The Old Man Who Made Withered Trees Blossom

In the old, old days, there lived an honest man with his wife, who had a favourite dog, which they used to feed with fish and titbits from their own kitchen. One day, as the old folks went out to work in their garden, the dog went with them, and began playing about. All of a sudden, the dog stopped short, and began to bark, “Bow, wow, wow!” wagging his tail violently. The old people thought that there must be something nice to eat under the ground, so they brought a spade and began digging, when, lo and behold! the place was full of gold pieces and silver, and all sorts of precious things, which had been buried there. So they gathered the treasure together, and, after giving alms to the poor, bought themselves rice-fields and corn-fields, and became wealthy people.

Now, in the next house there dwelt a covetous and stingy old man and woman, who, when they heard what had happened, came and borrowed the dog, and, having taken him home, prepared a great feast for him, and said—

“If you please, Mr. Dog, we should be much obliged to you if you would show us a place with plenty of money in it.”

Old Man, Withered Trees that Blossom

The dog, however, who up to that time had received nothing but cuffs and kicks from his hosts, would not eat any of the dainties which they set before him; so the old people began to get cross, and, putting a rope round the dog’s neck, led him out into the garden. But it was all in vain; let them lead him where they might, not a sound would the dog utter: he had no “bow-wow” for them. At last, however, the dog stopped at a certain spot, and began to sniff; so, thinking that this must surely be the lucky place, they dug, and found nothing but a quantity of dirt and nasty offal, over which they had to hold their noses. Furious at being disappointed, the wicked old couple seized the dog, and killed him.

When the good old man saw that the dog, whom he had lent, did not come home, he went next door to ask what had become of him; and the wicked old man answered that he had killed the dog, and buried him at the root of a pine-tree; so the good old fellow, with, a heavy heart, went to the spot, and, having set out a tray with delicate food, burnt incense, and adorned the grave with flowers, as he shed tears over his lost pet.

But there was more good luck in store yet for the old people—the reward of their honesty and virtue. How do you think that happened, my children? It is very wrong to be cruel to dogs and cats.

That night, when the good old man was fast asleep in bed, the dog appeared to him, and, after thanking him for all his kindness, said—

“Cause the pine-tree, under which, I am buried, to be cut down and made into a mortar, and use it, thinking of it as if it were myself.”

The old man did as the dog had told him to do, and made a mortar out of the wood of the pine-tree; but when he ground his rice in it, each grain of rice was turned into some rich treasure. When the wicked old couple saw this, they came to borrow the mortar; but no sooner did they try to use it, than all their rice was turned into filth; so, in a fit of rage, they broke up the mortar and burnt it. But the good old man, little suspecting that his precious mortar had been broken and burnt, wondered why his neighbours did not bring it back to him.

One night the dog appeared to him again in a dream, and told him what had happened, adding that if he would take the ashes of the burnt mortar and sprinkle them on withered trees, the  trees would revive, and suddenly put out flowers. After saying this the dream vanished, and the old man, who heard for the first time of the loss of his mortar, ran off weeping to the neighbours’ house, and begged them, at any rate, to give him back the ashes of his treasure. Having obtained these, he returned home, and made a trial of their virtues upon a withered cherry-tree, which, upon being touched by the ashes, immediately began to sprout and blossom. When he saw this wonderful effect, he put the ashes into a basket, and went about the country, announcing himself as an old man who had the power of bringing dead trees to life again.

The Blossoming Withered Trees

A certain prince, hearing of this, and thinking it a mighty strange thing, sent for the old fellow, who showed his power by causing all the withered plum and cherry-trees to shoot out and put forth flowers. So the prince gave him a rich reward of pieces of silk and cloth and other presents, and sent him home rejoicing.

