One Piece, or when the anime is better than the manga

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Before I start, a preamble: One Piece is a great anime. Ever since our little agreement a month back I’ve been tackling the series, from 229 onwards at a pace of about 3 or so episodes a day. Unlike the other One Piece addict around here, however, I must admit the plot and characters aren’t the focus of the experience for me. Rather, I was interested in how One Piece transitioned from manga to anime, particularly in light of some of the other Shounen Jump adaptations that came out in the neighboring years.

Thankfully, it was a clean transition. One Piece embraces everything Oda tried to communicate in the manga, and amplifies it. Frankly, in One Piece Eiichiro Oda presents us with a dizzying clash of cultures, influences, and nuances from all the world over. One Piece plays out like an child’s toy chest; cowboys next to spacemen next to dinosaurs, and everything in between. Oda takes dissimilar elements – the idea of a detachable shadow from Peter Pan, paired with trope-worthy vampires and zombies – and mashes them together at random. The result is a true children’s anime: completely illogical, highly amusing, and flat-out imaginative. Where the anime begins to shine brighter than the manga, however, is in doing what animation does best: motion, sound and colour.

Try as Eiichiro Oda might, there are only so many ways to express sound on paper. Sound effects in manga, and the visual language which has developed around them are a poor substitute for real sound. Likewise, hatching and other means of leading the eye pale in comparison to real motion. Much as I love art, and lovely as the One Piece manga is, I can’t imagine the above scene (from the Enies Lobby arc) being better in the manga. The intonation of Luffy’s (awesome!!) robot sounds, as well as the quality of the motion help tell the story in a way that the manga just can’t.

One Piece is undoubtedly the best Jump adaptation I’ve seen: unlike Bleach and even Naruto, both of which seemed to stumble pathetically through their filler episodes, One Piece embraces the opportunity they provide, transporting the viewers at the drop of a hat to the quirky land of Jipangu, where our Straw Hats are mysteriously townsfolk in a Edo-period village, or to the world of Chopper Man, where Chopper is a caped hero, and Usopp a villainous (if easily pushed around) troublemaker! Rather than being an unbearable experience like most filler in shounen anime, these short stints in another universe are entirely entertaining. Moreover, they utilize one of One Piece’s greatest strengths: the sheer madness of One Piece’s real plot allows for transgressions such as these. The fillers are spirited, and done with love. A fan couldn’t ask for more.

To call One Piece chaotic would be an understatement. It’s indulgent, and silly, and it doesn’t stop to explain itself. It feels as if Toei’s animators were making up the style as they went – the result is something highly evolved, but never solid, much like Eiichiro Oda’s art. As opposed to merely transcribing the manga, the anime invigorates it, and in doing so, multiplies the sense of joy and wonder present in its source.

15 thoughts on “One Piece, or when the anime is better than the manga”

  1. Disagree with most of this.

    For the most part the anime is far worse than the manga. Enies Lobby is a great example of where the anime just can’t manage what the manga can on the schedule and budget it has. The battle with the vice admirals for example has a feeling of chaos and overwhelming odds in the manga, but crowd scenes, let alone crowd scenes where everyone is fighting, are too difficult to animate on what Toei has to work with and so the fight comes across limp in the anime. A lot of the time it drains the energy from the manga rather than invigorate it. Sound is probably the one area where it does have the advantage, it’s got one of the all time great voice casts and things like Brook’s flashback have a clear advantage in the anime, but a lot of the time the actual animation is merely workmanlike. We’ve never had the sort of tour de force episode that Studio Pierrot occasional turn out for Naruto. In fact Enies Lobby was such a disappointment compared to the manga that it drove me away from the anime for over a year. The fact that the next years worth of episodes are basically a huge crowd scene doesn’t fill me with confidence.

    1. Hmm, I wasn’t speaking specifically to the Enies Lobby arc of the anime so much as I was in general, but I’ll field this comment as best I can in light of the points you bring up about it.

      As a tl;dr to the below: To each their own opinion, and these concerns are definitely valid ones. I will keep my eyes open moving forward.

      but crowd scenes, let alone crowd scenes where everyone is fighting, are too difficult to animate on what Toei has to work with and so the fight comes across limp in the anime

      Agreed. But I think this is problematic in all 2D (and even 3D, reallt) animation that I’ve seen. The other thing I would add is simply by virtue of the anime being produced in colour, there’s a sense of visual distinction and hierarchy which isn’t present in the black-and-white (and if I recall correctly, entirely un-screentoned) manga. Colour helps the eye distinguish not only between dissimilar objects, but between foreground and background, as well as the distance of objects from the “camera” if you will. Colour removes a layer of complexity; though I do understand your point, and if they were clever it was a deficit in emotion/atmosphere they could have made up for in other ways.

      a lot of the time the actual animation is merely workmanlike

      Hardly, in my opinion. I can’t see how anyone animating something like One Piece can do it in a workmanlike manner! It’s too lively :)

      1. I love the colouring of the One Piece anime, too! The sheer vibrance of the colours, mixed in with Oda’s anachronistic world-building, is what keeps me coming back time and again. It never feels like it’s getting too heavy; traumatic and sad at times, but always bright and eccentric, even after 400+ episodes.

