One Piece 32-45 by Eiichiro Oda: A

Tired of tackling the epic One Piece in three-volume chunks, I decided to do something new and review the entirety of the Water Seven arc—comprising volumes 32 through 45—at once. If you’ve never read the series, this isn’t the place to start, but man, is it ever worth waiting for!

Typically, the drama in One Piece comes from some sort of ongoing conflict the crew discovers whenever they land on a new island. The civil war on Alabasta and the tyrannical ruler on Skypiea are examples of this. The crew gets involved as a group, fighting together for the sake of strangers, and earns the gratitude of the islanders as a result. What immediately makes the Water Seven arc startlingly different is that this time, much of the drama is coming from within the crew.

After departing Skypiea, the Straw Hats decide to head to Water Seven, an island known for its shipbuilders, because the Merry Go needs repairs and Luffy would like to recruit a carpenter to join the crew. On their way, they run into Admiral Aokiji, who drops some ominous hints about Nico Robin, insinuating she will inevitably betray them. Luffy being Luffy, he refuses to doubt her, but the seed has been planted all the same. Also significant is that a demonstration of Aokiji’s power causes Usopp to express insecurity about his abilities. “Are guys as powerful as that gonna be coming after us from now on? All I did was run around a lot.”

Once they arrive at Water Seven, several important things happen. First, Robin is approached by a member of Cipher Pol No. 9, a group that tackles “shadowy jobs” for the World Government, then the Merry Go is declared unsalvageable, and the money received for the gold from Skypiea is promptly stolen by “The Franky Family.” Suddenly, there’s all this tension within the crew! Usopp feels that Luffy is being cold-hearted with his decision to ditch the Merry Go in favor of a new ship (and secretly frets that he’ll be the next one casually tossed aside) and actually quits! Robin participates in the attempted murder of Water Seven’s mayor, and the Straw Hats get the blame! The disintegration of the crew is awful, but it’s especially weird seeing Luffy so upset. At one point Zolo says, “Don’t doubt yourself. If you start becoming unsure, who can we have faith in?!”

I could go on and on describing the intricacies of the plot as it develops from here, but I’ll refrain. I’ll say instead that it is impressively multi-layered, involving blueprints for an ancient weapon and traumatic backstories for both Robin and Franky, who becomes very endearing very quickly. The scale of the story is truly epic and I admire how everything falls into place. The action on Water Seven culminates in the discovery that Robin has been helping the government in exchange for the Straw Hats being allowed to go free. The Straw Hats, upon learning of her sacrifice, respond in their typical way: “Now that we know she needs to be saved our strength will be infinite.” A chase by sea train ensues, followed by a huge battle on the island of Enies Lobby, from where Robin and Franky are scheduled to be conveyed to Impel Down, the notorious prison from which no one has ever returned.

Aside from simply being riveting, there are several things to commend about how Oda has constructed his story. Most importantly, even though the plot is complex it’s clear that it’s real purpose is to compel some genuinely poignant emotional high notes. Quite a few scenes made me cry, including a triumphant moment for Usopp in his guise as Sniper King, Robin’s tearful confession that she wants to live, and the real doozy—the noble rescue at the end of volume 44. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have goosebumps as I type this just thinking about that scene. It is too good for me to spoil. If you do not cry buckets at the end of volume 44, you may be made of cardboard.

I also admire how easily Oda integrates Franky into the story, turning him from a brash thief to a cyborg with a heart of gold (fueled by cola!) by showing how moved he is by the crew’s feelings for each other. He’s so touched by their bond that he’s willing to risk his own life on their behalf. After using the wood he bought with the stolen money to build the Straw Hats a new ship, it feels natural that he should join them as their new shipwright, though it takes a… special sort of incentive. I’m really looking forward to future adventures with him along. Robin, too, has finally found the place she belongs, where she need never fear that her comrades see her as a burden. Will the chance to finally relax change her? I’m eager to see.

Also, while endless fight scenes do tend to tire me out after a while, I must praise Oda’s sense of place. As mentioned previously—during the Alabasta arc, I believe—it’s always completely easy to tell where the crew is in relation to each other during moments when they are separated. Everyone gets a chance to contribute, as well, and show off some new abilities. Too, his battles seem to feature a lot of valiant animals, and he’s always careful to show you their fates. Even someone as small as the mayor’s pet mouse is never forgotten!

Satisfying high-stakes battles. Character growth. Sorrow and joy, triumph and redemption. It’s a rare manga that combines all of these things so seamlessly. One Piece isn’t just a great shounen manga, it’s a classic of the entire medium.

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  1. […] finally become current with One Piece! Because reviewing an entire arc at once worked so well for Water Seven, I’ve decided to split these volumes up into their appropriate arcs: Thriller Bark, Sabaody, […]

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