So soon as the neighbours heard of this they collected all the ashes that remained, and, having put them in a basket, the wicked old man went out into the castle town, and gave out that he was the old man who had the power of reviving dead trees, and causing them to flower. He had not to wait long before he was called into the prince’s palace, and ordered to exhibit his power. But when he climbed up into a withered tree, and began to scatter the ashes, not a bud nor a flower appeared; but the ashes all flew into the prince’s eyes and mouth, blinding and choking him. When the prince’s retainers saw this, they seized the old man, and beat him almost to death, so that he crawled off home in a very sorry plight. When he and his wife found out what a trap they had fallen into, they stormed and scolded and put themselves into a passion; but that did no good at all.

The good old man and woman, so soon as they heard of their neighbours’ distress, sent for them, and, after reproving them for their greed and cruelty, gave them a share of their own riches, which, by repeated strokes of luck, had now increased to a goodly sum. So the wicked old people mended their ways, and led good and virtuous lives ever after.

This little story warns about having selfish intent. The wicked neighbors were self centered while the old man gave away a part of everything he gained without question. Even after the neighbors killed the man’s dog, he did not seek revenge. Rather, he mourned his friend and moved on. The man’s kind heart was what brought his blessings. Even after all the trouble the neighbors cause, the old man takes them in despite all the evils they caused.

This story doesn’t say that good triumphs over evil. The kind old man suffers almost as much as the wicked neighbors. Rather, the story teaches how we should always act from compassion, even to enemies. Compassion in the story generates physical riches, but the old man cared little about that. He cared more about the welfare of his lost canine friend, his community, and his wicked neighbors. Compassion has no ulterior motives. The man did not seek riches, they just happened, and he shared his good fortune. The story is a nice little moral tale about having the right mindset in life and not living selfishly.

References

Milford, A. (1871). Tales of Old Japan. http://ftp.utexas.edu/projectgutenberg/1/3/0/1/13015/13015-h/13015-h.htm

 

Japanese Kanji Made Easy

japanese-kanji-made-easyI am terrible at rote memorization. In other Japanese language books (and when I took Spanish classes for that matter), rote memorization was the key to learning. I don’t know how many times I had to copy Spanish conjugate  verb charts to remember even just a few of them.  My memory is good, but not for remembering rote information. My efforts to teach myself hiragana met with the same results as Spanish. Only a couple of phonemes stuck to the mental wall.

Obviously, I had reservations about any book that claims to make learning Japanese kanji easy.  Where I decided to “brute force” memorize hiragana, Michael Kluemper offers tools to help reduce the difficulty. I wouldn’t say he makes Japanese Kanji easy, but the tools he lays out in the book are certainly helpful.

Kluemper uses a system of drawings to help you remember both the meaning and the pronunciation of kanji phrases and kana phonemes. For example, ki (き)looks like a key turning in a lock. When I first looked into studying kana, the idea of using images to aid memory didn’t occur to me.

Kluemper's system of visual aids are useful for breaking down kanji. "To Rest" is a person next to a tree.

Kluemper uses this idea to break kanji into its components to help you tease out the phrase’s meaning. You can see examples of this in the image above.

The book organizes kanji into families based upon a common symbol used within the phrase. For example, hito (人) shows various kanji that uses the symbol as part of the phrase. 人 means person in English.  This organization is helpful for focusing on learning the phrases. It also helps you see commonalities in how each of the phrases can break down into their individual components.

There is also a thorough index to help you find specific English phrases and their kanji equivalents.

The book comes with an audio CD that features a native Japanese speaker saying each of the book’s phrases. I am unable to try the CD, unfortunately. I haven’t used a CD player or DVD drive in about two years. My computer’s drive malfunctions, and I found no need for one with software being available for download most of the time. The book would be well served by offering a digital audio download in addition to the enclosed CD.

Most of Kluemper's visual aids are useful for breaking down kanji. "To Rest" is a person next to a tree.

Most of Kluemper’s visual aids are useful for breaking down kanji. “To Rest” is a person next to a tree.

