Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Five Greatest Mysteries of One Piece

When was the last time I wrote a blog post about comics in general, or containing One Piece in particular?  Not sure.  At least a year.  Well, it's been about ten years since I began reading One Piece, so I'll write a quickie list commemorating it.  Why not? 

Story time!  Back when I was in my peak phase of watching anime (mid-2000s, basically end of high school through mid-college) I first encountered One Piece when it landed in Cartoon Network's afternoon block.  I remember really enjoying the core premise (a pirate crew searching for a treasure at the end of the ocean) and thought that the introduced main characters had potential.  Around the same time, to provide context, I was watching through Cowboy Bebop for the second or third time on Adult Swim and was really into Inuyasha and Yu Yu Hakusho.  I discovered Bleach and Naruto within a year after getting into One Piece and LOVED Samurai Champloo when it debuted in the United States in 2005.  So basically I wasn't a terribly serious or knowledgeable anime fan (and I'm still not), but I was getting into some mainstream shows. 

After I started watching One Piece, I began to notice a few things strange about it.  There was a lot of obviously cut content (mostly violence) and firearms were replaced by things like boxing gloves on springs.  Sometime during my freshman year of college I read on a forum that the One Piece anime had been butchered in the United States and looked deeper into it; eventually I read the first few chapters of the One Piece manga, and the very first chapter included a self-mutilation scene never shown in the anime.  A little more research later, and I was reading translated scans of several different manga series.  A new obsession was born.

The One Piece manga is so much better than its anime that it's ridiculous.  The author, Eiichiro Oda, has an incredible handle on the series lore and paces his action perfectly, with a story that's easy to enjoy on the surface, but also contains a surprising amount of metaphor.  One Piece's chapters are unusually dense; an average One Piece chapter has SO MUCH more action, detail and exposition than most shounen (thinking about Bleach in particular here...) that it's amazing.  The anime rarely removes content, but annihilates Oda's excellent pacing and detail with an excess of recaps and drawn-out scenes.  Similar concept to Dragon Ball and DBZ fights being extended several episodes too long with shouting and extraneous camera work. 

So yeah, One Piece is awesome.  I love its characters, its lore, and its execution on classic shounen concepts.  One Piece isn't very enlightened when it comes to homosexuality or feminism (for a variety of reasons that I won't get into), but it's a fantastic story that I will continue enjoying until its ending. 

...and holy hell, One Piece has some shit to get into before it ends.  Better than any serialized story I've ever read, One Piece teases and pays off on its secrets.  The ninth member of the Strawhat Pirates crew was introduced in the manga's tenth year of serialization, but his role (musician) and backstory teaser (avoiding spoilers...) are introduced during the story's first two years.  That's seven or eight years of planning before a payoff!  The enemy that Luffy (One Piece's protagonist) is currently fighting was introduced twelve years ago.  We learned about his powers earlier this year.  That's insane.

So anyway, One Piece has a lot of secrets and lore that have yet to be revealed, so of course I made a list of it.  We may not hear the answers to these questions for another decade, but goddamn it I'm certain that we'll hear it eventually.  Oda hasn't let us down yet.  So without further ado, here is my list:

The Five Greatest One Piece Mysteries

Honorable Mention - Who are all of these characters?

Admiral Ryokugyu, Dr. Vegapunk, Kaido the king of beasts, the tenth member of Blackbeard Teach's crew (we know he has ten captains, but only nine named crew members), and the seventh member of the Seven Warlords (following the changes made after the battle at Marineford).  Those are five characters with MAJOR power implications in the One Piece universe that we'll definitely see in future events, but we have no idea who they are, the extent of their abilities, or maybe even if they'll be heroes or villains (they're probably all enemies of our main characters, but it's hard to say for Vegapunk).  

Now, all five of those are going to figure into One Piece's long term plans.  Vegapunk was first mentioned in 2006 and has connections to several important characters (especially Franky).  Kaido is ostensibly the current target of Luffy's plans and might be the next major opponent after the Dressrosa arc wraps.  Blackbeard is my best guess to be the final villain of the One Piece manga, and I'd bet money that each of his 10 captains fights a member of Luffy's crew when they inevitably clash.  And of course, any member of the Seven Warlords is going to be a threat.  All of that sounds important, so it'll be big news for One Piece fans whenever one of those five characters is revealed.  And yes, it's quite possible that the new Warlord and Blackbeard's tenth captain are characters that we've already met, but any reveal would still be a huge deal.

