One Piece 921-924 – Manga Review

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)

Luffy recently challenged Big Mom, one of the world’s most deadly Pirate Warlords. She sought to force Sanji into a politically driven marriage, with the true intent of killing his estranged and powerful family, the Vinsmoke. Successfully saving Sanji, and evading capture by Big Mom, Luffy rushes with half of his crew to rejoin the rest, lead by Zoro in an effort to challenge Kaido in the country of Wano. Luffy and Co. arrive, only to become separated near instantly. When Luffy happens upon a young girl named Otama, who becomes poisoned from the polluted river, he reunites with Zoro, taking on the wealth of corruption threatening to strangle the struggling citizens of Wano.

Review:

The Wano Arc is starting to feel a lot like a One Piece film. I say that not so much because Chapter 924 ends with an “Act 1 End” panel (as part of its styling as a Kabuki play/Japanese theater), but rather because of the pacing and developments. Over the past year I’ve caught up on all the One Piece films. Most of the films, many not even available through Funimation for Western release, aren’t terribly memorable. They generally feel on par with typical shonen movies that tell a quick story, cram in some action, and produce little that’s memorable. But once you get to the more recent entries, namely the one’s that Oda had a greater hand in, there’s a major difference in quality. Strong World, Z and Gold all feel like more meaty projects. And it’s because of Oda’s greater involvement on these projects that I wonder if they haven’t influenced him. If writing the narrative for the films, much shorter and tighter woven stories, was the catalyst for presenting Wano as a Kabuki play.

It’s of note how fast everything’s been moving for the last few chapters. Chapters 921-924 are no different. As Kin’emon finishes his origin story, and moves onto describing their plan to beat Kaido, we quickly catch up on where the rest of the crew is. We jam in a little comedy with Kin’emon trying to convince Nami that Ninja’s wear sexy clothes, Shuntenmaru shows up to ruin all the good Luffy did for the town, and to top it all off Kaido appears. That’s one chapter. Just one, single chapter. The pace isn’t bad. It doesn’t feel like it’s crunching stuff for time, but this does feel a heck of a lot faster than the last arc.

Chapter 922 rapidly escalates. Kaido showcases his absurd might, even when drunk, blowing away the ruins Luffy’s gang is hiding in, seemingly killing everyone (They’re not dead of course, but it is an abrupt twist and explosive show of might.) It’s not more than a page later that Luffy then challenges Kaido outright.

Chapter 923 sees Luffy and Kaido go toe to toe, with Luffy kicking his ass for most of the chapter, that is until Kaido knocks Luffy down in one hit. Chapter 924 then moves right into the aftermath of it all. Rather than taking a few chapters to reestablish the status quo, showcasing where each and everyone has landed now that Luffy’s lost his major challenge against Kaido, we cram it all in here:

The Straw Hats are alive, little Tama is rescued, the rest of Luffy’s crew learns of his defeat with some great facial comedy thrown in to try and lighten an otherwise dark mood and Luffy is thrown in a cell only to be reunited with Eustass Kid. We move from planning an attack on Kaido, to Luffy imprisoned within just four chapters. Just for comparisons sake, Whole Cake Island, the same number of chapters in from arc start, hadn’t seen Luffy escape the seducing woods yet, and certainly not confront Sanji, which was the big turning point. Luffy isn’t then defeated and imprisoned until six chapters later.

These arcs, of course, aren’t directly comparable. They’re different stories, with different villains, a different setting, etc. But both arcs do share Luffy challenging a seemingly insurmountable foe and becoming imprisoned. Add in how quickly Luffy defeated Kaido’s men, and went straight to the big boss, and it really feels like Oda is trying to tell a tighter story here. It’s this speed and efficiency that feels comparable to Strong World, Z and Gold. It at times feels almost like Oda’s writing Wano as if its a feature film rather than a manga, where he’s actively trying to keep us focused on the most important components and not get caught up in lengthy fight sequences, side battles, minor plots and the like. This ties into Wano adopting some Kabuki elements and is the more overt evidence that Oda has taken a different approach to this arc. Overall I’m actually quite pleased. There’s still places where Oda teases something that’s a little confusing, or we don’t spend enough time fleshing out some of these new characters, but this feels like a very tight arc and has me fairly intrigued as to where exactly it will end up and how short it’ll compare with some of the series more lengthy narratives.

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. Volume 88, releases on November 6th, 2018. Chapters discussed today will be collected and released sometime next year.

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