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.

9 COMMENTS

  • As someone who is watching through the entire series for the first time (and just reached the CP9/Water 7 Arc), your critique happens to just be on what has been the worst part so far IMO. The Davy Back Fight has been one of two actual filler arcs thus far (the other being the Navarone Compound, which was actually well paced). I could’ve done with the foxy pirates, but I have to disagree with a lot of your other criticisms. The RV comparison is weak, given the entire history of the Going Merry, and you are incredibly dismissive of Usopp’s motive for wanting to keep the ship. The pacing could absolutely be better, but the explanations and plot devices that end up extending stories in One Piece are at least well explained, where as Naruto fills 1/3 of its total episodes with flashbacks and reused footage. Your other complaints (art style, voice acting) are subjective, but the words you use to voice your displeasure give the impression that you never actually gave this show a chance at all. The most ironic thing is when you admitted reading the lore through the Wiki page, as most of the series is Oda building possibly the most expansive world in all of literature. Yet you state (without much base) that the series is mostly fluff, when filler isn’t as prevalent as you describe.

    • I share much of my brother’s criticisms of the show. It isn’t for me. But the problems extend to many long-running anime series as you point out. If it wasn’t for the art style, I would give One Piece a try–skipping all filler as I did with the Naruto series. I dislike filler.

      Some of my brother’s view on the ship comes from our study of Zen philosophy: namely to learn to let go. Usopp’s reaction in the arc damages the dignity of the Going Merry. It would’ve been better to send the ship off in a dignified funeral scene that truly honored its role.

  • I would have to agree with most statements here.

    I actually like one piece quite a bit, and have the benefit of watching it on crunchyroll ad free. I’m currently up to the cp9 arc. Towards the gate opening.

    The problems I have with the series include:

    Pacing: most of the arcs are overly long with almost no development and lots of padding. Having 15 episodes of back story on a train ride was completely skipped by me to get to a progress point, 1 episode would have been fine here and there, but to input what is essentially an entire season of multiple back stories in the middle is pretty unacceptable. The plots jump around quite a bit, where you will want to see one thing from an episode develop, only to have to wait 5 more episodes to see that part developed further.

    Character ability holes: these are normally not mentioned, but why do we get 3 episodes of luffy climbing a mountain 5 inches at a time when he can stretch his arms 100 feet. Why do characters have fighting techniques that we never see during a fight then all of a sudden at the end they just go off and use the technique to destroy their opponent after 5 episodes of fighting as if they always had it and just chose to waste time. Luffy showed the ability to move as fast as cp9 but then later doesnt use it wasting more time. They make the fights artificially hard by not letting them use the techniques they already showed they know or they randomly give them a new technique when they’ve decided the fight has gone on too long.

    Usopp: my God does he annoy me. I would love to see some actual development of this character, I would assumeit’s coming, but I would love to see him become a sniper or make himself an actual useful fighting instrument (or multiple).

    Meledroma: I have to agree here. The whole ship arguement seemed extremely ridiculous to me, for the same reasons you did. The whole nice thing was okay in the beginning, but her repeatedly going against them coming for her was pushed too far. There’s been other things as well, but with 300 episodes it starts to blur together.

    Illogical corcumstances: we’ve seen multiple times now where a character or the whole group is beaten and the enemy leaves them to be. The most egregious is when crocodile leaves them alive in a prison cell so they can die later rather than just finishing them off then? This is extremely overused in animes and just doesnt make sense.

    • To be fair to One Piece, its problems appear throughout shonen stories. When I watched Naruto, I skipped everything that was a side-story or filler. It helped the pacing, but like One Piece, when you have to skip the middle of a season, it’s just bad storytelling. Side stories are better suited for movies or parallel series.

      I share your annoyance toward inconsistent abilities and villains that never follow through. Both break your suspension of disbelief.

      Much of One Piece’s appeal comes from nostalgia, which is why the fandom is so quick to attack anyone who dissents. Those of us who come to it later can be more objective. But again, we see One Piece’s problems throughout anime, from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood to Gundam and beyond.

  • This post has many problems but let’s start with the stupidest one: the title. “One Piece: A Critique” ? Seriously, this isn’t a critique. You know what step 1 of a fiction critique is? …Actually reading or watching the work, at the very least, once. In this case watching seasons 1-8 (or wherever you stopped) and changing your title to “Critique Season 1-8” would have made sense. You don’t jump on to season 7 of a story-based show having missed 200+ episodes of the story, characterization, build-up and world-building and suddenly act like you’re able to critique it. But it doesn’t stop there, you dropped it after having watched a couple seasons from where you started and still go on to write an obnoxious post about it you seem to think qualifies as a “critique”. Sorry to be blunt but that’s straight up stupid.

    Secondly, even if you had watched the show, the things you point to don’t go past a personal opinion (“bizarre”, “creepy”, “annoying”, “obnoxious”), an oversimplification of story elements (you and your RV, seriously?), a clear unfamiliarity with the subject at hand (“one particular character”/”a giant”/”another crew member” WHO IS IN THE MAIN CAST that you can’t even name) and marks of the fact that you jumped on at a random point in the story and dropped out just as randomly since you say things that clearly go against the actual show: the conflict surrounding the ship would have been different had it been a long simmering conflict, and the ship was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back now would it? It’s interesting that you add “but so far as I could see, that wasn’t the case.” since it accurately summarizes the problem with your “critique”. You didn’t see and judging from your opinion on the art you probably still shouldn’t.

    Finally, by your own admission, you don’t have much experience in anime. After all you “feel no need to explore new anime other than whatever happens to come onto Adult Swim” (with a single exception) right? So how then would it make sense for you, of all people to be the person who can tell us what the “poster child for the flaws that keep anime–especially Shonen–from reaching a wider audience” are? SPOILER: it doesn’t make sense. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about, especially since Shonen anime is the closest anime gets to reaching a wider audience. Shows like Dragon Ball (Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan) have, by far, the widest global reach of any anime. And would you please stop adding this on: “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.” This isn’t just nonsensical at this point, but also off-topic considering this was supposed to be a One Piece critique but hey let’s pretend your narrow-minded blabbering actually has some sort of insight right ?

    All in all your “critique” is a half-assed desperate grasp at straws where there are none. Do everyone a favor and learn to stop taking your uninformed opinions as anything but.

    P.S. Anime is a medium, not a genre.

  • This is not a serious critque. A horrible laugh, and wierd looking characters? Clearly you have seen very little of the show or simply were looking for things to hate on. You basically relegate Tom the world’s greatest shipwright who built Gol Rodgers ship to “guy who yells gusto and has skinny legs” and also Jaguar D Saul as “giant with a dumb laugh”.
    Please do yourself and the world a favor and stop blogging. You clearly hated one piece before you sat down and gave it an honest chance. You don’t have to like every anime, I certainly don’t, but your critique is a shameful half assed post a 10 year old would write.

    • Andrew and I gave One Piece a full season before drawing conclusions. If we had grown up watching the show, our opinions may be different. However, the over-the-top behavior of the characters annoyed me (as such behavior does in anime and in movies), and I disliked the art style and pacing. For those who like the series, that’s great, but it certainly isn’t for me.

      Before we watched One Piece, we hadn’t heard much about it, so we went into it without any assumptions or expectations. It’s not popular in our area. Please do not resort to ad hominim attacks or making faulty assumptions.

  • I feel mad right now after 2 weeks waiting and this is what I get ? A short not worthed comic at OP cp.843

    • One Piece appears to be mostly fluff. I was unable to get into it.

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