Some of Kluemper’s suggested memory aids are clunky or strained. He tried to keep the suggested aids consistent, but this consistency sometimes makes the aids confusing or unhelpful. However, he suggests making your own memory aids based upon what images you see in a kanji.

The book is also intimidating at first. There are 1,000 kanji and kana stuffed into its 216 pages. However, the book’s organization helps you set up lessons that work for you. The book starts basic in each section and builds slowly on the section’s base term, like 人. This helps you ease into the section.

The layout of the kanji can be confusing. The phrases and their associated text do not follow a set layout. Most pages have 5 kanji phrases. I prefer a more ordered layout. A layout with verbs or common words shown larger with the other words placed orderly down the right of left side of the page would work better.  The book lacks stroke order as well, but adding stroke order to the drawings would make each page too busy.

Kluemper’s book offers a different way of learning kanji and kana compared to other books. Teaching yourself a new language requires patience and persistence. I wouldn’t say Kluemper’s book makes learning Kanji easy, but it certainly eases the process if you are a vision learner.

You can find Japanese Kanji Made Easy at Tuttle Publishing and on Amazon.

Bleach–A Critique

1952586-bleach_wallpaper_04I wrote a critique of the anime One Piece a couple of weeks ago. I was pretty critical of it, and of Shonen in general, during that article. In the interest of fairness, I decided to cast the same critical eye on an anime that I actually enjoyed. After all, it is easy to take pot shots at something you don’t like, but far harder to critique something you do.

With that in mind, I decided to focus my attention on Bleach. I mentioned Bleach in the One Piece article as well, saying that it was guilty of some of the very same issues that made One Piece unwatchable, if to a lesser degree. In some ways, as you will see soon enough, Bleach actually frustrates me more than One Piece (there will be spoilers for the anime, so read at your own risk). I have a love/hate relationship with the show–I enjoy it, but overall I feel that while it has good parts, it could have been far better if Tite Kubo had made some bolder choices.

 

Bleach’s style and tone

The most glaring difference between Bleach and One Piece is in the art style. Bleach has a far cleaner look overall. The people actually look like people should, for the most part, and there aren’t’ weird jarring visuals like in One Piece. Certainly, there are some odd looking characters, but their weirdness stands out simply because not everyone is a freak.  I also liked how the characters, especially Ichigo, began to look more mature as time went on. In addition, Kubo has an interesting tendency to use his characters as something akin to fashion models, drawing them in a variety of outfits. This adds some visual interest that is fairly unique to Bleach, because most anime show characters in the same get up throughout (no doubt due to the fact that this makes animation faster and cheaper.)

In addition to the art style being far superior to that of One Piece, the overall tone is more appealing. Bleach is a far darker show, focusing on death and the afterlife. Ichigo Kurosaki becomes literally an incarnation of death–the term for “Soul Reapers” in the original Japanese version was “shinigami“, which were basically like angels of death in Japanese folklore. Children die in the show, people go to hell, and overall there is a sense of bleakness to the proceedings.

Shinigami from folklore. Obviously far different in appearance from Bleach's Soul Reapers

Shinigami from folklore. Obviously far different in appearance from Bleach’s Soul Reapers

But not too much so–Bleach strikes a pretty good balance between the dark world building and the attitude of the characters who inhabit it. The characters show an emotional range, rather than being perpetually gloomy like some anime out there. Even the characters who are more dark/serious are usually balanced by other characters.

However, the comic relief in Bleach, while normally pretty good for a Shonen, sometimes overcompensates for the shows inherent darkness to the point that it is grating. Characters such as Don Kanonji and Dondochakka are annoying and pointless (granted, Don Kanonjii was funny at first, but he need not have shown up beyond the first season.) They do nothing but drag down the already bloated plot and drain whatever tension from the scenes they inhabit.

Don Kanonji--Funny at first, but he got old fast.

Don Kanonji–Funny at first, but he got old fast.

