My One Piece Experience: Brick by Boring Brick

Feb 16 · 13 min read
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It never stops! There are always rumblings in Western culture about how “great” One Piece is as a show compared to any other anime. Actually, according to the more aggressive fans, there is no comparison at all. They say it’s the most well-written shounen ever to grace bookshelves and TV screens. The beloved show started its ascendance in 1997 thanks to Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. The manga spans over 98 volumes as of February 2021 and the anime has 960 episodes and counting.

Both the One Piece manga and anime have a huge fanbase — the anime having roughly 1.9 million views per month on streaming services like Funimation and Crunchyroll — and with the anime now streaming on popular services like Netflix and Hulu, there’s no doubt that the show’s recognition and admiration in the West will substantially increase.

I’m sure that by this point every member of the anime community has heard of the anime. It’s so well renowned that surely everyone has seen a few episodes of this show, right?

Well, not necessarily.

My boyfriend has tried to convince me to watch One Piece for over three years. From my understanding, it’s an anime about a teenage boy who wants to become “King of the Pirates” and the trials he faces in order to get to the vast ocean known as the Grand Line, which spans across the equator and separates the four seas of the world (North Blue, East Blue, South Blue, and West Blue).

It sounded interesting, but I refused to watch it because I thought it had shoddy animation.

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I mean, come on. Look at this.

As a true anime fan, I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t judge an anime by its character design.” And you’re completely correct. I’ve learned over the years that some of the best anime have visual qualities not quite up to expectations, but I’m also one of those people who needs to have something nice to look at while I’m watching the story unfold. A lot of people tell me I’m “not a real anime fan” because I have this close-minded view on animation.

I can either say that they’re right — and denounce my love of anime forever — or we can agree to disagree because I think it is completely okay to have an “anime-type.” My childhood anime-type used to look something like Naruto, Death Note, or FullMetal Alchemist. You know, the classics? These were the shows I grew up watching. This type of animation is what I was used to. So yes, I was a little stuck in my ways, but you can’t blame me, right? To each their own.

In any case, because my boyfriend knew I thought it had an interesting plot, he believed the show would grow on me if I just sat down to watch a few episodes in my leisure time. “Just give it a chance,” he would say, “Oda (the manga’s creator) is a genius, Luffy is amazing, and One Piece is the best show out right now.”

Every time we were in the same room, he would turn on the latest episode and begin annoyingly watching the anime with the volume up; it didn’t even matter the time of day. He would watch One Piece in the morning before work, in the shower with his cell phone propped up on a sturdy window sill, while we cooked and ate dinner together, and even at bedtime when all the lights were out.

He attempted to explain to me what ‘Haki’ is — but even after three years, to be honest, I still don’t understand it. It’s like observation. You see things better. It makes you have good luck. It’s a power-up quirk. You’re extremely skilled at what you do? I don’t know, I give up. Consequently, because I didn’t understand what Haki was, it became yet another reason for me not to watch One Piece.

Bad animation, confusing super-powers with terrible names, and an idiot rubber-man selfishly making poor decisions. No thanks. If this is the best argument that you can conjure up for me to watch this show, you need to do better. Try harder. And so he did.

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He began collecting wanted posters, enthused at the multi-billion-berry bounties the characters had. After the posters, he bought the straw hat, at which point my expression turned from peeved to incredulity.

“Are you kidding me? You went out and spent actual money on a farmer’s hat?”

And yes, of course, he was unhappy that I called it a farmers hat and cried out in offense to my “disrespect” of Luffy, stating, “It’s not just a hat! You don’t understand the significance of that hat and until you watch the show, I will ignore every negative comment you have!”

Fine. Great! Finally! He would leave me alone and stop asking me to watch that ridiculous show!

But I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t curious about his obsession with the anime. I looked at the wanted posters that he spent all night hammering to the bedroom walls of our small apartment and was intrigued by how handsome Zoro was and how cool God Usopp looked. I wondered what made this “Sk-Brook” skeleton guy so special that he had to have different lettering than the other crew members.

I wanted so desperately to give Oda and Luffy a chance to show me what was so good about being poorly drawn and having terrible power names; one day, when I was home alone, I curled up in bed, turned on Hulu, and began laying my One Piece foundation in secrecy. If I liked the show, I could finally tell my partner I enjoyed it and he would stop talking about it, leaving me with the peace and quiet I desperately wanted. And if I hated it, he would stop talking about it and we could move on to a new anime. It seemed like a win/win to me. So, I pressed play.

