One Piece, Vol. 91

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.)

One Piece, Vol. 90

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.

One Piece is ninety volumes long over here, in case you missed the title of the review. And it’s been running in Japan for twenty-two years, meaning many parents who started reading it in East Blue are having their kids pick it up with Cake Island. And while Oda tries his best to make everything accessible to casual readers, he really has his work cut out for him with this book, which sees the country’s leaders from all over the land get together for a meeting. The Celestial Dragons will be there… wait, who were they again? And Wapol’s back! … wait, who was he again? Even Oda knows that we can’t really recall everyone in every single volume. As result, not only does each chapter have ‘recap’ panels reminding us who these people are, there’s also an inserted 7-page ‘guidebook’ style entry going into even greater detail. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard. Especially since Oda seems to be reintroducing EVERYONE.

Of course, some characters don’t really need reintroduction, either because they’re still relatively new (Rebecca), hard to miss (Princess Shirahoshi), or iconic (Vivi). There’s an amusing scene where they all talk about how much Luffy did for all of them, and more people fall over themselves to talk about what a debt they owe the Straw Hats. Of course, not everyone reintroduced is a good guy. I mentioned Wapol before, though honestly he doesn’t seem that bad anymore, and I think is merely there to face off against Dalton and Kureha. No, I’m talking about the Celestial Dragons, particularly Stelly, the bratty kid who ruined Sabo’s childhood, who is now an even brattier adult. And of course there are the five elderly guys who run everything, who we rarely see but whenever we do it isn’t good. Worst of all, though, is the Dragon who appears riding Bartholomew Kuma like a mount. Sabo won’t take that lying down, and neither will Bonney, who’s infiltrated the party.

That said, it may be a while till we get back to this meeting, as we also have the Straw Hats, who have finally escaped from Big Mom, at least for the moment. Sadly, they’re without Jimbei, who has to stay behind to hold off the enemy, but he does resolve to join them soon, and I think we can safely say he’s a new crew member. And then we go off to the country of Wano, which allows Oda to bring out every single Meiji period cliche that he can. It also allows us to catch up with the cast who’ve been missing for a long, long time. Some are doing what they’ve always done (Franky is a carpenter, Usppp is lying), some are taking on tough new roles (Robin is a geisha), and some are… being executed? Well, at least they try to convince Zoro to commit suicide for the “crimes” he’s committed. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

So we’re kicking off a new arc, and Luffy seems to be once more separated from everyone else after the ship runs aground on the shore of an uncharted desert isle… wait, no, runs aground in Wano Country. What happens next? And when will we get back to Vivi and company?

One Piece, Vol. 89

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.

So, as I have said before, and will again, I have difficulty doing full reviews of these volumes of One Piece that are just a bunch of giant melee battles. And yet, One Piece is also one of the series where I am dedicated to giving full reviews to each volume – no Bookshelf Briefs as that would be cheating. So let’s see what we have here. First of all, I pretty much enjoyed this volume as much as I have the last few, which if anything else puts this arc above Dressrosa, where I was desperate for an ending by the second to last volume. As this manga moves towards the inevitable Volume 100, it’s nice to see that Oda really is mastering his craft, and still learning from his mistakes. The last few arcs have had him “write out” members of the Straw Hats because he doesn’t want everything to be too cluttered – in this arc that means no Zoro, Robin, Franky, or Usopp. This also allows him to introduce a truly ridiculous number of minor villains and allies.

Big Mom’s pirates are the villains here, but even among them there are varying degrees of Good and Evil. We’ve already seen Big Mom’s empathetic but also horrifying backstory, and have gotten hints that Katakuri, Luffy’s opponent throughout the volume, is a “noble villain” sort. We get that confirmed here with the peanut gallery help from Flampe, one of the many family daughters, and a brat with a brother complex that, like most brother complexes, doesn’t take much to get destroyed. Her attempts at ‘helping’ her brother in his fight by shooting needles at Luffy completely miss the point, especially if you view the fight as a “many battle between men”, which, this being Shonen Jump, it absolutely is. Naturally, when Luffy Haki’s up and gets serious, Flampe is one of the first to foam at the mouth and fall unconscious. There are rules of cool in One Piece, and only certain characters can flout them and get away with it.

Meanwhile, the replacement cake has finally been delivered, and there really is an awful lot of discussion about it being poisoned, and Big Mom possibly being affected by the poison. I’m gonna be honest, I simply cannot see Sanji poisoning a cake, at all, for any reason, so I think they’re waiting in vain here. I think it’s pretty much just pure delicious – which is at least enough to slow Big Mom down, as she has to eat it if nothing else. It even makes her nostalgic for her childhood party that went terribly wrong. That said, this also means it’s time for Sanji and Pudding to break up, at least for now. There’s no real romance in One Piece, and we were never going to get a big damn kiss, but we come as close as Oda is ever going to show us, and it was pretty cool. Again, when he’s not being a comedy lech, I really like Sanji.

There’s a cliffhanger ending to this volume, of the sort that’s “did all our heroes get killed just now?” Probably not. Still, it definitely looks like next volume we’re moving on to a new arc, and gathering up the rest of the Straw Hats. Which pleases me, but this arc has been, on the whole, very sweet.