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A color illustration of the Straw Hat pirate crew in One Piece. Luffy is sitting on a white polar bear the rest of the crew is surrounding him. Image: Eiichiro Oda/Viz Media

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One Piece’s remarkable twist: Every moment in its 25-year run is paying off

For longtime readers, vindication is the ultimate gift

Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

I’d like to think that, if he were still alive, Homer would at least be a little envious of the work of Eiichiro Oda. The mangaka and creator of One Piece has created a saga in manga that rivals the work of the Greek poet. Perhaps not because of lyricism — One Piece is peak potty humor — but for the way it uses one crew of seafarers to tell a complicated history of an entire world and its nations’ conflicts.

Since 1997, the epic of One Piece has followed a band of pirates on the search for the ultimate treasure: the One Piece. The action-adventure series is known for its lighthearted tone and its protagonist, Luffy, who can stretch like rubber. There are roughly 1,070 episodes of the One Piece anime, and the manga itself is 106 volumes long, over 21,450-pages as of September 2022, with over 1,000 characters. But lately, Oda has been doing something new with One Piece, something bold, all things considered. Something for the folks who appreciate his work in all its Homeric length.

He’s built a modern arc on stuff that happened 25 years ago.

[Ed. note: This story discusses plot points of the Egghead Arc of the One Piece manga.]

It’s hard to encapsulate just how expansive Oda’s world is. Luffy and his pirates have traveled to dozens of islands and befriended countless more of their inhabitants, all in captivating detail. That’s all unfolded over 11 “sagas” so far, each made of multiple arcs — sometimes as many as five. So even though the manga is in its “final saga,” there’s still no telling how long Oda will take to wrap the story up.

Like any great long-running soap opera, One Piece will occasionally bring old characters back in new roles. Like Luffy’s brother Sabo, who first appears as a child in a memory and then comes back as the Revolutionary Army’s chief of staff, or Nico Robin, who grows from enemy to crewmember. This gives One Piece a deep sense of history and suspense, with stories that don’t neatly play out within the course of a visit to one island and could take hundreds of chapters to unfold in full.

An image of Luffy in the One Piece manga. He is standing in front of a pirate flag that has a skull and cross bones with a straw hat. There is a big ostrich bird standing next to him.
Luffy at the onset of his adventure.
Image: Eiichiro Oda/Viz Media

But now, Oda is seemingly going all in, leaning into all sorts of connections to previous arcs. As it stands now, the current Egghead Arc is telling multiple stories, but they all involve reintroducing old characters and looping old arcs in with the new. Take Sabo, currently in communication with Dragon the Revolutionary (introduced in 1999) and Emporio Ivankov (introduced in 2009). Oda is sending loads of characters to the same few places at the same time, and it’s accelerating the story at a dizzying pace.

Nefertari Vivi, a princess who is among the first to befriend the Straw Hats and who appeared in the manga in the early 2000s, seems poised to steer the new world order, thanks to new revelations about her country and its history. Additionally, old enemies like the 25-year-old Buggy have found newfound relevance, as he fails upward into the pirate hierarchy.

These are just a few among what are dozens of connections to previous arcs. Oda has created a world where seemingly every character and event could have some larger role to play. And with the Egghead Arc, he’s making good on that promise. You could argue that this is just plain too much information to track. But it’s still the ultimate payoff for fans who have followed the story from the beginning, myself included.

Reading the manga, I missed Vivi and wished that she’d joined the Straw Hats. Now I get to cheer for her again and see her interact with beloved characters from other islands. The reappearance of earlier settings, like Elbaf Island, allows me to reminisce about a time when the challenges the Straw Hats faced seemed comparatively small and simple. Old settings are revealed in a new light, as mundane places like Elbaf now contain a secret history of the world.

Buggy, from One Piece in the manga. He is the pirate captain known as Buggy the clown. He is leaning in a throne-like chair. He’s leaning on one hand and has his other left slung over an arm of the chair.
Buggy is still relevant, somehow.
Image: Eiichiro Oda/Viz Media

It’s a kind of self-referential fan service that not many franchises have the breadth to undertake. On one level, it feels like a nod to all these beloved characters and gets fans excited to see them again. On another, there are likely many fans who have not been able to keep up with the story throughout the years. And Oda hasn’t left them adrift; he makes sure to reintroduce every classic character with all the necessary context.

But for those who remember, the new arc is the ultimate reward. Before the Egghead Arc, I knew that all the islands and stories were supposedly connected, but it didn’t feel as obvious or important. Luffy would travel from place to place, and with the exception of collecting certain information, each adventure felt relatively isolated. There’s an excitement here just for longtime fans that, despite the breaks and the detours, all these islands of stories actually are connected. And that after all this time, we might get a story that brings everyone together.

Now, fans get to relish the collision of all settings and characters, finding new connections and seeing the world in new ways. We get the hype that comes with yearslong reunions in the making and then follow a grand adventure that involves the fate of the world. It’s like One Piece is having one last victory lap, and it’s celebrating its entire world in the process.

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