Comic relief characters aren’t the only issue–the use of comedy overall can often steal from the tension in a scene. This, however, is a common feature of many Shonen. While Bleach is a repeat offender, probably the most irritating example of this trend is in Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, where the use of chibi art and jokes about Ed’s height are poorly placed in scenes that should be serious. I don’t mind humor in my shows, but it needs to be placed well. A humorous quip in a fight to the death is one thing–see Samurai Champloo for a few examples– but having a full on sequence with characters needlessly arguing and turning into chibis while cracking jokes is something else entirely. It is so common in Shonen that I wonder if it isn’t so much a genre trope as it is a part of Japanese culture. Whatever the case, it doesn’t translate well for American audiences.

 

Plot and pacing

Moving from the cosmetic to the meat of the show, Bleach suffers from many of the same plot and pacing issues as One Piece, although not the same degree. There is far too much padding, with one entire season of the anime at least being completely made as filler and several oddly placed standalone “comedy” episodes placed during key sequences in the Hueco Mundo arc (if memory serves.) In addition, the season immediately preceding the Hueco Mundo arc, which had Arrancar attacking Karakura Town and introduced Grimmjow Jeagerjaques, wasn’t strictly necessary or at the very least could have been cut down to make it more palatable.

Grimmjow, one of Ichigo's rivals.

Grimmjow, one of Ichigo’s rivals.

Point of fact, the entire series after the original arc where Ichigo becomes a Soul Reaper and has to save Rukia was a mess. Many sections seemed drawn out interminably for no clear purpose, such as the long journey into Hueco Mundo and the initial battles in Aizen’s citadel. Worse, I had trouble making heads or tales of why things were happening. Sure, there were plenty of exciting battles (and some not so exciting, such as any battle featuring Uryu, whose sequences as a rule stretch out interminably) but the actual reason for the fighting was muddled. Ostensibly, it was because Aizen had stolen the MacGuffin (the Hogyoku, which after a certain point could basically do whatever anyone wanted it to do) and had his servant Ulquiorra kidnap Orihime. Why she was kidnapped, I never quite understood, besides as a way to separate the Soul Reaper forces for the coming battle for Karakura town (Note: the Bleach Wiki states that this was the real reason, based off some of Aizen’s dialogue. I must not have caught this at the time) It was hinted that he wanted to use her power for something sinister, presumably to fix the Hogyoku somehow, but this seemed to be a throwaway plot point. In addition, it seems Aizen’s overall plan was to use the Hogyoku to create the Ogken, a key that would allow him access to the realm of the Soul King, who he planned to kill. Why exactly he planned to do this, and why we should care, is left out. However, in order to make the Ogken, Aizen has to kill 250,000 people, meaning the whole of Karakura Town, giving our heroes a personal reason to fight his mustache twirling villainy.

The Hogyoku, aka Bleach's MacGuffin

The Hogyoku, aka Bleach’s MacGuffin

In that lay the key to why the plot in the latter parts of the series is muddled. There isn’t a clear reason for the conflict. Aizen is simply evil because he’s evil. He wants to kill the Soul King and presumably take his place then…do what exactly? This isn’t clear. Obviously killing Karakura Town to do this is bad, but we don’t know much about Aizen’s motivations, so killing thousands to make a key sounds like a bit of a cop out by the writers to give the characters a reason to care about what Aizen is doing.

Aizen

Aizen

The argument could be made that Ichigo’s motivation for fighting Aizen is because Aizen was behind the plot to have Rukia killed to unlock the Hogyoku locked inside her human body (everybody getting all this? Might need to take notes to keep track), but that isn’t the explicit purpose of the conflict. It mostly seems that they’re fighting Aizen because he is just evil, although even that is up for debate. After all, the Soul Society seems to be at best a backward, feudalistic system that has little benefit for those outside its elite. The bulk of souls who come to it live in abject poverty in a highly stratified society mirroring feudal Japan. Given that, it doesn’t seem like the Soul King is doing very much good for his people, and perhaps replacing him would be a good idea. Certainly, Aizen’s methods leave a lot to be desired, but perhaps he saw the need to overturn the old system and replace it with something better? So he isn’t so much evil, as an idealist. But this isn’t made clear in the show, if it is in fact his motivation, and so it remains speculation.

