One Piece 838-840 – Review

One Piece:

Chapters 838 – 840 

Reviewed by: Tom

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Pretty sure painting over your own wanted sign is still vandalism.

Synopsis: Monkey D. Luffy had always wanted to be a pirate. But against his better judgement he ate the Gum-Gum Fruit, gaining the power to stretch like rubber– but in return lost his ability to ever swim again! Eh, no matter, Luffy decided to become a Pirate anyway, his dream to one day in fact become King of the Pirates! Over the course of his journey he assembles a crew of bizarre characters, from Zoro the three-sword wielding swashbuckler, to Nami the treasure whore, and more.

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)

Now, having saved the kingdom of Dressrosa, and gained a few temporary crew mates: Kinne’mon and his son Momo, two Samurai seeking a lost ally of theirs, Luffy and his crew move on to the island of Zou to continue their battle against one of the four emperor pirates: Kaido. Reaching the island, actually a giant elephant, Luffy and his crew helped to save the Minks from trouble with Kaido’s pirates and in turn learned a startling number of revelations about their ongoing journey. But, despite the need to take on Kaido, who’s grown unhappy with Luffy’s interference, he’s instead decided to go save his crewmate Sanji; who’s been forced into a marriage contract by the pirate empress Big Mom, who Luffy has already pissed off.

Review:

Chapters 838-840 have helped me to realize where exactly my problems really lay with One Piece as a series and its story telling style. Let me also say this isn’t me declaring One Piece is bad, or anything of the kind. Of the big shonen titles from the last two decades it still manages to stand as King, far-outstripping the others, not only in length but in ability to sustain its story, unlike Bleach or Naruto, which have both come under fire for falling apart towards their final chapters with varying degrees of severity. No. One Piece still stands above both, but there are issues I wish Oda would address and I’ll touch on these below.

Chapter 838:

Picking up from last time I have to give credit where credit is due. Oda got me. He made me think Luffy had downed Master Cracker like he’s downed just about all his non-major boss adversaries. We jump back into Luffy’s fight with Cracker, who gets back up for another exchange of blows. But while Luffy shatters his enemy to bits we discover it’s hardly a victory. In fact, it turns out that Thousand-armed Cracker is not the big burly man we thought he was. No, he’s actually a much smaller man, and the facade Luffy shattered was merely his suit of armor (or cracker I guess?) The tides quickly turn as Cracker reconstitutes his armor into numerous copies, displaying the sheer power difference between himself and Luffy, really selling that Big Mom’s forces aren’t the ‘push overs’ everyone else has been up until now. Luffy refuses to back down, but it’s really not looking good at all.

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Honey Pretzel? You’d think Luffy would try to eat this guy’s attacks.

Meanwhile we briefly check in with Nami to see that she’s right at home with manipulating the living forest with vague threats and reminders of Big Mom, since she has a Vivre card connected to her. The scene doesn’t add all that much, besides I guess checking in and reminding us of what Nami’s up to.

We jump over to Chopper and Carrot, finally getting a glimpse at the world they’re trapped in. Chopper suggests turning their imprisonment into an advantage. Unlike Nami, whose situation we’d already been familiar with, it’s nice to finally see what’s going on with Chopper and Carrot, and discovering they’re not in fact just side-lined characters.

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Chopper be trippin’ yo.

Back with Brook and Pedro the two have, apparently, smuggled themselves into a cracker soldier in order to move about the city undetected. This comes out of left field, as the last time we left off with them they were merely over hearing how Big Mom was well aware of the Straw Hat’s arrival. It really feels like we missed something. Although I get the feeling Oda thinks revealing Cracker’s ability is enough for us to connect the dots with Brook and Pedro being inside a Cracker soldier.

Skipping over to Big Mom we learn that once she manages to get Sanji inside her castle the chances that Luffy and the others can make contact with him are exceedingly small. In fact, that time is fast approaching as the Vinsmoke sons have just arrived home.

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Oh god, if anyone needed a Baby names book it was Mr. Vinsmoke.

We jump over to the Vinsmoke as the two eldest sons, Ichiji and Niji (I see Mr. Vinsmoke really got creative with the name’s here.) arrive to intense celebrations.

Chapter 839:

Picking up just a little later from before, the Vinsmoke are gathered for a family feast to celebrate Ichiji and Niji’s efforts, as well as discussing the current state of affairs. It doesn’t take long before Sanji’s brothers start to pick on him. He fights back by telling his brother, Niji, to clean his plate. Things take a bad turn however as Niji decides to punish the head chef for serving him food he finds unappealing. He calls the poor girl, Cosette, out and hurls his plate at her, which Sanji blocks.

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You know, I don’t know that I can entirely fault Niji, that food doesn’t exactly look appetizing.

