An economy pack of the shonen epic. Does the series deserve to have sold 176 million copies in Japan alone?
Writer/Artist: Eiichiro Oda
Translation: Andy Nakatani
Adaptation: Lance Caselman
What They Say
This series features Monkey D. Luffy, whose main ambition is to become a pirate. Eating the Gum-Gum Fruit gives him strange powers but also invokes the fruit's curse: anybody who consumes it can never learn to swim. Nevertheless, Monkey and his crewmate Roronoa Zoro, master of the three-sword fighting style, sail the Seven Seas of swashbuckling adventure in search of the elusive treasure "One Piece."
No skull and bones about it, the East Blue 1-2-3 collection is aimed at those who have not been reading One Piece and want to catch up. This is no deluxe Viz Big edition: It's the first three volumes and half the cost and three-fourths the paper quality. It's also an exact reproduction of the first three Viz volumes, so Zoro is still called Zolo, and the Going Merry is still the Merry Go. If you already own the first three volumes, don't give thee East Blue collection a second glance.
The cover is a composite of the artwork from the first three volumes. Much like the new "catch up" volumes, Viz has inserted the name of the story arc above the One Piece logo and removed the shiny metal foil. The spine and back cover feature a picture of a smiling Monkey D. Luffy, with a short synopsis introducing the premise on the back. The cover is not as thick or as attractive as the single volumes, but you're getting what you pay for.
Fortunately, the printing quality is good. The detailed line work can be easily seen, and blacks are nice and dark. I compared the volume with an issue of Shonen Jump, and the printing and paper quality was almost identical. However, I will note that my copy did have a single error on one of the later pages, where a character was obscured by an area where ink did not print. Aside from the names and a few Japanese puns that don't work in English, the translation is fun and easy to read. All title pages, tables of contents, authors' notes, and activity pages are included.
Although One Piece is a popular series, Eiichiro Oda's artwork is considered to be ugly by many. Before I started reading the manga and watching the anime, I held that opinion as well. I believe this is because Oda's art flies against many of the conventions of standard anime art. The typical character design is "Big Eyes, Small Mouth" as the anime RPG system notes. Oda's characters have huge mouths, and his eyes are just simple dots, compared to the large, expressive eyes of most manga characters. A casual glance gives the impression that Oda doesn't draw very well, but a longer look shows this isn't the case. Oda mentions he hates using screentone, so almost all shading is done with line work and crosshatching. Backgrounds and wardrobes are incredibly detailed. Now that I "get it", I'm a huge fan of his art and have started to collect the Color Walk artbooks.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The 56th volume of One Piece has an unprecedented print run of 2.85 million copies. Does One Piece deserve this popularity? My answer is yes, most of the time it does. During these first three volumes, however, Oda is still introducing his world and his characters. In my opinion, the series really takes off at volume 9, which is a horrible thing to say, considering it took a year of work for Oda to reach that point. To get there, though, you need to start here, which is somewhat of a mixed bag.
The first chapter introduces a young Monkey D. Luffy, an eager young boy who wants to become a pirate because he looks up to a local rogue by the name of Red-Headed Shanks. One of the interesting jokes of the series is that Luffy never seems to actually understand what being a "pirate" means, but Luffy looks up to his idol and wants to join him on the high seas. His dream is complicated when he eats a mysterious "Devil Fruit" known as a Gum-Gum Fruit. The fruit gives him the power to stretch and bend like rubber, at the cost of never being able to swim again. When local bandits harass and humiliate Shanks, Luffy is enraged and confronts them alone. When Shanks and his crew come to the rescue, the bandit leader absconds with Luffy. The bandit flees the town in a small boat, and dumps Luffy in the ocean, where he sinks like a stone. Shanks comes to Luffy's rescue, but in the process, Shanks loses an arm. Luffy becomes further indebted to his hero, and swears he will become a pirate Shanks can be proud of. The opening chapter is a good introduction to One Piece, with goofy fun, yet a somewhat dark undertone.
Unfortunately, from here, One Piece falls into standard shonen form. Luffy travels to a new island, where he meets a powerful foe, and a new ally. The ally teams up with Luffy to defeat the foe, and together they move on to the next island, where they meet an even more powerful foe and yet another ally. Repeat four times. The volume is rewarding to read, however, because with each new island and foe, the world becomes a little more fleshed out, the chemistry between the characters develops, and the foes become more impressive and more menacing. Each of the arcs in this volume are short, and don't overstay their welcome.
For those who have been missing One Piece and want to catch up in a hurry, this collection is a good start. The promise of the first chapter drops off after Luffy leaves his home island, but it's soon apparent that Oda is playing the long game. Many one-note characters in this volume, such as the whining Coby and ridiculous Captain Morgan, each have their place in Oda's larger vision. It's not unreasonable to assume Viz's next two compilations will be 4-5-6, and 7-8-9. To use a fishing metaphor, this first volume is the bait, the second will be the hook, and the last will reel you in. You just need some patience to wait for the catch.