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.

One Piece, Vol. 88

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.

Ah, it’s *another* one of those “200 pages of fighting” One Piece volumes. As ever, though, there’s stuff we can talk about. Let’s start with Luffy, who spends much of this volume facing off against Katakuri, the seemingly stoic villain who Luffy can’t do anything against… except he can, because Luffy has been analyzing the fight as he goes and figuring out how the powers are being used. The dialogue literally calls out Luffy for being clever, but it’s worth saying out loud, because the reader tends to associate Luffy with the classic dumb shonen hero whose solution to everything is to punch it. And, well, that is still Luffy’s solution some of the time. But training with Rayleigh has forced him to mature and be clever, and it’s finally beginning to pay off here. I also liked his advice to Nami about the mirrors (and seeing how Nami immediately trusted Luffy). Luffy is finally evolving into someone we thing CAN become the Pirate King.

The rest of the cast also seem to be at their best when inspired by Luffy, but of all people to level up and start kicking eight kinds of ass, Carrot is not who I was looking at. Turns out, though, that she’s a were-rabbit of some sort, and when the full moon comes out becomes a combat nightmare. Similar to Chopper, except she’s meant to be badass rather than terrifying, and doesn’t lose her reason. That said, she helps but Big Mom’s pirate crew is HUGE, and they’re still nowhere near being able to escape. This despite the triumphant return of Al Capone…. um, Bege, who not only decides he’s going to rescue his wife but goes out fighting with their baby at his side. It’s ludicrous yet also heartwarming, like the best One Piece moments.

And, I am forced to admit, Sanji is pretty cool in this volume. I’ve talked before about my ambiguous feelings about Sanji, whose “pervert” personality stopped being funny about 75 volumes ago. But here Sanji has to be serious and cool in order to support Oda’s current running gag, which is Pudding’s romantic feelings whenever she sees this. Honestly, I don’t think the two of them are really going to end up together, but if they did, they certainly have a similar vibe, both being made up of one core personality the readers like, and one annoying personality that Oda likes. Also, together they can make an impressive cake, which is good, as Big Mom is still on the warpath, and the lack of sweets seems to be making her smaller and smaller (she’s merely a “very large woman” by the end of the book), though I’m pretty sure she’s just as dangerous. Will they have to abandon the Sunny to get away from her? Either way, I’m pretty sure the arc’s not ending in the next book, so get ready for more fighting, and more of me being able to talk about it anyway. That’s what makes One Piece still good after all this time.