As has been brought up on numerous occasions here… I’ve never really gotten into any of the “Big Three” franchises currently reigning over all anime and manga. Maybe it’s timing, maybe it’s context, but I haven’t felt much compulsion, nor pressure, to give BLEACH, NARUTO and, of course, ONE PIECE more than the occasional cursory sampling. Perhaps it’s just a contrarian reflex to turn away from anything that the majority’s telling me I have to watch. The lengths of these shows - - with several hundred episodes per title - - are also undeniably daunting,
(And yes, I’m aware that I’d probably level as many complaints about sophistication and filler at my fondly-remembered DBZ if I encountered it at this same age.)
I am the “shogun,” now, of course, and my new powers allow me to take one of the many ONE PIECE box sets that come to my mailbox and finally sit down with the show for a longer stretch - - specifically from Episode #204 to Episode #212. That’s half of the advertised “voyage,” basically.
Skipping ahead of, oh say… 70 hours of information, introductions and assorted set-up left me without much sense of position or context as I plopped into the start of this set. It’s not like the picaresque travails of the Straw Hat Pirates are particularly hard to get the gist of, of course; but with no recaps offered as a courtesy to the inexpert, this set is still pretty culpable for inaccessibility. I wouldn’t fault it for that, certainly - - but it’s not quite the paragon of approachability that vocal, superhero-criticizing otaku make it out to be.
This arc picks up on the tail end of a stand-off between the ever-elastic Monkey D. Luffy’s crew and some goofily-villainous marines. After a daring, and absurdist, escape wherein the good guys repurpose an octopus into a hot air balloon, the gang evades trouble only momentarily before a tide of giant Sea Monkeys throws them into the clutches of the Foxy Pirates.
Invoking the same sort of Rules of Engagement that must have led to all those bouts of “parlay” in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, the Foxy Pirates challenge the Straw Hats to some “Davy Back” games which will result in the exchange and/or acquisition of crew members. Bizarre high-speed boat races on the high seas ensue, ending with the tragic loss of the adorable furry creature, Tony Tony Chopper, to these dastardly scoundrels.
That’s my sense of what happened, anyway. Admittedly, this is probably less of a review than an account of me just trying to understand this phenomenon without sounding like a stick in the mud.
When I watched the pilot episode, however long ago, my observation was that ONE PIECE seemed like a head-bustin’ vision of PETER PAN - - a story to show what would happen if the Boy Who Never Grew Up got Mr. Fantastic’s powers and started clubbing the tar out of Captain Hook’s crew. Checking back in at this point, I’d have to append that description. As it’s gone on, the series has also shown what would happen if that brawnier, rubberier Pan’s went on to kick ass in SpongeBob SquarePants’ undersea neighborhood. Despite packaging with an veritable ocean of difference surrounding it, ONE PIECE very much has a whimsical surrealism that’s of the same sugary cereal flavor as that Nick Toon.
I mean, c’mon - - the leader of the Foxy Pirates doubles for Count Chocula!
Cereal’s actually pretty pertinent to this discussion, believe it or not. The stuff was on my mind a lot as I watched - - my body seemingly conditioned to associate this sort of programming with an idle Saturday morning. And realizing that actually unlocked the secret of the show’s appeal for me...
(HINT: It gets back to the daunting episode counts mentioned earlier.)
See, “marathoning” is a concept that gets brought up a lot more often in anime fandom. Watching this, I got a better understanding of why. What initially seemed corny and stiffly-animated grew more quaintly diverting with each successive episode. I couldn’t phrase it better than the friend who was watching it with me did (he was on hand like an AA surrogate). He said, “I don’t know if this is any good, but I kind of have to keep watching. I need to find out what the Foxy’s evil plan is!”
When evaluated by the individual episode, ONE PIECE doesn’t seem to possess much magic. But there’s some intangible X-Factor that manifests in long form - - a craft for serialized storytelling hooks or a disarming safeness in the aggregate, perhaps- - and compels you to keep watching.
Don't ask me to quantify it in more precise terms than that. I still don't fully understand it, myself. All I have, now, is a better understanding of how one could just find the hours zipping away whilst joining Monkey and his pals on their adventures.