Anime Reporter kicks off the Saga Project with the very first arc of One Piece: Romance Dawn. The Romance Dawn arc makes up the very first seven chapters of the series and are all contained within the very first Volume, (or “tankobon” if you’d prefer the Japanese term).
Are you excited? Perhaps not. Perhaps this is old news to you and you’re more interested in One Piece stories of greater stakes and action that this arc couldn’t even begin to allude to yet. Perhaps you have no idea what One Piece is all about and you don’t yet know if it’s worth getting excited about.
But I’m excited, because if there’s one thing I love in all this world, if there’s one thing that puts a spark in my eyes and a tremble in my breath, it’s a story. A good story, a great story, small, big side-splitting, heart-breaking, it rarely matters. I love to see a character grow and develop. I love to see worlds grow and develop and to see events and moments pay dividends down the line. That’s probably my favourite thing about One Piece: It’s one
big, ongoing story. From start to finish, we’re seeing the same journey, the same quest take place and, while you can certainly jump in at a later point and more or less pick up the necessary bits and pieces as you go, it’s so rewarding to see it develop from the word “go” because the real story is watching the characters grow.
Okay, enough anticipatory-waffling! Let’s go!
Story Arc One- “Romance Dawn”
Published in Chapters 1-7
Romance Dawn starts us off with an introduction to the great age of pirates via the final moments of Gol D. Roger who announced at his execution that whoever could lay their hands on his famed treasure, One Piece, would be worthy of the title of King of the Pirates. The world then enters a frenzied state, with piracy entering an all time high. As the vast majority of the world in question is covered by ocean, with the majority of land composed of an equator-like strip going around the globe and an abundance of small islands, piracy is able to flourish and is only barely ever kept in check by the World Government’s naval forces.
None of that comes too heavily into focus just yet though, because we’re far more interested in Luffy! 22 years after the Great Age of Pirates began, a seven-year old Luffy is trying very hard to convince Shanks to let him become a pirate. Shanks is the captain of a crew of pirates that have made Luffy’s home island their base for a couple of years and the little boy has clearly taken a strong shine to them. It’s also pretty clear from the way they talk and laugh with him that they feel the same. While Luffy is eager to brag of his strength, Shanks smilingly tells him that he wouldn’t last any amount of time out there on the high seas. All in all, shanks’ crew is shown to be a merry bunch, unafraid to look foolish and more interested in laughing and eating than in fighting, even when provoked. A mountain bandit enters the tavern they’re celebrating in and becomes seriously angry when he finds out the pirates have bought up all the booze. He knocks Shanks to the floor and throws liquor in his face and the pirates don’t react. When the bandits are gone, the pirates erupt in laughter over how foolish their captain looks and even Shanks finds it hilarious. Luffy is outraged that the people he looked up to turned out to be so feeble and attempts to storm off.
When Shanks grabs his arm to stop him, it stretches and everyone pretty much loses it for a moment. Apparently, when nobody was looking, Luffy went and ate one of the crew’s treasures, a Devil Fruit. These fruit can bestow superhuman powers on whoever eats them but also renders that person incapable of swimming for life. Luffy has become a rubber boy, but has also just become a big liability for someone who wants to spend their life sailing the sea.
The next thing we see of Luffy is well after the pirates have set out on another voyage. He’s getting pummelled by the less than lovely mountain bandits. Apparently the bandits had been mocking the weakness and cowardice of Shanks and his crew. Luffy, despite saying many of the same things to the pirates himself, can’t let these insults stand. The people of Luffy’s town try to bribe the bandits to leave him alone, but their leader insists that an example needs to be made. Luffy’s going to have to pay with his life. At the same moment, Shanks and his crew have just made dock and are heading into town when they see the bandits attacking Luffy.
This is when we see Shanks and his pirates turn from a bunch of loveable scallywags into cutthroat pirates. They take down the bandits, hard and fast, without mercy.
Shanks shows Luffy the truth, that he was never a coward and he was never weak, but that being able to fight is not nearly as important as what you fight for. Unfortunately the bandit leader escapes, taking Luffy with him as a hostage and takes a small boat out to sea. Once he’s sure he’s safe, he kicks Luffy overboard, which turns out to be pretty good for Luffy because a rather nasty sea-monster takes a large bite out of the boat and bandit a moment later. Luffy, unable to swim, is about to become easy prey for the monster, when Shanks grabs the boy and stares down the monster, intimidating it enough that it leaves them alone, after it bit off his arm.
Devastated and determined to become stronger, Luffy says goodbye to Shanks who leaves Luffy’s island for the last time. Luffy vows to become a great pirate captain and Shanks asks Luffy to look after his straw hat while he does so that he can return it to him one day when he’s a great man. Ten years later, a determined Luffy takes off from his home in a tiny little boat to start his adventures.
Confronted by the sea-monster that took Shanks arm, Luffy knocks it out with a move he calls his Gum-Gum-Pistol, a super punch developed using his elastic powers.
