Portgas D. Ace is one of the most widely beloved characters in One Piece history. However, his backstory, while touched upon in the series, was never explored satisfactorily enough for any enthusiast of the saga. For this reason, and with Ace’s arc in the narrative snuffed out thanks to his untimely demise, many One Piece fans will probably want to embrace the western release of One Piece: Ace’s Story Vol. 1 with excitement and eagerness.
This light novel prequel is really just for that specific target audience, as the story is simply not compelling enough to really draw readers beyond that fandom. Unfortunately, though, even One Piece fans are going to struggle with this surprisingly lifeless peek into the character’s past exploits.
The story follows not Ace but, rather, Masked Deuce, a member of Ace’s first crew: the Spade Pirates. The book begins with Ace and Deuce meeting on a deserted island after the two are separately shipwrecked on. Deuce starts off trying to be an adventurer but ends up deciding to chronicle young Ace’s journey to becoming a pirate, culminating in a confrontation with the Marines — most notably, the lovely ensign Isuka and Vice-Admiral Draw.
The plot is relatively bare-bones, featuring enough content that might fill up a couple of episodes of the anime. Gone is the bombast and energy we’ve come to expect from the franchise. With Deuce as the core viewpoint character, we see the narrative only through his lens, which often keeps us at arm’s length from the emotional intensity of any given scene. And, as a character, Deuce is incredibly passive, often just watching Ace do incredible stuff while he reacts.
Every chapter covers a different conflict and era in Ace’s life. We start off on the island, then Ace building his crew, before coming in direct conflict with the Marines. This last part is the most interesting moment as it offers the most material adversity for the Spade Pirates to overcome. For the first roughly hundred pages, however, the book doesn’t mount any real conflict beyond the introduction of Isuka. The Marine subplot, which ends up being the core conflict of the book, ends up also being the highlight, establishing real stakes for Ace to overcome. Ace is given choices, sometimes soft ones, but choices that still have consequences. While the book does finally come alive in this last third, getting there is the problem.
What really turns this book into a bit of a slog, perhaps, is that many of the most interesting elements — from Ace forming his crew to making accomplishments that deem him worthy of the huge price on his head — are covered through a paragraph of exposition rather than covered in the action of the narrative. Most of the Spade Pirates are introduced in short-succession. They end up feeling superfluous.
It also doesn’t help that the pace is otherwise bogged down by Deuce’s internal monologue. For a light novel about Ace, Deuce spends so much talking about his own self-doubt that it really draws attention from the core appeal of this story: seeing Ace’s story. This results in a tale that surprisingly lacks energy despite being centered on the origins of one of One Piece‘s most fired-up characters.
Still, is One Piece: Ace’s Story worth reading, anyway? It does offer a great deal of backstory on one of One Piece‘s most iconic characters and there is nothing unforgivably bad about the novel. It’s also short, so you can probably finish the whole thing in about the same time it takes you to read a couple volumes of the manga. However, there’s no getting around the fact that this light novel lacks what it needs to be spectacular. Fans with a voracious appetite for all things One Piece will find little to complain about. Bu,t if you’re a more casual fan or unfamiliar with the long-running shonen classic, One Piece: Ace’s Story isn’t worth your time.
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