In these trying times, it’s nice to find comfort in something, be it a movie, video game, book, comic book, or in our case, a manga, namely, Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece.
Let’s take a look at One Piece’s publication history and what makes the first Volume so amazing. Before going in, beware of spoilers!
ONE PIECE TAKES OVER
Ever since its original Japenese release (July 22, 1997) in the Weekly Shonen Jump, it was a massive hit. The same could be said for its November 2002 English release in the Monthly Shonen Jump. Since then, the franchise has grown exponentially, spinning off into countless other media. It has also gone on to be a constant top seller in the manga world with its recent tankōbon volume (96), marking 470 million in circulation worldwide. Yeah, One Piece has broken multiple records. Nonetheless, its first Volume – which consists of eight chapters – starts off quite small and focused, but promising more to come.
SIC PARVIS MAGNA
Volume 1’s scope works perfectly in One Piece’s favor, making it fantastic in so many aspects. Oda takes time by not throwing too many things into the plot while setting a few base rules for his Universe. This slow set-up is just one factor that contributed to the series becoming what may end up a masterpiece. One Piece’s first few chapters feel like another famous Shonen Jump title’s first few chapters—Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball.
Although One Piece drops the narration later, its first few chapters mirror Dragon Ball’s narration. Plus, it has the same sense of wonder, adventure, and excitement. Much like its predecessor, it eases you into a grand adventure. Plus, Luffy’s character feels very much like Goku. Nonetheless, even in the first Volume, Oda makes the tone of the series stand out.
ONE PIECE – MANY EMOTIONS
Throughout the series, Oda will keep a consistent amount of emotions ranging through the whole spectrum. On one page he can have you laughing like crazy, the next could bring you to tears. Some have for me. But, it never feels out of place, it helps his art is vast enough that the gags work, yet it isn’t only that. Oda doesn’t take cheap shots or ruin a heartfelt, emotional moment with a joke.
He lets each moment breathe.
Some of the comedy comes in the form of other character’s reactions. One factor that many fans have come to adore. When something out of the normal occurs, Oda draws the onlookers with exaggerated faces that help carry the scene. Sometimes this happens on the same panel, or in later moments he makes the face outrageously overdone in its own page/panel.
Nonetheless, Oda’s timing is perfect when it comes to a heartfelt moment, pages of drama/action, and comedy. Even in One Piece VOL. 1, he nails all of these emotions.
THE TREASURE KNOWN AS ONE PIECE
On the first page alone, Oda can capture your interest in the world you’re about to explore. During this page, Gold Roger “King of The Parents” is executed, but not before he utters his last words kicking into motion the Golden Age of Parents. This single page may very well be the most impactful in One Piece’s publication. His words set into motion the treasure hunt for the fabled “one piece.” In later issues, we learn that a vast array of pirates we meet in the future watched this world-changing moment. Plus, in recent chapters, we learn even more leading up to this moment.
To think that years later, the first page of One Piece VOL. 1 can still be impactful shows how thought out Oda is with his work, and how not to take any page for granted. It helps that this moment is ingrained in fan’s brains as it was used in the Anime opening quite often and is generally a big deal. Not only is this page a great opener that explains its general plot, but it becomes the crutch of the series. Following this milestone page Oda introduces the world to Luffy and the world he inhabits.
A SHIP FULL OF CHARACTERS
One Piece VOL.1 includes only a few characters; they are full of life and energy. Yes, later on, One Piece goes a little ham crazy with characters (something I love); Oda starts the series off with a relatively minor cast. Nonetheless, they stand out in their own ways. One of Oda’s strengths is his ability to introduce a character. Luffy’s (our main character) introduction is him showing how tough he is. How tough is he? Well, he can take a knife to his lip and slice it open, thus giving himself his famous scar.
Following this Oda using a template (most of the time) to introduce other big characters. Oda draws the character in full on the right side, showing their complete body, name, and later on a bounty. Filling the rest of the page is normally a longer top panel and smaller panels that usually portray reactions or continuing the scene. This consistent introduction method is great in execution and will stay in One Piece throughout. But, for villains, Oda changes it a little.
In the pages preceding the villain reveal, Oda builds the hype up. During these, he’ll show the soon to be revealed character in shadows, never completely revealing them. Yet, in these teases, Oda does show how they are through words. One great example is Axe-Hand Morgan. Before showing the character fully, Oda has him proclaiming how “great” he is. Later on, we learn just how Egotastic he is.
THE STRAW HAT PIRATES
One Piece’s main pirate crew are the Strawhat pirates, captained by Luffy. In its first Volume, Oda introduces second member Roronoa Zoro, or better known in English as—Roronoa Zolo. Not wanting to confuse Zoro with Zorro, the decision was made to change his name to Zolo. Most fans use Zoro, so we’ll stick with that. The final chapter brings in, Nami, yet only introduces her.
