Well, I’ve written a halfway negative article on an anime that people were indifferent to, so now let’s double down and write a halfway negative article on an anime a lot of people like. Out of the Big Three, One Piece is certainly the most positively received. Considering the absolutely adorable optimism of Monkey D. Luffy, the utterly original locales, and the great artwork, its hard not to like it. Putting it next its contemporaries of Naruto and Bleach, One Piece seems to have the upper hand. But people have a strange habit of considering it to be perfect on all fronts. While I like One Piece a bit more than Naruto and way more than Bleach, I don’t consider it anywhere near perfect. In fact, I wouldn’t really even be able to wholly recommend it to anyone. What will follow is a couple reasons why I don’t think it’s that good, despite still liking it in the end.
First off, let’s get the general premise out of the way for the 3 people out there reading this and never heard of One Piece. It follows the story of Monkey D. Luffy, an aspiring pirate, with the uncanny ability to stretch his entire body after he ate a Devil Fruit known as the Gum Gum Fruit. He sports his trusty straw hat given to him by pirate Red-Haired Shanks after being saved by him and an unhealthy optimism that leads him into adventure and trouble alike. Now he wants to gather up a crew and sail off for the Grand Line, a treacherous sea route that at its end holds the greatest treasure left by Gold Roger, known as the One Piece. This is the setup for all of Luffy’s great adventures meeting crewmates and sailing to exponentially crazier islands.
That is essentially the most basic of explanations you’re going to get for the plot, as this thing has been running since the 90’s and has no indication of ending any time soon. The plot (in some cases) does a good job of slowly introducing new aspects of the world structure before making it a staple. There aren’t a lot of things that fly out of left field and are a new rule that viewers have to get used to, there’s a good bit of headwind to tell you beforehand. It’s clear that the author, Eiichiro Oda, is taking as much care and attention to make the series’ meta as fleshed out as possible. However, as a result, the series takes a couple hits in other areas in the process of making epic stories out of every arc.
Firstly, the characters of One Piece have been stunted recently to mostly fodder. This was made more obvious after the tragic loss of Luffy’s brother, Portegas D. Ace. It contained one of the biggest moments of development for Luffy as a character. It was fantastic, and something unexpected following an event that was unexpected as well. What follows is the realization by all the crew that they were brutally kicked out of the New World, the second half of the Grand Line, simply because they didn’t stand a shred of a chance. It could be argued that because they separated, they suffered irreparable damage to their confidence and might’ve lost Luffy entirely to grief had he not persevered. This bleeds into when they finally meet again after two years of beefing up their strength, and them wiping the floor with enemies at Fishman Island. Hell, the villain Hody Jones has to power up on stereoid-like pills to even keep Luffy at bay. It illustrates well how much the crew have fought on their own, keeping faith with each other that they would make it back to sail once again on the Grand Line.
This unfortunately grinds to an immediate halt somewhere during Punk Hazard and through the entirety of Dressrosa. While Fishman Island still expanded on the crew’s new array of strength, Punk Hazard had the job of once again becoming an obstacle to the crew. Hilariously, Zoro during the battle notes how they’ve put their nose to the grindstone for two years and they’ve already hit a bump in the road. There is some development with Chopper, him being a doctor and the villain Caesar being a poisonous and mal-practicing scientist, but that’s about it. Even the body-swapping segment seemed wholly pointless, as it just added more time to the arc and didn’t really expand on anything. This sort of flat interaction is painfully apparent during the Dressrosa arc, what I think is one of the worst arcs in the series. The problem I have with Dressrosa is that they didn’t even go there to drop anchor and rest, they went there in collaboration with another pirate, Trafalgar D. Law, to barter with a Warlord known as Doflamingo using the captured Caesar and put an end to him trafficking man-made Devil Fruits. The whole problem with this is that Luffy and crew have almost nothing to do with the plots of Dressrosa. Minus Luffy trying to win the Devil Fruit Ace had before he died in a tournament and meeting an old friend long thought to have been dead, there’s really nothing else for the crew to be plot-related to. Hell, half of them had to bug out because they were being pursued by another crew that Luffy pissed off. While the Dressrosa Island had a couple very interesting and emotional subplots, it all gets dry and tired by the resolution because of how long it takes. And this is what leads into the secondary problem I have with One Piece.
The Pacing. It’s undeniable that the islands and concepts of One Piece are really cool. In fact, they’re some of the coolest in the business. The problem comes from the fact that these islands and concepts are dragged on far, far longer than necessary. Each island now takes literal years to cover, seeing as every morsel of life on the island has its own subplot and resolution. While I like an island being fleshed out, the perfect sort of pacing I loved in One Piece was the Alabasta arc, which was covered over multiple islands with multiple locales and interesting places. Having an epic, multi-threaded and intricate plot for each and every island is tiring. The Toy-like setting of Dressrosa and the Fire and Ice setting for Punk Hazard are really cool. However, I find myself constantly forgetting that those were even part of the structure considering how utterly long these plots take. I had to remind myself that there was a Toy problem in Dressrosa, considering 6 months of episodes were taken up by people push a deadly birdcage back. It’s fine to see these types of plots every now and again, but each island is beginning to feel more and more bloated with characters I frankly couldn’t care less about. The only real people I was interested in were Rebecca, Kyros, and Bartolomeo. Everyone else faded into the void, but there were a ton of episodes dedicated to battles circulating around these characters. I quickly get bored of new concepts and characters because it takes forever to even reach a climax, let alone a resolution. Thankfully, the recent visit to the new island Zoa was short and sweet, but spelled a different problem that I fear.
Recent One Piece has started to throw in character revelations and backstories out of the blue. While I enjoy the prospect of finally getting new character development from one of the Straw Hat crew, I can’t help but find it superfluous. Even the stragglers of Kine’mon and Momonosuke that the crew picked up at Punk Hazard have character revelations that fall flat. The Kingdom of Wano, where they come from, have a connection to the Mink tribe of Zoa, because the author felt like it. In fact, there were so many different plot re-writes and revelations that it, for the first time in decades, felt like it didn’t know what to do. Now that the crew split up again to head to a different island to get their missing crew member back, I find myself once again at the cusp of so many commanders, characters, and subplots to keep track of. The island, once again, is really cool, but I know it’s going to evolve into a cluster of battles and I’ll quickly forget about how cool it was and hope it ends sometime before I fall over dead.
While, again, One Piece has advantages that other long-running anime don’t, there are still significant problems that others ignore. I still like the wholesome attitude of Luffy and his influence on his crewmates and others, but that’s all I can really mark as a notable positive. Especially with the anime’s frequently fluctuating animation quality, and dreadful pacing, it’s getting less and less fun to watch from week to week. While it’s finally picking up pace in lieu of the new arc, I can’t see this ending in any other way than a bloated and tangled mess of a plot. I’ll still certainly watch it, since I’ve been a fan of One Piece for a very long time, and I still enjoy some of what the anime offers, but I can’t see why people consider it flawless.