In November 2022 I made the bold decision to bite the bullet and start One Piece. It’s known for being one of the longest running anime, and it’s as popular across the world as other big names like Dragon Ball or Sailor Moon. At the time and for over a decade prior I had several “rules” that I enforced on anime I felt worth dedicating time to:
- If a show aired or started before 2003, don’t start it.
- If a show is longer than 100 episodes, don’t watch it.
- If a show is mainstream (super popular), ignore it and focus on the smaller gems.
Over the years this all slowly broke down as the hard rules gave way to exemptions. The first to break was the 100 episode cap, because I got super into Shugo Chara and Hayate no Gotoku and those shows had so many episodes. Shugo Chara for sure was 100+, but it was still an amazing watch.
The second to go was the “super popular” rule, on a technicality. I started Sword Art Online and Attack on Titan before they blew up to their mainstream status. If I watched the first season of a show and then it exploded, that was out of my control. Related and also tying into the 2003 rule, I decided to watch Cowboy Bebop. It wasn’t too long, it lived up to the praise, and it was a great experience.
So the rules I had setup back around high school and college were pointless. So I decided to review what of the most popular shows I had any interest in. I tried to watch Fairy Tail, that hits all my interests and it was a fun time up until the tournament arc. I think the animation studio changed, and as soon as that happened I fell off the train. Maybe I’ll go back one day, but it felt like the anime fought up to the anime and then the anime had to do some retcon and every show that does that puts me off watching more. Related to retcon’s, another was Blue Exorcist where the second half of the anime was an original story and every movie and season after follows a different continuity. I just have no interest in a show once the continuity is thrown off balance.
I knew from the Toonami days that I was never going to enjoy Dragon Ball or Naruto. My fondest memories of those shows are seeing the same scene over and over because characters are building up power or doing monologues and that’s not enjoyable at all.
One show out of every other mainstream show stood out though. One show that had almost not complaints, had somehow managed to contain minimal filler, and was beloved by all even still. One Piece. I like some pirates, so sure. I gave it a go after having seen Film Red since that was a fun time. I was interested in how characters got to the point they were, how people met, why this cast of characters were “heroes” in a world where there really are none.
At this point I should mention one other rule I have with anime, or really any media for that matter. If a series can make me cry, I cannot give up on it. If a show can hook me hard enough to get me to tear up then it is deserving of my time and energy. Emotions, emotions are what drive my interest in watching media. If a show cannot tap into any of my emotions then I will not enjoy it, even if it’s a critically acclaimed masterpiece. Not every show or movie is intended to do that, it doesn’t mean it’s bad either, that’s just the one point that drives my engagement.
Boy oh boy though, did One Piece deliver. The major negative of One Piece is that the “current times” of the show do not allow any characters to die, but when they do it has meaning. That’s not true for the “past times”. Every single character in the show ends up having some sort of realistic backstory that often involves death or extremely brutal scenarios, near death experiences. The first 100 episodes, maybe even first 50, hit these emotional beats often as the crew slowly assembles and we learn about the world and people. One fun note, the live action show may not plan on following the source material (good if done right!) but my favourite bit has to be that characters show up that die. Straight up, and it is really interesting to see how that affects a show where 99% of people just…don’t die.
I wasn’t thinking I’d stick to One Piece when I started, especially during the arc where Usopp’s hometown takes center stage. Through each backstory though, and especially by the time Chopper’s came around, I realised I had to commit. I also enjoyed a lot of the messages the show was trying to convey, because so many of them have been relevant to our lives for a long time now.
If I were to recommend One Piece to anyone I’d recommend they read the manga (I refuse, I still watch the anime, even if I should read Dressrosa instead). You’ll enjoy it just as much, get more context via cover stories, and avoid any filler. All in the span of a week or month, rather than months/years. One Piece as an anime doesn’t have that many chunks of filler (mainly just mini-arcs between the major ones) but some arcs just have too much padding in the individual episodes. You could watch an episode and not think much of it, but then see the entire episode was just 2 pages of the manga conveying the same information. Luckily the show doesn’t do what annoyed me most about shows I saw on Toonami, where a fight takes 10 episodes because people are staring each other down. It’s just that the lead up to the fights that happen at the end of the arcs (it’s a shonen, after all) can have some gruelling lows where you wonder what’s taking so long. Even though that feeling hits sometimes, sometimes the pay off hits that much harder.
I’ve skipped all the filler content (and one mini-arc per recommendation) but when it comes to the padding that comes into the non-filler episodes it has never felt _too_ bad. To a degree it always feels like something is moving forward, like looking at a larger gear in a series of gears. The smaller bits may spin fast but the bigger ones, showing you the bigger picture, can feel slow even though it’s world building information. Maybe what I’m trying to say is it never feels like an episode is a complete waste, it just slows down sometimes while exposition is trying to take place. I’m in this for the characters and the world, so it’s a necessary evil even though the solutions appear so obvious.
I’m over 560 episodes in at this point in time, which at this point is over halfway through the available episodes. I don’t know when One Piece will end, but the show really is as good as people say. Moistcr1ikal/Charlie actually has a wonderful video that fully encapsulates the start of the show (without spoilers). I’ll let him speak for how it feels to get into the show…but man, once you get past the point he mentions…once you get the hook in you the show really feels alive.