Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Piece Revisited vol. 1 - Romance Dawn

Classic cover, though Nami only gets introduced in the last chapter of this volume, so she's barely involved, much less a member of the crew. Also I love it whenever Zoro's pants are drawn simply as a black shape, without any additional lines or shading.

Now, before we begin, some background - I actually didn't get into manga/anime as early as some other kids. Sure, I watched Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh and stuff, and loved Ghibli movies, but I didn't really register them any different than any other action cartoons I liked (Xiaolin Showdown, Teen Titans, Jackie Chan Adventures, etc). It's also worth noting that I didn't have cable, so I only got to watch Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network at freinds houses - meaning I never saw Toonami, and only ever saw ONE Dragonball Z episode in my entire life! So my exposure to Japanese media was limited to Kids WB and Fox Kids.

But I did like comic books, mainly older ones from the 70's (thanks, Mom!) and the Archie Sonic comics. Though now that I think about it, The Electric Tale of Pikachu, published by Viz as a series of left-to-right-reading floppies, might have been my first manga, but of course I didn't know to call it that at the time. Anyway, in the summer before 8th grade, I saw a "small, thick comic book" of Yu-gi-oh at borders. It was really weird and cool, no card games but playing gambles with death on the line. After that, I started checking out the rest of what I would come to know as the manga section. That's right, I was one of those kids who sat down in the aisle and straight-up read manga without buying them, then put them back on the shelves. I apologize for nothing. I read quite a bit of Yu-gi-oh, a little Megaman.exe, and then I found One Piece. And it wasn't totally alien to me, I had somewhat of an idea what it was about.

I really only watched Fox for Digimon, and sometimes TMNT, but I saw an ad for One Piece a few times. It looked kinda bizarre, and I thought that Sanji was a student because he wore a nice shirt and black pants, and kicking things was just his funny gimmick. I had also read an article in the old Pojo magazine about One Piece, which gave me all sorts of wrong ideas. I thought Arlong was Shanks, and Luffy's powers worked exactly like Mr. Fantastic, and I thought Luffy was the one who lost his arm. My only other exposure to the series was ads for the Grand Battle video game in Nintendo Power:

Between Zoro's santoryuu, Captain Kuro's sword-fingers, and Buggy's daggers, it just gave me the impression that everybody in the series had multiple blades.

So anyway, I open up the volume and start reading, and immediately it clears up a few things. Luffy is made of rubber, not silly-putty, Shanks is Shanks, and damn if he didn't just get his entire arm bitten off. It was significantly more violent, already, than most of the stuff I had read in comic books. But this had a totally different energy to it. I got so excited I somehow stopped reading after Luffy had just met Zoro (or Zolo, as it was localized) and skipped ahead to volume 2, which had an even stronger impact on me. So, bizarrely, I consider that 2nd volume the "most nostalgic", as it wasn't until later that I remembered to go back and read the rest of vol. 1.

So with all that said, how does it feel to read it again? Well, as I said, it doesn't hit every single nostalgia button, but it's close. Of course I'm familiar with the plot setup by now, but it feels like revisiting a classic origin story - Luffy's character is established, his powers, his goal, and we get some early worldbuilding. Shanks, Coby, Helmeppo, Alvida, Buggy, they'll all show up again. Even Mayor Woop Slapp, too (yes that is his name).

It's interesting re-reading this and seeing just how much Shanks' way of life rubbed off on Luffy: let the small things go, because your hurt pride isn't worth getting upset about. But someone else's honor - now that's worth fighting for. And when the people you care about are really in danger, stop at nothing to ensure their safety. The strength of Shanks' character justifies Luffy's attachment to that straw hat. But it's also odd to think that Luffy was palling around in the forest with Ace, Sabo and Dadan at this time, too. And the lessons he'd learn from them also ended up influencing his character. Despite this, they are absent. I don't know if Oda simply hadn't invented that part of Luffy's backstory yet, or if it was simply not the time to reveal it. With most authors I'd say the former without hesitation, but Oda has proven to be the long-term sort of planner. I guess we'll get to those guys further down the line.

I kinda love how Disney this Sea King looks.

Zoro makes his first appearance, and right away he's an obvious badass. I had a pirate toy with a dagger in his mouth, and have always associated that with pirates, so seeing somebody carry that to the obvious insane conclusion and wield a damn katana in his mouth is wonderful. And you can see the baseline for Oda's writing - the villains are either bumbling, petty weaklings, or cruel and power-hungry monsters. Few shades of grey, here. But I don't really mind, I think the heavy idealism of One Piece is a charm point. It's like a fairy tale (not to be confused with Fairy Tail, the Great Value version of One Piece) in that way - Heroes and villains, clashing over easily identifiable conflicts of interest. It's also worth noting that Alvida and Morgan aren't defeated by Luffy because they're doing evil things, he wrecks them because they're in the way of his goals.

See, Luffy isn't an Ally of Justice, nor is he one of those muscle-heads who lives to fight. He isn't motivated by a desire to help others, gain praise, overcome a rival, settle a blood feud, none of that. Nor is he a passive protagonist, only wanting to "become stronger to protect the things that are precious to me!" as he waits for the inevitable next villain to attack. Instead, he has a concrete goal in mind, a literal destination. With every island they visit, he gets one step closer.
Now, of course he runs on willpower and friendship, like most shonen protagonists. I'm not saying he's this unique, deep character. Rather, he's the crystallization of the Goku archetype (actually I would prefer to credit Kinnikuman, or older Wuxia heroes, but let's bow to public perception and use the generally understood term) - a naive, impetuous, gluttonous idiot who makes friends easily and harbors no respect for authority. And that kinda sums up the appeal of One Piece in general: it's the idealized crystallization of a battle shonen.

And with that, I'll wrap things up for today. Probably further installments won't be as long, since this had a lot of up-front baggage to unpack. Let me finish by picking a favorite page(s): In this case, I just like the over-exaggerated double reaction, the guy going sprawling at the top left panel especially. Also check out the disco dude on the bottom right. A crowd scene in One Piece is always worth spending some time checking out, as Oda has an aversion to just drawing simple generic NPCs.

larger version

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