By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
I warn you in advance, this is another One Piece volume consisting primarily of one big fight, with many tiny little fights interspersed therein. Luckily, One Piece is dense enough that there’s still stuff to talk about even if the plot is mostly ‘Luffy hits the villain until he wins’.
One reason that the non-Luffy battles are so inconsequential is this is the big opportunity for Oda to show off how far his cast had improved in the two-year gap before the Fishman Island arc. There are some supposedly impressive mimi-bosses, but it’s notable that the only one who makes a really strong impression is the silliest, Zeo. It’s no coincidence that Zeo faces off against Brook, one of the silliest Straw Hat Pirates. He really is fantastically funny, and helps to liven up what might otherwise simply be a long stretch of battle. Usopp, too, has leveled up, and being who he is, gets to lampshade it. He doesn’t have to use fake balloon hammers or Sogeking anymore, he’s not tough enough to take on these bad guys with ease. Even Chopper has leveled up, coming to terms with his monster form and thus becoming able to control it.
The ongoing Fishman Island plot has been about racism, and this volume is no exception. It notes that Hody’s Fishman Uber Alles attitude may be stronger and angrier, but it’s also more hollow – he has no actual experience with what the Fishmen went through, but has merely grown up surrounded by a culture of hate. That’s not something easily changed, not even with a petition or really good thoughts. It has become, as the translation explicitly states, a holy war, and Neptune’s sons finally ask Luffy to do something that they cannot – wreck the entire island, reduce their past culture, with all its hatred, to smithereens.
This, of course, would fit the prophecy while not immediately spelling doom for everyone. Which is good, as this is also a good volume for seeing the good side of Fishman Island, and of One Piece heroes in general. You can always tell a character that Oda likes (even if they may be a villain) by their tendency not to give up even under the face of the worst adversity. Even the children watching the battle refuse to evacuate. And there’s a difference between this sort of strength and obsession, which is what we see from Hody and Vander Decken, who are perfectly happy with taking out countless innocents as long as they achieve their goals.
That said, I will admit to being a bit exhausted by this arc. It looks like it’s going to wrap up soon, for which I am thankful. I also wish we could have seen Nami and Robin do a bit more, but I can’t have everything. At least Sanji wasn’t too big an idiot this time. Next volume we wrap things up here and set off on a new adventure in the New World. Will we add a new crewman as well? I doubt it, but you never know with Luffy…