the crew. I think the relationship between these two is the best of anyone of the crew. Zolo very much wants to fight alongside Luffy but also do anything to have his back. He’s truly a loyal and dependable friend and crew mate to Luffy that all stems back to who he is as a character.
It’s a testament to Oda’s incredible work at developing a hero that is so easy to like. He’s not just a hero for the sake of being a hero, but rather a hero that you emote with the same way other characters do like Zolo. If not just with Zolo, Luffy was also able to change the mindset of Coby who was nothing more than an unfortunate prisoner to Alvida. It’s Luffy’s character that pushes Coby to decide to leave Alvida despite the consequences. A very small moment but powerful moment is when Luffy allows Coby the chance to say what he wants to say to Alvida and then Luffy steps in knowing full well that Coby doesn’t have a chance to win against her. He defends Coby but also gives him the opportunity to change as a person. This also comes in play when Coby decides to leave Luffy to become a marine. Luffy pushes Coby by starting to spill the beans of how Coby used to be on a pirate ship that would have ruined him becoming a marine. He does this knowing full well that Coby has to prove that he’s not a pirate or a spy and it’s up to Coby to make that decision and so he does by punching Luffy to shut him up.
There are many more things that make Luffy such a great protagonist, but honestly it is his caring attitude and understanding of people’s situations that make him so great. He will do anything to help anyone that needs help and is a perfect punching bag of sorts to help people make life changing decisions. It’s all of this combine that drives him forward and makes him such an easy Captain to stand behind and to join.
After the Zolo introduction and leaving Coby behind, our small crew of two soon realizes that neither one of them knows how to navigate and Luffy accidentally gets taken away by a bird. This leads us to our first big villain and recurring character in Buggy the Clown. We also get introduced to Nani the thief and professional navigator. What I like about Buggy is that he has a history that dates back to a connection with Shanks who were both on a crew together. At this time we don’t know who that crew was, but it is interesting to see a connection between the two. I’m not a fan of his Devil Fruit power but it does make for an interesting fight especially since it was our first Devil Fruit villain. It was pretty cool to see how one has to adjust their gameplan when fighting someone with powers. We also learn that Luffy doesn’t care to fight dirty if he has to. He is a pirate after all.
This small arc does continue the character growth of Luffy and how he will do anything if it means helping someone else and in this case he took down Buggy not just for a map of the Grand Line but also to save the villagers of this town who were under his tyranny. At this point I’m enjoying the back and forth battle between Luffy and Buggy, but it does prove to be a little lackluster and not give us too much. It only starts to pick up some when our team of Luffy, Nami, and Zolo head to the next island where we meet the amazing Usopp.
I’m now going to go through each of the arcs briefly and then talk about them as a whole. Okay, this is easily the weakest arc of the whole East Blue saga, but it does give us a new crew member in Usopp. He’s an interesting character that shows some similarities to Luffy which makes him an easy target to join Luffy’s crew. There’s really not much that I like in this arc aside from Usopp joining and them getting their first real ship The Going Merry. The villain is weak as far as actual character goes and the action feels more like just a retread of what we saw in the Buggy arc.
The Baratie Arc is probably the second best because it’s not just another arc where we get another new member in Sanji, but we also get more introduction to the larger world plus an emotional backstory for Sanji. Don Krieg was never an interesting villain for me, but he and Gin both ended up being some great adversaries fighting wise for Luffy and Sanji. This is when the art actually starts to pick up a bit more and the fighting is a lot more engaging and fun.
The Arlong Park arc (that’s funny to say) is the best of the East Blue saga and gives us our best villain get up to this point. We also get a not so surprising betrayal when Nami reveals that she’s been working for Arlong. The story only gets more interesting as we learn more about her past and more about Fishman in general. Again it starts to build up more of the larger world and how people perceive Fishman. I’m not a big fan of the side villains that are on Arlong’s crew, but I do really like Arlong. It also has one of the most emotional moments in this saga when Luffy puts his hat on Nami before the final battle.
