ONE PIECE Got Me Through This Year

One of the funnier, and more overlooked, things about art is how much timing plays a part in our enjoyment of it. Depending on where we are at the moment — from specific moods, phases of our lives, or even a time as trivial as what time in the day it is — we can walk away from something and see it in a vastly different light, for better or worse. Perhaps you saw Mamma Mia after a devastating breakup, which put you in the greatest of moods as you devoured boxes of chocolate to cope with your sadness, making it something you cherish deeply to this day. Or on the other end of the spectrum, maybe watching Fast & Furious 6 and all of its over-the-top action and explosions didn’t exactly do your hangover-stricken self any favors.

It’s somewhat sad that such extenuating factors play more of a role in our enjoyment than we may care to admit, but it’s true nonetheless. I say all this because I’ve become, thanks in large part to the great travesty of nuclear radiation that was the year 2020, obsessed with the anime One Piece. That’s right! The long-running franchise starring a pirate boy made of rubber was, in fact, the escapism that I took the deepest dive into. Even in spite of its 900-plus episode length so far (yep, and It’s not even done yet!), the series was as captivating a story as any I’ve come across. 

But general escapism is a bit of an oversimplification as to why One Piece connected with me so deeply. The series primarily focuses a heavy amount on camaraderie, which is impactful given that it’s the antithesis of what quarantine living has allotted. But also, rather surprisingly, it’s something I found to have an interesting political subtext about the government and corruption, which feels especially cathartic given the social unrest issues that 2020 did such a remarkable job at reminding us that, indeed, still exists. 

A Journey With Your Buds

The story of One Piece centers around Monkey D. Luffy, a young boy with rubber powers (think Mister Fantastic, except on steroids) that he acquired after eating a devil fruit, a portion of food in this universe that grants abilities when consumed, to which there are thousands of different variants. Luffy seeks to find the “one piece” treasure and, in effect, become the king of the pirates. It’s a simple plot on the surface, but as anyone who is even tangentially familiar with how animes can be, the story is a tetrahedron of different layers and directions. It’s best to leave the synopsis brief for everyone’s sake, including my own (I’m lazy, don’t tell anyone!). 

One thing that must be divulged upon, however, is that our rubbery boy has a pirate crew of his own, the Strawhat Pirates, named after the signature headwear Luffy always carries with him. In some ways, it’s a surprisingly diverse bunch, featuring anyone from their cat-burglar navigator Nami to a talking, transforming reindeer named Chopper. Yes, a reindeer! There’s also a skeleton among their ranks, too! The unique make-up of the Strawhats is a testament to Luffy as their captain who, in ways that are both heartfelt and hilarious, is consistently fascinated by people who are different both in terms of abilities and literal physique. This never-ending obsession with unconventional types sometimes plays to his own detriment (the dude has zero “stranger danger” awareness, like ZERO), but feels appropriate given the general zaniness and resplendent world series creator Eiichiro Oda has crafted. 

One Piece Got Me Through This Year
source: FUNimation Entertainment

One Piece is, at its heart, about going on an adventure with your friends. Sure, there’s a greater plot and mission at its center, but I found the moments in which the crew was enjoying each other’s company — simply vibing, as some may say — to resonate the most. After each arc, one thing I always looked forward to was the absolute insane celebration party the crew always throws together; it’s just an entire episode seemingly dedicated to the strawhats enjoying copious amounts of food and alcohol, having a good time, and enjoying being with each other as friends. One time — in an act we should define as auism in the truest sense of the word — the Strawhats spent the entire 300 million berries (the currency in this universe) they’d acquired in order to buy food and drinks so everyone in the entire city could enjoy one night of partying. 

Due to the COVID-raddled world we currently reside in, the aspect of camaraderie in One Piece connected more satisfyingly than a Tetris block. I, like so many others, would kill to go on an adventure with my own crew. I’d give anything for us to be able to throw a party, all with plenty of binge-drinking and pizza orders and accompanied by, per my demand, a screening of the masterpiece known as Armageddon. Seeing the Strawhats go on their own adventures, in a time when that simply isn’t possible, is therapeutic in a sense. 

Just observe the many opening intros of the series and be treated to images of the Strawhats together, almost as a family, as they continue their gargantuan adventure. As overly sentimental as it may sound, there’s a special value to simply enjoying a story that is so much predicated on friendship during a time when that’s hardly possible.

