One Piece is one of the most beloved anime in history, but at close to 1,000 episodes, it’s tough for those who haven’t been watching from the start to jump on board. One Piece Diaries tracks one writer’s experience with this daunting rite of passage. With hype for the highs and critique for the lows, this column will help you decide whether to take your own One Piece journey – or let you relive the one you’re already on. It will update biweekly every other Thursday.
Episodes Watched: 31-44 – Arlong Park Arc
Before I started watching One Piece, people who had seen the series told me that it really starts to pick up around the ‘Arlong Park’ arc. They were right. Last Saturday after work, I fully intended to watch one episode and then start cleaning the kitchen. I ended up watching four episodes in a row. For the first time, I was truly, genuinely hooked.
Now that I know that it’s possible for me to have that experience, the prospect of carrying on with the series feels a little less intimidating. It hasn’t totally taken away my sense of trepidation – I know that not every part of the series is going to hit like this arc did. I also know that it’s going to take me a while. I told myself I’d watch at least one episode per day, but it’s been a couple of days since I’ve touched the series. Which is, of course, my signal to watch another episode once I’m done writing this.
Let’s actually talk about the arc itself.’ The Arlong Park’ arc focuses on Nami’s backstory. Her impoverished but happy childhood with her adoptive mother and sister is shattered when the Arlong Pirates take over her hometown and begin extorting the residents for money in exchange for their lives. Meanwhile, Nami is forced to join them as a cartographer. She has a single opportunity – if she makes 100,000,000 berries, she can buy Cocoyashi village and set the residents free.
She never explains her true intentions to anyone, preferring to shoulder the burden on her own. But her village knows what she’s doing and supports her from the shadows – they just don’t tell her they know, because they want her to feel like she can give up and run away if she needs to.
This backstory was the most emotionally devastating one so far. That might be because of its truly harrowing content, but it might also be because it’s a complete narrative arc. Sanji’s backstory hurt too, but what I saw during the Baratie arc was really just an anecdote – I know there’s a lot more to his story. I actively disliked Zoro’s backstory because the very real misogyny that Kuina was facing wasn’t taken seriously but was instead used to motivate Zoro to improve his skills.
Nami’s story felt full, complete, and interesting all the way through. It was so good, I could even forgive the fact that Nojiko and Nami have exactly the same face despite not being biologically related.
It takes some time for Luffy and the rest of the crew to figure out what’s going on, but once they do, they take their memorable “walk to Arlong Park.” For the first time, Nami puts down her pride and doesn’t just accept help, but asks for it. I was torn about this moment and the fact that Luffy is ultimately the one to defeat Arlong. On the one hand, Nami being able to accept help signaled genuine character growth. Before meeting people she could trust and rely on, without feeling the need to sacrifice her own wellbeing in order to protect, she could never have done that.
But at the same thing, it always stings a bit to watch a woman stand aside while the more powerful male protagonist saves the day. Part of me really wanted Nami to be the one to defeat Arlong. But that wouldn’t have resolved her emotional conflict. So, I guess I’m not exactly upset that it ended like this, but I hope that there will be opportunities for female characters to actually defeat villains with their own strength later on.
We can’t close out without talking about Arlong himself. I’m obsessed with the role that the Fishmen play in this universe. The humans seemed creeped out and confused by them, while the Fishmen seemed desperate to prove their superiority. Why? Was this simple villainous crowing? Or are Fishmen actually oppressed by human society? This arc made me want to find out.
But Arlong’s species wasn’t the only thing that was interesting about him. His actions were despicable, but also systematic and smart. He obviously thought through his plans, and successfully cultivated an aura of fear so strong that no one could challenge him. He also cultivated genuine loyalty in his allies. Unlike Don Krieg from the last arc, Arlong actually does care about the people who work for him. Not Nami – he only cares about her skill, and he knows perfectly well that she’s not on his side – but his actual allies. He shows genuine despair when they’re killed, and he isn’t violent towards them. This makes him feel like a real person, not just an obstacle for Luffy to overcome.
Up next is Loguetown. Unlike Arlong Park, which I’d already heard a little bit about, I have literally no idea what happens in Loguetown. Here’s hoping it’s a good time.