Fans were in uproar when the One Piece anime series made its debut in the UK, riddled with amateurish edits and obvious cuts, so thank Gollancz for bringing us the real thing in manga form.
One Piece follows Monkey D Luffy, an impetuous and overenthusiastic young boy who idolises Red Haired Shanks, the captain of a crew of pirates who are docked at his village. Vowing to become a pirate too, Luffy tries everything to impress Shanks but the captain refuses to take him on any of their voyages. Luffy doesn't give up but his dreams seem shattered when he inadvertently eats one of the legendary Devil Fruits, a strange item that grants awesome powers but at the expense of your ability to swim. The fruit causes Luffy's body to turn to rubber, and gives him all the swimming ability of an anchor, but he's not going to let something like this get in his way! An altercation with a group of mountain bandits shows him the virtues of patience and ten years later, when he feels strong enough, he embarks on his voyage. However, one man to whom the sea means instant death is not going to get far without a crew, and so he makes his first priority recruiting some powerful allies. First on his list is the infamous bounty hunter Roronoa Zolo, but the legendary swordsman has been imprisoned by the Navy. Is he as evil as everyone says? Luffy doesn't think so, but in order to get his man he is going to have to get past the pirate captain Iron Mace Alvida and the terrifying Navy captain Axe Hand Morgan...
One Piece is one of those infectiously enjoyable series that is near impossible to hate. It's packed with fun characters, visual comedy and great action scenes, and backed up by a rip-roaring adventure story. Everything about it is larger than life, whether the terminally optimistic Luffy or the intense Zolo, and the comedy and action flies thick and fast.
It is soon apparent that this is the start of an epic story (it's clocked up over 400 chapters in Japan, and it's still going!) and if you are expecting him to get a ship and crew straight away and go off adventuring then thing again. To start with it's Luffy on his own, and you may think that he will spend a fair few volumes gathering companions before the story really gets going. However, this is only partly true. Although he only really finds and recruits one crew member in this volume there is plenty of action and adventure to keep you entertained. The story thunders along at a fair old pace, and although there are a lot of stereotypes (the power-mad Captain Morgan and his spoiled son for example) it never becomes hackneyed or boring.
Terms like 'unique' and 'original' get bandied around so much that they have lost their impact somewhat, but the art in One Piece is both. It just doesn't look like any other manga series, the cartoonish visuals giving a cheerful and fun air despite some occasional dark moments. Eiichiro Oda's creativity seems to know no bounds, the world of One Piece is full of surprises and colourful individuals, and somehow things that would normally seem stupid just...work. A pirate who can stretch like rubber, a swordsman who fights with three swords (one in his mouth), a Naval Captain with an axe for a hand and pirates dressed as clowns don't seem anywhere near as daft as they should be. In fact one of the most enjoyable things about One Piece is wondering what Oda will come up with next!
Although the art style may not be to everybody's taste, it's nearly impossible to hate this book. Luffy's enthusiasm is infectious and you soon find yourself completely drawn into his quest and rooting for him all the way. Oda's imaginative designs, cheerful comedy and fun characters (apart from Koby and Helmeppo, who are a bit crap...) provide a perfect backdrop to a good solid adventure story, and it looks like there is plenty more to come. One Piece vol 1 is a superbly enjoyable book and at just £4.99 from Gollancz it is definitely worth picking up.
The usual adverts for other Gollancz titles are backed up by a couple of production sketches and comments from the author.