One Piece, Vol. 87

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 of those “200 pages of fighting” One Piece volumes. It’s quite enjoyable, but as always somewhat hard to squeeze out 500+ words on it. But let’s do our best. First of all, the cover lies a bit. Looking at Bib Mom there, you’d think that she was in full control of her faculties as she’s attacking everyone else. Nothing could be further from the truth. Luffy and company have come up against some tough ruthless villains in the past, but I don’t think any have quite felt like a giant Force Of Nature as much as Big Mom here once her cake is destroyed. And, as we’ve seen from the flashbacks before, she also has no qualms about completely devouring any allies that happen to be in front of her, either. It’s no surprise that everyone’s immediate goal at the start of this book is “run away”, and for once Luffy even agrees with them – for a while.

We should probably address the other big thing that happens in this book. The old “nobody dies in One Piece” credo has been a bit on the decline since the events of Marineford, but it does merit saying that MOSTLY nobody dies in One Piece. So seeing what happens towards the end of the book here still manages to be a surprise – indeed, there’s a bit after the event when Nami thinks that we’ve somehow managed to have a last-minute escape… but no. Fortunately, Jimbei is with them now and is able to inject a bit of “yes, we’re all grieving, but may I remind you of the fact that we’re about to die?” into the proceedings. As deaths go, it’s not quite up there with the Big One from many volumes ago, but it is pretty sad.

Let’s also talk Charlotte Pudding. Well… I dunno. She seems to be swinging back and forth between a Charlotte who loves Sanji and wants to save him and a Charlotte who wants to see Sanji and everyone else fall to Big Mom’s Pirates. Sometimes she’s swinging back and forth between the two by the second. I’m not sure if this is meant to be Dissociative Personality Disorder, but I rather doubt it – I suspect it might be Oda simply having fun with the “tsundere” archetype. It’s honestly not a very good character twist. Much better handled is Nami, who I always love seeing brutally manipulate people to get what she wants. The Straw Hats are not true-blue Shonen Jump heroes, but all have major flaws and foibles, and I enjoy seeing Nami’s intelligence come to the fore whenever she does this. Also, nice lightning.

With Luffy going back into the mirrir to have a huge battle with Katakuri, it doesn’t look as if we’ll be escaping Big Mom anytime soon. But that’s fine, this arc is already better than the Dressrosa arc, and I look forward to seeing how Luffy gets out of this one, because I’m fairly certain Katakuri is about to hand his ass to him.

One Piece, Vol. 86

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.

Food has always played an important role in One Piece, from Luffy’s voracious appetite to Sanji’s chef skills. And in this arc we’ve seen the dangers of food as well in a kingdom where everything is edible. But I don’t think we’ve ever quite gotten as terrifying as Big Mom and her backstory, one of the most truly unnerving and creepy moments in the entire series, especially because it’s implied – we don’t quite see it, as we’re seeing things from Charlotte Linlin’s point of view. Big Mom is certainly the villain of this arc, but I’m not sure we’ve seen a villain quite as psychologically damaged from a very young age as she’s been, and it makes her ravenous appetite far less of a joke than it had previously seemed (and it was always meant to be disturbing). Kudos to Oda for getting really, really dark here.

Elsewhere in the volume, it’s becoming more apparently that Jimbei actually IS going to be a new crewmember, provided he manages to survive the upcoming battle without a tragic sacrifice. This is actually rather interesting, as he’s the first semi-serious crewmember to be added since Nico Robin. Jimbei’s really cool here, standing up to Big Mom and refusing to cower, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing what he brings to the crew. Admittedly, the gender imbalance of the crew is starting to show itself a bit as well. Maybe we can get Vivi back? It’s certainly not going to be Charlotte Pudding, who despite her best efforts to be super evil, and her genuine irritation at Sanji’s goofy pervert persona, is backsliding into being a good person. I’m not sure how happy I’ll be with this, we’ll have to see.

As for Luffy, I have to hand it to him, that was a very clever (and funny) way to crash the wedding, and shows that he’s starting to strategize rather than just burst in fists akimbo – or rather, he still bursts in but works strategy into it. Unfortunately, things don’t go quite as planned (big surprise there), and it looks as if we’re settling in for the long haul, introducing several of the Charlotte family to no doubt battle our heroes one by one and show off their quirks… sorry, Devil Fruit Powers. I have to say I won’t cry if Capone ends up dying (though it’s always hard to have actual named characters die in One Piece), given that his plan to take out Big Mom relied on basic mental cruelty. I was also amused at the Straw Hat Crew (even Nami!) all sleeping like the dead before the big event, because, as Jimbei points out, they’ve been running flat out for days before this.

I suspect the next couple of volumes are going to be pure chaotic fighting, though hopefully it won’t go quite as long as Dressrosa. Still, this was a stronger volume of Once Piece than we’ve seen lately, and I look forward to seeing how that chaos plays out. Definitely recommended for fans.

Also, the Grand Line has a Pleasure District? How adult!

One Piece, Vol. 85

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.

It goes without saying that the revelation about Charlotte Pudding in this volume does not come as a complete surprise. It will also not come as a surprise to me if she reverts later on, as Oda’s general treatment of women has gotten a lot more sexist and predictable over the years. The best thing about said revelation is Sanji’s reaction from outside the building, which is a simple grim silence. Oda’s panels can verge on chaos much of the time, and certainly do here, from Luffy trying to rip his hands off in order to escape to Chopper and Carrot’s pell-mell running through the mirrors, everything is traveling at 100MPH. So when Oda pauses to let a scene breathe, it has that much more impact. Charlotte’s ability is also a clever use of Devil Fruit to make what amounts to “memory erasure” look cool and also creepy at the same time. I tend to read One Piece slowly because little details always matter in it.

Reading One Piece slowly also helps you to notice the repeated themes Oda uses in his work, though to be fair this theme could be noticed from quite a ways away. Like Nami in the Arlong Park arc, and like Robin in the Enies Lobby arc, Sanji is desperate to get everyone to abandon him and save themselves. And of course when Luffy confronts him about it, his response is the same as the others: yes, I want to go with you. Please save me. I’m not entirely certain how many of the Vinsmokes are actually going to survive this arc, particularly after learning what Big Mom’s real wedding plans are. As I’ve said before, Reiju has “tragic sacrifice” written all over here. Still, I’m confident Sanji will survive, as he is a crew member. Speaking of which, will we get a new crew member at the end of this arc (which is still going in Japan)? Will it be Carrot? Or Jimbei, who rescues Luffy and Nami and joins the fun here.

Other things I noticed: I am vastly impressed with Brook for how he hid the poneglyph copies. That was clever thinking, and also clever on the part of Oda, who had to figure out where to hide a mass of paper on someone like Brook. Nami’s top takes some fire damage as part of her being rescued, and there’s some brief “will we see a breast? No.” fanservice, but I was amused she simply tied it back immediately – I wonder if she chooses her outfits so they can easily be fixed in case of ludicrous fighting? The alliance with Capone and Caesar Clown (who we simply can’t seem to get away from – Oda must love him as comedy relief) seems like it will be a disaster, but it does give us the opportunity to see Luffy in a nice mob suit. And why does Oda’s version of American football have the women wearing hot pants… wait, I know the answer to that one.

One Piece is not what it once was, but it’s still compelling, and should remain on your reading list for the foreseeable future.