        The colouring, the voices and the soundtrack; I can’t imagine ever reading One Piece, it just wouldn’t have the same effect on me, which is not to say I don’t respect what Eiichiro Oda is doing, but I love this story, very specifically, as an anime series.

        1. I could write an entire post on the way One Piece deals with visual styles.

          It’s an entirely different experience as an anime. If anything, I found it more coherent and easier to follow – the manga, being very-black-and-white (moreover written word versus sound) often got very confusing. I remember not quite knowing what was going on where and with whom in the beginning of the Enies Lobby arc. The anime, by adding a sense of ‘real’ time as opposed to the imagined passing of time we often have with books and manga, made for a on-the-whole easier to follow plot. Perhaps the chaos was something that was lost (and an important something, at that), but I was able to enjoy things more simply because I could figure out what the hell was going on.

      2. I’d argue that it’s only lively about 1/4 of the time, normally the Naoki Tate episodes. Then about half the time it’s competent and the remaining 1/4 it’s incompetent. For example this episode was full of shots and layouts that were just disastrous, even though the actual animation was fine. And they’re always finding new and exciting ways of squeezing budget and material down ever smaller – I don’t know if you’ve got to the point yet where the opening sequence has been expanded to cover an entire song, rather than just a 1:30 edit of one.

        Of course it goes through peaks and troughs, when it moved to widescreen there was an improvement, even though someone had a HUGE fisheye lens fetish, but when Kônosuke Uda started on Lovely Complex, the quality dipped (somewhat annoyingly during Enies Lobby). It’s arguably dipping again now, but that might just be that they’re being pushed to their limits in terms of the sheer scale of what they have to animate, as Oda’s ambitions go straight past what can be reasonably expected out of a weekly Toei show, not to mention the various production problems of key actors falling ill, dying or getting arrested.

  2. I think the only thing I like better about the anime is the voices which are just perfect and really do add to the emotion of scenes. I also love the opening songs.

    However as far as pace goes I prefer the manga. The series is already really long and the anime sometimes just really drags things out. And from what I have seen of the filler it might be better than filler for many other series but I still don’t like it.

    1. I was surprised by how much more endeared I was to characters like Franky in the anime versus the manga. When I sat down to analyze why that was, I realized it was because his voice actor was top-notch, and added a level of humor to his character that just didn’t communicate to me in the manga.

      Your second point is valid, as well. One Piece suffers the same fate that all long-running adaptations do – it catches up to its Work-in-Progress source material. It’s the only SJ series that I’m following the anime for, and I was fairly tenuous about how successful it would be at first. As such, this is perhaps a “well this isn’t so bad after all, whew!” reaction.

      There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ filler, but One Piece embraces its situation and has fun with things in a way which makes sense for the story and characters. Considering all I remember of the Bleach filler arc was Ishida in a princess dress, (I think this is when I dropped the anime) this is probably a good thing.

  3. I’m interested in this kind of stuff, particularly when someone bucks the standard attitude of ‘SJ anime adaptations are tedious, merch-driven pieces of crap’. One question I want to ask, though, is how much of the One Piece manga have you read vs. watching the anime?

    1. I’ve read up to Enies Lobby and through the beginning of it; watched from that point onwards (currently halfway through Thriller Bark. ep 340-something.)

      It is what it is, I guess – I’ve always been kind of interested in manga-to-anime adaptations. They’re so common, but I think there’s definitely a right and wrong way to go about doing them (much like novel-to-movie adaptations). I think that right/wrong way exists because animation, versus other mediums (live action, or manga itself) has certain strengths that, when played upon can intensify things greatly. While Brack’s comment above is certainly justified, in my opinion there’s no denying that the directors and producers went into this whole One Piece anime business and carefully looked at what they could do not just to make an anime, but to make one which.. builds upon its source material.

  4. aha, now bateszi has to go and watch Avatar :D

    Like Kim, my main problem with the anime way back then was its pacing. I’ve almost always disliked the sluggish pacing of shounen series (guess it’s just personal), and it’s so much easier and faster to keep up with manga.

    I do believe One Piece the anime have amazing moments, I still remember that Brook playing piano scene when bateszi posted about it back then, which was extremely powerful scene.

    1. Well, that presumes he ever gets around to watching Avatar. I’d like to take this moment to state this in a public manner: I have been very good about following through on my end of our little agreement. What do I hear from bateszi? “I’ll watch it in October”. And then it’ll be November, and then December, and then like it never happened! D:< Also, the second paragraph of this was a spoiler for me so... Eeek, I'm just going to ignore it!

  5. Just to add to the chorus of disagreement, my attempt at watching the anime wore me down (mainly due to the pacing) and it was only on starting the manga that I really got into the swing of One Piece. I’d be inclined to say that it depends what use you have for the show. I remember bateszi talking about ‘getting back to One Piece’, but the way I fell for it was through a run of catastrophically overlong late night reading marathons, not that sort of companionable set-up. I think I also prefer Oda’s humour delivered scattergun.

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