Government Instability and Corruption

Even though the heart of One Piece can be traced to its portrayal of friendship — which is perhaps the most wholesome of themes one could experience in our current landscape — the entire structure of the series attests to something nary as pleasant. Underneath its vibrant atmosphere and truly remarkable world-building, there is a layer of political drama that, because of the events of the last year, feels eerily relatable in how the government, and its “peace-keeping” subsidiary, the Marines, have been put on display. 

A lot of it boils down to how pirates in this world are treated, which is to say they are treated as the greatest of criminals — the greatest stench of a human that can possibly exist. While, yes, pirates in One Piece can certainly be dastardly criminals, as there are plenty of folks not nearly as honorable as the Strawhats, it’s a lot less simple than that. The World Government creates a fear of pirates, marketing them as practically Satan incarnate, yet in its actions aren’t so much concerned with eliminating the worst of them as they are with simply keeping the status quo.

One Piece Got Me Through This Year
source: FUNimation Entertainment

In a storyline early on in the series, Luffy defeats one of the true “bad apples”,  a fish-man named Arlong, but instead of being heralded as a savior, the government places a bounty on him. Why? Because the Marines made a deal with Arlong to allow him to continue terrorizing the innocent citizens of a small town so long as he gave them a cut of his profits in return. The goal of the Marines is said to be to protect citizens of the world, yet so early on in the series, we are given an example of just how corrupt they truly are. 

Perhaps the most sinister practice by the World Government of all is its treatment, and in effect protection, of the Celestial Dragons. These dragon folks are literal slave owners — holding full-blown auctions on kidnapped humans, fish-people, and anything in between — yet they receive protection from the government due to them being the descendants of the founders of the world order. So much as look these guys the wrong way, and the Marines will send an army after you, including an admiral, who are some of the strongest people in the entire force and, in effect, the world. 

In the last year, we’ve seen politics on the forefront perhaps more than any time in recent memory. Whether it be the George Floyd protests and social justice issues or an incredibly contentious election, there weren’t a lot of cheerful developments in the world, to say the least. I don’t mean to suggest, exactly, that the specifics of One Piece are near as complex and identical to the trials and tribulations of our world; it serves more as a catharsis, of sorts. During a time in which our government, at least in the United States, bickers over whether or not we deserve $1,400 dollar checks while folks like Tom Brady get PPP loans for a new yacht, the series serves as a vehicle where I vent my own dissatisfaction with our elected leaders and the world at large.

One Piece obviously isn’t as overtly political as some other stories, but it vacillates between the qualities of friendship and statements on the government in a way I was beyond surprised to see. I’m not saying One Piece’s transitions between goofy humor and serious political subtext are as seamless as, say, the way a series like Atlanta is, but it’s still effective. 

Conclusion: Adventure of a Lifetime 

I’ve spent a lengthy amount of time analyzing a series that, on its face value, is truly absurd. The same series that features a boy made of rubber, people who can cut through entire ships of metal with swords, and “bananagators” is one I’ve associated a tremendous amount of personal angst with due to the isolative predicament of COVID-19 and the political complexities of our world.  Maybe Eiichiro Oda himself would call me an idiot for attaching such themes to the story he created, which would be well within his right to do; in fact, I’d welcome it. But for better and probably worse, this is my over-elaborate column of words and rambling.


One Piece Got Me Through This Year
source: FUNimation Entertainment

Often times we tend to roll our eyes at the tritest of sentiments that may be echoed, especially from the ilk of animation. It’s perceived as childish — which it certainly can be — but such an aversion to an entire method of storytelling is wrong and, quite frankly, incredibly elitist.  

One Piece is hardly perfect; in fact, some would rightfully call it a problematic fave. Yet here I am, in the year 2021, being thankful for whatever circuit of nerve clusters in my brain decided it was the appropriate time to undertake this (probably overly and egregiously) long journey. 

If not for the time period we’re in, I may have never gravitated towards the journey; it would’ve been yet another giant piece of pop culture I remained blissfully unaware of. I’m privileged enough to say finding this such escapism was one of the greater subplots of my year, but that’s just how my own life story is shaking out.

In a world where I’ve not been able to be as surrounded with my closest friends, I discovered the Strawhats who perhaps mirrored my own with the sheer diversity of its cast and the matter that each of them have their own separate goals they wish to attain — just as each of my buddies does — but join together to help each other reach them. Plus, in a world fraught with inept government and corruption, it’s incredibly satisfying just to see a group of rebels stand up to just that and, sometimes quite literally, punch the people in the face that truly deserve it.  

What’s your opinion on the 900+ episodes of One Piece? What is the TV show that has gotten you through the global pandemic? Let us know in the comments below. 

Does content like this matter to you?

Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.

Join now!

Similar Posts