Steven Reviews: One Piece Chapter 1
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda is a manga series that’s been going on since before I was born. I remember afternoons after school, my brother would flip on episodes of the anime—reruns, to be sure—and all of us would crowd around the old Panasonic and watch them fleetingly because they were on. I remember getting up to maybe the Skypiea Arc, but then the family seemed to lose interest.
Fast forward to 2012. Borders Book Stores are going out of business. Everything must go. Mom takes us at least once a week to see if there’s anything new that they’ve brought out. I decide to scrape up their remaining volumes of One Piece, partly out of curiosity, partly out of nostalgia. I’m 14, have never held a job, so I borrow the money from my brothers and my parents. I’m in debt to them for two years. Worth it.
Over the years, One Piece has helped me shape who I am as a storyteller. It is, to me, one of the best-formed stories every told, and every chapter that comes out weekly sheds new light on an expanding and ever-changing world. Over 1,000 chapters and 25 years later, there are questions asked in the very first chapter that have yet to be answered. So, I thought it would work to go through the whole series, chapter-by-chapter, and review it. Dig into it thematically, just for a little bit. There will be spoilers if you’ve never seen the show or read the manga. I apologize. But hopefully, I will avoid them just enough for you to want to take that step into the world of One Piece. I will try not to make this an in-depth summary.
Chapter 1 is, for all intents and purposes, a template for the rest of the series. We’re introduced here to the basic concepts of the series. A mythical pirate named Gold Roger, on the day of his execution, told the cheering crowds that his treasure, whatever that amounted to, was there for the taking of anyone who could find it. Thus begins the in-universe Golden Age of Piracy, where everyone with the means to do so sets off in search of Gold Roger’s treasure. The moment feels grander in my head. I’m surprised at how brief the moment in the manga actually is: literally just one page. That goes to show how amazing Oda is at building up a mythos.
After that, a cast of characters in a small harbor village (later dubbed Windmill Village) is introduced, the most important being our protagonist Luffy, a young village boy, and an easygoing pirate named Shanks. There are many very important scenes between the two in this chapter that set the tone for the rest of the series. Luffy, to prove himself man enough to join Shanks’s crew, stabs himself in the face, under his left eye, with a dagger. Theorists point to this and other left-eye imagery in One Piece to support all sorts of crazy fan theories, and maybe they’re right, but I’m of the mindset that sometimes a left eye is just that: an eye on the left side of the skull.
There are other moments in this chapter that form the tone of the story. The very first is when Shanks’s crew describes as the best reason for being a pirate: Freedom. Throughout the story, Luffy references this. Throughout the story, Luffy’s goal is going to be just to exist as a free, happy person in a world where the powers in play make that hopelessly impossible. (Hashtag relatable.) In this moment, however, at the village’s local tavern, there is nothing but joy and merriment. Everyone is happy, everyone is free.
This moment comes to an uncomfortable end when a mountain bandit and his posse come into the village tavern and demand alcohol. The tavern keeper informs the bandits that Shanks and his crew drank all of it and, as a token of goodwill, Shanks offers the bandit the last bottle of rum. The bandit throws it in Shanks’s face, proclaims that he’s killed over 50 men, and storms out after making a mess. Shanks does not fight back, but instead offers to clean up the mess. His crew laughs, and the merriment continues, but Luffy is unhappy. “Why didn’t you fight back?” he screams at Shanks, and Shanks replies, among other things, “He just got some grog on me. Needless killing doesn’t make you a man.” Luffy’s childhood mindset places personal honor above all else, and Shanks, in that moment, says, “Nope, doesn’t matter at all.” Again, this is a huge through-line in the full story of One Piece. The Tavern Scene repeats itself many times throughout the series, some moments more obvious than others, but the main idea still being there. “What is worth fighting for? Evidently not yourself.”
It is right to note that in this scene, Luffy also accidentally eats a magical fruit that turns his body to rubber and makes him immune to blunt attacks at the expense of his ability to swim. More on this later.
Time passes. Shanks is out for a voyage. Luffy is bemoaning his role model being a wimp to the tavern keeper. The bandits return, and Luffy picks a fight with them. The scene cuts to the gang of bandits beating up Luffy, puzzled at the fact that their punches don’t do anything to him. Luffy calls them names, and when the mayor tries to beg the bandits not to hurt Luffy anymore, the bandit leader says, essentially, “Nope, sorry he hurt my feelings, he has to die.”
At this moment, Shanks appears, dotes on Luffy, and tells the bandits to let Luffy go. When the bandits threaten to kill Shanks, his second mate, later named Lucky Roo, appears out of nowhere and kills one of the bandits by shooting him, point-blank, in the head. (“Needless killing doesn’t make a man!” Yeah, tell that to Lucky Roo, Shanks.) Shanks delivers probably one of the most powerful monologues this early in the series, capping it off with, “Good reason or not, no one hurts a friend of mine.” Shanks’s first mate, later named Ben Beckman, absolutely wrecks the rest of the bandit gang, and the leader escapes using a smokescreen, taking Luffy with him.
The bandit leader has actually taken Luffy out to sea, where he intends to kick Luffy into the water and watch him drown. When this happens, Luffy flashes back to the fight he picked with the mountain bandits: The leader was screaming out some abuse about Shanks and Luffy challenged him on it. It was not a personal vendetta. Luffy simply could not stand to see the honor of his friend besmirched. Shanks’s ideology rubbed off on him after all.
Anyway, a sea monster appears and eats the bandit leader, Shanks shows up at the last minute to save a drowning Luffy, the sea monster eats Shanks’s arm, Shanks scares the sea monster off by looking it funny (which we will get into later in the series) and all is well. Shanks thanks Luffy for standing up for him, and Luffy bemoans Shanks’s missing arm. “It’s a small price to pay. Just an arm. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
At the end of the chapter, Luffy acknowledges how much he has to learn and how strong he has to become in order to go out to sea. Shanks and his crew are on their way out, and Luffy promises that when he’s older, he’ll become king of the pirates, just like Gold Roger. Shanks smiles, gives Luffy his trademark straw hat (a very important hat, pay attention) and sets off. Cut to ten years later. Luffy goes out to sea in a small rowboat, punches the sea monster in the face, and begins his journey to become King of the Pirates.
I would love to be able to rank these chapters as I read them. That being said, it is impossible to rate this chapter out of 10 because it is such a classical piece of the One Piece Mythos. It is more helpful, I believe, to hold this up as the thematic gold standard of a One Piece chapter. It sets up all the criteria for a good chapter of One Piece: memorability, establishment of strong thematic content, and a certain je ne sais quoi. Starting next chapter, I will begin to rate these chapters numerically. Until then, One Piece Chapter 1: Romance Dawn is a solid [REDACTED] out of 10.
If you want to read along, all chapters are available on the Viz website. The first three chapters are free. After that, you can pay $1.99/month for all 1,000+ chapters. I recommend it!
About the Creator
Steven Christopher McKnight
Disillusioned twenty-something trying to meander his way through this abject mess of a world. Aspiring garden hermit. Future ghost of a drowned hobo.
You did a fantastic job putting this review together! One Piece is such a classic manga/anime, so you are right, ranking it out of 10 wouldn't be right because it needs no ranking :)