And we save the best for last. Not necessarily the best fight, but most certainly the best series. One Piece is interesting when compared to the others of Jump‘s Big Three. As opposed to starting strong and losing steam as the years passed, One Piece did the exact opposite. It has become a war cry for One Piece fans trying to get new readers into the series, “Just make it past the first nine volumes, make it to the Arlong Arc and you’ll be hooked.” With oddly cartoonish art and stories that fans generally rank among the series’ worst, the early chapters of One Piece belie the powerhouse of a manga it would later become.
But surely there must have been something that drew readers in? After all, every manga fan knows that One Piece is easily the world’s number one manga (at least sales-wise). So what let it survive beyond its infancy? Well, if you’ve been reading this column for the past two weeks, chances are you have an inkling of my answer to this question.
Also, since this column is still new, I’m always testing new ideas for formats. Let me know what you think of this version.
After defeating the tyrannical Axe-hand Morgan, Luffy and Zoro find themselves drifting on the ocean with no food and no way to navigate. Luffy tries to catch a bird to eat, but ends up on an island occupied by the dread pirate Buggy the Clown. Luffy runs into Nami, who initially turns him over to Buggy in order to get to his treasure map, but then saves him at the last second. Luffy beats Mohji the beast trainer, and Zoro beats Cabaji the acrobat, leaving Luffy and Buggy ready for the final battle.
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Buggy’s devil fruit powers give Luffy a hard time at first, but before long he is able to take advantage of Buggy’s weaknesses. Buggy tells Luffy about the time he was an apprentice on a pirate ship with Luffy’s idol, Red Haired Shanks. After Shanks inadvertently ruin’s Buggy’s plan to sell a valuable devil fruit, Shanks then saves Buggy’s life, but earns his eternal ire. With some help from Nami, Luffy is able to defeat Buggy easily, sending him flying with most of his body parts missing.
What does it mean?
Compared to the straightforward action scenes in Bleach and Naruto, One Piece can often rub fans of those series the wrong way with how it portrays action. The early fights, especially the first three in the series (Alvida, Ax-Hand Morgan, and Buggy) come across as just ways to show off how cool the main character is.
Buggy stands out among the early fights, because he is the only antagonist Luffy faces (before Logue Town) that has devil fruit powers. While later on in the series every villain worth his (or her) salt has devil fruit powers, this early in the game it was a big deal. None of the other characters had powers like Luffy. What makes this fight stand out so much is how creatively these powers are put to use. Luffy always finds ways to make his strange power combat-worthy, but to see another character doing the same thing makes this fight stand out in a sea of sword-swinging and punching fights.
This is what makes Buggy’s status as a “joke villain” so strange. While he is portrayed as a serious threat, the ease with which Luffy deals with him (after some minor set backs) doesn’t quite match up. It feels as if Buggy could have either been taken seriously or written off as a complete joke, and seeing him as a little of both is jarring to say the least—still fun, but a little too much in the middle to make for easy classification.
Though Luffy is still portrayed as an invincible protagonist, Oda manages to throw in some tension by giving Luffy a weakness that Buggy can exploit. Luffy’s hat, given to him by Red Hair Shanks, is the only part of him that can be effectively damaged, and Buggy takes advantage of this.
But Buggy is not the only person who can take advantage of others’ weaknesses. As he learns to his suffering. Luffy takes advantage of Buggy still feeling the pain of his separate body parts. And with only two eyes, Buggy cannot both hunt down Nami (who is getting away with his treasure) and protect his lower half.
After this point, the seriousness of the fight dissipates, and Buggy goes from being a threat to being the the fight’s buttmonkey. While the transition is a little jarring, it helps that Oda does not switch back and forth. When Buggy is threatening, he is threatening, but once his weakness is discovered, Luffy takes full advantage of it, and Buggy becomes a joke. So in its own way, the shift from serious to gag goes as smoothly as it possibly could have.
This fight ranks as one of the best in the East Blue arc, solely because it stands out as the first real threat Luffy faces, as well as only one of two villains that have devil fruit powers. Compared to Kuro and Don Krieg, Buggy is one of the more memorable One Piece villains. The shift from serious threat to comedic foil may be jarring for some, but it’s One Piece in a nutshell. No matter how dangerous the situation, there’s always a good laugh to be had.