This year has been an odd and quiet one for me. I’ve graduated college, only to return to studies; I’ve got a part time job, attempting to make use of the skills I learned some time ago and put them to use. Anime this year felt a little distant, to the point where I was worried that I was starting to fall out of it. Friendships took a hold as I attempted to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and I moved back in with parents. With so many drastic changes going on, I was starting to wonder if there was any point in making sense of the chaos. So what did I do?
I went back, really. I revisited things I dropped. I pushed myself to do things I disliked. I took up running, an exercise I loathed with a passion so long ago; I started practicing digital art, a form I always felt uncomfortable with; I even rewatched The X Files in celebration of the oncoming revival series. I restarted Doctor Who in the hopes that I could find some resolution to my issues with it. I took a look at Bakemonogatari to see if the fanservice wasn’t as irritating as it was before. But I also picked up One Piece, a manga I so easily dismissed as childish, boring, and too wacky for my tastes back when I first saw it in eighth grade.
It’s hard to describe what I – and I’m sure, millions of other fans – find so endearing about One Piece. It might be the simple character designs that allow for easy and yet unique paneling composition. It might be the witty allusions and clever world building while integrating compelling character arcs and stories about friendship along the way. It might be how sweet and caring Oda seems to be through his little interviews at the end of each chapter. Just as One Piece is vast, it is also diverse, especially in its strengths, which burn so brightly in nearly every arc that it’s hard to see any pitfalls of the series. It’s a story about friendship, found families, and believing in the best of yourself – messages that have become the default of a Weekly Shonen Jump series at any rate – but are heartfelt all the same.
One story that stands out for me personally is Chopper’s arc. It’s a tragic story of misunderstandings, loss, and forgiving yourself. Focusing on a reindeer-human hybrid, Chopper’s story rings close to home as a second generation immigrant, caught between the dreams of my family and my own personal dreams. His arc came at a time needed for me, when I decided to stop becoming a doctor – a dream that I had rigidly pursued for much of my life – and become a medical researcher instead. It’s not like the conclusion to Chopper’s arc is victorious either; his inspirational mentor is gone, and his legacy is in the form of Chopper, who is still very new to medicine. But what remains intact is the determination and patience that good things will come in time. They live on in the forms of sharing dreams and inspiring hope. Somewhere around the corner, life can still be genuinely rewarding and satisfying.
It’s a lesson that I’ve carried over to kickstart things I left unfinished. We all have things that have disappointed us in one regard or another over the years, whether it be a hobby, show, friendship, or something more. And as time goes on, those lingering feelings turn into isolated grudges; by the time we’re older, we forget why we even disliked these things in the first place. We cared about them once, but now they have gathered dust, becoming petty memories. Given the chance though, those old things we once cared about can light up something new: a different perspective. By returning to One Piece, I’ve given myself the chance to do the same with things that I never thought I’d enjoy again. The deep seated uncomfortableness I had with the Monogatari series seems to be loosening. My unwavering feelings of guilt and anger toward Moffat’s writing of Doctor Who feel less like a resentment and more of a valid complaint amongst good qualities that still exist in the series. It’s a slow process, but I’ve inched my way toward finding a middle ground to the me of years ago. One Piece is to thank for that.
I can run 9 miles now; my feet feel lighter, my core a little stronger. I hope that in the coming year, I can have the resolution to continue facing my own mistakes and becoming a better me.