So in February, I fell behind on my One Piece marathon, so I did my damnedest to get all caught up in March. Thankfully, I succeeded with getting back on track and oh boy do I have so many thoughts!
Volumes 21 through 23 brought us to the end of the Baroque Works/Alabasta arc and, believe me when I say I cried at the Straw Hats raising their X-marked wrists up for Vivi when she decided to stay with her people in Alabasta. The fight with Crocodile was so intense and it really set Luffy up to look absolutely incredible. But from there we have Nico Robin joining the crew just because she “has nowhere else to go” but something about her at this point just rubs me the wrong way and I’ve gotta say that I side with Zolo when I say I’ve got a bad feeling about her. Of course, Luffy doesn’t mind and thinks of Robin’s devil fruit powers as entertaining (the panel where she makes hands sprout from the top of Luffy’s head and he turns around like “HEY USOPP, I’M CHOPPER!” had me dying of laughter).
Back on the seas again, it’s time to head to the next adventure.
The Merry-Go lands on the next island, a place full of ruthless pirates who care only about money and power and the hierarchy of power is determined by whoever has the highest bounty on their head. With Robin on board, the Straw Hats have a total of over $200,000,000 berries on their heads but – of course – with Luffy’s demeanor no one is about to take that seriously. It was a fun mini-arc for sure about not giving up on dreams and holding true to your beliefs. It was awe-inspiring to see Luffy seriously acting like a captain. When he tells Nami to stop carrying on about fighting because she’s being shameful to them and when Luffy and Zolo both stand their ground, refusing to fight without cause, are now two of my favourite moments to have happened.
From there, we get to learn more about the mythical island in the sky and Luffy meets Cricket, the descendant of a great liar who was executed for blathering on about a city made of gold. Cricket is determined to prove that his ancestor was not a liar or a disgrace and helps Luffy make the perilous journey into the sky.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Skypiea arc if I’m being honest. I found the world building of it to be really unique but the miscommunication plot of the rivaling peoples was just really frustrating considering the Alabasta arc was all about misdirection and miscommunication as well. The sky people vs. the accidentally abducted people of Shandians who were blasted into the sky was just so frustrating because if they only listened to each other, they could figure things out. Even with the god figure Kami Eneru getting closure to completing his plan of mass destruction of Skypiea as a whole, if only everyone would listen to each other, maybe things could have been prevented before they started. Now despite my desperate urge to just skip through the rest of this arc, the literally explosive ending of volume 30, I knew things were going to get better as we get close to the conclusion.
Volume 31 was primarily backstory of how things reached this point in Skypiea. Lots of legends of the people in the sky as well as what Cricket’s ancestor, Montblanc Noland, actual went through before he was branded a liar and executed but the very kingdom he served. This entire volume hit really different given how the Shandians are suffering from a plague they refuse to see the truth of. Noland instantly vows to help them but he is brushed off by several warrior leaders of the tribe who believe a blood sacrifice is what will cure them. His words hit especially hard in chapter 289 when he yells, “No matter how great your gods are, people’s lives are more precious!” So many people are dead or dying because of the current pandemic state we’re living through and yet there are far more people refusing to see the facts right in front of them than there really should be. It’s heartbreaking and I wish I could slap them with Noland’s words that are just so true I could scream.
Once Luffy finds out that the bell of Shandia needs to be rung to let Cricket know that his ancestor was speaking truthfully, that the current Shandians fight to protect it so they can ring it and let Noland know they’re okay, he makes that the end game goal. If anyone knows the weight of a promise to a friend, it’s Luffy. In the next volume, when Luffy is successful, I was once again crying because he did it and Cricket will know he did it. The ending of this arc that I didn’t care for in the beginning was a weird melancholic punch in the gut as Cricket knew what Luffy did for him but wasn’t able to see him again. It was beautiful but sad and yet the adventure continues once again.
Our next mini arc was a volume long fight for crew mates as Luffy and the crew get sucked into a game of Davy Back where two rival pirate crews fight it out in a series of three different games. The wager on each game is a member of the crew who can be stolen by the winner or the very heart of the ship: the Jolly Roger. The games themselves were a lot of fun – I’m a sucker for Sanji and Zolo bickering at all times – but the “announcer” aspect of it made the chapters feel cluttered and made it drag out to the point where I just really wanted to get to the next real arc.
Even though I’m still reeling from what I’ve read from the next real arc.
The Merry-Go has been through hell and is in desperate needs of repairs so the gang make their way to Water Seven where they get into it with the Franky Family, a bunch of hooligans who dismantle pirate ships that make their way to the city famous for shipbuilding. Luffy, Usopp, and Nami are hit with a double whammy of bad news when they’re told that the Merry-Go has no chance of being repaired and then $200,000,000 of their $300,000,000 berries treasure is stolen by the Franky Family. The gut punch of distress the news of the Merry-Go hit me with was like when I saw the guild building destroyed for the first time in Fairy Tail.
I love the rollercoaster of this arc so far as we see Luffy start to make some very real decisions for the sake of his crew and we have Usopp not only stick up for himself and man-up a bit, but we also see him truly fight for what he believes in. Usopp not only wants to prove his worth to a crew made up a basically superhumans as well as doesn’t want to give up on Merry. His fight with Luffy broke my heart into more pieces than I can count.
Obviously this arc is nearing the climax by the end of volume 40, but I’ll talk more about it when I’ve completed it.
But what I will say is that this arc really proves the point of why One Piece is not only still going, but why it is Big Three. Oda Eiichiro is the gold standard shonen manga needs to look towards. Volume 40 ends on Chapter 388 and it feels like I’ve buzzed through it. The pacing of not only the plot but the points where character development is introduced is so natural it’s perfection. Not only that, but the layering of the plot is what I find lacks in so many new series who attempt “Big Three energy”. Water Seven is three different arc combined into one large one that will further the main plot of Luffy becoming King of the Pirates. We have Usopp’s character development leading into the sub-plot of the Merry-Go’s death which further leads into Franky vs. Galley-La shiphands which furthermore continues into the grander plot against the CP9 and rescuing Robin. There are just so many layers all meticulously wrapped together and intricately intertwined, it’s like magic.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I take back anything negative I’ve ever said about One Piece. Sure there have been moments in the near 400 chapters I’ve read so far that weren’t my favourite, but that doesn’t take away from the absolute perfection that it is.
If you’re hesitating on trying the manga because of the chapter count, stop it. Just jump in and fall in love with these goofballs. Naruto was 710 chapters. Bleach was 686. The Dragon Ball franchise totals at a little over 550. 1008 current chapters is nothing. Believe me when I say you won’t regret it.