You might have guessed it by the title, but I’ve been watching One Piece recently.
By “recently,” of course, I mean “over the course of the last several months.”
I can’t, in good faith, push anyone to watch it. Heck, for years my buddy told me I should watch this pirate anime. It was really good, he said. “You just have to get past the first eighty or so episodes.”
Which is why I can’t recommend it. The series takes about eighty episodes to really establish itself. At 22 minutes an episode, that’s 29 hours and 20 minutes. Of constant screen time. Before the series gets good. I just, I can’t. I don’t know how to tell someone, “OK, just bear with it for a little over a full day’s worth of garbage and then you’re going to really like it.”
But…for those of you who make that investment, it pays off.
A lot of storytelling requires a hook. Make your reader interested by the end of the first page or you’ve lost them. Make sure your first episode is amazing or nobody will watch. Make sure you open your movie with an action sequence, and make sure your video game starts with a sweet piece of action. Meanwhile, One Piece makes its most garbage episode its first one.
I watched ep 1 years ago. Years. And after I did, I thought “yeah, this series is garbage,” and I put it down. Put it down and forgot about it.
But now I’ve paid my dues, and let me tell you: the payoff of that kind of investment is delicious. One Piece plays long-ball better than any other series out there. They drop a story hook around episode 100 that does not come into play again for three hundred eps. But it’s there, and you know it’s there, and so when it does payoff you get really excited.
This is the rule. They’re slowly—very, very slowly—revealing pieces of the world to the audience, and it’s just enough to make you want more. It also feels appropriately epic. I’m well into the Fishman Island arc (the 500s), and I can tell you that making something feel epic is a lot easier when you have over a solid week of screen time to fill.
And there’s no sense of a retcon in here. If they’re just pulling random bits out of things they did earlier and tying them in, they are doing it very, very well. Instead, it feels like this was all preplanned. But how big do your cojones have to be to put a hook down in episode 100, saying to yourself, “I’ll pay this off three hundred episodes later.” Anime episodes are released 1/week, so when I say three hundred episodes, what I really mean is five and a half years.
Judging by the stated plan, this series is going to take longer to pay off some its hooks than it’s going to take me to pay off my mortgage.
And, I love it. I love that they’re playing that kind of long-ball. I love the idea of the world taking that much time to develop. Far from being slow and plodding, the series moves itself along well. There’s no episodes where two characters do nothing but scream at each other and grow their battle auras. There’s just a good story, told with good characters, and with a massive over-arc that incorporates a number of bite sized internal arcs.
I can’t recommend that you do this to yourself. Watching One Piece requires a certain commitment. If the author is going to play that sort of long-ball, then the audience has to sign on. And that’s not going to be a thing a lot of audiences want to do. But there are some people who will read everything I’ve said here and think to themselves: That sounds amazing.
It is. Never have a I seen a series with a planning horizon like this one. And I don’t think, in today’s easily-distracted world, that I will again. It’s not the cleanest execution of a story, but it does epic with style. And for that, it’s going to have a special place in my heart for a while.