One Piece 968-973 – 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 968-973 concludes the fan service/Gol D. Roger section of the flashback, a section that gave us a welcome break from Oden’s flashback that was, perhaps, one of the manga’s less developed jaunts into the past. Our time with Roger saw plenty of fan service, some incredibly tight pacing, to the point dialogue, along with tons of hints, clues, and twists that Oda has likely been developing in the back of his mind for a solid decade or more. It marks a high point in the series, especially when Wano hasn’t really come together like fans might have been hoping. But in the aftermath of the heavy Roger focus, Oden’s flashback enters its climax that sends Oden, as a character, out on a high note, making him one of One Piece’s more memorable tragic heroes. Let’s Jump In!

Chapters 968 through 969 see Oden return from his seafaring journeys only to find his country under the oppressive rule of Orochi. As we move on from Gol D. Roger there’s a marked difference in quality. I talked about this before, but the sheer divide in quality between the Roger focus and the Oden story is truly night and day, showcasing how much thought Oda has put into the more hidden section of this epic narrative. He’s clearly been waiting a long time to spring this on us, and it shows. Oden, by comparison, is clearly a section of the story that hasn’t gotten quite the time it needs to come together like it could have. The way the arc so often drifts into lengthy talking heads, having to explain so many details we’re unfamiliar with, ends up being a significant drag on pacing (although Oda seems to have gotten better at upping the pacing to offset simply how much dialogue is dragging things to standstill.) It’s understandable though. Mangaka are on one hell of a brutal schedule and the way One Piece has held up compared to so many other Shonen titles put the rest of the field to shame, especially as Oda increasingly ups the complexity of his story. Even here, where Oda’s writing relies heavily on massive exposition dumps that hamper the flow and endanger reader interest in a backstory that, outside of the Roger stuff, probably won’t matter too much beyond this arc, he still manages to pull it all back together for a climatic ending that really paints Oden as a lovable doomed hero.

Chapters 970 through 972 depict Oden’s battle to save his country, his ultimate fate by boiling, revealing the truth of Oden’s recent absurd actions, and his heroic end where he saves the lives of his vassals from sharing the same fate. Oden’s struggle to survive the boiling pot is a triumph of story-telling that elevates Oden from a irresponsible goofball, and otherwise vehicle to bring the audience closer to Roger than we’ve ever been, into someone worth shedding a tear over. It doesn’t retroactively improve all of the Wano arc, but it does stand out as one of this arc’s more memorable moments and leaves me a little sad we won’t see more of this character going forward.

Chapter 973 sees us connecting dots to return to the present, the way in which events unfolded after Oden’s death, and all the little twists and turns needed to return us to the modern day. I don’t know how much more of this we have to go, but this part of the story does make me wish Oda took a different tactic in handling these loose ends. Maybe we could’ve used these snippets, and some earlier incidents where Oden earned allies through his actions, as teases into who Oden was before we dove into a full on flashback like this. Little flashbacks peppered throughout the present day events of Wano, looking into how each of these new characters met Oden, or the way the tragedy of his death affected them, giving us a tease at the kind of man Oden was. It would’ve eased the load of this lengthy flashback and helped audiences to understand why Oden was such a revered figure before coming to truly understand the breadth of his heroism and sacrifice through the main flashback.

Overall though, while uneven, this flashback generally comes out on a high and has me very eager to see what’s happening in the present and whether or not Oden’s vassals can achieve the revolution he died ensuring they’d have the opportunity to one day take part in.

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

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