If any anime series succeeds in running forever, it will
probably be One Piece. The TV series has
racked up over 650 episodes (with more reportedly in production), in addition
to 14 theatrical films, numerous specials, video games, light novels and a host
of consumer products.
Writer-artist Eiichiro Oda said he began the manga in 1999 to create the story he wanted
to read as a boy. It proved to be a story millions of other people wanted to
read–and see. One Piece offers many
of the same elements as other shonen
(boy’s) series: an ambitious (if bizarre) hero, adventures, battles, exotic
settings, strange villains and plenty of
slapstick comedy. But it presents them with rare panache.
Monkey D. Luffy is determined to become King of the Pirates
by finding One Piece, the legendary treasure that pirate Gold Roger hid in the
Grand Line. Luffy once ate the Gum-Gum “Devil Fruit,” which turned
his body into rubber. Bullets bounce off his torso, electricity can’t hurt him
and his arms and legs stretch almost infinitely to deliver staggering kicks and
punches. With his golliwog grin, trademark straw hat and outsized feet, Luffy
is hardly a prepossessing hero. But his honesty, unswerving devotion and
generous heart win him friends wherever he goes—and fans on both sides of the
One of the more recent features, One Piece Film Z (2012) suggests Japanese animators and directors
are experiencing some of the same problems adapting drawn animation to the
increasing use of CG in their films as their American counterparts did during
The plot of Z is
boilerplate One Piece: Luffy and his
ill-assorted crew encounter a seemingly insurmountable foe who’s bent on
destroying them. Maddened by grief, rage and a thirst for revenge, Admiral
Zephyr has vowed to exterminate all pirates. To simplify the task—and ensure
its thoroughness—he and his lieutenants want to destroy the three volcanic
islands known as the End Points, using explosive Power Stones. If all three
islands explode, enormous pools of magma will engulf the known world, creating a blank canvas for
Even though Zephyr has a massive artificial limb with a
hand-like appendage carved from Sea Prism Stone that negates the powers of the
Cursed Fruits, Luffy is determined to take on this mad foe. Aided by nutty crew
members Sanji, Usopp, Nami, Robin, Zorro, Chopper, Brook and Franky, Luffy
leads the way into battle and wins in the end through sheer determination.
If the story is standard-issue One Piece, the visuals often feel odd, even by this series’ liberal
standards. The designs of the characters have been cleaned up and made
prettier, to the point where Nami looks like she walked in from some fan
service series, and even badly scarred swordsman Zorro looks unusually dashing.
The ships, trains, guns and other mechanical devices have the solidly
dimensional realism of CG. But what does realism have to do with the
metamorphic, cartoon-y world of One Piece?
Luffy’s arms can stretch for dozens of yards; making them stretch over
realistic backgrounds looks incongruous. These distorted characters belong in a
drawn, 2D world.
Given the chance to do elaborate, computer-generated camera
movements, director Tatsuya Nagamine gets carried away, like the proverbial kid
in a candy store. Tracking shots follow spins, which follow trucking moves,
which follow rotations, until the viewer begins to feel seasick, even though
most of the action takes place on land. Cramming in so much movement makes the
battle scenes feel exhausting, rather than exciting.
As a result, One Piece
Film Z (recently released on DVD and blu ray via Funimation) is more interesting to watch as an example of the technological
growing pains of the Japanese animation industry than as an entertainment. It’s
a film animation historians will refer to for years to come.