animefringe august 2003 / reviews

One Piece Vol.1: Romance Dawn
Format: right-left manga
Production: Viz, LLC / Eiichiro Oda
Comments: Quirky character designs but a whole lot of fun, One Piece is a blast to read.
Animefringe Reviews:
One Piece Vol.1: Romance Dawn

When One Piece arrived at my bookstore, I didn't really have any desire whatsoever to get it. I avoided it in Shonen Jump, and even though many others seemed to be eagerly anticipating its publication in graphic novel format, I didn't see what the big deal was.

I flipped through it when it first came in, and I couldn't help but be put off by the intense character designs. It seemed to me as if the main character was constantly excited, as if he had coffee for blood.

And then I read it, and found it to be quite a trip.

The story's title is a reference to the legendary pirate treasure left behind by Gold Roger, the "King of Pirates" after he was executed. Its worth is so immense; it inspired a golden age of piracy (kind of like Napster), filling the seas to the brim with adventurous folks with a compass in their hand and "One Piece" in their hearts. While some of these pirates were mean, nasty buggers, there were also a good number of treasure hunters that sought the treasure without the added benefit of terrorizing others. No matter the intention, however, the fact remained that there were more pirates than even the Navy could handle, and it was a good thing.

One young boy was inspired by "Red Haired" Shanks, a kind pirate that stayed in his town, to seek his dream of becoming the next great pirate king. When Monkey D. Luffy, the intrepid lad with such a lofty dream, accidentally ingests the fruit of the cursed Gum-Gum Tree, his entire body takes on a rubber-like nature, and he is suddenly able to stretch his limbs and withstand incredible physical attacks. Unfortunately, in exchange for his newfound elasticity, he is no longer able to swim. Not one to be daunted by such a trivial obstacle, Luffy still aims to be the greatest pirate in history. He just has to make sure that he never falls in the water.

It is an odd setup, but if you're willing to suspend your disbelief for such a tale, then One Piece can be very entertaining. While Luffy is impossibly optimistic, his refusal to accept any event that doesn't go according to his wishes is charming. Now that I'm reading this series, I am truly curious to find out where else Luffy's bright outlook on life might take him and his crew of one, thus far.

As I said above, the character designs are rather unique. Most often, the characters in the manga seem like they'd be more at home advertising extreme soft drinks rather than sailing the seven seas. Yet, the intensity that Oda is able to convey with his artwork comes across loud and clear, and I found myself falling deeper under his spell of excitement the more I read. Thanks to the cartoonish nature of the designs, every character is distinct, and his bad guys especially will leave a lasting impression on his readers due to their outlandish appearances.

The book reads from right to left and only costs $7.95 a volume. I might have never purchased the book (knowing nothing about it) if it was more than $15, but at under $8, I'm completely willing to take the risk. I'm glad I did. There are a few spelling mistakes scattered throughout the book, which strikes me as odd considering the stories have already been printed once in Shonen Jump. You'd think that errors like that would've been fixed by now. There are a few supplemental pieces at the end of the book, but the one I appreciate the most is the extensive biography of author Eiichiro Oda. I figure the more I know about a manga-ka, the more personal the work becomes to me, and thus the more likely it is I'll buy other works by the same artist. I wish other publishers would start giving deeper background information concerned about each individual release. Hopefully, Viz will continue this trend.

In the end, what I thought was a silly and childish manga at first glance turned out to be an endearing adventurous romp through uncharted waters. The pirates in One Piece may still be searching, but as far as I'm concerned, I've already found my treasure.