FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

By Hinata Hyuga on Mar 01, 2022

Welcome to Why It Works. As the Wano arc of One Piece nears its climax, it's as though the show's 500 episodes of worldbuilding are finally coming to fruition. Wano is likely One Piece's most paradigm-shifting arc since Marineford, and its culmination is certain to upend the entire world's power balance. One Piece's core principles are still intact in Wano; at the same time, however. How is it possible that this is the case?

How can a story go from a small town to an entire galaxy without losing its essential attraction or diminishing the value of its original characters and conflicts? Countless stories have fallen flat on their faces when put to the test, with the big finales sometimes sacrificing the strength of the worldbuilding or the importance of supporting characters. So how did Oda do it, exactly?

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

Answer: "the accumulation of a thousand conscientious, savvy storytelling judgments," as is typically the case with One Piece. His creation has scaled without ever losing track of itself with a gracefulness I've never seen before from any manga artist. Fortunately, One Piece serves as the final blueprint of his ideas, and its sheer structure provides solutions to this seemingly unsolvable theatrical conundrum. This is not a comprehensive breakdown of storytelling decisions, but I can point out a few of the most important ones and leave the rest to you, my readers, who are more than capable of doing your own study. Let's take a look at how Oda manages to keep the core of One Piece intact as he scales it up!

Tactic One: An Expansive Yet Contained World

After the growing action culminates in your greatest threat being confronted, the story ends with a climactic denouement. When you're writing a single story with a beginning and conclusion, your drama tends to follow the same pattern. "dramatic arc" is a more accurate description of what you'll see when you're writing a long-running story with an arc-based narrative structure. If your new threat is only somewhat more dangerous than your prior one, you're going to have to ramp things up to keep audiences engaged.

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

This is a normal outcome of storytelling, but it can often result in a story that lacks coherence and direction. Consistent viewers may begin to wonder why they should care about any villains, given that the following set will clearly invalidate the previous one. It's not uncommon to come across a sequence of revelations that completely overturn the preceding revelations in a story built on this kind of dramatic one-upmanship. How can we be invested in a story if there is always a man behind the curtain?

By creating a clearly defined universe with clearly identified threats, Oda has overcome this inherent scaling problem. There are the world government, the navy, the most powerful pirate crews, and a slew of smaller organizations that support them all. Despite the fact that new dangers are constantly emerging, this framework is never invalidated by the scale or the dangers that have gone before it.

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

His universe is clearly geopolitical in nature, and Oda appears to have put a lot of thought into it. In fact, it looks like he was still thinking about it at the beginning of the relationship. It's unclear what "the navy" represents in the East Blue part, and that's all we get as a threat. When the government and warlords are introduced, the overarching framework of Alabasta remains unclear. Enies Lobby and Sabaody are the only characters in the first half of One Piece to thoroughly explain the world's fundamental variables.

Oda spends a long time working on the fundamentals of his world, but the advantages of this undertaking are obvious. However, instead of making previous foes seem insignificant, new enemies now bring with them a sense of satisfaction or anticipation from understanding how they fit into a larger scheme already in place. The world is stable because it is stable. There is no need to intensify the drama beyond what the world already portrays, so there is no threat of some unknown opponent showing up and declaring, "I was actually pulling the strings!"

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

As long as the Straw Hats are able to get to their goal, there's no need to change the world's structure, which would undermine its sense of solidity. Since their activities have reverberated to every known point, we get to enjoy the world as it moves along with the Straw Hats. It's impossible to doubt the worldbuilding that holds One Piece together, even when its individual islands are filled with stunning and unexpected flourishes of ingenuity.

Tactic Two: Clear And Steady Powers

Oda's world's geopolitical tentpoles aren't the only things that are stable. Now that Oda's power sets are well defined, even old foes may be classified in a logical order of threat. Another thing that took a while to nail out was the application of early Devil Fruits, which Oda would subsequently tone down a bit — his physical strength wasn't clearly defined either.

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

Similar to all of Oda's other skills, he worked tirelessly to perfect his use of powers, culminating in his creation of the Haki system. Using the Haki method, Eniru's mysterious talents and the previously unsolved issue of logia capabilities may be explained away, as well. As a result of Haki, One Piece's combat-inclined heroes have been able to gradually enhance their talents without invalidating the abilities of others by outranking them completely. Oda is able to scale his action without diminishing the impact of the less powerful characters because of the adaptability of devil fruits and the solidity of Haki.

Tactic Three: Non-Combat Conflict

Additionally, the anime has a great ability to keep its minor characters engaged in non-combat-oriented situations, which is another of One Piece's strong points, When describing One Piece as a tabletop game, I briefly touched on this strength, but it's just as relevant when considering One Piece's ability to scale gracefully. For characters like Nami and Usopp, One Piece allows them to show off their skills rather than just cheering on their opponents. This is a way to keep the importance of these characters intact, as opposed to merely cheering for the hardest person around.

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

A side effect of focusing on nonlinear, intricate conflicts is that they are far more engaging than a series of straight-up brawls. The world of One Piece is far more intricate than that, a world where a key act of deceit or betrayal or a devious strategy involving a multi-island drug supply network can be the difference between victory and defeat. The world of One Piece is far more complex than that. One Piece is able to rely on a larger range of genre influences than its peers because it embraces non-combat-oriented conflicts.

Tactic Four: Big World, Small Stories

However, the fact remains that Luffy and his foes have established themselves as colossal characters, often changing entire towns or islands as a result of their wars. When the stakes are so high, it's easy to lose sight of why our heroes are fighting in the first place. Unless we have individual people to care for and a sense of what this fight implies for them, the "fate of the world" is a remote and emotionally devoid idea. He has taken care to anchor his broader conflicts in specific human experiences, keeping our perspective tied to reality on the ground.

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

Every new arc in One Piece is quickly contextualized by the distinct stories of its culture and people, ensuring that the individual human stories are never forgotten. Alabasta is more than simply a scenic panorama in the desert; it's also the home of Vivi, a character who has grown on us. While Caesar and Doflamingo's Punk Hazard is a political tool, its dread is humanized through Brownbeard and the children, whom they betrayed and entrusted to it. When it comes to Wano, the arc that culminates in a war over the whole of the New World, the Akazaya's ancestral home, Tomo can't even locate rice in this region that has become so tainted by commercialization.

Aside from being good storytelling practice, it has additional advantages. When you're getting to know a new island's inhabitants, these sequences are often their own reward in the One Piece-ian appeal of discovering something new. By reading about these islands, we become attached to them, so when a threat arises, we feel emotionally invested in their preservation. There is a distinct danger to those we've come to care about with each new obstacle, and each new challenge expresses its malevolence in a unique way. Oda never loses the human element of his larger-than-life conflicts by focusing on the lives impacted by One Piece's principal players.

FEATURE: How Can One Piece Keep Its World and Drama so Large?

Even though I've rambled on for far too long, Oda's grasp of dramatic scale has only just begun to dawn on me. In order to get an audience invested in your characters, the first step is challenging. The fact that Oda has been able to keep One Piece emotionally compelling for so long is a credit to his abilities as a story builder and his mastery of the emotional underpinnings of drama. I have no idea how Oda will keep this story's heart beating until the very end, but I am looking forward to finding out.

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