“Epic” is a word that’s thrown around all too often these days, to the point where it’s used to describe anything from that which a protagonist in an anime does that’s particularly shocking or an event of pure unadulterated win. But one case where the word “epic” can be used without exaggeration is One Piece.
One piece is without a doubt the best shounen manga I’ve ever read, perhaps even the best anime (excluding Soul Eater. God, Soul Eater is awesome.) One thing that’s always amazed me about the show is it’s sheer scale. All too often, though a show is interesting it seems truly confined within itself, though depending on the calibre of the show that’s not always a bad thing. But more to the point: One Piece is the “largest” anime I’ve ever seen. From the size of its cast to the wide expanse of the open sea, it manages to surpass the Grand Line scale of anime in which even the fate of the galaxy is in the balance (TTGL, Gunbuster, Macross Frontier) due to the vibrant details that colour all parts of its world. But, beyond that, it, in my eyes, is a true modern day epic.
Be forewarned, the only epics I’ve actually read are the Aeneid, The Odyssey and the Iliad (Classics ftw) so this is all the material I have to go off of and I’m not a true fresh-from-uni scholar as of yet, so bear with me with inaccuracies or baseless assumptions.
For those who don’t know of the epics, here’s a short summary:
Having lost the Trojan War, the hero of the story, Aeneas, flees the burning city of Troy with the people of the city. He eventually discovers that he must journey to a new land to fight for a home for his people and found a new race, The Romans.
A regaling of the Trojan War. The Greeks go to war with the Trojans after discovering that the princess Helen has been taken away from their native city of Argos.
The tale of one man’s journey home after the Trojan War. After being held captive for years, Odysseus manages to get free from the goddess Calypso. After making his way to the island of Scherie where he regales the natives with his story he returns to his homeland and kills the suitors who are courting his wife.
First of all, I’ll try to define some of the key elements that are within an epic:
- A hero.
- A great journey across many lands.
- The gods.
- Morality and justice.
Anyway, if you haven’t already guessed, One Piece contains most if not all of those elements, albeit with adjusments to let Oda-sensei work his magic.
The Hero Of One Piece: Monkey D. Luffy
Luffy is one the best main characters of any anime ever. But besides this, everything he does is full of morality, inherent goodness, willpower and an urge to help his friends that makes Goku look shameful in comparison. Within the Aeneid, Aeneas is portrayed as a righteous and passionate warrior, and what is Luffy if not that?
This is what most likens One Piece to an epic. The world is portrayed as a truely huge expanse with different people, different lands and a true sense of adventure. In the Odyssey, Odysseus not only goes on a great journey but encounters sails with his crew encountering giants, sea nymphs and monsters of the sea. In a way, much of the epic reads as a series of folk-tales, which are hard to believe. Coincedence? I THINK NOT.
Though there aren’t any characters in the show that can be truly compared to the likes of Zeus or Ares, what we do have are the Admirals who, from what I’ve seen and remember, are seemingly invincible. Two of them are elements incarnate and primarily act in the shadows seeking to hinder The Straw Hats in any number of ways through directing their subordinates. The ancient gods had a penchant for toying with humans, most noteably Juno of the Aeneid who embarks on a near relentless crusade against the Trojans until the last 200 or so lines of the book. Now THAT’s a grudge. But they are also showsn to be very human in their actions; they have naer limitless power to do what they please and yet they busy themselves with trifles like the members of the human race and are swayed by emotions, most notably anger. What’s significantly different is that the heads of the World Government are scared. They actually feel threatened by this rag-tag bunch of pirates that appeared out of nowhere and are storming towards their goal with no regard for the rules that the WG have imposed. Much like Aeneas, there is an objective at the end of the road bequeathed to them by the dead; for Aeneas it was the foundation and home of his people by those killed in Troy, for the Straw Hats it’s One Piece by Gol D. Roger. Okay, so the latter don’t have as noble intentions as the former, but that doesn’t mean they try any less to get to their goal.
Morality and Justice
Oda-sensei has simplified and distilled the themes of justice much like the ancients did to get his point across. Be it Crocodile, Enel or the Tenryuubito, the main antagonists of One Piece are wholly and truly evil and they are all punished for their crimes. Granted, in the epics it was mostly for vengeance that such actions were performed but I’d rather this not become a philosophical musing about what is and is not just (leave that to The Republic). The fact of the matter is that for those commit evil deeds retribution will come, be it from divine intervention or the crushing fist and/or blow of a good man. Aeneas slaughters the killer of his friend at the climax of the Aeneid and Odysseus returns home to kill those who would try and wed his wife.
What better way to illustrate this in One Piece than with one of the best comeuppances in the entire series:
Payback’s a bitch.
Of course, the scale of the fights in One Piece can’t compare to the huge wars waged in epic (except maybe the end of the Alabasta arc) but what is consistent between the two mediums is that when the warriors are fighting, they battle ferociously for their ideals and for their people. For Aeneas, it’s the Trojans and for Luffy it’s the crew. They both have a duty to their subordinates to do everything they can in a battle and in return their subordinates will do everything they can for their leader. A bond of loyalty, respect and, most prominent in One Piece, friendship is created between them that can weather any storm.
There are a few elements in epic that I haven;t touched upon, namely the destructive force of love and the nature of sacrifice, but hey, not everything is going to line up perfectly.
At the very least, it’s a great show (and manga) and I believe it’s one of the few anime that deserve to be legitamately called “epic”.