5.  How strong are the Four Emperors? 

One Piece's big players in the second half of the story (which began three years ago) are all about the balance of power: the Navy's four admirals and the World Government-sponsored Seven Warlords fight the world's strongest pirates in the New World, the most dangerous ocean on the planet.  The "world's strongest pirates" are the Four Emperors, four super-pirates that command fleets and control large territories in the New World.  On another side we have the Revolutionary Army, which is trying to overthrow the World Government.  It's unclear exactly how the revolutionaries fit into this power balance, but their leader, Luffy's father Dragon, is considered the most dangerous man in the world. Yikes.

Now, we (readers) have known about those groups for many years, but the introduction of the Worst Generation has fucked up that balance, and created nearly every subplot currently ongoing in One Piece.  The Worst Generation is twelve rookie pirates, nine of whom we met in the Sabaody Archipelago arc three or four years ago; the other three are main characters Luffy and Zoro and major villain Blackbeard Teach. The entire second half of the manga, in my view, is about upsetting that balance of power and seeing the World Government's collapse at the hands of the Worst Generation. 

So that's all fine and dandy, but (as I alluded to in that honorable mention section) we have only seen one of the current Four Emperors in action, Blackbeard Teach (whose full power is still the subject of speculation).  Blackbeard killed Whitebeard at Marineford and soon usurped Whitebeard's position as one of the Emperors, but he's the only one of the current four that we've seen in action.  And during that Marineford battle Whitebeard was a terror!  Devil powers that shatter buildings and cause tsunamis; commander of a huge fleet of over 1600 New World pirates; huge physical strength and Haki.  Whitebeard was a monster that withstood absurd damage before falling to Blackbeard.  And there are three others comparable to Whitebeard or Blackbeard! 

Now, Red Haired Shanks, Big Mom Linlin, and Kaido have never been shown in real combat, but the three of them (and their crews) are each as strong as Whitebeard, and together with Blackbeard are equal to the might of the entire Navy plus the Seven Warlords?  That's fucking nuts!  The sooner we see them in action, the better. 

4.  What's up with Luffy's family?

Monkey D. Luffy, the main character of One Piece, is a young pirate who wants to become the Pirate King.  Luffy's father Monkey D. Dragon is the leader of the Revolutionary Army and is called the most dangerous man in the world.  Dragon's father Monkey D. Garp is a retired Navy vice-admiral that helped raise Luffy and is one of the strongest Navy fighters in history.  That is one crazy family.  

So how did it all happen?  We meet Garp and Dragon during the first two years of One Piece's serialization, but it was several more years before readers learned their full identities and how powerful and important they are.  And what were the circumstances of Luffy's childhood?  We have no idea who his mother is, why Dragon gave him to Garp to raise (if that even happened), or why Garp eventually left Luffy to live with bandits on Dawn Island.  Garp's original plan was to make Luffy (and his adopted brother Ace) into strong Navy men, but that was never going to happen; Luffy idolized Shanks and his crew and both boys were exposed to far too much social injustice growing up on Dawn Island.  Sorry, Garp.  It was never happening. 

So hopefully we see this addressed in the next few major story arcs, or at least mentioned in one of the interludes between arcs.  Luffy's mother, why Luffy was abandoned, whatever falling out happened between Dragon and Garp, and probably more details that aren't coming to mind right now.  There's a lot to unpack there, but I'm sure we'll see it eventually in the manga's pages. 

3.  What is the Will of D? 

Monkey D. Luffy, Portgas D. Ace, Marshall D. Teach, Trafalgar D. Water Law, Jaguar D. Saul, Gol D. Roger, and others.  We know that they have something in common with that D initial and that it holds some measure of importance, but it probably isn't *exactly* a family relation.  Saul was a giant (as in kyojin, a separate species from humans) but the D initial appears to be included in each character's surname. 

