One Piece 949-953 – 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. After challenging the evil Kaido directly, and failing to win, Luffy is shipped off to jail. Working with the people of Wano, the crew hope to set off a rebellion, but things take turn after turn, constantly confounding their efforts.

Review:

One Piece slows down in this latest set of chapters, stumbling in its execution of Luffy’s triumph over Udon Prison, and then moving into a period of “catch up and set up” where we flit between the various groups of characters and reset the stage for what major events need to happen next. Let’s Jump in!

Chapters 949 and 950 see Luffy finally claim total victory over Udon prison. This involves dealing with the “Plague Shot.” The plague shot is bullets filled with plague, infecting anyone hit by this gunfire with a fast acting plague that then transmits itself by simple touch. Luffy watches as the prisoners turn on him, under threat of being branded as traitors, suffering in total agony from the plague, with their wills completely broken. Luffy breaths new life into them by willingly infecting himself with the plague and still defeating the bad guys. I wish this sequence wasn’t crushed into just one chapter, as the reasoning for the prisoners turning on Luffy is just one line of dialogue and I think this could’ve used greater focus and time to really sell everyone turning on Luffy, even if he is their best hope.

Chapter 950 is the aftermath of the battle and while Chopper works to cure Luffy and all the prisoners, Momonosuke shows himself, causing the prisoners to bow in his presence, and perhaps inspires a renewal of their faith and will power. I actually wish Momonosuke had appeared in Chapter 949 to inspire the prisoners when they turned on Luffy. You could’ve combined the two events, made 949 more powerful as the prisoners rise up and actually fight back upon seeing Momonosuke returned to them, rather than what we got. The outcome is the same otherwise, Luffy gets sidelined for several chapters as Chopper patches him up, and even after his big performance we see other characters continually having to vouch for his intentions anyway. Somehow these chapters feel a little more messy than they could’ve been.

The rest of 950 and then both 951 and 952 see us play catch up on the new status quo. We watch as Robin, Usopp and Brook disguise themselves to sneak out of the capital city, we learn that Trafalgar Law is held captive in exchange for his subordinates lives and freedom, the uprising army is in desperate need of weapons and more. While these catch up chapters are necessary, their frequency continues to be an indication that Oda is having a difficult time balancing all these characters and different plot threads. I think he may have bitten off more than was ideal, offering up too many Wano Arc exclusive characters, each with their own story, than he could handle and keep the arc moving at a brisk pace.

Chapter 953 sort of sees us return to normal as we focus on Zoro and the fight to get his third sword back. We get the trademark heartstrings flashback One Piece finds the time for near every arc as we learn what Kawamatsu was up to after becoming separated from Hiyori. As it turns out he befriended a fox, a shape changing one as it turns out, and went about collecting all the weapons you’d ever need for a revolution. The outcome, that the sword thief/bridge guardian is actually the fox, Onimaru, is fairly predictable, but it at least feels like more meaty a story than snapping between each group and learning what everyone is up to/where they are now/what they’ll be doing later. There’s also one last surprise as Zoro is offered a sword that is the only weapon known to have wounded Kaido.

Overall these aren’t bad chapters, but they’re hardly the highlight of the arc. Hopefully we can get the story moving again and begin the march toward the final battle, which it feels like we’re now inching towards thanks to Luffy’s success at the Prison.

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 92, releases November 5th, 2019. Chapters discussed today will be collected and released sometime next year.

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