Happy 25th Birthday, ‘One Piece,’ You Beautiful Rascal
And what timing for a birthday, too
On July 19, 1997, the first chapter of a new manga debuted in Shonen Jump. It began with a rambunctious young boy giving himself a scar under the eye to prove to a particularly cool pirate that he was tough enough to join his crew. If you had told anyone, the mangaka included, that boy would be entering the final saga of his adventure 25 years and over 1,000 chapters later, having inspired nearly 20 films, a (now closed) indoor theme park, countless video games, a gigantic international fanbase, and even a gym … I’m pretty sure they would’ve stared at you, wide-eyed, mouth agape. After all, the mangaka, Eiichiro Oda, was quite sure his tale would only last five years. How was anyone to anticipate the phenomenon—and, hell, the masterpiece—One Piece would become?
Chapter 1 of One Piece wasn’t the first time Shonen Jump readers had seen Monkey D. Luffy. Two iterations of a potential series featuring Luffy, entitled Romance Dawn (which is also the name of Chapter 1), had appeared previously in Weekly Shonen Jump. If you, like me, love a good work in progress and are curious about these iterations, you can find them online. Version 1 has its own movie (One Piece: Romance Dawn Story), and the second was adapted into episode 907 of the anime. But July 19, 1997 marked the official start of the One Piece we all know and love—the One Piece that has Nami, and where Monkey D. Garp is in the Navy, not Luffy’s pirate hero. (It’s true! It’s a wild alternate universe to behold).
For a manga to be active for 25 years straight is no small feat—it’s heading right for the top 20 longest manga series of all time. What’s more, Oda rarely takes breaks, so it’s very much 25 straight years of One Piece. To attempt to quantify the effect and inspiration of those 25 years would be a task for a scholar much more astute than I. Put it this way: In the course of the manga, one of the kids who submitted a drawing to One Piece‘s fan art corner grew up and began a little series call My Hero Academia. (There’s a SBS—One Piece’s recurring Q&A section—wherein Oda delightedly highlights this and encourages all his readers to check out Volume 1 of My Hero. It makes my heart sing.)
Why read One Piece?
Since I began writing at The Mary Sue, I have essentially made it my mission to spread the gospel of One Piece, well-endowed ladies and all. I was an incredibly late convert to the series. I began watching in 2016, because I was about to go to Japan for the first time and began hearing about this series that was absurdly popular over there that, previously, I’d never even heard of. (That’s arguably because the infamous 4Kids royally messed up the initial dub, squandering the series’ spread to the West for a good decade at least.) I made it through Arlong Park, but life occurred and I lost track. I hopped on again in fall 2019, when I was about to go to Japan again. This time, I kept on—and then the pandemic happened, and One Piece became my lifeline.
Since it’s One Piece‘s big birthday, I’m going to take this spot to shamelessly convince you to either start watching or reading it (reading it is faster). A year after I caught up, I was chatting with an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. “You made a really big impact on my life,” she said, out of nowhere. Before I would wonder what the hell she could be talking about, she followed up, “I started One Piece. I’m almost caught up.”
This is the kind of effect One Piece has on people. I’ve watched it, in myself and in friends, happen over and over these last three years. There’s a reason the fanbase is particularly passionate. One Piece strikes an almost impossible balance of emotions. Like Luffy himself, it’s joyful and funny and optimistic. But also like Luffy, it can look straight into the darkness of humanity and the power structures we create, and fully acknowledge the horror therein. It’s straight-up anti-fascist, which means it’s very cathartic in times like these.
Most of the characters—who are wonderful, lovable weirdos—have backstories involving trauma. The characters feel legitimately like your friends because you get to know them so well. It’s the kind of series that gives you vocabulary to voice and negotiate truths, even hard ones, about yourself and the world in a way that makes you feel supported. Even empowered. For instance, my best boy Tony Tony Chopper gave me the words I needed to share the lingering effects of my PTSD with my partner for the first time. I watched this spoiler-y-ish clip on loop to get through my anxiety on Election Day, 2020. That kind of series.
It’s long, I know—but start at the beginning. I promise you that it’s worth it.
One Piece’s Big Birthday Plans
One Piece has not skimped on celebrations for its 25th birthday. The series’ first-ever excursion into JRPGs is coming out later this year. (I played the demo—excitement is warranted.) A new film centering partially around Shanks, the cool pirate from Chapter 1 who we’ve barely seen since, is coming out in just a couple weeks in Japan, and in October in the USA and Canada.
The film will be premiering at the One Piece Day festival this weekend at the Budokan. Part of it (part!) will be streamed, if you can rally yourself to be awake at 4:50 AM EST. There will be other festivities in the One Piece Day stream as well, including the unveiling of a bronze Jinbe statue in Kumamoto Prefecture. (Long story short: Oda’s home prefecture had a horrible earthquake, and he donated a bunch of money to the relief fund, so Kumamoto Prefecture commissioned bronze statues of all the Straw Hats as a thank you. These ceremonies are all on YouTube and are delightful and quaint as hell.)
Mostly importantly, and with an almost eerily good timing that reflects the amount of ridiculous forethought exhibited throughout the series, the manga is coming back this Sunday after a hiatus—with the first chapter of One Piece’s final saga. Oda writes in the message above: “In my head when I was a kid, I had the fantasy of drawing a manga where the end is the most exciting part! I wonder if I can draw that to reality!… The groundwork is almost finished. It took me 25 years, lol… I will be depicting all the mysteries of this universe that I have been hiding up until now.” There are SO MANY MYSTERIES (is **** okay?!?!?!), so this will be quite the time.
So, happy 25th birthday, One Piece, you beautiful rascal, you. And congrats, Oda-sensei, on the final saga!
(featured image: ViZ / Shonen Jump)
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