 

A glut of characters

Another issue concerning the plot is simply the sheer number of characters involved in it, each with an extensive back story. Bleach has a bad habit of jumping into flashbacks during key moments of fights (the fight with Grimmjow comes to mind), thus robbing the battles of their tension. Characters should be fleshed out before the battles commence–this adds more impact to the fights themselves, as the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist are well fleshed out. Flashbacks should be used sparingly, and only main protagonists and antagonists need to be fully fleshed out. Their back stories need only be hinted at through dialog and actions, not extensive flashbacks. The old adage for novels is “show, don’t tell.” The same applies even in a visual medium–don’t “tell” with extensive flashbacks, rather show through how the character interacts with others.

But then the flashback issue is perhaps a symptom of an underlying issue–there is a glut of characters on Bleach. So many characters make it impossible to do anything but “tell” their back story, because to do otherwise would inflate the episode count to an absurd amount. This is an issue in many Shonen, but Bleach is definitely one of the worst offenders, mostly because of Tite Kubo’s reluctance to thin the herd. Certainly, many of the bad guys die, but the good guys always manage to survive somehow, which pretty much robs the fights of their tension. You know the character will survive–it’s only a matter of seeing how he/she kills the bad guy

There are probably more problems with Bleach and its cast of characters, but to go on and on about them would be moot at this point. I’ve made pretty clear what I think is wrong with the show. Now here is how it might be fixed.

 

Bleach Kai

Bleach needs a complete overhaul to make it the show it could have been. Basically,  it needs the Dragon Ball Z treatment. DBZ was drastically cut down from its original run and re-released as DBZ Kai. Closer to the manga, it is far leaner and a much better watch than the original anime.  Bleach needs the same treatment, and what follows will be some suggestions on how to do so in a way that will take Bleach from a show that is good to a new classic.

The Bounts. Anyone remember these guys? I actually liked this arc the first time I saw it. Second time...not so much.

The Bounts. Anyone remember these guys? I actually liked this arc the first time I saw it. Second time…not so much.

The first step will be to do exactly what was done for DBZ–remove all the filler. This includes the Bount arc, many stand alone episodes, everything with Don Kanonji outside season one (and perhaps even the sequences in season one), the entire build up to Hueco Mundo and large parts within the Hueco Mundo arc.

Step two would be to make Aizen’s motivations more clear. Figure out why he wants to kill the Soul King and what he wants to do afterward. Then make the Hogyoku’s powers more explicit, and if Orihime’s kidnapping remains in the story, give a reason why her power needs to be used on the Hogyoku.

Step three would be to kill characters. Whether killing them off in the initial arc when Aizen rebels or waiting until later when the Soul Society goes head to head with the Espada, main characters need to die.  Kill off a few captains and lieutenants, and have Aizen kill Head Captain Yamamoto in a face to face duel. This will raise the stakes, as it takes away the Soul Society’s ace in the hole while showing just how powerful Aizen is. That way, it is more of an achievement when Ichigo finally takes him down.

Finally, and this would be arguably the most bold move, end the series right after the battle with Aizen. The main bad guy is vanquished, and Ichigo loses his Soul Reaper powers. End with Rukia fading away like she did at the end of that season, then maybe fast forward ten or fifteen  years with Ichigo married to Orihime or Tatsuki. End it with his kid mysteriously staring out the window and commenting that he sees someone on the power lines, perhaps.

