So. Mostly within the past week, I devoured the One Piece manga. I finished catching up on...Friday, I think? And had a lot to say about it, but I thought I'd give it a few days before making an entry to allow myself to calm down and be more coherent. (Note: this may not have worked.)
Reading One Piece...I did give it a shot before--probably 2-3 years ago now?--on the_firefly's recommendation, but I remember it being kind of a struggle (partly because of the quality of the scans I was reading, but also because, quite honestly, the beginning really isn't particularly impressive) and ultimately I was distracted away from it. I always had it in the back of my mind to read it again one day, but was in no particular hurry. Fast forward to within the past year, where nickelodeon's game fangirling reminded me I still hadn't gotten around to that; still, I was occupied with other things at the moment and in no rush to get to OP yet. Even when there was a bit of a chain reaction of One Piece fanning through much of the Brawl faction of my flist, I was thankful because it reminded me that "Hey, I still haven't read that yet," but I was content to carry on reading & watching the things I had been, with the intent to get to OP a little fresher in my mind.
The reason I finally did get to it was twofold, I suppose; firstly, because of being in a OP-based multi-fandom RP--I'd gotten up to Sanji when I attempted reading it before, so I knew at least a few of the main characters, but most of them I didn't--my curiosity was piqued by seeing portrayals of unfamiliar characters. The other reason, though, was seeing danbi's particular flail after she started watching the anime. Maybe some of it was just timing, but something about Bri's excitement at the series, and how she expressed it, got me suddenly really interested, and so I made One Piece my next priority.
I won't lie; I found the beginning a struggle this time, too. Not that it was bad, just...not particularly good or compelling, I guess. And while there were some moments that were really great, a lot of it seemed very...flat, and workmanlike. Like Oda was very obviously trying to get from point A to point B, and didn't allow as much meandering on the way to the goal. Some of the moralizing was just so heavy-handed, and it felt very forced-in, too. And some of the art, or more particularly, the blocking, especially during action scenes... I'm not a person who has a problem with Oda's distinctive art style, but his action scenes were really a mess at the beginning there. Half the time I would've had no idea what was going on, if someone hadn't been doing a play-by-play on the sidelines. (Thankfully, this improved a lot. I feel a little spoiled by Kubo Tite, because he knows how to do flowing and easy-to-read action, but Oda really improved by leaps and bounds compared to his early chapters.)
That probably sounds more negative and harsh than I mean it to. I know that it takes time at the beginning of just about anything of any length (whether a television show, a book series, or shounen manga) for everything to start to really fall into place and click and start running like a well-oiled machine. And when One Piece hit its stride, it hit it out of the park (lol, mixed metaphors).
Around the time they entered the Grand Line was when I realized I was no longer slogging, but breezing through and enjoying the story. Baroque Works and Alabasta were good, but the point where I became hooked was Skypeia. That was were I stopped for a breather in between chapters and realized that I didn't want to stop, and I realized that this was no longer just a story I was enjoying, but something that really had its claws in me. From there I pretty much read straight through to the current chapters in two or three days, and it left me breathless and wanting more.
Something I noticed about One Piece is that it really inspired a somewhat aching yearning in me, because I not only enjoyed reading it, but I want to be part of it. This is a feeling I only get from time to time and I consider it a mark of an excellent source material; one that seems too big to be contained within the borders of pure fiction. I think it was jazzyjello who said something about wanting to be part of the crew, and that's exactly it. I don't just want to read about them, but I want to be able to interact and journey with the Straw Hats, and be their nakama.
Now I have to talk about the characters a bit. The Straw Hats in particular. I pretty much love them all. I really can't pick one favorite. It's just too hard. Even the ones I would name as my (collective) favorite character only have a very slight edge over most of the others. Those "favorites" would be as follows:
Usopp - He's amazing. And, don't laugh, but of all the characters in OP, he is the one I have most of a crush on. I wouldn't have thought that it would end up that way at first, but as the story went on and Usopp just continued to be quietly amazing in his own special way, I had to admit: I was smitten. I didn't expect him to be as smart as he is (he's rather inventive, though lacking in common sense), or to have such depth of conviction. And, yes, bravery. And just when I though I could not love him any more...Sogeking showed up. ♥
Sanji - This was to be expected, as I already have somewhat of an established Thing for fictional guys who are smart, chivalrous, and (often self-proclaimed) playboys. (See also: Edgar Figaro, Allen Schezar, Kurz Weber, and Kyle [of Suikoden V]...to name a few.) But, beyond that...there is his amazing kick. Oh my god. Swoon. I think part of the reason I love his ridiculously overpowered kicking ability so much is that it is almost just...random. I mean, think about the ridiculously strong (in battle, particularly) members of the crew: Luffy, Zoro, Franky, and...Sanji. The other ones seem a little more justified, you know? Franky is a cyborg. Luffy has Devil Fruit powers. Zoro trains all the time. Meanwhile, Sanji is...a cook. Granted, he was trained by "Red Leg" Zeff but stiiiiill. That hardly justifies it. I just must assume he is naturally amazing.
Chopper - Ahhh, I love him. His shyness, his naïveté, his kindheartedness. I have, essentially, an enormous platonic crush on him. He's the crew member I'd most want to be friends with. To just...hang out with. If I were somehow given the chance to miraculously meet with one of the One Piece characters, he is the one I'd pick. I don't even think I can say why I like him so much; I just do. There are lots of little things I love about him but all taken together he is also more than the sum of his parts.
Robin - I love her dedication. To knowledge, of course, but also to her friends, and the sacrifices she makes in order to protect them. And the fact that she's an adult. I mean, before she showed up, the crew were all teenagers. Shounen heroes in general tend to be ridiculously young, so when she joined the crew I was really pleasantly surprised. Of course, with Brook and Franky, they got some more older members, but she was the first. Also: I already said this to maxine_chan, but when we first learned what her power was in the manga, I have to admit that my first thought was of the amazing pornish potential that would have. I mean. Seriously. THINK ABOUT IT. >.> I still want to know how she got her Devil Fruit powers, though. She's shown as an eight-year-old already comfortable with them, so just when did she get them? And under what circumstances? I wanna know. :|
Aaaand, of course, the others, for whom my love is only marginally smaller. Zoro, for example, easily rivals the above on a few occasions. Luffy's amazing and so determined and, of course, so funny and incredibly dumb sometimes, but I have to admit he also scares me a bit at times, ahaha. Nami took a little while to grow on me, I admit, but I've come to appreciate her, and I think we can all agree the crew would have been screwed many times over if she weren't around. Franky is so ridiculous and over-the-top that I can't help but adore him. Brook is still relatively new, but I already like him a lot. And Vivi is definitely still a Strawhat, even if she wasn't able to come with them. I really really hope we do get to see her again in the story. That would be amazing.
Honestly, there are a jillion more things I can talk about, but this is already long and will only get more disjointed, so I think I might just cut myself short here, and perhaps continue in comments. I am still all fgskjladfgskjdygjh about the series, and you are welcome--nay, encouraged--to flail with and at me in the comments.