One Piece 974-978 – 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:

Finally, after a flashback that has spanned over three real world months, we’re back to the present. While it’s nice to get back to the main plot, chapters 974-978 continue to miss what has really made One Piece an enjoyable series throughout its life: Character. There’s simply not enough time for the Straw Hat crew to shine as Oda barrels us forward with plot developments, leaving scant few moments for our heroes to be their silly selves. It’s kinda been a problem this entire arc, and in some ways is baked in at this point to the very essence of what Wano offers. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy, even if Luffy and Co. rarely get to steal scenes with their antics. Let’s Jump In!

Chapter 974 is perhaps the best example of how plot/development focused we still are. It’s the first chapter that really brings us back in line with current events, seeing Kin’emon and Co. wallowing in deepening despair at the idea that their rebellion is already falling apart. Not only that, but the last little vestiges of the flashback reveal that Kin’emon’s group is suffering from a traitor in their midst, who has very well leaked the plan and endangered them all! But it isn’t more than a few pages into this chapter that the traitor tease ends and we learn it’s Kanjuro. While shocking, seeing as this character has been an ally for multiple arcs now, it’s all very sudden, not allowing enough time to build the suspense from tease to reveal. In fact it’s again only a few pages later that as things look increasingly grim for Kin’emon’s group that despair is washed away! Luffy and Co. are very much okay, as are Law and Kid! Chapter 975 continues this, with Denjiro not only turning the tides of battle, but also revealing that not a single member of the rebellion is dead! Kin’emon merely misunderstood the signal and messed up the rendezvous spot! While a funny gag, these chapters continue just barrel on with the developments, sucking a lot of potential tension out before it has a chance to properly ferment.

Chapters 976-978 see Momo captured by Kanjuro the traitor, Luffy and Co. wreck some shit, the surprise and very much welcome return of Jimbei and more. It’s great to see the story moving forward, if not barreling right towards the epic, massive battle we’ve all been waiting for, but it comes at the cost of the characterization and interaction that’s made One Piece so damn lovable. Indeed there’s a distinct lack of panel space left for Luffy and his crew to be their ridiculous selves for more than a brief spot here or there. At times it really feels like Kin’emon and Co. are the true main characters, with Luffy and the rest backseated into mere combat roles. It’s a shame, as one of the reasons I read the series is to see the Straw Hats and their shenanigans. We still get that to a minor extent, Luffy’s training in the prison being one of the better examples of Wano allowing his character to steal the spotlight, but not nearly so much as even the arc just prior to this one.

Still, even with my quibbles it’s hard not to be excited. We’re literally on the cusp of Oda’s, probably second, most ambitious battle yet. Wano is likely to rival Dressrosa in chaos, and while that arc, it’s length, and the final battle remain contentious in the success of its execution, I’m hopeful that Oda learned some lessons from his last massive clash. It already helps that both Big Mom and Kaido are already set up as near insurmountable forces. Luffy hasn’t been able to trounce either, making both feel like true obstacles far more than DoFlamingo ever felt. Sure, Luffy is likely to beat both now that he’s properly mastered advanced Haki, but both Big Mom and Kaido still feel like villains that Luffy is still playing catch up with.

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.

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