In the world of modern anime, three anime have stood above the rest; I am of course referring to One Piece, Naruto, and Dragon Ball Z. Each of these anime have been mainstays in conversation, each showcasing over two hundred episodes of content. While, One Piece is the last of the big three anime I have watched, it is by far the most entertaining and these are my reasons why.
Playing the Long Game
The greatest decision of One Piece’s creator Eiichiro Oda was establishing a power ceiling for late story villains with the creation of Hawkeye Mihawk. Mihawk shows up considerably early in the series and absolutely dominates Zoro, defeating him with just a small knife. Mihawk is already established as the greatest swordsman in the One Piece world, which means it is reasonable to say he is one of the strongest characters in the story.
The early introduction of Mihawk defined a power goal for our heroes while simultaneously giving the viewer an understanding of how powerful the big baddies of the One Piece world are (without revealing their specific abilities or powers). With this ceiling established and no sense of urgency to reach it. The writers gave themselves limitless opportunities to improve the Straw Hat Crew throughout the series. In comparison, an anime like Dragon Ball Z or Naruto establishes a new power ceiling each time a new villain appears. This exponential growth in power levels is what made the supporting casts (like Yamcha or Sakura) fall behind.
From my viewpoint as a fan, I think Blackbeard is criminally unappreciated with his impact on the story line. The greatest strength of Blackbeard is his growth as an antagonist. When introduced to Blackbeard, he is still a very small time pirate with a crew smaller than Luffy’s and like the Straw Hat Crew, each character is defined and unique.
There is no cannon fodder for Luffy to Gomu Gomu- Gatling like in every other villain’s crew. Why? Because the Blackbeard pirates is a direct parallel to the Straw Hat Crew. The crews contrast each other as yin and yang, with both rising to the top for a grand stand clash at the end of the series. Even Luffy and Teach are not that different in terms of personality, the only true difference is in their motifs, Luffy chases freedom while Teach chases power. This is what Sasuke should have been to Naruto and what Vegata should have been to Goku. Growing and relatable antagonists instead of reluctant heroes.
One Grand Story Arc
While One Piece follows the standard arc setup that most animes follow, there is one structural difference. Each story arc the Straw Hats go through are all contributing to one grand final arc. This was touched upon in Naruto Shippuden with the ninja war, but it did not quite feel like each arc contributed to the war. It was more, Naruto and crew defeats a villain and somewhere else Orochimaru or the Akatsuki are planning something bigger. While in One Piece, the Straw Hat Crew defeats a villain, and the defeat of this villain opens up new possibilities and further unwinds this larger grand story arc. It’s a crescendo that is growing and building anticipation to the final resounding bang.
One Piece is an anime about adventure, comradery, and growing. At its core, One Piece is not about flashy fights or powerful characters. It is about an entire world, a world that is living and breathing. There is even merit in the filler arcs which are interesting and feels like part of the story. I for one am excited to see where it leads and I hope you will chose to enjoy the story with me.