One Piece and Pulp Detective Narrative

Wohoo, few days after Fitri, I’m back and I have few new stuff to talk about! Last time I post my rather grim rant about my current relationship with Islam, so lets talk about something fun for a change this time! 😀

Anyway, few weeks ago, I tuned in to one of my favorite youtube channel, Extra Credits. The video of the week was how they argue The Witcher 3 success in narrative was in how they borrow their storytelling from the pulp detective novel (or hard-boiled detective novel, whichever do you prefer it). You can see video here.

So few days after, as a fun exercise, I decided to look back on all of anime/manga that I’ve watched/read to see if there’s ever any other anime/manga that has the similar storytelling as pulp detective novel.

And funnily enough, One Piece is probably the closest I could find.

But, lets start by defining what’s pulp detective is exactly, just in case you haven’t watch the video I link above. (also to makes this post a bit longer)

Okay, so the mystery genre as we know it began to arise in 19th century on Britain. The genre back then usually revolve around a murder that’s happening on a wealthy countryside (settings often used since it limited the number of suspect due to the scope)  in which our detective protagonist must resolve the mystery behind. The appeal of the genre itself is on seeing our sleuth protagonist solving more and more elaborate murder as puzzle. The nature of the crime itself is white washed, so there isn’t much of a emotional attachment to the murder (no grieving, no anger etc.) and the society in which the murder takes place always stays the same.

Some time after that, few author on America began to revolt on these formula, since they saw how detached detective novel is to the reality that’s surround them, thus born the pulp detective genre. Compare to its British counterpart, the pulp detective is often focused on a rough and tumble society where everyone is either on the make or on their way down, observed by our outsider protagonist who’s not bound by the society and can move between the high class and the low class with ease.

But that’s all of the difference in terms of content on these work. What’s another crucial difference is how they deliver their narrative. In the British detective novel, what’s the most important in their story is the conclusion of it, but whereas in the pulp detective novel, the scenes in the story outrank the overarching plot in the sense on how good plot made good scenes. The ideal mystery is something that you read if the ending was missing. The main plotline are just thread that you follow, but the things you encounter on the way there is what’s important. So, put it in another way, you could say how the journey is the important thing than the goal.

Okay, that’s pulp detective is all about. So how does it applies in One Piece?

Well, I’ve said in my “Defining Shonen” post how One Piece’s appeal is about the unlimited adventure on vast rich world navigated by our quirky loveable crew, and that’s the important part of it, the “adventure”, not getting the One Piece itself.

The One Piece are just mcguffin that the crew searched for, but the wide variety of island that our crew encounter, the larger than live characters our crew met on the way, those are the things you’ve read One Piece for, and its also the reason why it did so well despite of, or maybe because of, its long run. Heck, when our main protagonist, Luffy, was given the chance to know the whereabout of One Piece, he rejected it, saying how he didn’t like “a boring adventure” on chapter 507. Going so far as quitting being a pirate altogether if he ever found out about the secret. Luffy, our very main character himself, doesn’t even care if One Piece existed or not. All he wants is the idea of the adventure and the freedom of getting One Piece. In fact, the earlier part of the chapter could be regarded as the very thesis of One Piece.

One Piece 507 - Page 9So structurally, One Piece was pretty similar to the pulp detective novel, but what about the setting? Does it have any thing to say what about the real world itself?

Well, One Piece didn’t have much in social commentary but the world in it are more or less similar to the setting of the pulp detective novel. The age of piracy, bolstered by Gold Roger’s words, cause the state of the world in constant flux with the rise of many famous pirates, not to mention there’s also the revolutionary movement led by Luffy’s father. Throughout its run, we were shown to the real world consequences of these event. This further emphasized during the war at Marineford where Edward Newgate, the captain of the Whitebeard Pirate, made a speech which started a new age of pirate two years after. We also get a glimpse of the inner working of the world government along the way.

But, as I said in the early paragraph, One Piece is “closest” I could find. Luffy didn’t exactly fit the archetype of the pulp detective novel protagonist. He’s not sarcastic, flappable, and by far, he’s not lonely. But he won’t take punches without delivering a comeback, he took pride on his occupation, and he has his own moral code. Also, him and his entire crew are pirates, which technically meant they were outsiders. While there isn’t much in a way of social commentary, there’s also few depiction of the real world problem. Whether it was slavery and racism in Shabody Island, or the civil war in Skypie.

So, what do you guys think about this? Let me know in comment section.

See you later ^ ^

Some Side Notes:

– Many mystery manga, like Kindaichi and Conan, often adhere to the same structure and formula as the British detective novel.

– Man, writing this post really makes me wanted to catch up to One Piece. FYI, my favorite fight on the whole series so far is probably the Straw Hat Crew vs Oz. One Piece in a nutshell, basically.

– For further reading about British detective novel and pulp detective novel, I’ll point you toward Raymond Chandler essay’s, “The Simple Art of Murder”, which you can read here.


  1. L-zerb · July 29, 2015

    Hi, I nominated you for another Liebster award!
    Hope you can answer my questions.


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