With a mighty final push, I have 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, and Impel Down. Let the wait for volume 57 commence!
Volumes 46-49 (Thriller Bark): B+
The Thriller Bark arc is named for a massive pirate ship, large enough to support an entire village full of zombies. Not just your average zombies, though, but zombies with bodies created by corrupt surgeon Dr. Hogback and animated courtesy of shadows stolen by one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, Gecko Moria. Not that our heroes learn all of this up front, of course.
First, the Straw Hats drift into a region of the sea known as the Florian Triangle, where they encounter a ghost ship. The only occupant is Brook, “Gentleman Skeleton,” who intrigues Luffy immediately by virtue of his being, well, a living skeleton. Luffy immediately invites him to join the crew, but the others are not so keen. Brook declines the offer, since his shadow has been stolen and exposure to direct sunlight will make him distintegrate. Luffy, of course, is keen to help get Brook’s shadow back, but it’s only when Nami, Usopp, and Chopper accidentally land on Thriller Bark that the whole crew disembarks to see what’s up.
What follows is basically lots and lots of shadow-stealing, zombie-fighting action, which comes with good and bad points. Early on, the slapstick nature of the series is emphasized, full of the characters goggling (all except Robin, who never goggles) open-mouthed at various things and making stupid jokes. There’s this whole sequence where Nami is about to be assaulted in the bath (they’ve been escorted to a spooky mansion by this point) by an invisible man but Usopp and Chopper keep talking about farts. I suppose one could argue that this is because they trust Nami can take care of herself, but it bugged me anyway.
On the positive side, besides depicting how well the crew works together in a fight, Oda finds time for some excellent character moments. Robin, who had previously referred to members of their crew by their position, is now calling them by name. Usopp is the only one who can withstand the depression-causing ghost minions of one of the Thriller Bark residents because he’s “already extremely negative.” Brook reveals that he must keep on living because he made a pact to a friend, which gets Franky sobbing (he loves stories about loyalty and friendship) and when that friend is revealed to be Laboon, the lonely whale the crew met back in volume twelve, he cries even more. “Waaaagh!! I love both the skeleton and the whale!” And I love both the cyborg and the commitment to continuity!
To top it all off, we glimpse part of a battle between Ace and Blackbeard that provides some ominous hinting. “This battle between pirates would later be identified as the trigger for the major events that were to follow…” Awesome. Bring it on.
Volumes 50-53 (Sabaody): B-
Sabaody is less an actual arc and more a world-building interlude. While most of volume fifty is devoted to wrapping up Thriller Bark—Oda is great at showing a satisfying degree of celebratory aftermath, which in this case involves a big meal under the sun for all of those who have finally regained their shadows—and fleshing out a few lingering details of Brook’s history, we also begin to hear talk of four pirate emperors and a pirate empress, nightmares that await in the new world, and the pending execution of Luffy’s brother, Ace.
Eventually, the Straw Hats resume their journey toward Fish-Man Island. On the way, they come across Camie, a mermaid who once appeared in one of those stories told across consecutive chapter title pages, who informs them that her friend has been kidnapped. Volume 51 mostly consists of the rescue, and I lament to say that I found it all pretty boring, even though the culprit eventually comes in handy later when they get to the Sabaody Archipelago and it’s Camie‘s turn to get kidnapped.
Arrival at Sabaody presents some problems, as well. Not only is is infodump time in a big way, we’re also introduced to about a dozen new characters simultaneously, all of them pirates who will be Luffy’s rivals in the new world. Things have evened out a bit by volume 52, however, when a common foe—a Navy force responding to Luffy’s assault on one of the world nobles—causes these pirates to fight on the same side and show off their nifty abilities.
In the course of these events, the crew meets an inspirational figure, faces off against a powerful Warlord of the Sea against whom they are surprisingly useless, and ends up scattered across the world (Luffy ends up on an island of warrior women, whom he subsequently charms) by the latter’s banishing power. There’s a completely ominous cliffhanger in the chapter in which that happens—“That day, the Straw Hat pirates… were eradicated.” I envy those who had to endure excruciating anticipation after reading that!
Ultimately, Sabaody is pretty uneven. It seems like Oda was in somewhat of a rush to get some of the mechanics of the world down on paper. There are definitely good points, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the crew manages to reunite after this major setback.
Volumes 54-56 (Impel Down): B+
With the Straw Hats separated, Impel Down actually turns out to be a solo Luffy adventure (though the chapter title page illustrations provide glimpses of the rest of the crew). With the help of “pirate empress” Boa Hancock, who has fallen in love with him, Luffy makes his way to Impel Down to rescue his brother Ace, who is about to be executed.
Once inside Impel Down, Luffy encounters a few former enemies and works together with them to make his way to Ace’s cell. He arrives too late, however, as Ace is already on his way to Marineford where the execution will take place. Then Luffy has to fight his way back out and get to Marineford. By the end of volume 56, Ace is on public display with three hours left to live, the forces of Whitebeard have gathered to try to rescue him, and several Warlords of the Sea and navy admirals are on hand to try to prevent that from happening. It’s a pretty exciting cliffhanger!
There are a lot of really good things happening in the Impel Down arc. While I miss the rest of the crew, it’s kind of nice seeing Luffy on his own, especially because it emphasizes his trusting and accepting nature. The fights are also more entertaining than usual, since the warden of Impel Down, Magellan, has a cool Devil Fruit power. And where else are you going to see a giant koala facing off against men wearing fishnets and heels?
Fishnets and heels, you ask? Yes, it turns out that quite a few of the prisoners in Impel Down have embraced their feminine side. I love that this doesn’t prohibit them from being heroic in the least. For instance, the head drag queen, Ivankov, is an officer in the revolutionary army commanded by Luffy’s father, and the very best part of the arc so far involves Mr. 2 Bon Clay. Seriously. I cried.
One Piece continues to be an amazing series. I am torn between satisfaction at being caught up and dismay that I must wait three months for the next installment.
Review copy for volume 56 provided by the publisher.