One Piece 935-940 – 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 obsessed, 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.
Oda seems to have found a nice balance of late, keeping primary focus on one or two plot lines a chapter, with mini-updates on the rest of the gang, who are usually sitting around doing very little, but having aspects of the plot relayed to them to act as exposition dumps/catch up/refresher moments. 935-940 Mostly focus on Luffy and Zoro’s efforts, although Nami and Co. get some attention now and again as well. We also have a few more characters of the Wano Country formerly introduced, such as Hyogoro the former big boss of the Wano Yakuza, or Kawamatsu, a potentially powerful ally who use to serve the former lord of Wano 20 years ago. But what’s presented isn’t without flaw. For as much as Oda has settled into a fairly workable formula, there’s little places where things are more confusing than necessary or extra details that then require additional dialogue to explain, making the story more complicated than it truly could be.
Starting with Chapter 935 the story picks up speed, quickly moving Luffy from merely a captive, to a man fighting for his life in a game developed by Kaido Minion Queen. The trouble is 935 gets a bit jumpy with developments. One minute Luffy is on the ground from being attacked and by the time we cut back to him he’s halfway to escaping. It’s places like this, which are generally few and far between, where it feels like Oda is struggling to fit in all the developments he’s aiming for. Lately Oda has been ‘trimming the fat’ trying to keep what appears on the page as only what’s absolutely necessary. In cases like this it feels like maybe a little too much was cut, even if the basic idea gets across. It can feel like we missed something this way, even if what we missed was ultimately not crucial to the story.
Another semi-issue is the frequent use of exposition to explain who, say, Hyogoro is, or Kawamatsu. These two characters aren’t really introduced organically into the story. They appear organically, but are then followed by rather lengthy exposition dumps to try and explain their greater relevance to the plot. What’s here is interesting, and adds new layers to the battle: Hyogoro acting as a whole new way of obtaining a wealth of forces to challenge Kaido and the Wano’s lord, or Kawamatsu acting as an ‘ancient’ ally who could help to turn the tide through his sheer prowess alone. But the exposition dumps required to justify each character hit like a ton of bricks, slowing down the overall progress of the narrative. Oda tries to change it up, often by having an unrelated set of characters offer the exposition, but I’m not sure that works as well as he hoped.
That said, seeing Luffy take center stage again is very much welcome, and really all of the content with his match ups against Queen’s forces, and help from Hyogoro in mastering a certain Haki attack is great and a welcome change of pace. Indeed the same can be said for Zoro’s focus, since he’s been sort of MIA compared to everything else that’s been developing.
There’s also how the plan to retake Wano going to shit, as the symbol used to denote allies in this secret rebellion gets found out, and quickly hundreds of supporters find themselves jailed. This development keeps our heroes on edge, and helps to make the Wano arc feel tense and like a real long shot towards success.
Going back to the exposition, in some ways Oda’s making the best of a tricky situation. The Wano Arc is almost Game of Thrones-esque, throwing so many characters at us, and complexity, that it’s hard not to have to fall back on exposition dumps and catch ups to make sure everything makes sense. As much as I criticize such dumps, it’s hard not to have to fall back on them. Oda could cut characters, but that might negatively impact the complex plot lines that are interwoven. Wano isn’t totally dissimilar to the Alabasta Arc, even if Alabasta’s King wasn’t a villain. But that arc did have a rebellion fermenting, and if you cut Wano’s complexity too much you might just end up with a very similar Arc to Alabasta. Even storyteller’s like Oda, who have been doing this for decades, and seem wholly mastered in their ability, still struggle with the grand details and intricacies of a plot like Wano. There’s likely better ways to do it, smarter ways to handle it, but sometimes an exposition dump is the easiest thing to fall back on, especially if you’re on a weekly deadline.
Ultimately what’s here works and, for the most part, works well. The Luffy and Zoro focus is great, and while the other characters may be setting around twiddling thumbs, using them for the exposition dumps/catch ups helps to keep them relevant. Wano continues to be a truly complex story arc, but I also think one of the better arcs post Time-Skip, really utilizing the whole crew as best it can, while trimming much of the fat that has, at times, bogged down One Piece’s other complex stories.
That’s it for today’s review! Let me know what you thought of these chapters in the comments below!