I’ve heard a lot about the Skypiea arc of One Piece, though I actually knew zero specifics about what Luffy and his crew would encounter once they reached the legendary island in the sky. More, I seemed to absorb the general idea that this arc is really awesome and everyone loves it. Alas, I don’t love it yet, but there are some things I do really like about how the story is shaping up.
Volume 25 begins with the Straw Hats meeting Mont Blanc Cricket, the descendant of a notorious liar named Mont Blanc Noland who swore ’til his death that he saw a city of gold on an island called Jaya. Noland’s so notiorious, in fact, that there’s a children’s book written about him, and Mont Blanc Cricket’s life was essentially ruined by being related to this fellow. He now spends his days diving into the seas around Jaya in search of the sunken city, aided by a couple of monkey pirates who believe that Noland was telling the truth.
All Mont Blanc Cricket has to show for his ten years of effort is a small collection of gold artifacts, and when those are stolen by a gang of pirates, Luffy goes to get them back. I like how this local pirate, Bellamy, is given some attention beforehand, as if he’s someone to really be feared, but Luffy ends up taking him out with one punch. In gratitude, Mont Blanc Cricket and his monkey minions customize the Merry Go to survive the Knock-Up Stream, a vertical blast of water that’ll convey them to Skypiea and which is conveniently scheduled to go off the very next day.
Once on Skypiea, Luffy and Usopp proceed to act like greater idiots than usual and everyone is branded as trespassers because they enter without paying the required exorbitant fee. Duly, they’re hunted down, and the citizens of Skypiea are required to turn them in because their actions are monitored by a vengeful “kami” who rules the island. The Straw Hats are conveyed to a sacrificial altar to await Kami’s judgment or something, but can also save themselves by triumphing over various challenges set by his vassals.
Up to this point, the Skypiea arc is actually kind of boring. I think the main issue is that, though we’re learning about the somewhat crummy way of life on Skypiea, including a never-ending war between the kami and some Native American-esque people called the Shandians, Luffy and his crew are not involved. It sort of seems like it’s their job to go around, righting miserable conditions on the Grand Line, but actually, they really only get involved with civil strife when they’ve been asked to do so. Here, nobody’s asking, so the conflict goes on without them. This does make for some great moments, though, like when a Shandian attack distracts the kami’s vassals, allowing our heroes to have a leisurely journey through a dangerous jungle on a boat that goes “putt putt putt.”
I also really like seeing the Straw Hats actually acting like pirates and looking for gold. The end of volume 27 features the crew split into two teams and heading for the spot where they believe Mont Blanc Noland’s city has ended up after being struck by the Knock-Up Stream, and it seems poised to be pretty fun. I like what Nico Robin brings to the crew—she’s reserved and far more mature, but seems to be benevolently tolerant of their zany enthusiasm. I hope she sticks around.
Lastly, I enjoyed the glimpse of the wider world Oda reveals in this volume. For the first time, Luffy’s reputation has begun to precede him, and we see locals respecting him because of the high bounty that’s been placed on his head. We also glimpse the members of the world government and a few more of the warlords of the sea. It’ll probably be quite some time before we come back to these people, but I’ll always appreciate how Oda plants the seeds for future plotlines so seamlessly.
So, in the end, the Skypiea arc isn’t my favorite just yet, but this is still One Piece, so it’s not as if it’s in the least bit bad.