Extreme poverty caused our in-house otaku to miss more than 30 volumes, so is it too late for him to get into One Piece again?

Last Friday, the 100th collected volume of One Piece went on sale in Japan. It’s a major accomplishment as only a handful of manga have ever hit the triple-digit mark, and so we expected our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa, the biggest otaku in the office, to run out and buy it right away.

But we were surprised to learn that it’s been 10 years since the last time Seiji read One Piece. At first we thought that might be because he’s first and foremost a sci-fi fan (with Cowboy Bebop and Macross 7 among his favorite anime series), but it turns out the reason Seiji stopped reading One Piece is more complicated, and even a little tragic.

Seiji was in the second year of junior high school when Romance Dawn, the one-shot precursor manga to One Piece, was published in Weekly Shonen Jump. Between the unique-for-manga pirate theme and Eiichiro Oda’s dynamically flowing artwork, He immediately wanted more, and was pumped when One Piece began its serialization in earnest shortly thereafter.

Seiji continued reading One Piece through his student days, but things changed once he hit adulthood. A stint working part-time at a start-up company didn’t pan out, and suddenly Seiji found himself without a job. Unable to find other work, he burned through his savings, and things got so bad that his water was shut off when he couldn’t pay his bill. Having to cut his spending back to nothing but the absolute necessities, Seiji could no longer afford even the humble luxury of purchasing Weekly Shonen Jump, and so for the first time since One Piece started, he missed a chapter, and then another the week after that, and on and on.

▼ Seiji today

That was 10 years ago, before Seiji started working for SoraNews24, and thankfully he’s in a better spot financially now, and whether or not to treat himself to some manga is no longer a weighty economic decision. But One Piece has never gone on any sort of extended hiatus, and even during the period of Seiji’s life when he couldn’t afford it, the story kept moving forward, and he figured he’d lost his chance to get back into it. “I think the last chapters I read were around the part where they’re on Fish-Man Island,” Seiji says, and after a bit of online research, we were able to figure out that he’d read up to somewhere between Volumes 65 and 66, meaning there’re about 33 volumes, or a third-of-the-series, missing from his One Piece knowledge at this point.

▼ Volume 66

With all the excitement about One Piece hitting 100 volumes, though, Seiji wondered if he could get back on the horse/pirate ship. So he did end up buying Volume 100…but could he even understand what was going on, much less enjoy it? We’ll turn it over to the man himself for the report.

I could understand and totally enjoy it, with no problems whatsoever.

Really, I could just sit down and read it like normal. What really stood out was how well the emotional beats and pivotal scenes landed for me. There’s a scene where Nishikemon fights Kanjuro, and it was so cool it almost brought me to tears…even though I don’t know who either of those characters are.

There’s no way you can say the story has been shallow or underdeveloped for the 34 volumes I haven’t been reading. In Volume 100, there are all sorts of terms and factions I don’t recognize, like the “Tobiroppo” and “Akazaya.” But even if I don’t understand everything about them, I can understand who the principal characters are that the story is hinging on in Volume 100. In other words, the atmosphere and design work are so strong that they function as descriptions themselves, and you can tell, even from looking at a single panel, whether a character is the heroes’ friend or foe.

On top of that, it got my heart burning to see that a lot of the characters who had big roles to play 10 years ago still do now. More than anything else, the impression I was left with was that even though Eiichiro Oda says the One Piece series is in its late stages, he’s still creating the story with the same incredible sense of momentum that he always has.

So now that he’s finished Volume 100, is Seiji going to go back and catch up on the rest of what he missed by reading Volumes 66 through 99? Maybe, but honestly, he’s much more interested in what’s going to happen in Volume 101. He’s right back to feeling like a current, active One Piece fan again, and if you’ve also been taking a break from the series and wondering if you’d be able to get back into it again, Seiji thinks you’ll have no problems, because whether you’re talking about Volume 1 or Volume 100, One Piece is, and always has been, One Piece.

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