One Piece is a Japanese manga comic penned by Eiichiro Oda which began its weekly run way back in 1997 and continues to this day. With an impressive 824 chapters at the time of this typing, the series also boasts a rounded estimate of approximately 850 named characters (canon, and not including characters from non-official 'filler' material).
Statistically speaking, that's about a new character in every chapter!
In all sincerity, it's my favorite thing ever and a major influence on my own writings. And if I didn't point this out last time, it's also where the banner on this blog originates. Let's dive straight into the story, though.
This epic adventure commences as Luffy (a dopey and hungry young man of 17, our main protagonist and pronounced 'Lou-Fee') sets off on his own in search of adventure and legendary treasure, determined to become the Pirate King of the World. Certainly an ambitious goal if there ever was one, but you start believing it may be possible when he knocks out a gigantic eel monster (several times Luffy's size) with a swift punch to the side of the face by the end of the first chapter.
Wait ... how?? Well, because his body is made of rubber and he can stretch his limbs long distances and snap them like rubberbands in order to fight.
Insane as this already sounds, everything else in the living and hyperventilating world of 'One Piece' becomes much more surreal, absurd and wonderfully chaotic. As you may have already guessed, this is a show in which many characters exhibit supernatural powers and mutant abilities as they do in shows like 'Heroes' and 'X-Men'. Capabilities which in instances are considerably more terrifying than a stretchy, rubber body could ever be.
The ability to manifest into deadly poisonous gas, for example. Or transforming into one of several ferocious and carnivorous beasts. Another, it turns out, is the powerful ability to create and control strings - much more frightening than you'd initially imagine.
But there also exist lesser-scary and more peculiar abilities, such as the ability which allows an animal to gain human attributes, the ability to turn into a giant, golden Buddha statue, or the ability to turn real-life objects (and people) into works of abstract art.
When it comes down to it, Luffy has to find ways to become strong enough to overcome (through physical battles, or otherwise) people who are ridiculously strong in their own right and ready to fight for their own beliefs. Sometimes, it happens by inadvertently converting enemies into friends or allies - the lives of which he values above all else and will risk his own in order to defend.
That's the basic premise, but the entire story as it steadily approaches the 1,000 chapter milestone is enormous as new and interesting plot elements are constantly introduced which manage to intrigue and shuffle alliances around enough to make every plot point as unpredictable as can be.
This is without even mentioning all of the political, sociological and philosophical aspects which become surprisingly complex within the main story. Nor have I touched upon the remainder of the dozen or so main protagonists which join, fight and sail with Luffy under his flag -including a cyborg, a living skeleton and a reindeer- else this entry would go on forever.
Ok, great. So it's a whimsical tale about a bunch of kids playing pirates (traveling an insane world from snowy islands to islands in the skies, and an island made of cake) and fighting grown adults who want to see them dead.
My most favorite thing about the story (aside from the fact that it's the only thing which often brings me close to tears) is how seriously it takes the concept of cause and effect.
If you choose to live a benevolent life of crime by sailing under a pirate flag, the government and their monstrous officials will hunt you down to put an end to your fun adventures.
Cause enough mayhem and a bounty will be put on your head (the biggest of which are displayed with great pride) until you're brought to "justice" by being sentenced to a hellish, inescapable, underwater prison.
In short, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It's literary physics, people!
Some of the most entertaining and satisfying scenes occur in between story arcs whenever the heroes of the story receive increments in their bounties and all of their friends and family members (as well as deadly adversaries) see their faces in the newspapers and respond accordingly with shock, laughter or absolute fury.
That said, I do have one significant criticism which the author inexplicably does not apply the 'cause & effect' rule to, and that is the concept of death. For a story in which great danger lurks within and around every island, the story contains numerous instances in which characters are implied to have died a certain death but somehow manage to survive through some bullshit reason.
It annoys me to no end, but it's about my biggest complaint in this magnificent tale which I'd recommend everyone to read.
On that last note: there's also an animated version of this incredibly popular series, of course. It contains fantastic visuals, an amazing score of classical music and brightly colorful voice acting and thus I'd also be inclined to recommend watching the show, but be aware that the pacing after the first 300 or so episodes (out of 737) can sometimes really drag (so that the show doesn't catch up to the published comic). The grading here will be for the comic book, specifically.