Throughout the series, Luffy isn’t just unique because of his strength, but because of how he acts towards others. In the first chapter, Oda shows Luffy spending a lot of time with Shanks, who later Luffy begins to mirror in character. Both are carefree, yet a force to be trifled with, strong, caring, humorous, charming, understanding, able to easily get along with others, and aren’t quick to pick a fight unless for good reasons. These are characteristics Luffy carries through the series, and it shows who he learned in from.
Zoro, on the other hand, is well known for being a “demon” who people fear. Oda depicts this quite well in his introduction. Even though he is tied up, you sense a terrifying side to him. Nonetheless, later he is shown with a nice side, showing how none of One Piece’s characters are one noted. And although it may not show up in its first Volume as prevalent, Oda’s series is known for one other thing—weird character designs.
IT’S A WEIRD WEIRD WORLD
The characters introduced throughout One Piece can easily be identified by how outlandish they are. Even “simple” characters have a distinctive trait. E.g., Zoro and his three swords. To hold a sword in your mouth isn’t common, but here it’s no big deal. In most other cases, this is due to the Devil Fruit, one of Oda’s plot points that grant abilities depending on which one is eaten. The first (and only one in Volume 1) is Luffy and his rubber powers via the Gum-Gum Fruit. Later on, these Devil Fruits play a more significant part.
Nonetheless, there are others who are born of a unique race, like the Longarm or Longleg tribe. But, Oda keeps the first Volume simple. Nevertheless, a few of the human characters introduced here look unique. One such person being Axe-Hand Morgan, who has a literal axe inside his arm, handle included and a metal jaw. As amazing as this design is, it makes you wonder; how the hell does he bend his arm? The thing is, that’s what makes these designs memorable and fun.
SIMPLE, YET GORGEOUS ART
Another aspect seen in One Piece VOL. 1 is how “simple” Oda’s art begins. One of the greatest things in manga is watching a Mangaka improve throughout the publication. Oda’s art is one that has improved greatly throughout the years. Granted, the beginning of One Piece had fantastic art; he would continue to add a great number of details going forward.
This can be seen in multiple facets: character designs, backgrounds, ships, action, and villages. Nevertheless, this cleaner, less detailed look works amazingly in the first Volumes favor. This art helps ease the reader in. This cleaner look gives the reader familiarity with the Universe and makes them want to return, and see Oda grow as an artist.
ACTION AND ADVENTURE ABOUND
One Piece Vol.1, includes a few fights. Not as much as future titles, or fights that go on long, but it does include a few great and memorable ones. In its first Volume, there are multiple panels that’ll stick to your brain. When I came upon these character action moments so many feelings from my childhood returned, especially an amazing Zoro moment. When Zoro is finally freed from being tied up, he proceeds to show we he is considered a “demon.”
This moment also shows how amazing Oda can portray a fight on a singular page. During the pages preceding this, he shows the same ability with a violent punch via Luffy. This method of a single panel for a fight works amazingly in One Piece Vol. 1. Plus, it shows Oda’s skills as a Mangaka.
These one-panel actions may do wonders, yet Oda implies another technique in a few cases that works just as well. In dramatic effect, Oda will show multiple actions in a fight transpire, then will switch to lettering instead of a character hitting another. This makes the actions hit much harder while providing him room to spend panels on other things. When executed, Oda does this with artistic vision while barely showing more violence.
There is an art to making covers that make you want to blind buy a piece of media. One Piece’s publication history has been full of fantastic and epic covers. Yet, its first Volume has a simplistic beauty to it. The cover elegantly shows a relaxed, fun, adventure just beginning with Luffy and his first crewmates. Simply put, it works perfectly. But, nine years later Oda made homage to his original cover while improving it.
As the time skip occurred in Volume 61, Oda brings back the original cover but adds in the new crewmates post time skip. He even calls the first time skip chapter, Romance Dawn: For the New World, in reference to the very first chapter, Romance Dawn. Below are the two covers side-to-side to show how amazing each is.
Not only is this a great way to start a time skip, it shows how Oda has improved. When the two covers a next to each other, you can see just how detailed his work has become. Even better, Luffy, Zoro, and Nami are in the exact same poses.
ONE PIECE – ONE LONG ADVENTURE/GROWING UP AS A PIRATE
Anytime I think of One Piece, I’m reminded of Marie Kondo, “Does this spark joy?” It does, and other feelings for me. Hell, I mentioned it as my Comfort Comic. I’ve reread the series at least four times. One Piece has a special place in my heart and my body – I have two tattoos from the series. Having followed the series since its original English release, it’s been a long crazy ride. Even going through just the first Volume brings back amazing memories of when I first read it. Plus, it shows seeds and themes since the beginning.
With so many staying home and needing entertainment now more than ever, why not go through One Piece? I mean, it does have 976 chapters. It’s a long ride. But, every moment is worth it. Take a chance and read the first three chapters free on Shonen Jump. It helps that a Shonen Jump monthly membership is dirt cheap with quality content.
Plus, check out Anthony Composto talking about another classic Shone Jump Title—Bleach.