I have an issue with the Vinsmoke family, it’s really an issue that’s sort of been building throughout One Piece’s lifespan but really strikes me at this point: These villains are so, so evil. Ridiculously so. And that’s fine, in some ways, as Oda is clearly telling a very stylized, and unique story. But, when these moments are meant to build to an emotional upheavel for Sanji, and pull at my heart strings, it all feels so contrived. The Vinsmoke don’t seem real to me, and maybe this is why Oda’s benefited more from his lengthy flashbacks previous, rather than weaving it into the narrative this time around. And because they don’t seem real I have trouble seeing them as anything else other than mere caricatures to provide the turmoil that’ll make us feel and cry for Sanji. Because of all that I find Sanji’s backstory to be moving on more of a theoretical level than an actual emotional one. I’ve cried before at One Piece’s back stories, Nami’s, Zoro’s, Even Usopp’s and I tend to loath him. Robin’s really got me. But here, I find myself saddened Sanji went through so much, but at the same time emotionally distant from it all.

He lectures his brothers on their lack of manners and chivalry. He talks of how much effort the girl must’ve put into making the dish and eats it off the floor himself. Niji becomes enraged with his disgust for Sanji and prepares to harm him, when their father warns Niji off, as they still need Sanji for the marriage ceremony.

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Wait so Niji can kick his face in after the marriage? Did Big Mom okay this?

Sanji calls them all out again with his disgust for their lack of respect for women, food, everything. Again there doesn’t seem to be a single redeeming quality to this family, coming off as a one note portrayal of self-centered, maddened by power royalty. And that’s fine, but here where they’re trying to show the divide between Sanji and his family it feels so obvious. As Sanji is one of the good guys there’s little surprise in him being opposed to any of these horrid things. It all goes against his ideals. His family doesn’t want to hear it though, and his father threatens Sanji with a photo of the old chef, Zeff. As it turns out Sanji’s father is prepared to threaten Zeff’s life if Sanji so much as hints with non-cooperation. As if the bracelets weren’t enough to hold Sanji down, now he has to fear for his former master’s life as well.

This is where I realized another issue I have with One Piece, it’s a more subtle one. In an earlier chapter, when Sanji first had those deadly bracelets slapped onto his wrists, we saw a brief flashback, one I mistook for the introduction of another character from Sanji’s past. I’d forgotten that Zeff was peg-legged, and as the brief snippets didn’t show his face, I mistook what the moment was trying to convey. I think that’s actually a subtle problem with One Piece: Framing. Too often Oda seems to have zoomed in so much in his art I feel like we’re not getting the full picture. But this moment speaks to a bigger issue: The sheer size and wealth of One Piece. As a long time fan I’ve been reading for easily over a decade now, ever since the series was first introduced to the western market in fact. But I don’t often have the opportunity to begin One Piece from the beginning, and the longer the series goes on the more little details slip from my memory. It doesn’t feel like Oda keeps that in mind, that while he and the most hardcore of fans may have intimate detail of the story firmly planted within their heads, long running fans may need more of a reminder from time to time of who characters are, more so than the shot of someone’s legs anyway. It’s not a huge flaw, but it is frustrating when a story begins to feel like you need a guide open and at the ready to appreciate what it’s offering.

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It’s like the Vinsmoke are actively working for “Biggest assholes of the year” award.

As if that wasn’t enough Sanji finds later that his family beat the poor Cosette girl senseless. Again, this development, while awful, really begins to feel forced. Yonji tells Sanji it was Niji who did the deed and agrees to take Sanji to him. But Sanji doesn’t just find Niji, instead he discovers the dark truth beneath the entire Germa kingdom, an entire room filled with what appear to be super soldiers encased in liquid vats. Just what is going on here?

Chapter 840:

Picking right up from last time Yonji explains that their father use to work with Dr. Vegapunk, and had discovered the method for producing clones of humans, or more precisely genetic engineering. In fact, their entire military force is composed of clones, with none of them any the wiser. I think it’s a little surprising no one noticed as Sunglasses really only hide so much.

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Okay, Germa 66 folk must be blind, because there’s no way funky sunglasses hide that fact.

Sanji is disgusted and when Niji appears he instantly attacks him for Cosette’s sake. As Sanji prepares to go full in on his brother, Ichiji reminds him that they have Zeff as a target. He’s powerless and quickly gets a beating from his brothers, turning the tables on him. Oh and fun fact: Sanji’s exploding bracelets are mysteriously absent in this chapter. Either that’s a very subtle clue or poor Oda needs a vacation.

It’s here we flash back to Sanji’s disappointing childhood, as he and his brothers are implied to have been genetically engineered (well, stronger than implied anyway.) but Sanji failed at test after test that his siblings all passed. Eventually their father was informed that Sanji was little more than a mere human. It didn’t help that Sanji took an interest in cooking, something his father looked down upon.

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Mom fed rats? Mom sounds weird.

Despite Sanji’s efforts, and his father’s beatings and verbal abuse, Sanji never managed to pass any of the tests his siblings completed and eventually Sanji was declared dead to the general populace, even to his siblings. However we learn reality, of course, was much crueler, as Sanji found himself locked away, man in the iron mask style, with the intent he rot away, forgotten, for the rest of his life as if he’d never been born.

Despite my own criticism above, and my overall issues with the series by this point, I’m still generally happy with these chapters. Questions are answered, reveals are made, and tension rises, even if sometimes it feels a little forced.

That’s it for today’s review! Let me know what you thought of these chapters in the comments below!

One Piece is published weekly in Shonen Jump. Chapters 796-806 will be contained in Volume 80 releasing on November 1st, 2016. Chapters discussed today, 838-840, will be collected and released sometime early next year.

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