Episode one: “I’m Luffy! The Man Who’s Gonna Be King of the Pirates!” I was hoping the episode was as bold as its title; an instantly great anime that would draw me in and stake a claim on my mind. That being said, the opening theme was bizarre and I was not amused. The animation was terrible and so was the song. I hated everything about the show and it hadn’t even started yet. I desperately hoped that this series had something going for it other than its goofy looks. However, I never had high hopes to begin with, so it was hard for me to be completely disappointed.

It just wasn’t hitting me like I had imagined it would. Luffy ate a Gum-Gum Fruit? And it turned him into rubber? I wondered how this anime survived this long and contained such a large fanbase. Devil Fruit powers sound cool in theory, but after seeing Luffy turn into an elongated man, I was less enthused.

My boyfriend would rant about how much of a powerhouse Monkey D. Luffy is and how Devil Fruit powers are the most amazing thing in anime history, but all I could really do was laugh. Not because it was funny and I was enjoying myself, but because this anime was too ridiculous for me to handle. I was unsatisfied and no longer wanted anything to do with the show.

Honestly, I wanted to turn it off immediately. It was absolutely dreadful, and I’m not even talking about the animation anymore. The synopsis that I once said sounded appealing turned out to not be the least bit interesting. I actually had to end the episode early because Luffy’s (English dubbed) voice was just as obnoxious as his actions.

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I know many Western viewers love a clueless main character — Naruto and Goku are perfect examples of popular not-so-bright young talents living their best lives despite a lack of brain cells — but the things that were supposed to be comical did not tickle me in the slightest. If there were an English-Japanese dictionary with the word “baka,” there would be a picture of Luffy picking his nose, oblivious to everything going on around him.

After giving myself a two-hour break from the first episode, I also gave myself a pep-talk to get back on the boat and try again.

“Watch at least three episodes, five max. If it’s not at least decent by episode five, you can tell him you tried, but it’s a hard no,” I told myself before returning to Hulu’s home screen.

That seemed simple enough for me to do. I promised myself five episodes. And so, I settled back into bed and picked back up where I left off.

The remainder of episode one continued to annoy me, specifically because of Nami and her nefarious personality (I’ll have more to say about my dislike for her shortly), but episode two got a little better once I was introduced to Zoro. I was excited to see if the real deal would live up to my fantasies.

He didn’t.

Five episodes in and I was not entertained. Despite his good looks, Zoro had a lack of personality that left me despondent. Ten episodes in and Luffy was still an idiot, Zoro still had no personality nor a sense of direction, the supposed navigator Nami was still lacking a moral compass, and we had just encountered Usopp, the honorable liar.

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At this point, I had two thoughts: what is the actual point of this show, and why am I still watching it? I was supposed to stop five episodes ago! But something was there, whispering sweet nothings to my brain. One Piece and my neuronal synapses were sending messages to each other, but what were they saying? Obviously, the show was somehow compelling, but I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself yet.

In the midst of all the chaos and idiocracy, I slowly found myself captivated by Usopp and the ludicrous yet courageous lies he told. He seemed to be the only likable person in the show. As I continued to watch the beginning of Usopp’s story unfold, I began to rally for his growth and happiness. Yeah, sure, he was a liar, but his once childish cries for attention developed into a noble performance of friendship, such as saving the spirit of a sick girl who worried herself into a deep depression after her parents’ death years ago. It was heartening and gave me a minor boost to journey onward.

Although I continued watching the show for Usopp, I still wanted Oda to give me more. More comedy, more likable characters, and just more meaning overall. When was this show going to get serious? When would it have better action scenes and fighting sequences? Luffy wants to become King of the Pirates and find the One Piece treasure, but when will the real adventure start — and what exactly is the One Piece, anyway?

I had laughed a few times at the shenanigans of the Straw Hat Pirate Crew, but I was still waiting to be impressed. Up until then, my main criticism of the show was that it’s overly emotional when it does not need to be. There are moments that were supposed to be touching, heartfelt, and emotional, but I just found them to be unnecessary and forced.

I’m the type of person who needs to know a character properly before I form any emotional attachment. Sometimes I don’t want immediate action; I want to know who this character is, where they come from, and the reason behind their actions. Why should I cry or be angry with you if I know nothing about you? Why should I cheer for you when you fight so hard for someone you barely even know? I felt as though One Piece was thrusting these “emotional” moments at me without providing me with a deep enough connection to the characters to empathize with them. Instead of empathy and fellowship, I felt detached.

Fortunately, somewhere around episode 28, I was introduced to Sanji, the best cook in the East Blue Sea, and I was absolutely charmed.

