By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
The Fishman Island arc, considering that we spent such a long time waiting for it to finally arrive, has been n unfortunate mixed bag so far. And that doesn’t really change with this volume, as while there are a lot of cool things going on, some good dialogue and humor, and some interesting bad guys, for once I wish that Oda would try pacing a little more like Bleach and let things slow down a bit.
The Straw Hat Pirates (plus Jimbei) are on the cover of this particular volume, and they do all get to show off their respective skills, in Oda’s standard shonen “see how I have grown stronger!” montage. Indeed, Zoro is captured and put into a cage (along with Usopp and Brook), but you get the sense that he barely treats it as something more than a minor inconvenience – he’s faced off against worse than this. Robin, meanwhile, can seemingly not only duplicate body parts but also herself now (let’s see Usopp try to imitate that!), and Nami gets to steal something for the first time in what seems like forever.
Speaking of Nami, given that we were at Fishman Island we were always going to touch on her past at some point. After the long flashback, Jimbei apologizes to her for not stopping Arlong, but this is an older, more mature Nami, and she can mourn the past while still looking forward to the future, and realizes that she’s met her crew and had grand adventures because of all this as well. It’s very heartwarming (as the rest of the cast seems to note, as several tear up in a “this is so heartwarming!!!” moment).
You would think Oda would have his hands full dealing with the prejudice moral that’s running through this arc, but apparently that wasn’t quite enough, so we also have some drug abuse going on, with the bad guys taking the Fishman equivalent of stimulants to keep going. As for the bad guys themselves, we meet Hody’s four lieutenants here, who are basically all variations on ‘goofy Fish guy Oda thought up to be funny’. There’s the one who adds sound effects to his sentences, the one whose camouflage is so good he gets run over, and the Drunken Master, just for a nice Hong Kong reference. Like Vander Decken, they are there to be bad guys you want to see beaten down but also enjoy reading about.
And so we finally start getting into the big fight about 2/3 through this book. It took longer than I thought – Luffy’s brief battle with Jimbei was particularly pointless filler but it’s here at last. So I’m hoping for some really good fights to take my mind off the fact that this arc is, for Oda, pretty mediocre. I mean, it’s still worth picking up – this is One Piece, and I don’t think Oda is capable of making anything not entertaining – but it’s not as fulfilling as what has come before it.