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.
In almost all respects, this volume of One Piece is leagues better than the last one. It’s the start of a new arc, which means that the chaos that Oda now writes as a matter of course is a bit more tightly controlled. There’s amazing fights, mostly in flashback. There’s great humor, mostly involving the two leaders of Zou and their animal characteristics. Our heroes get to actually be heroes, and we are reminded once again that Luffy’s piracy is not about raping and pillaging. There’s also surprising drama, as we find out about the extent of Big Mom’s power (complete with a shout-out to the movie Se7en) and her reach. And, perhaps most important of all, Sanji gets a last name.
This is more important than it sounds. Of the original ‘main’ cast of One Piece, it was noteworthy that three of them were never given family names, which might imply there’s some lingering backstory to be had in the future. After all, we never met Nami’s birth parents, and Usopp’s father is still presumably bumming around with Shanks. And then there’s Sanji – or rather, Sanji Vinsmoke, who happens to be one of a family of famous assassins. We don’t actually get too many details here, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be meeting them soon, but I like that Oda is able to riff on details that he wrote literally over 70 volumes ago in an “I meant to do that” way – namely that Sanji was born in North Blue, and getting from North to East (where he met Luffy and the others) is not an easy thing, As for Sanji’s decision to leave the Straw Hats in order to forcibly be married off… well, that’s what this arc is about, no doubt, and I don’t doubt he’d sacrifice himself to save the crew. (Note Capone threatens Nami first – he knows Sanji well.)
We also see the Sanji side of the Strsaw Hats arriving at Zou in the aftermath of the battle with Kaido’s underlings (we’ve still not really dealt with Kaido much, but as is pointed out, no doubt they will need to face him soon – along with Big Mom), and right away they’re making a humanitarian effort to save lives and help people. I always enjoy it when the Straw Hat Pirates show off their innate goodness, and this isn’t even in a “we’re saving the kingdom” way – if that had been the case they’d have arrived earlier. There’s also a tremendous reveal right at the end of the volume, which I won’t spoil, but Usopp and Nami’s tears, as well as Luffy’s huge grin, pretty much spell out how I felt about it. It was amazing.
So all in all we’re back to excellent volumes of One Piece, and I couldn’t be happier. Next time we get more anthropomorphs, and try to decide which direction the plot will go next – there are many ways it could go.