Pursuing Your Dreams: The Heart of One Piece

by | Sep 13, 2023 | Pop Culture, TV

“I’m gonna be king of the pirates!”

Time and again, Monkey D. Luffy, the protagonist of Eichiro Oda’s One Piece, states his dream and goal, no matter how outlandish it seems. Luffy holds onto the hope that he can find the fabled treasure known as the One Piece and claim the title for his own, even though other pirates have been searching for it for more than two decades by the time he starts his quest.

And with Luffy’s stated goal, we might imagine him to be a ruthless scalawag, craving power or demanding respect from others.  However, that assumption would be far from the truth. Luffy is goofy, interested in food, and helping those in need. Instead of being a force of fear, Luffy often ends up being one for joy and hope.

Among anime and manga fans, One Piece has a reputation for being one of the all-time great stories with incredible worldbuilding, zany characters, and physics. The biggest barrier to entry for people is the extraordinary length of the series. The manga has been running weekly since 1997 (and the anime since 1999), boasting over 1000 entries across the series’ 25-year runtime. And the story is still in progress to this day.

Enter Netflix’s adaptation of One Piece. The eight-episode series covers events from roughly the first five to ten percent of the current story in about eight hours, far more digestible than the 20 hours it takes the anime to cover the same ground. As an adaptation, certain elements must be changed, and others cut entirely. There is also an inherent danger in adapting anime to live-action, something Netflix has faced in subpar adaptations like Death Note and Cowboy Bebop.

In full disclosure, I don’t intend to offer a review of the series or note how it succeeds or fails to live up to the manga. I’m still working through the series and enjoying it very much so far. Instead, I hope to explain why One Piece matters. I am a long-time fan of the series, first encountering it in high school and later deciding to begin the manga again from scratch at the start of COVID. Given the length of the series, it took me ten months of constant reading to get up to date, which allowed me to appreciate the series more.

So, why does this series matter? Why is it worth yet another adaptation of this incredibly long story? The answer may seem a little trite, but it comes down to the power of dreams.

Luffy’s dream is to be King of the Pirates. This dream is shared by several other characters we encounter early in the series. However, how they chase this dream is entirely different compared to Luffy. While other pirate captains are cruel and vindictive, Luffy’s response is unorthodox.

He wants a strong and loyal crew, filled with people he cares about, to join him on the quest to become Pirate King. He isn’t interested in tribute, pillaging, or power over. His presence as a pirate doesn’t spread fear but joy and hope, often helping people under attack or oppressive structures, seen as early as when he frees the people of Orangetown from the Buggy Pirates or Koby from the Alvida Pirates.

Luffy is interested in the dreams that others have. Koby wants to be a marine, a sworn enemy of the pirates, and Luffy encourages him to pursue this dream. Roronoa Zoro is an intimidating swordsman who collects bounties on pirates to make a living.  He’s doing well for himself, but he’s not fully alive. Yet when Luffy tries to recruit Zoro to join his crew, he helps him name his desire to be the world’s greatest swordsman- a point where viewers can see life begin to enter Zoro’s eyes.

By the end of what the Netflix series covers, Luffy’s crew consists of five people, each with their own dream. Luffy wants to be the Pirate King. Zoro wants to be the world’s greatest swordsman. Nami wants to draw a map of the entire world. Usopp wants to be a brave warrior of the sea, living up to the tall tales he would tell. Sanji wants to find the mythic All Blue, where a chef like him can find any ingredient he wants. 

Luffy continuously inspires each member, offering an example of grit and desire, providing an opportunity to prove themselves and achieve their dream. With Luffy at the helm, this ragtag group is ready to face whatever challenges they encounter as they prepare to enter the Grand Line, where the One Piece is said to reside.

Luffy’s dream inspires each of his crewmates to pursue their own, no matter how lofty or mundane it may seem. And it’s all because Luffy continues to defy the odds and best whoever is in his way, all to protect his friends and pursue his goal. Why can’t they reach their dreams if they stick with him too?

Perhaps that’s a lesson we can take to our own lives. What are our dreams?  What are those deepest desires buried within us? How might our dreams help others realize theirs and make the world a better place?


[Author’s Note: There is so much more to talk about in One Piece that an article like this cannot possibly attend to, such as an exploration of worldbuilding, striving against impossible odds, found family, the Devil Fruits, and the heart-wrenching backstories of characters, amid many others.]