The next time we see Luffy, he’s cheerily noting that it’s a real shame that his adventure had to come to an end so quickly as his little boat is heading directly into a giant whirlpool. Luckily, that isn’t the end of the series, and Luffy gets rescued by the crew of the fairly rotten Lady Alvida of the iron mace, a vicious pirate captain who intimidates and beats her crew into flattering her apparent beauty. Once Luffy immediately and cluelessly insults her “Hey, who’s that tough looking old biddy?” and immediately defeats her with his powers, he and Coby, a young and cowardly slave on her ship, make off together in a new boat with Luffy still determined to become the Pirate King and Coby desperate to join the navy. They arrive on a naval island where rumour has it that a fierce and terrible bounty hunter is being kept prisoner by naval forces: the dreaded Pirate Hunter Zoro.
When Luffy and Coby find Zoro, he’s tied to a stake in a naval base, where he’s agreed to a wager that if he can survive one month there without food or water, he’ll be allowed to go free. Luffy is impressed by Zoro’s strength and will and considers making him a crew member, oblivious to or unmoved by the fact that Zoro hates pirates and refuses to join up with him. When Luffy learns that Zoro was only imprisoned for protecting a girl from the attack dogs of a spoiled navy brat, he decides on the spot that Zoro is going to be his first crewmate. When it turns out that Zoro’s deal for his release is bogus, Luffy also decides to break him out on the spot and when he reunites Zoro with his swords he finds out exactly what makes him so feared.
Utilising three swords simultaneously, (one in each hand and one held in his teeth), Zoro really is a force. The two take down the corrupt naval officer in charge of the base, Captain Morgan (yes, really) and there’s a pretty sincere, if brief, flashback conveying Zoro’s need to become the world’s greatest swordsman. The pair stick around long enough to convince the navy folks at the base that Coby is no friend of theirs so as not to damage his chances at becoming an officer and then they take off towards one hell of a future!
- Well, first of all, the sheer amount of important character moments disguised as unremarkable incidents is great. There was so much work put into these characters that becomes so obvious as the series moves on. This series only improves with repeated readings, and it does so right from the beginning.
- The humour- naturally. Luffy being tricked into drinking milk like a kid and Shanks laughing off what seems like humiliation- these are the types of humour that make this series so endearing, like an uncle who does magic tricks when nobody else is watching. For my money, there’s something about the way Luffy idly picks his nose while making loud statements that ordinary mortals would hesitate to whisper, that will always make me grin.
- The character of these characters- Right in there, blended effortlessly with the imagination and the humour, the warmth and the world-building, there’s a clear sense of characters of principal. Shanks’ refusal to fight over something as petty as personal humiliation, but his lack of hesitation to sacrifice his arm for a friend, is the earliest example of the iron-will behind the honour-codes of so many of this series’ best characters. We see this same sort of character in Zoro threatening the girl who tries to bring him food at the prison to drive her away from harm, and his insistence on eating her rice balls which have been mashed into the dirt once he’s seen her cry. This is the kind of character which drives so many of Luffy’s more dramatic moments in the future and it’s already a little touching to see these moments which apparently influence him to that point.
- The foreshadowing- There are little moments, like Luffy’s seemingly random claim that around 10 crewmates should be ideal, that it just seems like have been planned as actual parts of the story from the beginning, though, at the time of writing this, he still hasn’t assembled that many pirates. There are moments of foreshadowing that this series excels at, but the one that’s about to pay the most dividends is Coby’s advice that Luffy needs to get himself a navigator, and soon. That, and the brief references to conquering… The Grand Line.
- The tone. Pirates are the bad guys in this world. Well, yes… but… so are the Navy, kind of, mostly, usually. It’s complicated, but this arc starts off by establishing some really likeable, friendly pirates and then showing them killing with gunshots to heads and blinding foes with cigarettes. We get to see some truly nasty, villainous pirates and we get to see some corrupt, power-mad and immoral factions of the Navy. It’s made clear that the Navy isn’t supposed to be full of bad guys, and that pirate crews don’t have to be. Of course, the wonderful thing about all of this is that it makes virtually everyone a potential enemy for the future King of the Pirates!
One Piece- Romance Dawn:
- Favourite moment?
It’s so hard to say, between young Luffy being teased by Shanks, or seeing Zoro dole out some punishment, three-swords style, or Luffy insulting Alvida, or… I’m sorry, it’s just all so great to me!
- Least favourite moment?
Nice try, me, I’m far too swept away by this arc to be able to contemplate that question.
- Most looking forward to?
Oh, well, that’s an easy one. Nami’s a great character, but the next story arc doesn’t really see her shine just yet. I’m just looking forward to seeing Buggy!
Okay, well that’s it for the first instalment of the Saga Project. How do you like this more in depth look at a manga arc? Do you agree with some of my points on Romance Dawn? What are your favourite Romance Dawn moments? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.
Well, I’m on a bit of a One Piece high right now, so it’s hard to say if my next Saga Project piece will be on the first Naruto arc, or just fly right on with more One Piece. Stick around and find out!
Thanks for reading,