Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Good Political Themes of *One Piece*

In becoming an adult I've found that my enjoyment of certain cartoons has taken on a new pleasure, where I enjoy them now with an intelligent and thoughtful eye rather than the mindless, empty staring I used to do as a kid. Now when watching such shows I continually think about its merits and the effort that went into it, and am impressed when I identify traits of good aesthetics. Thanks to the power of power of Hulu I have been rediscovering and restarting some shows I began watching in my youth but fell out of, and of particular interest lately is the Japanese anime One Piece. Like with Dragon Ball Z I've started to notice philosophical elements that have escaped me before, and appreciate it more as a result.

The story is about a young pirate named Luffy and his crew on a journey to pursue their dreams, his being the finding of a legendary treasure that will make him king of the pirates. Along the way they fight other pirates doing evil to other people and in the pursuit of the same treasure, and, most significantly, battle an evil worldwide government that is after them solely because they oppose its corrupt ways, not because they committed any actual acts of evil. A major attribute of the series is a mystical class of food called devil fruits that grant its consumer a special trait, such as making their body made of sand or enabling them to slow down time, and constitutes a fatal weakness in characters by rendering the user unable to swim in ocean water, as the god of the sea disapproved of these power modifications and cursed devil fruit users consequently. Luffy himself is made of rubber after eating the gum-gum fruit, and he has various devil fruit users in his crew, such as a reindeer who ate the human-human fruit to gain a human mind and a skeleton who regained life by eating the revive-revive fruit.

I like this show for primarily two reasons. The first is that the main cast of characters is portrayed as phenomenal in their areas of expertise, such as the ship cook being a master of all cuisines and the musician being able to play any instrument. It's a little cartoonish how talented everyone is in this regard, but it places a positive value on human ability, best since all the characters are self-made and worked to develop their talents. Everyone is so competent in their skills that the ship only needs one of every type of crew member, from sniper to doctor, though the musician happens to be a secondary swordsman. The show is very political, so it's possible they may represent a blossoming business with a growing team of talent, all working towards the same profitable end point. They're only pirates in name only, as they don't rob or murder people, but rather fight injustice where they see it and earn their wealth.

My favorite attribute of the show is its anti-statist premise, as it shows the World Government as cruel, unjust, and an aggressor to its constituents, condoning official corruption, participating in slavery, executing prisoners on whim, and labeling good people unjustly as criminal evil-doers. They even have established relationships with certain pirates they deem as warlords, for in exchange of cooperating with the government in certain ways they turn a blind eye to their crimes, even murder. Despite all the men in clean white and blue uniforms, they're obviously supposed to represent evil, gang ridden dictatorships. Luffy got a bounty on his head just because he opposed a corrupt official who cooperated with a gang and allowed them to control a town in exchange for a portion of their loot. Other crew members got their bounties for opposing the government in the similar ways, and Luffy's crew is the only pirate crew sought by the government on the grounds that they oppose the World Government morally.

They don't just stop at government themes either, for they attack in general anything that constitutes dictatorial authority, whether it be a rogue gang controlling a town or a pirate killing his own crew. The story even touched on religious themes by having Luffy's crew travel to an island in the sky and fight a dictator who was calling himself God, who had the power of a kind of omniscient and the ability to control lightning as per his devil fruit power.

There are some minor vices, however. For one, it's possible that in the long-run the show may endorse anarchy rather than a properly limited government that protects its citizens, but it's still unclear at this point where it's going to go. Secondly, on aesthetic grounds, it tends to lack a lot of drama since the characters are sharply cartoon-like, which makes it hard to get emotionally involved, but it's still enjoyable on an adult level given the mature content and philosophical themes. At worst, they're just way too protective of good characters, as good characters will often survive the most devastating blows. A man, for instance, once experienced a bomb explode at point-blank range, and yet he was able to walk home the next day as if he only had minor burns. It hard to feel sympathy or fear for the characters' well-being given the expectation that everyone will survive any damage no matter what.

But all in all, it's a good series, one I'm glad to have rediscovered and reincorporated into my life as a value along with Dragon Ball Z Kai. A lot of episodes are available on Hulu, but not the entirety of the series, though perhaps they're working to incoporate every episode. I strongly suggest watching the original Japanese language version with English subtitles, as the English dub has terrible and uninteresting voicing. The Japanese care more about anime than Americans do, so they take more care in their work than American companies do in trying to market here in the U.S.

Don't miss out.


  1. I a libertarian have also found this cartoon also very entertaining and have found the same pattern you speak of so I googled it and found this article. This makes me happy because Japan has very few and often does not accept libertarian ideology so I am glad to see this cartton become the most popular.

  2. Nice post. I agree with you. I actually Google "One piece (political)" to find a review of the deeper story behind One piece anime and I bumped on your blog. But yes this is what I'm searching. The anime itself looks goofy, funny, and so cartoon-ish, but the story is of mature level.

  3. I agree about the mature themes, however I don't agree that the art is childish and cartoonish. If you see some of the original art by Eiichiro Oda around the water 7 to thriller bark arcs the art is really emotional and well done.


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