Saturday, September 3, 2016

One Piece: Unlimited Retrospective - Romance Dawn

Pirates, superpowers, and giant sea monsters. Yup, this is One Piece.

When I was growing up in the early 2000’s, we had a comic store near my house called New World Manga. At the time, I only went there for their weekly Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments, but they had a huge selection of manga in the back that I never really acknowledged. During this time, I also started to watch Toonami on Saturday nights, where it would air shows like Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, and of course, One Piece.

The version of One Piece that I saw was the 4Kids dub, and to say that 4Kids took a hacksaw to the localization would be an understatement. This was readily apparent in the later arcs, but I didn’t know any better at the time. I was just watching a cartoon pirate series, and that was enough for me to head down to New World Manga and pick up the first three volumes of One Piece at the same time. My mom took me to a Wendy’s afterwards, and I started to read as much as I could during the first day. It all started though with the first chapter; Romance Dawn.

Our story begins with the audience being told about “The Great Age of Pirates”. Gold Roger, the world’s best pirate, was being executed by the Navy for the crimes he committed as a pirate. Before he died though, in front of a crowd of citizens, reporters, and future pirates, he told them all that he left all of his treasure to anyone who can find it. The actual location is unknown, but just the idea that there was a massive treasure was enough to spark people to form pirate crews around the world and search the seas to try and find it.

Several years later, we’re introduced to a seven year old boy named Monkey D. Luffy. Luffy is a child that always hangs around a pirate crew led by “Red Hair” Shanks, a generally nice pirate that allows Luffy to always hang around with his crew. He tells Luffy about his journeys, his adventures, and what it’s like being a pirate. Luffy wants to join Shank’s crew, but Shanks denies him for a couple of reasons. 1) He’s just a kid that doesn’t know any better, 2) Luffy can’t swim, and 3) Luffy has no idea what it’s like to be a pirate in the world of One Piece.

You see, in One Piece, there are five oceans in the world; the East Blue, West Blue, North Blue, South Blue, and the Grand Line. The Grand Line is where most of the pirates of the world are, since Gold Roger was the only man to ever sail completely around the Grand Line. The Grand Line is a dangerous ocean, full of weather anomalies, giant sea monsters, and constantly changing magnetism. Needless to say, a seven year boy would be kind of screwed if he went to this ocean, let alone one that can’t swim.

Luffy gets upset at this, but before he can say anything else, bandits appear at the bar where Shanks is resting at. The bandits raise hell, but Shanks and his crew don’t do anything. The only things that they do do is offer the bandits beer, apologize to the bar maid when the bandits intentionally break Shank’s glass, and cleans up the mess that the bandits made when they were insulting Shanks. The bandits leave and Shanks laughs off the whole occasion, but Luffy has had none of it. He storms off, but Shanks grabs his arm… only for it to stretch like a rubber band. Luffy, while the bandits were insulting Shanks, had eaten a Devil Fruit, a fruit that gives the eater mystical and fantastical powers. In Luffy’s case, he ate the Gum-Gum Fruit, which made him a rubber man.

The concept of Devil Fruit is a pretty cool concept if you ask me, albeit it it’s one that as time goes on becomes goofier and more bizarre. An item that can give people super powers always makes stories more interesting, but the nature of the Devil Fruit help limit the characters and their powers. You’ll never see a Superman-like character that can fly, shoot heat beams, freeze things, and have super strength. Devil Fruit have a very particular set of skills that have to be followed at all times. Users cannot swim in salt water, and have to play by the rules of whatever power they’re given. For example, if a person has the ability to create wax, they probably shouldn’t fight anyone with fire.

However, where Devil Fruit become problematic from a story telling perspective is that these Devil Fruit can give very vaguely defined powers and depending on who the character in question is, can make them near God-like because of their powers, even though they really shouldn’t have. Take for example Blueno, a minor villain from a later arc called Water 7. Blueno has the power of the Door-Door Fruit, which allows him to create a door anywhere he wants. He can make one in a wall, in the floor to create a hole, in a person’s face to disorient them, and all of those powers are all in line with what the basic principle of the fruit it; to create a door, or open a hole, in a solid space. In order to make some villains more threatening though, a villain’s power is taken to the nth degree, like with Blueno. There’s a scene where he is able to make a door in the air and travel from one location to another instantaneously. He opens a hole in space in order to travel over a mile away to accomplish a goal. There’s having super powers, and then there’s just writing plot convenient abilities. Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often in the series, and for pretty much all of the beginning arcs in the “East Blue Saga”, there are only four Devil Fruit users with fairly standard abilities and powers.

Anyway, so Luffy ate the Gum-Gum Fruit and can’t swim. Does that get him down? Hell no! Instead, Luffy continues on his merry way, still trying to join Shank’s crew. When the bandits return while Shanks is away, Luffy tries to attack them after they insult Shanks and call him a coward. Luffy gets the crap knocked out of him, but Shanks makes a surprise appearance with his crew, slaughtering most of the bandits. The bandits said that the pirates fought dirty, to which the pirates replied “Why wouldn’t we? We’re pirates!” The bandit leader escapes, but takes Luffy with him out to sea to try and have a hostage. Before he can do anything though, a giant sea monster attacks their dingy and kills the bandit instantly while Luffy sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Just when the giant sea monster is about to finish the job, Shanks pulls Luffy up and quietly tells to sea monster to go away while shooting him the mother of all death glares. The sea monster relents, and Luffy cries as Shanks tells him that everything’s going to be alright. Except, Luffy isn’t crying because he was so scared… but because the sea monster ate Shank’s left arm.

Fast forward to a few weeks later, and just as Shanks is about to leave, Luffy comes to say goodbye. As a show of friendship, Shanks gives Luffy his straw hat and tells Luffy that once he’s assembled a pirate crew and becomes a real pirate, Shanks will be waiting for him out on the ocean. Luffy promises Shanks that he will, crying all the while.

Fast forward 10 years into the future, and Luffy is now a full grown adult about to set sail. He has a one person boat, a straw hat, some food, and begins his adventure, but not before hitting the sea monster with a punch that he’s been practicing for the past 10 years, the Gum-Gum Pistol. As with that, Luffy’s quest is off.

Romance Dawn is a great start to the series. It establishes the world, tells us who Luffy is, explains what a Devil Fruit is, and introduces us to Shanks, probably one of the most lovable characters in the whole series. Over the course of 80 volumes, we rarely see Shanks or hear about him, but just from this first chapter, we know that Shanks is a fun loving kind of guy that wants to just sail the world and explore it. He’s more about the journey than the destination, and if that journey just happens to take Shank’s whole life, so be it. There’s just such a strong connection between Shanks and Luffy because of how much one is indebted to the other. Luffy defended Shank’s honor, Shanks saved Luffy at the cost of his arm, and Shanks gave Luffy his trademarked hat as a sign of trust and respect. It’s clear that Shanks cares for Luffy very deeply and that Luffy idolizes Shanks, even if he can have his outbursts at times.

Speaking of, Luffy is energetic, loud, and always tries to do the right thing. Luffy doesn’t have any foresight or that much intelligence, but he acts with his gut and knows deep down what’s right. He has a strong moral code and determination to become the King of the Pirates. It’s his one goal, he’s sticking to it, and if you have a problem with it, then Luffy won’t really do anything to stop you. Now if you damage his hat, his friends, his ship, or his family, then hell hath no fury like Luffy. As a start for the series, Romance Dawn is probably one of the strongest ways to start a series of. It’s light, it’s comical, has a cartoonish style to it, and is inoffensive to anyone.

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