These changes would make Bleach far leaner, meaner and vastly improve upon the potential of the story. It would largely erase the problems that plague most Shonen and allow the potential strength of the story to shine through. Odds are good none of this will happen, but a fan can dream, right?

Maoyu

MaoyuMaoyu Mao Yusha (Demon King and Hero) can be described in a word: rushed. Enter Hero (yeah that is his name). Hero is humanity’s greatest warrior, akin to something you would find in Final Fantasy game. He is able to demolish entire cities and armies with his magic abilities. He was sent to vanquish the Demon King in order to end a long war between humans and demons. Only, it turns out the the Demon King is a queen and wants to end war itself.

maoyu-maoDemon King (Mao), as her name is, convinces Hero to join forces to end the war. Her goal is to eliminate the roots of war: scarcity and consumption. She joins Hero in the human realm to apply the knowledge she gleaned from the vast Outer Library in the demon realm. She poses as the Crimson Scholar, and freely offers her knowledge of advanced farming and economics to the village she adopts.

Of course, the events that follow are not simple. There is more to the war than simple hate between demons and humans. The human’s Church and demons have a long history. Hero’s companions, generically named Female Knight, Female Magician, and Archer, complicate and assist with the Demon King’s plans.

The sisters had the most interesting character development - and that wasn't much.

The sisters had the most interesting character development – and that wasn’t much.

Generic naming aside, this anime was rushed. There were gaps of time between episodes where events in the war are glossed over in short narration. Hero is so ridiculously powerful that he could have destroyed both the Church and the demon faction that opposes the Demon King without breaking a sweat. He is convinced by Mao that such an action would continue the war. I don’t know, if you could destroy the will of those who make war, war tends to end quickly. The Demon King, for all her knowledge, is terribly naive. Eliminating scarcity and consumption wouldn’t end war. In fact, the war was designed to reduce both through encouraging productivity in both the human and demon realms.

maoyu-boobsMaoyu fell flat on most accounts. The characters didn’t have real names. They were stereotyped from fantasy tropes. The animation was lackluster. And the Demon King had annoyingly large boobs. Seriously, why must so many female characters have breasts the size of heads?! Bigger is rarely better. Yes, her big chest showed how the Demon King acted as a mother to civilization. But seriously, anime needs to stop with bazoogas already.

Ehem. Anyway, I liked the side story of the Little Sister Maid and Big Sister Maid (ugh, the names) better than the main plot. They were far more interesting. The idea of the story could have worked if it was done better. Perhaps show how war is ultimately useless through wasted kingdoms and villages. The naïve way of ending war could have blown up and create a crisis of faith for the Demon King.

Perhaps the naming issue was a result of localization problems. In any case Maoyu was lackluster in every aspect.

Life Lessons from the Captain: White Day

Captain Tenneal explains the Japanese holiday White Day.captain-freaky

White Day, or Opposite Day, is a holiday started by bakeries in Japan to stimulate business.  It is held on March 14th. Where the ladies give giri (polite, obligation) and honmei (what we would consider true valentines) chocolates on Valentine’s Day, White Day sees the guys return the gesture. Guys are expected to give gifts around 3x the value of whatever they receive. And yes, chocolates, flowers, and even lingerie are common gifts.  Although giving lingerie in return for a giri would certainly be…awkward.

One Piece: A Critique

One_Piece_Anime_LogoI am not normally the anime guy here on JapanPowered, as long time readers know. My brother normally takes on the analysis of anime/manga. My preference leans more toward history and folklore, with a little dabbling in the social sciences. This probably is in part due to my love/hate relationship with anime. While I enjoy some anime, and I find the genre to be fascinating in how it is able to explore concepts that other genres really can’t, there are some things about it that keep me from being much more than a casual fan.

