I was one of thousands sitting in the back of the room in a sea of One Piece fans at the One Piece 1000th episode premiere at Anime NYC 2021. The energy radiating from the new and lifelong One Piece fans flooded the 1E Ballroom. As I looked around at everyone in their cosplays of Luffy and others, shouting out their favorite characters and chanting “One Piece, One Piece!” I couldn’t help but think of how every one of us had a different story about how we got into One Piece. And, ultimately, of what One Piece means to us.
For those unfamiliar, One Piece is a story that has been published in Weekly Shonen Jump since 1997 and was created by the legendary Eiichiro Oda. It follows the story of Monkey D. Luffy as he sets out on a journey to find One Piece, the treasure left by the previous pirate king Gol D. Roger, and to become the King of the Pirates! This is the cliffiest of CliffsNotes, because it’s so much more than that–as one would hope, after 1000 episodes!
One Piece is incredibly rich in details: nuggets of information planted early won’t fulfill their purpose until hundreds of episodes or chapters, for those reading the manga, later. It’s epic. But at the core of One Piece is the genuine heart and strong sense of self that every character possesses. One Piece shows us how our mistakes help shape us, how we can fail, grow and still maintain a strong sense of who we are.
Come aboard and bring along all your hopes and dreams!
Let’s start with the heart of the Straw Hat Pirates…their dreams!
One of the unifying factors of the Straw Hat Pirates is that they all have their own personal goals and dreams: Luffy wants to be the King of the Pirates. Zoro wants to be the world’s strongest swordsman. Nami wants to be the first to chart the entire world, Sanji to find The All Blue, Usopp to become a Great Warrior of the Sea, Chopper to be a doctor who can cure all illnesses, and so on and so forth. Each member understands the importance of each other’s dreams and will do anything in their power to help fulfill them.
Having a strong dream is a common trope within shonen anime, but the way One Piece handles it feels different. It radiates sincerity. From the moment we meet Luffy, we’re immediately on board his journey to fulfill his dream. He’s kind of like a dream battery for the team, fueling the rest of the team’s belief that anything is possible.
In an interview about the 1,000th episode of One Piece, Colleen Clinkenbeard, the English language voice of Luffy, explains how she thinks the would-be Pirate King influences others. “Outside of the show, to the fan base and to me looking in, I feel like the thing that is the most inspiring, whether we recognize it or not as we’re watching it, is how completely Luffy knows who he is and accepts who he is. He knows who he is from the beginning! And at no point does he doubt that.”
She goes on to reflect on how Luffy’s self-assured nature positively shapes those around him. “As he finds these people and collects them, he collects them for exactly who they are! He’s not trying to collect them like a puzzle piece in a little square that doesn’t match who they are and what he needs. He’s finding them and discovering in them something that is valuable and then bringing them into the team. I think that’s, from the outside looking in, the most inspiring thing about him. And then, inside the show, I don’t know if its’s that or it’s just the single-minded determination to do what’s right. Because there are so many people in the world of One Piece who are not doing that. They are machinations that are happening for various reasons, and he inspires the people around him to change the way they’re looking at things and straighten out their priorities and then kind of just come along on the journey. That’s how he changes the world around him.”
In and out of the show, Luffy has that influence on folks. One of the main reasons he intervenes with Pirates who are threatening the livelihoods of people trying to live their lives uninterrupted is that those people didn’t choose the same life that he wanted. The lands that they travel to are all trying to create and maintain diverse, independent societies. Luffy appreciates their resolve to try and build something strong, so when enemy pirate crews interfere with that, he has no problem stepping in and reminds them that their squabble is with other pirates, not these people who didn’t choose the pirate life. There’s great risk that comes with living a life of freedom.
Colleen continues, “Luffy gives people courage! He has that courage himself; he has the ability to see what needs to be done and do it. He understands the risks that are involved, it’s just that he immediately weighs it out and knows whether the risk is worth it or not. And that is so incredibly difficult to do. Like, in our everyday life, how many times do you see a risk and go ‘I know exactly whether that’s worth it or not,’ but Luffy does! The benefit of being animated I guess!”
One of the most prominent features of One Piece when it comes to establishing the individuality of the characters is that each one has a distinct and memorable laugh.
