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The adventures of Spider-Man and Monkey D. Luffy start with similar messages. In Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker learns “With great power comes great responsibility,” meaning that if you are bitten by a radioactive spider or truck or whatever (or if you’re just a regular person,) it is your responsibility to use your gifts to make the world a better place. So quit trying to wrestle “Macho Man” Randy Savage all the time, Pete.
In One Piece Chapter 1: Romance Dawn, Monkey D. Luffy learns that having courage and power doesn’t mean going out and kicking the crap out of everyone that gives you a heinous side eye. Courage is more about standing up for the people that you care for. Sure, you could get mad at the guy that spilled a drink on you at the bar (I wish Shanks had been around to teach me and my roommates in college,) or you could just let that asshole be an asshole and go on with your life. There are more important things.
After that, Ben Parker, the person who gives Peter Parker his lesson, dies super hard. And Shanks, the guy that taught Luffy to not get in so many bar fights, only loses his arm and then goes on to give Luffy his hat, saying that, when Luffy achieves his goal of being the Pirate King, to give the hat back. It’s better this way, I guess, as it would’ve been weird for Ben Parker to lose his arm to, like, the Rhino, and then say to Peter “Here’s the spider costume that I, a 70-year-old man, have been wearing and sweating in for a while. When you become THE SPIDER-MAN, give it back to me.” So yeah, definitely better.
Chapter 1: Romance Dawn is a pretty strong start to the first volume of One Piece, a volume that introduces a bunch of major heroes, including:
- Monkey D. Luffy, who can stretch his limbs after eating the Gum Gum fruit. He wants to be the Pirate King, a title that doesn’t get much definition in this volume. Honestly, Luffy’s enthusiasm is the real selling point for it. Luffy could shout “I’M GONNA BE KING OF THE INVESTMENT BANKING DINOSAUR SLAYERS,” and I’d be like “Well, he sure seems excited about it. Good on you, kid.”
- Roronoa Zolo, who became a great swordsman after….practicing sword stuff a lot. He’s one of the most badass characters in this entire series, and he gets the first of One Piece’s classic tragic backstories. I mean, I guess you could say that Luffy’s backstory is tragic, but it’s kind of hard to considering how chill and unscream-ey Shanks gets when he loses his arm to a sea monster in the middle of the ocean.
- Shanks, Luffy’s mentor and all-around decent bro. I didn’t care much for Shanks when I began watching the anime, but he’s really grown on me in the manga. I think it’s because you just want to be pals with him. Like he’d always bring over a six pack when he visits and doesn’t care if you borrow some and then he’d be like “Daniel, I’m so glad that we’ve been best friends since you were a little kid,” and I’d be like “Help. One Piece has truly and utterly devoured my existence.”
- Koby, a boy who wants to join the marines, but lacks self esteem to an astonishing, crippling degree. Koby dips out near the end of the volume, but shows back up at certain points in the series to let you know how much more he can bench press and all that. Seriously, he starts the series standing roughly two-feet-tall, and a few months in, he’s adult-sized. That Marine workout plan is amazing, y’all.
- Nami, a thief that knows a lot about the weather. This knowledge is introduced when she predicts that some pirates that she just robbed are going to get nailed by a gust of wind. She later becomes Luffy’s navigator, but I’m glad that her expertise is hinted at in this way, rather than her saying “Man, do I sure love MAPS,” or something like that.
They’re all awesome characters, which balances out the terrible, terrible villains that we get here. If you’ve heard about great, iconic One Piece villains, don’t expect them to start showing up in Volume 1. In this, you get:
- Higuma The Bear, the leader of the mountain bandits and a jerk. That’s about it. He’s bad in every way that a person can be bad, and has no redeeming factors. No sad backstory about how he got his nickname when his parents were eaten by a bear, and then his village blamed HIM for the murders. No moment of quiet reflection where he contemplates the meaning of his villainy. Nothing. Just “I’m awful! Give me alcohol!” and then he’s eaten by fish.
- Iron Mace Alvida, who owns Koby when we first meet them, and says her catchphrase “Who is the fairest throughout all the seas?” like she’s a video game character with a limited number of combat dialogue options. She has a mace, which she uses to mixed results.
- Axe-Hand Morgan, a Marine captain with an axe for a hand that also has a catchphrase (A variation of “I am great!”) who mainly exists so that Luffy and Zolo can do sweet double-team melee moves on him.
- Helmeppo, who is Morgan’s son, is a brat, and will later join Koby in a Marine training program that apparently just makes you way taller.
They’re all pretty standard and boring, but they’re good for clobbering.
One Piece isn’t one of those “Man, you just gotta give it about 20 volumes. Then it gets REALLY good” things. But it’s beginning is nowhere near as good as the volumes to come, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m excited to do this series of One Piece manga reviews. Because it only goes up from here. So, by all means, start with One Piece volume 1, knowing that you’re gonna be cheering and fist-pumping pretty soon, even though you’re only respectfully golf-clapping at the moment.
Daniel is a One Piece loving pirate king with a Twitter.
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