Being an overly introspective person, I couldn’t help but wonder why that is the case. After all, I’m enjoying the current Toonami line up, and I enjoyed Bleach, Cowboy Bebop, and some of the other Adult Swim staples. But unlike Chris I feel no need to explore new anime other than whatever happens to come onto Adult Swim (Attack on Titan was an exception, but its horrific content naturally falls in line with my macabre interests.) Why, then, can I not REALLY get into anime, the way that some of you here on JapanPowered do?

The answer may lay in One Piece. Or, rather, in some of the show;s bad habits that make it unwatchable. For those who don’t know, One Piece is a long running Shonen about Monkey D. Luffy and his pirate crew, who accompany Luffy on his quest to obtain the One Piece and become the Pirate King. One Piece takes place on a planet with very little land and almost endless oceans. People live mainly on small islands, although there’s a large single continent that seems to divide the planet. There are a wide variety of people and cultures, from giants to animal people to beings that are pretty hard to classify. These are ruled by a powerful World Government and its Navy, who obviously frown on Luffy’s quest.

One Piece is a beloved anime among fans, but for me it is among the very few shows I genuinely hate. It is a poster child for the flaws that keep anime–especially Shonen–from reaching a wider audience.

 

Bizarre, offputting art and an obnoxious tone

The most obvious issue with One Piece is its art style. Granted, visual style is often a matter of taste. For example, I found the art work of Soul Eater strange and off-putting, but not in a jarring way. There was an underlying quality to it, and while the backgrounds were strange the characters were well-proportioned and detailed. Even if the circumstances were incredibly weird, the characters themselves were not, at least in terms of their art work.

One Piece, on the other hand, features a gaggle of bizarre creatures that are, frankly, more than a little creepy. The average human on the show is bizarrely proportioned, with an overly lanky build and strange facial structure, not to mention that many have a long, Tengu-like nose. Character design can vary wildly from this norm, from literal giants to creatures that are harder to classify. Which is fine to some extent, but One Piece goes overboard to the point where the show feels like a bad acid trip.

As I said, weirdness in anime is not new. Certainly, the bizarre art style is probably a turn off to people who are unfamiliar with anime, but to those who are familiar with Shonen it is, if not par for the course, at least not completely unusual. Less forgivable is the overall obnoxiousness of the show. Frankly, One Piece is flat out annoying. The characters shout half their lines, and there are characters whose default volume is the high end of “loud.” One particular character who comes to mind is the one who repeatedly told others to live with “gusto,” who was drawn as a huge bearded guy bobbling on scrawny little legs. Another was a giant who the character Robin encountered as a child, who taught her to laugh even when she was unhappy. His laugh was not only obnoxious, but repeated over and over and over through the course of multiple episodes.

These issues are more cosmetic. Someone could easily argue that shows such as Bleach or Dragon Ball Z have the same issues, and I would probably agree, although with the caveat that these shows have them to a far lesser degree than One Piece. Less forgivable than the cosmetic issues are the storytelling issues that make One Piece basically unwatchable.

 

Terrible pacing and a plot steeped in melodrama

The pacing in One Piece is abominable. The show is weighed down by padding and filler to the point that the plot moves at a crawl.  We watched One Piece from about the first or second week it was aired on Toonami. During that time, the plot moved from the pirate games arc to the Ennis Lobby arc (which, judging by the commercial spots, is considered a high point of the series.) The pirate games  arc felt like nothing more than filler, although I don’t know enough about the show to really say. But the Ennis Lobby arc seemed to drag on, and on, and ON.

Loaded with backstory, side plots, and “comedy,” it moved at a snail’s pace that made the original cut of Dragon Ball Z look lean and mean by comparison. There were whole episodes where nothing of any consequence happened. Fights dragged on interminably (again, a criticism that can be leveled at most Shonen,) and sequences were padded with copious backstory. The worst offender was the outset of the final battle sequence with CP9, the World Government’s super powered espionage service. The outset of the scene had a sequence where Luffy and his crew gather at the gates to the last bastion of Ennis Lobby and face Robin (who they are rescuing despite her reluctance) and CP9. Luffy and his friends jump down to a passing sea train. They did this for six weeks or more, as for some inexplicable reason the author decided this was a good time to cram in back story for each and every member of the crew. If this was intended to build tension, it did nothing of the sort. In fact, it did the opposite, as that was the point I gave up watching the show out of sheer frustration.

