One Piece 22-24 by Eiichiro Oda: B+

In some ways, I don’t really need to write another review of One Piece. Its virtues remain the same—a likeable core cast of characters who show how far friends will go to help friends and Oda’s sure hand guiding what might otherwise devolve into scenes of chaos—as does its one chief flaw: a tendency for fights to go on and on. And yet, I enjoyed this trio of volumes so much that it seems wrong not to chronicle that in some way.

Volumes 22 and 23 see the end of the civil war plaguing Princess Vivi’s kingdom, Alabasta. This arc has been rather slow for me, and that still holds true here, with a very lengthy final showdown between Luffy and the evil Sir Crocodile. Too, Crocodile’s convenient tendency to gloat over his evildoings makes it easy for the rebel leader to see that he and his followers were manipulated into their conflict with the king; I wished for a little more ambiguity here, but I guess that doesn’t really fit the spirit of One Piece.

Still, the conclusion is satsifying, and there’s a lot of great follow-up. We get a full chapter on the Navy officers who not only let Luffy go, but also realized he had a better chance of saving Alabasta than they did. Captain Smoker and Sergeant Tashigi may be trying to capture our heroes, but they’re both honorable people fighting for what they believe in, and I like that we are allowed to like them. There are also scenes of the townspeople undertaking repairs, our heroes taking some time to recuperate, and Vivi having to ultimately decide whether she wants to rejoin the crew or remain at home, which results in some extremely touching final pages for volume 23.

With volume 24, the Skypiea arc begins, but not before a stowaway—archaeologist Nico Robin, former second-in-command of Sir Crocodile’s criminal organization—is discovered and allowed to join the crew. After a 200-year-old ship falls from the sky and promptly sinks, Luffy, Zolo, and Sanji are sent down to look for clues as to how it seemingly came from the sky, the direction to which Nami’s log pose—the instrument that guides them from island to island along the Grand Line—is currently pointing.

Robin directs them to a pirate island called Jaya, where they make inquiries about Skypiea and are ridiculed for continuing to believe in superstitions and dreams. It’s all pretty fun—I especially loved the near-wordless scenes of the guys exploring the shipwreck, where they find a mysterious feather that I’m sure will be important later—but definitely still in its expository stages.

A few other random observations:
* You know a series is good when you finish a volume and think, “Yay! I still have thirty more to go!”

* Oda often impresses me by the little things. I love, for example, the recurring character of the camel and its sole line of dialogue, “Grmpf!” I also love that Oda has not forgotten Chopper’s inability to effectively hide; it comes up several times during these volumes but nobody comments on it.

* This being One Piece, I predict Nico Robin has a tragic backstory.

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