This brings us to the final closing arc for the East Blue Saga with the Loguetown or Roguetown arc. (Say it however you wish to). This isn’t a long or incredibly impactful arc but it is one of the most important ones. I like that Alvida and Buggy are brought back into the fold to kind of close out Luffy’s travels through the East Blue before going into the Grand Line. I love that we get introduced to Smoker, a marine that becomes a recurring enemy to Luffy and that we get a glimpse at Dragon who we later find out is Luffy’s dad.
All of these arcs in order slowly setup the bigger world at hand. As we go through each arc, more is revealed to us that hints at future things that will become important but also starts to give us more insight into what is going on or how much crazier the world outside the East Blue is. A few major points that were noted as small details but are more impactful later on are the mention of the Seven Warlords like Mihawk and the mention of Jimbei. I honestly didn’t even realize till this time around that Jimbei was mentioned this early so that was actually a pleasant surprise.
The East Blue arc for me is the weakest of all of the arcs but it’s not a knock on the series at all. It’s just that everything that happens is more for setup and getting us ready for the bigger and better stories ahead. I enjoy all of the new members of the crew that we gained through this early journey and most notably enjoyed the inclusion of Zolo and Sanji. All of the characters eventually get their moments, but I feel the best moments came from them. Luffy of course grows a lot from the beginning of his adventure up to this point as we see with his first bounty. Nami and Usopp both are good members of the crew and both have emotional moments, but they lack the real punch you in the mouth awesome moments. They need a little more development at this point before I can really say I’m on board with them.
The art style is very basic and kind of bland in the beginning, but as Oda grows into his characters and story more, the art also continues to evolve and become better. By the end of it, the art was far more appealing than where we were at the very beginning. I also love that Oda takes time to tell a story on his chapter covers too. Like how we get to see what happens with Buggy leading up to his arrival at Loguetown. Or as we get to see what happens with Coby, Helmeppo, and Morgan after Luffy leaves. As I’ve said before, everything at this point has a clear purpose with a lot of thought in mind of where certain things or characters come back into play.
I love that by the end of this East Blue Saga and as we journey into Loguetown, we get some insight into the marines and how they now notice Luffy as a potential issue going forward. We don’t see much of the marines, but we also know that after each major saga, we will likely be getting another look at the Marines and how they perceive Luffy as a threat. Again all of this is just more subtle set up of eventual important aspects of this world for the future of where our story is going. There are a lot of questions that are raised and mysteries left to unfold as we go forward with our crew.
The few downsides of the saga are that the villains for the most part aren’t that great. The only real notable ones are Buggy and Arlong and the overall saga feels a bit long. It takes 12 volumes or around 100 or so chapters before we actually get to the Grand Line. Now I know that you don’t want to rush the story either, but I feel like there were some points or chapters that could have been more brief or shortened to work better for the overall pacing. There’s also a lot of dialogue that isn’t really necessary and could be skipped over, although I will say that there’s some dialogue that doesn’t seem important now, but will play a bigger role in the future.
Overall the East Blue Saga of One Piece will go down as being my least favorite, but not in a bad way. The story is still good and introduces us to this new world. It takes its time setting up the world and the many characters and details that we will eventually come to love even more. I say that though as someone who knows where exactly the story goes in the future. I do think that because of the pacing of this saga and the overall subpar quality of some of the arcs, it does make it a difficult thing to get through for new readers if they don’t know where the story eventually leads. I think this saga really shows the younger and not as experienced storytelling and drawing of Oda which of course makes sense. With that said, this saga still proves to be an excellent way of creating a world and introducing you to it in a way that doesn’t feel like too much content all at once. I think it’s definitely worth a reread if you’re a general fan of the series anyways and I think that for new fans it’s kind of like the first season of Game of Thrones. It starts off slow but starts to pick up towards the last 3rd and really hooks you as it gets more into the bigger picture.
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