Aside from the padding, the plot is mired in melodrama. Everything about One Piece, from the characters to the action to the plot itself, is overblown to the point of ridiculousness. For example, during the Ennis Lobby arc, there was an entire sub story where the crew argued over the fate of its ship, which was irreparably damaged. The conflict climaxed with Luffy and another crew member fighting over the ownership. The conflict was apparently because the ship had a soul that the crew member had seen and felt attached to. By that point, I was too sick of hearing about it to care. The whole sequence seemed not like a genuine conflict, where characters are at odds over a genuine disagreement based on differing objectives, but mere melodrama, which is conflict simply for the sake of it.

To put in perspective how stupid the ship melodrama was, let’s use an example. Lets say Chris and I bought an RV and drove it everywhere, having tons of adventures along the way. Lets say after 20 years the engine falls out and it would cost more to repair it than to simply buy a new RV. Then Chris claims that he saw the soul of the RV and that it was our home. He doesn’t want me to scrap it. We wind up in a fist fight, after which I trounce him and he slinks off to stubbornly try to fix the broken RV rather than do the practical thing. If that happened in real life, any rational observer would think the whole thing was stupid. It’s exactly the same with the ship side story in One Piece.  It would have been different had there been a long simmering conflict among the group about Luffy’s leadership, and the ship issue was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, but so far as I could see, that wasn’t the case.

This isn’t to say that the ship story couldn’t have been done well. Let’s look at Star Trek for an example. There was more than one occasion in the various series where the crew was forced to sacrifice The Enterprise. The ship’s doom was poignant in these cases because the captain made the decision that, as much as he loved his ship, he would give it up for the greater good. In other words, there was a genuine sacrifice involved. There was actual conflict, between what the enemy was attempting to do and what the hero was trying to do, and the hero had to make a great sacrifice in order to reach his goal. The poignancy would have been pretty well undermined had Worf and Picard gotten in a fist fight on the bridge because Worf saw the soul of the ship and didn’t want it to blow up.

Granted, the two scenarios aren’t exactly comparable. In One Piece, the ship had simply become worn down and couldn’t be repaired. It didn’t go out in a blaze of glory, but it also didn’t have to be used as fodder for melodrama. The ship could have been sacrificed in an earlier battle, perhaps, or the characters could have simply acted like adults and bore it a tearful farewell with a little dignity rather than squabbling like children throwing a tantrum.

 

Overall, One Piece was a disappointment

If I seem like I’m being hard on One Piece, I am. That is because I find the show extremely frustrating, a frustration that extends to anime–especially Shonen–in general. I WANTED to like One Piece. I TRIED to like One Piece. I wouldn’t have watched it for months on end otherwise. But, in the end, the numerous flaws in the show were too much and I began to genuinely despise it.

What is so frustrating about One Piece is that it really could have been a great show with a good story. The world is really fascinating–in fact, I enjoyed reading the Wikipedia article about the show far more than actually watching it–but the presentation ultimately flops. The diverse and bizarre world could have been represented in an art style that was not so jarring, and the characters could have been made less obnoxious. More importantly, the story could have had some genuine focus, with an actual conflict as opposed to melodrama and a fluid plot rather than one weighed down with padding.

However, the many flaws of One Piece ultimately outweighed its potential. It isn’t alone, though. These flaws are a huge problem with many anime, Shonen being the worst offenders. Which is a shame, because when anime is done well it is spectacular and on par with the best that Hollywood can produce.  However, most anime is at best mediocre, and at worst grating to the point it makes you question why you like the genre in the first place.

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