So first: Happy New Year!! I was the second post on this blog last year, way back in early 2020. Feels like a decade ago now, huh? Anyway, I’m proud to be the first post of 2021! No idea how it happened, but yeah. Cool stuff, huh? Anyway, One Piece.
One Piece Chapter 1000. After 23 years of “Oda said it’s ending next year” and staying on top in volume sales, One Piece has finally reached chapter 1000. I mean even me, a more recent fan, feels like it’s been forever. It’s one of the first manga I ever really started reading, and by extension, started getting me into all kinds of comics beyond just manga. So forgive me if I’m gonna fanboy a bit here as I analyze this chapter. I’m not here to do any kind of big breakdown on any hidden implications or meanings that Oda puts into One Piece – there are already plenty of other people who are more attentive than me and pick up all of these details already. Instead, I’m more gonna use breaking down the chapter as a tool to illustrate what makes One Piece so good overall. So I’m gonna try and keep the story spoilers here to a minimum. But of course, expect spoilers for all of One Piece just in case. I swear, I’ll get back to talking about more oddball manga soon. Really.
The first, most obvious thing, to notice about this chapter is the cover – obviously. It’s part of a two part poster kinda thing with the previous chapter, and completing the two gives you a big ol two page poster. It’s pretty awesome. It is also a callback to chapter 100, which has an almost identical cover:
This is probably the best, most clear example of what I personally love so much about One Piece: the depth of the callbacks that are made. One Piece is constantly recalling previous arcs, characters, even random jokes that Oda made at the end of volumes. Without giving away any major spoilers, 1000 even calls back to chapter 100 with some of the discussions that characters have with each other! It makes theorizing and analysis a big part of the fandom, and even as someone who mostly just reads these theories because I can’t remember enough to think of any myself, it’s good fun. The specific thread of discussion in the two chapters also gets at something that I really enjoy seeing too, which is the use of the concepts of prophecy and fate within One Piece. This has always been a background thread in the lore of One Piece, with lost empires and ancient weapons figuring in an ancient prophecy that seems to be slowly moving to some kind of fruition within the story. Rather than other prophecies in many other works, it isn’t some old lady predicting that Luffy is going to win because he has magic blood/a cool dad/because “it’s fate”, it takes the form of loose predictions about the state of society and what people will do. There are some elements of all three, sure, but what I’m talking about is the nature of the predictions themselves – Luffy might have a Cool Dad, sure, but he isn’t going to win because of it. He’s going to win because of the inherent human desire for freedom. And that is both cooler and much more interesting to read.
But really, the biggest thing is the paneling. The art of paneling and layout is what makes comics comics, and One Piece has always been pretty exceptional in that regard. Things make sense as they go along the page, and the focus is kept on what matters the most. Especially for the action scenes, there’s a real sense of rising and falling action, and the panels help solidify the exact mood of it all. Yeah, that sounds vague and doesn’t describe it at all. But thankfully, Chapter 1000 gives the perfect example with the action here:
So, we have Luffy dodging an attack from the big bad of this arc, Kaido, and getting his own counterattack in order. At the same time, we see a series of flashbacks to earlier this arc, showing the suffering that Kaido has caused in one way or another, which all forms a big arrow downward. I cannot reiterate enough how interesting and dense One Piece is because of the quantity of callbacks it has. We then jump back up to the upper left, to see Kaido glaring back down at the lower right corner where Luffy is winding up his punch. We then see each panel get closer until Luffy’s punch connects with Kaido. At this point, we turn the page, to see that it both; 1) pulls out to show the giant Kaido getting knocked on his ass and 2) continues the kind of arrow that the flashbacks form in the previous page. The effect it all has reinforces the downward momentum of the previous page, as well as creates an effect where it’s the flashbacks, just as much as Luffy’s punch, that are knocking Kaido down. This, right here, is why One Piece works. Layout is critical for any comic, and to be able to seamlessly show these kinds of things is what makes a good comic good. And then, of course, we finish with a badass hero shot of Luffy. And this was just two pages! Sure, it’s not the most avant-garde experimental comic layout, but you know what? It works. It reinforces the feeling that the work is trying to give off with everything else, the writing, the art, et cetera. And it succeeds!
Though, we also have to give some credit to the writing here too. This whole moment comes off of years of buildup, as we see Luffy and Kaido slowly go head to head in the current arc, leading to this chapter. I started reading One Piece right at the start of this arc, approximately, around summer 2018. Seeing the tension build from week to week, as we enter different acts (the arc is structured similarly to a kabuki play, which takes place over five acts), has been a damn joy. As far as my experience as a One Piece Fan goes, it has been defined by this arc getting ready for this moment, where Luffy and Kaido aren’t just fighting, but their own ideologies clash. 1000 chapters. And it aint done yet.