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His cliche pick-up lines and frequent flirtations with attractive women wooed me. The way he fights with his feet so he doesn’t damage his hands (which would prevent him from cooking) is something that I would’ve never thought of for a character if I was creating one. He’s a pretty admirable guy who’s loyal to his comrades and knows his purpose in life. I started this show to get to know Zoro better because I was sure that he was going to be my husbando, but now Sanji has stolen my heart.

Thirty-eight episodes into One Piece was when I could honestly say the show is just okay, but still definitely not worthy of all the praise. However, I do appreciate the way Oda decided to explore Nami’s past when the crew followed her to her hometown after she stole their ship. This [very] brief arc where we get to properly know her was chilling.

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However, I was still not sold on the show. Nami and the Arlong Park arc were terrible. A pirate with a $20,000,000 bounty on his head was beaten so easily by Luffy, a supposed nobody. Overall, it was a pretty underwhelming boss fight. The only factors that saved this arc for me were Nami having some much-needed character development and seeing the love, respect, and trust that Luffy has for his crew.

Currently, I am watching the Alabasta arc, and even though I’m enjoying it, I wish it wasn’t dragged out across so many episodes. I took a few days’ break from binge-watching to rebuild the motivation and interest I had lost during the crew’s extensive journey through the Alabasta desert.

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During this arc, I’ve met people who I feel are crucial to the show’s future development, including Luffy’s brother, Ace, and a new favorite of mine, Smoker the marine commander. It’s hard trying to interpret his emotions toward Luffy and the crew, but I think he respects Luffy on a few different levels even though he is a servant of the law. I appreciate the fact that unlike other action anime, the main protagonists actually lose their battles sometimes. I love the reality of Luffy being Captain and but also has obvious weaknesses that require him to have his crew save him from danger more often than not.

I once questioned why the crew even chose to follow Luffy because in the beginning I couldn’t respect his idiocy, but he definitely showed me who he was in the Alabasta arc. Now, not only do I respect him as a captain, but I also respect him as a person. If I were living in the world of pirates, though I’m not very far into the series and have many more people to encounter, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would follow Luffy unquestioningly.

He and his crew are so humble and genuine. They’re always honest (especially to each other) and don’t mind sharing their fears, hopes, and dreams with others. They are each stern in their beliefs, and it’s admirable that no matter what comes their way, they all remain unmoved from their path.

I appreciate the way everyone gets a happy ending but dislike the unrealistic nature of the show regarding life and death. The characters live so freely, often without punishment, and talk about dying, but even though they have enemies and fight these drawn-out battles no one ever dies. That being said, I am extremely satisfied with the Crocodile vs. Luffy fight. It was badass and had just the right amount of emotional context I was asking for earlier in the show.

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Crocodile vs. Luffy

At this point in the anime, I know the crew. I’m familiar with every member of the Straw Hat Pirates; I know their pasts and what they want for themselves in the future. I have experienced all of the setbacks, failures, blood, sweat, and tears that were necessary to propel them forward in life. I supported them wholeheartedly — even Nami and her dream of drawing a map of the entire world. She is still an ungrateful, egocentric person with an annoyingly bad attitude, but her character development from the first few episodes to now is off the charts, and I’m confident that it only gets better from here.

It was well worth the wait to finish the Alabasta arc, so I’m happy I decided to continue after thinking it was boring in the beginning. Now, with Alabasta behind me, I want to continue watching One Piece. I actually feel as though I NEED to continue watching it. It left me feeling proud and excited for the future in ways that only My Hero Academia makes me feel.

As the crew sailed off into the sea at the end of the arc holding their fist high as a symbol of their friendship, I was left in awe, with tears slipping from my eyes. The arc as a whole has given me everything that I’ve been asking for from episode one. The things that I had previously complained about have been corrected, and the story is so compelling that I don’t even notice the animation anymore. Without even realizing it, I’ve fallen in love with these characters, brick by boring brick.

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So 132 episodes into my One Piece experience, I still think the names of characters and powers are the goofiest things I’ve ever heard, the fight sequences still need drastic improvement, and the show is still predominantly mediocre, but I’m looking forward to experiencing both the chaos and courage of Luffy and The Straw Hat Pirates. These characters and I are friends now, and I support them whole-heartedly in their adventures into the Grand Line. I don’t think I’ll ever care for Nami, but I can’t wait for her to discover more of the world; I am yearning to see Sanji’s face when he finally encounters the All Blue Sea; I am hailing Zoro on his quest to fulfill his promise of becoming the world’s greatest swordsman; I am waiting to see Usopp grow from coward to god; and lastly, I can not wait to join Luffy as he sits on his throne as the Pirate King.

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