One Piece 964-967 – 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:

Chapters 964-967 continue the Oden flashback, but now take it from the narrow view of Wano and Oden’s life, and expand our focus to encompass events fans have been dying to see visualized. I might argue that this flashback is still, at its core, one of the weaker ones. Conceptually One Piece flashbacks have usually been pretty good. They take the little bits of information we do know, and expand things to reveal so much more. Big Mom’s flashback is a recent example; allowing us to learn some really dark truths to the character. Oden however? Everything seen thus far is stuff we already knew, just with a couple more details thrown in, ones that don’t effect the plot that much. We’re just connecting dots. With the shift in focus to One Piece’s much grander history, we’re still mostly connecting dots. We’re mostly taking information imparted throughout the series in other ways, and visualizing it for the audience. What makes these chapters feel more interesting however, is that for anyone who’s been following the series since inception you’ve very much wanted to ‘meet’ Gold D. Roger. Roger has been a nebulous figure, one who started the great age of pirates, who acts as the catalyst to Luffy and the crew’s whole lives, but remains someone we don’t exactly know anything personal about. That’s what these chapters do: They take long withheld characters and finally let us experience who they were, even if just for a moment and without too much deeper detail, giving us dialogue and events that help us get a better sense of who these ‘mythical figures’ were. Let’s Jump In!

Chapters 964-965 detail Oden’s meeting and eventually journey with White Beard. By and large these two chapters still contain a fair amount of focused on Oden, explaining his journey, how he came to meet his wife, and even set the stage for Orochi Kurozumi to take hold of things. We learn that Orochi has a beef with the Kozukis, namely that his father once made a play to become Shogun and failed. We also see how he set things in motion to remove Oden’s family from power, and install himself as Shogun. But what I think is more interesting is the juxtaposition between these Wano centric developments and when we switch focus to White Beard, Oden and eventually Roger. Wano’s developments are largely handled through exposition, dumping the whole beef that Orochi has with Oden in another Flashback within a flashback. It’s not very clean, and a little sloppy to have us flashback to these events only to tell us this crucial information via dialogue, rather than a proper visualization. But what’s fascinating to me is how vastly different the approach between imparting this information and Roger’s story is. Once we snap over to 966 and 967 it becomes clear that Oda has had the image of these events in his head for decades.

Chapters 966 and 967, and even the other two to an extent, flow very well, exude character, and impart information in a memorable, engaging manner. They feel like when the series was at its best pre-time skip. I think it’s a strong indication that Oda has had these very events in his mind for so long that they’ve had a chance to be molded exactly as he wanted. We may not be learning all that much new, and still just connecting dots most of the time as Whitebeard or Roger’s crew visit various Islands, sometimes meeting characters Luffy has met in the present, but they feel fun to read because these events have sat with Oda so long that they’ve had a chance to cultivate into something so well realized.

And that’s fantastic for the audience. Wano has thus far proven to be a grand, massive idea that I don’t think Oda has had the time to conceive to the best of his ability. It’s a complex, if not complicated narrative, with so many moving parts that it’s no surprise sometimes we’re just playing catch up as we have to learn things happened off page, because there isn’t time to show it all, not in a weekly manga and not without taking attention away from our leads for weeks at a time. But with these chapters not only do audiences feel more invested because we’ve been dying to ‘meet’ Gold Roger, but because Oda knows exactly what has to happen, who says what, who acts what way and why. This is the part of the story he’s most familiar with beyond a shadow of a doubt. And I think this a very good sign for One Piece’s ending.

A lot of authors start stories without an ending in mind. I imagine One Piece wasn’t all that different, since Oda has gone on the record as the manga having been meant to end much earlier, and him then changing directions once he understood how popular his work had become (at least, that’s how I understand it.) Plenty of authors have only the vaguest idea of how their work will end, or never imagine much of an ending at all. But Oda seems like one of those authors who maybe didn’t have the ending set in stone right at the beginning, but had ideas already percolating. Once he realized he could really do everything he wanted he began thinking about that ending and how to really achieve all he could. Because One Piece has now been running for 20+ years, that’s a lot of time to let this stuff gestate. This flashback and how well it flows, how spot on the dialogue is, and how much teasing there is as to exactly what the One Piece is, is an indication of how much thought and time Oda has put into thinking about the conclusion of the series.

I don’t know that this means right after Wano suddenly One Piece improves in quality again. Oda’s timeline for finishing the series is very wishy washy. But whenever we begin the final arc I’d wager we’re in for a treat. It’ll be the part of the story he’s put the most thought into, and it’ll like end up as one of the best, if not the best arc in the series.

Overall these chapters almost border on fan service, but sometimes fan service and teasing is exactly what we need. We come so close to seeing the One Piece itself, and have been now teased to death about exactly what it is. A weapon? Simply a message? Something to change the world? I don’t know how much longer this flashback goes on for. I imagine the Gold D. Roger part of it is basically over however, and the story will shift again to returning Oden home and the tragedy that follows. But while Wano has kind of been floundering, with readers increasingly mixed on reception to this ambitious arc, I’m now doubly eager to get to the action, finish the Wano Arc, and get our characters ever closer to finding out what the One Piece truly is. Hopefully Wano can get to the action before too long so we can see Luffy and Co. save this country with a bang sooner rather than later.

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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