With Zoro now on the team, One Piece’s second volume digs into a longer narrative on just one island, as Luffy and Zoro wander their way into the territory of Buggy the Clown. The first volume of One Piece was a collection of scattered small adventures, stories reflective of the clear Toriyama influence that still shows through in moments like the early dragon-ride coloring image. There’s still more of that here, from the wild expression work and character designs to the slapstick and word game silliness that flavors Buggy’s entrance. But we’re already stepping into longer narrative territory, and though One Piece is still a generally light and very readable production, it’s also starting to demonstrate some interesting thematic teeth.
The next crewmate Luffy needs to acquire is a navigator, and so this volume fully introduces Nami, the thief who only steals from pirates. In contrast to Zoro’s fairly binary backstory and motivation, Nami already seems like a more textured character, with a more complex motivation and morality than any of the other characters so far. Nami is fine with letting pirates die in a passive sense, but lacks the fundamental callousness exhibited even by the manga’s other heroes. When she’s instructed by Buggy to kill Luffy, she can’t, and you get the feeling Luffy actually looks down on her for this. She actually cares about people and animals because it’s the right thing to do, not because their specific nature impresses her. She’s not the traditional “heart” of the team, but she certainly adds a spark of humanity to counteract this manga’s very abnormal first heroes.
Nami’s dynamic with Luffy also seems quite strong. While Zoro initially refused to assist Luffy, now that he’s on the team, it seems like the two of them are on almost the same wavelength – Zoro is more traditionally “cool” than Luffy, but he seems just as ridiculous of a person. In contrast, Nami and Luffy establish a consistently strong back-and-forth early on, where Nami’s cunning runs into Luffy’s obliviousness and forces Nami to get angry. She’s essentially the straight man on the team, both in terms of personality and philosophy.
As far as “philosophy of One Piece” goes, we’re already running into some interesting demonstrations of what this manga has to say. Shounen manga, particularly those in the Jump school, are as a rule-turned-to-cliche focused on “friendship, effort, and victory.” Luffy and Zoro don’t really seem to abide by the traditional ideals of shounen friendship – instead of seeing the good in everyone, Luffy seems to not care about anyone until they overtly impress him. Luffy seems fine with letting the weak die, if they were willing to die as weaklings. It’s strength, in a variety of forms, that impresses Luffy.
One of those forms, the one he initially chastises Nami for, is “conviction.” People who are willing to die for what they care about or believe in impress Luffy. While humans can disappoint him, even a dog who demonstrates courage will earn his stalwart defense. And when the village chief storms off to fight Buggy, saying “I know it’s reckless,” that’s when Luffy is finally sold on him as a person. Luffy’s philosophy is untempered by compromise – unless you’re willing to die for your beliefs, you’re worthless.
On top of that death-wish philosophy, One Piece also consistently returns to a “pride and reputation” refrain. The first volume essentially established “power levels” in terms of bounties on pirates’ heads – in this volume, both heroes and villains alike speak in terms of fighting for the sake of improving their reputation. Unlike the pragmatic Nami, the pirates seem to see victory and rewards as almost secondary to the bare glory of killing someone to prove you’re strong. When Zoro stands up for a fight in spite of a grave injury, he consistently frames his battle in terms of how he won’t be able to continue fighting if he fails here. And when Nami asks Luffy why he doesn’t intervene, Luffy says nothing; just like with his opponents, Luffy’s attitude towards even his allies seems to be “impress me. Show me you’re strong.”
This focus on pride and reputation seems like a strange fit for a shounen manga, and leaves me wondering whether it’s a piece of arrogance these characters will eventually have to move past. The village chief’s final words leave me inclined to believe that’s true, as when Buggy directly asks him if he’s challenging pirates for fame (as Luffy and Zoro readily admit they do), the chief responds “that’s stupid. I’m here because I want to protect this village. To protect my treasure.”
The meaning of “treasure” is fluid and obvious throughout this volume – it’s not wealth, it’s whatever you hold sacred or dear. And that, if anything, seems like the direction the heroes’ currently self-involved pride might eventually lean towards. At the moment they fight to look cool and feel strong, but as Shanks demonstrated in the first volume, that kind of bravado is essentially worthless. Shanks didn’t fight to maintain superficial reputation, even when he was being mocked to his face – he only fought when something he actually cared about was endangered. I guess I’ll have to see where Luffy’s pride goes from here.
Storytelling aside, One Piece remains consistently visually compelling throughout this second volume. The alternation of expressive slapstick and impact-heavy fight scenes presents a strong mix of variables, echoing how the story’s alternately cartoony, almost carnival-esque sense of fun and out-of-nowhere sense of danger each amplify the other. Luffy’s inventive powers continue to make him a uniquely satisfying shounen lead, and the story’s moving at a solid pace. One Piece sails confidently through its second volume.
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