By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by Stephen Paul.
Oda is very fond of writing chaotic scenes, and the last few arcs have all consisted of “start slow, then work to lots of chaos’. But the period of slow starts is decreasing, and we’re barely halfway into this volume before Luffy, reuniting with Zoro, is doing things at his own pace and upturning everything, mostly as we’re present in another country where evil bad guys are lording it over everyone while the poor and downtrodden starve. And, let’s face it, beating up those evil bad guys doesn’t really get old. It is worth noting, though, that Luffy has matured a great deal since the start of the series, and particularly in the last few arcs. Sure, he still doesn’t listen to anyone and does his own thing, and He’s still happy-go-lucky, but his reaction to Otama’s condition and the state of the country itself show a maturity that I really like seeing in him. You’re starting to see him turn into someone who CAN be the Pirate King.
This is the first time in ages that we’ve had the entire Straw Hat crew assembled, but aside from Zoro, the rest of the “missing” crew from the last few books remain missing here. But that doesn’t mean we’re not making new friends and introducing old ones. Otama is the cute and spunky little girl who made a promise with Ace years ago and now finds that Ace isn’t able to fulfill it. But that’s why Luffy is here. There’s also Okiku (get used to the O- prefix), a samurai who is gorgeous and also really tall, but does not let that get in the way of excellent sword skills and wanting to protect people. Trafalgar Law is around, still trying to achieve things quietly and sanely and still running into Luffy making that impossible. And we also have Basil Hawkins,k the fortune-telling pirate who seems to be working for the bad guys here, and who briefly gives Luffy and Zoro a run for their money till the cards say they get away.
And there are also some classic Oda scenes here. For everyone who thinks that the man is losing his touch, I urge you to take a peek at Holdem, a member of the Animal Kingdom Pirates who has a living Lion Head on his stomach, and the fact that the lion head proceeds to, when annoyed, punch Holdem in the nuts… forgetting that they are also the lion’s own nuts. That sort of goofy, juvenile gag requires a fantastic imagination. And it’s not just used for gags. The revelation towards the end of the volume as to the fate of Kin’emon and his compatriots, and where they really come from, is the sort of thing that you might protest breaks the story a bit if it weren’t handled with the deftest touch. And yes, there’s also Kaido, who really deserves that cliffhanger with an amazing two-page spread appearance showing off “I am the villain” vibes.
91 volumes in, One Piece has started a new arc that has me riveted already. I wonder how many volumes it will be? (Answer: many, many volumes.)