ADR Director and voice of Buggy the Star Clown, Mike McFarland, actually made the laughter part of the audition process, going so far as to write it out phonetically to capture the magic of the original Japanese language track. “You know, own this, you’re gonna do it, so let me hear what it sounds like. And if that is not a part of the audition process, then surprise! When they get to the booth, here is this, bizarre laugh that your character is going to do from now until you don’t see them on screen anymore. So, uh, get used to it. I don’t think there’s been anyone who’s like ‘I don’t agree with this choice.’ They’re usually like ‘oh that’s a fun, cool, interesting challenge.’ And then it becomes about the ownership of it, making sure it represents our take of what the character is doing and that it’s like a natural laugh for them.”
From kind, to menacing, to outright creepy, every character commits to their laugh – and, by extension, their own brand of humor. “I think Foxy’s [laugh] stands out with the ‘Feh feh feh feh feh’ because it was so weird.” Mike continues, “I mean they’re all designed to be strange and very unique per character. I believe there was also a ‘dero shi shi shi’ one. There’s just a long list of them that are like ‘Wait what?’ And once you hear it, it becomes very signature which is exactly what I assume that they’re designed to do, it’s very cool!”
For those who sometimes get self-conscious about the sound of their own voice, these characters’ lack of self judgment when it comes to the more peculiar aspects of themselves is a gift. One of the first things that Red Hair Shanks teaches Luffy when he is a kid is that being a pirate should be fun. Laughter is part of sharing joy with others, no matter how outlandish a person’s laughter may sound.
How does One Piece influence us?
Reflecting on the last twenty-four years, it’s inspiring to see how much the characters have grown in One Piece and how the audience grew with them. When Luffy first sets sail, he’s all about having fun and making friends. While he’s technically already captain of the Straw Hats, he doesn’t really step up to the role until the Enies Lobby arc.
This arc is a major defining moment for the team, one where Luffy has to come to terms with what it means to be captain and realizes he needs to be able to truly take care of his crew. While he is still the happy-go-lucky hero that we know and love, there is a shift in tone and a maturity that Luffy carries with him. It was through these tough times, and one of the Straw Hats lowest moments that they were able to evolve and become something greater. They had to adapt, become stronger. Giving up simply wasn’t an option.
This would happen again when the Straw Hats were crushed in the Sabaody Archipelago and separated. Each person would have to embark on their own personal journey of growth for two years before they all finally came back to meet at Sabaody. One Piece takes on these lessons so that we, as an audience, never have to shoulder burdens alone. We all must take these steps, to go out and try something new – take major chances and fail big. One Piece teaches us that even in failure there is success.
In response to a question about her time as Luffy, Colleen Clinkebeard says, “Through playing Luffy I’ve learned a lot of specific lessons about my career.” Colleen shares that she’s learned about the process of working in the voice over industry and that, “a lot of those things have carried into other aspects of my life. One of them in particular is that there’s a bigger picture. We’re not in it for this month, you’re not in it for getting this project done. You’re in it for what this means for what could be next. You’re setting yourself up for your successes in your right-now. So voicing Luffy is a really good reminder that what you’re doing now will affect what you’ll do in fifteen years! Cause here we are!”
As Colleen mentions, One Piece reminds us that there is a bigger picture. While episode 1000 isn’t too climactic, it takes its time celebrating the journey that the Strawhats have been on. Seeing the monumental flashbacks of all of the crew members from where they were to where they are now shows us how much you can change and grow in that amount of time. And that the destination in One Piece comes second, the journey comes first. As long as you’re journeying onward and staying true to yourself, then you’re a winner!
With plenty of One Piece to come as well as a Netflix live action adaptation on the horizon, there will be plenty of future adventures to be had with the Straw Hat Pirates. The casting for the live action adaptation is already getting fans hyped, particularly given the fact the Straw Hats are all people of different nationalities. Oda has made it clear that this is his intent in the manga. Seeing Mexican actor Iñaki Godoy announce that he is Luffy, resonated deeply with me, a Mexican-Cuban American who has grown up alongside and identified with Luffy’s journey. And that’s the beauty of One Piece, people from around the world are celebrated in the show. And with a live action show on the way, there will be fans new and old of One Piece who will want to dive in and experience the journey together.
We all have our answer to the question “How did you get into One Piece?” Looking around that ballroom at Anime NYC and seeing the outpouring of love and excitement on social media made me realize that, in a way, we are all sailing with the Straw Hats. One Piece, like Gol D. Rogers treasure, was the reason for us to set sail. Whenever we encounter anyone else watching One Piece, there is an immediate bond and we become Nakama. And one day, when Luffy becomes the King of the Pirates, we’ll all look back at the memories and friends we made on this journey with him across the seas.
One Piece’s 1000th episode is available now on Funimation and Crunchyroll.