We first learned that the D initial is important from Dr. Kureha during the Drum Island arc around a decade ago; in the same conversation she revealed that Gold Roger's full name was Gol D. Roger.  More recently, Doflamingo's brother Corazon (nee Rocinante) asserted to a young Law that the D initial signifies a member of the "family of D," the natural enemies of the world's nobles.  We don't know a ton about that D initial except that it's important and that a ton of important characters have that initial.

My theory?  D is the descendents of some crazy group that opposed the Celestial Dragons (the highest class of nobles in the World Government) a long time ago.  For some crazy reason, only the descendants of D can upset the precarious balance of power established by the World Government, which has those Celestial Dragons *terrified*.  I mean, look at what Gold Roger did and what Luffy, Blackbeard, and Law are doing.  There has to be something to it, right?  Hopefully we get this sooner rather than later. 

2.  What happened during the Void Century? 

I think that the Void Century story was sketched out later than some of One Piece's other major storylines, as we don't hear a single thing about it until near the end of the Alabasta arc, more than four years into One Piece's run.  In quick succession, we learn that there are stone steles called Poneglyphs containing ancient writings, and that Robin is the only living person who can read them.  Furthermore, these Poneglyphs contain information about weapons capable of upsetting the world's balance of power and also about information concerning events that occurred 800 years before the start of One Piece's story. 

Let me make it clear, in case any of you didn't realize it: a whole century, roughly 900 years ago to roughly 800 years ago, is a blank space in the One Piece timeline.  It's assumed that there was a great conflict, and following the resolution of that conflict the World Government was formed and the Celestial Dragons began their rule.  If you think that sounds sketchy as hell, you're right.  Characters in the One Piece universe have been hunted down and killed just because they had theories about the Void Century.  Robin has an 80 million beli bounty just because she can read Poneglyphs.  Doflamingo's knowledge of the Void Century (coming from being a fallen Celestial Dragon, probably) gives him enormous influence and immunity from government persecution, even though he's a notorious weapons dealer and slaver. 

But that's not all!  On top of conspiracy theories that could possibly bring down the World Government and the world-ending weapons concealed by the Poneglyphs, Roger knows about the Void Century!  What the hell!?  For whatever reason, Roger could read and write in the language of the Poneglyphs (which makes me wonder if he's actually Robin's father, but that's a whole 'nother conversation), and thus is attached to the mystery.  And speaking of Roger...

1. What is One Piece? 

Gol D. Roger's treasure is called One Piece, because he allegedly left everything he owned in one piece.  However, that's not *exactly* what Roger said on the gallows before his execution.  The real words were:

"My fortune is yours for the taking.  Search for it!  I left it all at that place."

That is the key quote that we read in the first few pages of the One Piece manga.  Eventually it became common knowledge within the One Piece universe that "that place" is Raftel, the island at the end of the New World, which only Roger's crew ever reached. So what is One Piece?  Is it treasure, like most people in One Piece assume?  Is it a metaphor for something else?  The truth is unclear. 

The most directly that this idea is addressed is in the manga's Sabaody arc, six years ago.  The Straw Hat Pirates meet Silvers Rayleigh, Roger's former first mate and a legendary pirate in his own right.  Usopp asks Rayleigh what One Piece is, and Luffy FLIPS OUT.  Luffy doesn't want to know.  He wants to reach Raftel, find One Piece himself, and seize the mantle of Pirate King.  Luffy even threatens to quit the pirate life if Rayleigh says another word on the subject.  Very satisfied with Luffy's response, Rayleigh keeps mum about it.  Usopp apologizes. 

So what does that even mean?  Luffy probably doesn't even care what One Piece is, since the most important things in the world to him are freedom, his crew, and meat.  Rayleigh's reaction definitely indicates that it's something more than a simple treasure, or that it might not be treasure in the traditional definition at all.  Oda has indicated several times that he has had a specific ending in mind for the manga since before its serialization, so there is certainly some secret meaning behind the true nature of One Piece.  Hell, the name "One Piece" probably has a hidden meaning that is unknown to all other than Oda.  No one else knows.  And that's the greatest mystery in One Piece. 


That's all, folks!  I've been slowly writing that over the course of about five or six weeks.  What can I say?  I fucking love One Piece.  Next post should be a review of Bravely Default, and after that I have no idea.  Might be a Persona 2 review, might be one of the long form pieces I have in the oven.  See you next time! 

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