Since the beginning of the year, or thereabouts, One Piece has embarked on its most ambitious storyline yet. We’re just over halfway through the series and the characters are geographically halfway through their journey. So we’ve had 8 months now of huge storyline events that dwarf everything that’s come before.
On top of that we’ve had the anime catch up to the start of those huge events, it getting paired with Dragonball Kai in the schedule, the promise of the tenth One Piece film with Oda’s involvement and the promise of anime-only material that ties directly to the manga.
All this has boosted One Piece’s profile something crazy. Already easily the top manga in Japan, its Google Trending has more than doubled since the start of the year. And in the last two weeks, the strip has shifted up into yet another gear.
The last two chapters have been full of huge splash pages full of epic vistas, and more importantly, full of individual characters. Oda’s approached this level of insane crowd scenes before, but the sheer amount of wonderful looking badass weirdos he’s unleashed onto the page in the last two weeks is awe inspiring. The anime has struggled to match this in the past, and I question how well this is going to look when they animate it in a year or so. And how sane the animators will be after animating it.
There’s a couple of other key elements to the impact of the story. There’s a major revelation made in chapter 550 that flips a lot of things on their head, and we finally get to see a character who we’ve been told is powerful for years now, demonstrate that power and actually live up to the hype.
But that’s all for nought without Oda’s illustrations. Not only does he maximise the impact of those important scenes so well, he’s also giving you so many characters that you want to know more about just from one appearance. Why does that guy look like walrus? Why does that guy have clamps for hands? Why is that guy’s beard and hat so ridiculously large? And so on. And the fun thing is that the series has already proven that we will certainly get to see more of some of them. Nothing can ever be dismissed as a single panel throwaway in One Piece, that one guy you saw 9 years ago could end up being one of the most important people in the world!