One Piece 959-963 – 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:

Wano is again bogged down by consecutive info dumps and flashbacks. Of course, it’s not uncommon for One Piece to do lengthy flashbacks each arc, but Wano’s are frustrating because they are many, and compounded by these long sections where it seems like we’re always prepping for stuff to happen and if/when it finally happens, it’s over in the blink of an eye, and we’re either onto another flashback or more info dump/prep. Part of the problem I’ve touched on before: Too many arc characters. I understand Oda wants to have a great big revolution story, retaking the country, and that requires a massive cast. But the problem is he’s placed too much importance/page time on too many of these people, making it then feel important, even if it isn’t, to explain who they are and their relevance in these flashbacks. Let’s Jump In!

With Chapter 959 Our revolution is put on hold, hindered by last minute efforts of the Shogun. It’s not looking good for Kin’emon and Co. But before we can wallow in the anguish of this seeming defeat, we jump into Wano’s major, epic flashback, all focused on building up Oden as a character. I had kinda hoped we’d avoid something like this with previously peppered in flashbacks, but apparently not.

Oden is a central character, shrouded in mystery and relevant to the plot in existence only, his life and efforts having touched a vast number of characters, both recently introduced and grand main stays of Oda’s decades long world building efforts. Knowing who Oden is, why so many people are tied to him, his connections to the greater world, etc, is important. Undoubtedly. I’m not disputing that but rather the method by which we’re introducing him.

While One Piece is no stranger to lengthy flashbacks halting the story for some whimsy followed by tragedy, I think Oda missteps with Oden. Oden’s story starts far earlier than we truly need it to. We in fact begin with a rowdy and uncouth Kin’emon, part of an effort to show what Wano was like, and such  characters like Kin’emon, before Oden steps in. Oden himself doesn’t appear until a bit into this, and I’d argue none of what’s presented is all that important. In fact Oda is so obsessed with engradizing Oden that we’re treated to some very, very forced exposition as the Shogun himself is told of all his son’s unreasonable exploits from the past decade. There’s no sensical reason for this within the confines of the story, and only exists as a way to impart information to the reader. A better version of this would’ve found a way to make this information feel more natural, but in truth I don’t know that we needed most of it in the first place. I think Oda would’ve been better off introducing Oden, Rowdy Kin’emon and such shortly before the giant boar attack. Quickly establish Kin’emon’s obsession with money, his regret at endangering the town, everyone and introduced Oden as this lout the kingdom fears. Outside of that we don’t need the rest of it. It’s superfluous.

In fact the next several chapters often end up visualizing ideas/confirming things characters had talked about earlier in this arc, all information we don’t really need because we know it and don’t need it so thoroughly visualized.. Learning that Orochi played Hideyoshi to Oden’s Nobunaga is important, but it’s sandwiched between what I’d say are self indulgent details we simply don’t need because they’re again superfluous to the story.

The other issue is there’s simply too many characters bogging down this flashback, not giving enough time for Oda to let the really important players to shine. Thankfully Oda has the sense to not literally showcase the meeting of everyone who falls under Oden’s banner, choosing to spend much of 962 simply skimping over these meetings and giving us the basic gist. I kinda wish so much of the flashback was like that, the gist of how all these people came together so then we could focus more so on the parts that really mattered: Who Oden is and why he matters so much to the greater One Piece narrative.

I would argue it’s not till 963 we actually start to see signs of information that feels truly important, like Oden encountering Whitebeard and his big venture into the rest of the world. It’s not that any of this stuff is bad, but it’s basically visualizing information we already got and feels poorly timed considering it felt like the big battle was just a stones through away.

I want to like this Wano arc, I had started it full of passion and eager anticipation. I want to be impressed how Oda is pulling various elements of the story together, potentially shifting the entire story into a new “Era” but it feels like Oda is caught up in his own schemes and has abandoned what made One Piece work so damn well early on: Oda knew how to pace, to dole out information, and gradually build things up. Right now we’re all plot and very little character, taking away one of One Piece’s greatest assets: Its wonderfully quirky and lovable main cast. Simply put these Wano characters aren’t that interesting. There’s too many of them, not enough time to get to know them all, let alone make sure you’ve got everything worked out in your head. One Piece has gone from Complex, to bordering on Complicated, and if you remain complicated for too long, not only do you damage reader interest, you damage the story in other ways.

Maybe Wano will pan out, maybe we just need to get over this hump and things will really kick off. I’ve seen people argue that Oda is following Kabukicho formula, as a defense for why Wano is kinda boring right now. I don’t know that it’s boring, but I’m certainly frustrated, and following a formula isn’t an excuse for letting your story suffer. If you can’t make something interesting by paying homage to a classic formula, then maybe it’s a fool’s errand? I don’t mean to sound so harsh, but as a long time fan I really want to feel that magic One Piece had pre-timeskip again. It’s had moments in this second half, but doesn’t stay the course like it used to. Here’s hoping Oda gets us to pertinent information sooner rather than later and wows us with how Wano is connecting to so many important flash back elements and characters. I am dying to understand just how Oden is so important, outside of Wano’s people eager to defend his legacy.

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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