When I first started watching One Piece it was already a behemoth of a show. I was new to anime and manga at this point, and One Piece with its flashy characters and strange powers looked very interesting to me. There was apparently a massive war going on, which I would later learn was the Marineford war, but I started at the beginning, all the way in calm old east blue.
I quickly fell in love with the characters, and by the time I reached Arlong Park, on which you can read my opinion in a post from earlier this month, I was completely sold on One Piece.
Today I want to take a moment to look at the success of One Piece, and why after more than a thousand chapters, the quality is still great. As a comparison I want to take a look at two other manga, both written by the same author: Hiro Mashima. I’m talking about Fairy Tail and Eden’s Zero. One of these failed at being big, but the other still has potential. This makes it sound like I wasn’t a fan of Fairy Tail, but hear me out.
I like Fairy Tail. I like Fairy Tail a lot. It’s another one of those shows that I find enjoyable, but I would never call good. But when I say I like Fairy Tail, there’s an asterisk. I like early Fairy Tail. Early Fairy Tail is so much fun. Natsu, Lucy, Erza, Gray, Juvia, Gajeel and the rest of the gang are all such fun characters. Hiro Mashima is very talented at creating fun characters. What Hiro Mashima is a lot less good at is long-term storytelling. He seemed to have a plan for several of the early arcs, and he set up a league of enemies, but that’s really all he had. On top of that, I think one of the selling points of a good action manga, is the power dynamic. If there is a fight going on, and I don’t find the way it’s going believable, that will take me out of it. This was very noticeable in the Grand Magic Games arc, I just wasn’t able to believe everything going on. On top of that, the time skip logic felt convoluted and uninteresting, and I quickly lost interest in Fairy Tail. If I may be so bold as to put forth a theory:
I think Mashima planned for the Barram Alliance to be the big villains, followed up by Zeref. I think everything else was filler that he added to keep the length of the manga going. I could obviously be very wrong about this, and I apologize to Mashima if I am, but I feel like those arcs felt like they had purpose, where some of the others just felt a bit pointless.
Mashima is currently working on Eden’s Zero, which I like to unfairly call “One Piece in space.” It’s its own story of course, but I think Mashima realized what his issue was. With Eden’s Zero he has created a story where the characters travel from planet to planet. This means you have the long term story covered. Just think of an interesting arc, put it on a new planet and the audience will fully be on board with it, no pun intended. It also makes it easier to introduce villain groups and move on from them. They’re on a new planet, with new bad guys every arc.
And this right here is the key to One Piece’s massive success and longevity. Of course, there are factors like Oda being a massively talented artist and storyteller, the world of One Piece being super interesting and well thought out, and the different factions being cool and fun. But you could say the same things about Bleach and Naruto, even Fairy Tail. But none of those had the setup of a long term plotline that made sense and allowed for different arcs. I think HunterXHunter has reached a similar success, although that seems to be permanently on hiatus now, so I feel hesitant to include it here.
With One Piece, Oda will always have the option to think of a new island, move the crew there and have them go on a grand adventure. That’s less likely now that the story is moving towards an ending, but early on this was a huge help to the manga’s success. And now that Oda is “done” with One Piece, it’s easy enough for him to start writing the conclusion to this story. The final spurt towards the One Piece treasure on Laugh Tale, which has always been on the horizon, but never so close that the writing had to get sloppy. And this is why I am extremely excited to read and watch the conclusion to this story. I am confident that it has been well planned, thought out and will be extremely fun and satisfying. And I will be both sad and happy when it is finally over.