One Piece 979-988 – 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 979-988 capture the wide spectrum of One Piece’s quality throughout the Wano arc, from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. It’s not that the core of Wano’s story is uninteresting, or the characters are thin, but rather the big issue is how much Oda attempts to cram into each chapter, and the way he’s chosen to do it, cutting content that would showcase the absurdity of the main characters we love in favor of more plot, and additional, last minute developments. That said, these chapters also offer us the big highs of Wano’s climax, with the very twists that suck the life out of other parts of the story being truly epic moments in and of themselves. Let’s Jump In!

It’s Chapters 979-982, as Luffy and Co. ‘sneak’ into Kaido and Orochi’s festivities, that exemplify perhaps the biggest issue plaguing the Wano Arc. The core problem is something we’ve talked about before: Complexity vs. Complication. Wano is a Complicated arc, rather than Complex, and that’s not good. Complex means a story that feels multi-layered, with a lot going on, but not so much that it’s impossible to follow along. Complicated is when a story has too many parts, characters, twists or what have you, and the narrative feels bloated, with it becoming difficult to keep track of everything. When you’re having to update the audience with battle plans, as seen below, this is where a story needs to be careful. It’s easy to snap back and forth too much in an effort to keep the audience up to date, and that’s exactly what happens throughout 979 to 982.

Wano’s problem is that there’s simply too many characters, especially in a narrative that has gradually begun to take on the weight of some of One Piece’s longest running overarching components, particularly as Oda tries and brings us to a close in the next four or five years. Because he has so much to keep going in this arc, that means chapters can flit around a LOT. Not only do we have the main cast to follow, a whopping ten characters, not counting Momo and the others that have been temporary additions, who are all competing for our attention, but we also have the Wano-only cast as well. Once you throw surprise narrative twists on top of that, things can feel crowded. This means in order to do each group of characters justice, particularly as they split up to infiltrate the festivities, we jump frequently between groups. Sometimes that’s to the stories’ detriment.

Jumping around so frequently, with just a couple pages or less to each group of characters, can be a bit much to ask of readers. While it might never actually be impossible to follow, this isn’t ideal. In fact then it’s in Chapters 983 through 988 that you can see Oda juggling this many narrative threads so much better. Specifically whenever Oda allows a chapter to center on one plot line predominantly, with a little inter-cutting between the other on goings of the crew/Wano cast/etc. it’s that much easier to follow along, because we have a main narrative to latch onto each week, rather than, say, five or six equally competing for our attention.

Another issue is simply how much story we’re cramming in every week. Not only does this manifest in jumping between too many events too fast, but we also end up rushing events, or skipping over them entirely. One excellent example is when Big Mom spots Usopp and Chopper in their tank. They’re chased off by her, but we never get to see that chase. Instead the next time we see Chopper and Usopp events have happened off page, and their dialogue primarily works at explaining what we missed. I can’t help but feel pre-timeskip we would’ve seen this chase, no matter how short it was. And I think it’s a shame we’re skipping stuff like this. Usopp and Chopper’s panic at being pursued by an enemy like Big Mom is the kind of character that makes this crew so enjoyable, and if we’re just jumping right past that then it feels like One Piece is starting to become far more plot-centric than ever before. Maybe that’s the case. Oda does have a lot of plot to wrap up if he’s really going to be ending One Piece in half a decade, and if everyone gets all the fun, silly character moments they used to I doubt he could actually succeed at wrapping everything up so soon.

Finally, the last quibble I have is the introduction of a few last minute developments; namely Kaido’s son. Kaido’s son has not been previously mentioned, at least to any significant degree. Here Kaido’s son becomes an important character, one that drives Kaido’s forces, including the introduction of another four members of Kaido’s crew, previously unseen, to go hunting through the castle for him, and subsequently stumble upon Luffy and Zoro. Kaido’s son also eventually finds Luffy, and introduces himself as the new Kozuki Oden, having been so inspired by the man of legend to take up the name as their own. It’s a fun twist and an intriguing character, but it’s inclusion in the story feels almost random, and just before the final battle is about to get underway.

Generally though, beneath the abrupt developments, and trimming of corners to make everything fit, there’s still a lot to love here. For as much as Usopp and Chopper get sidelined, we do get to see Luffy being Luffy, Zoro being Zoro, and many of the others getting a chance to shine again as the lovable, eccentric bunch they are. Nami, Jimbei and Robin all feel a bit shafted and underused still, but as the final battle ramps up I’m sure we’ll get to see them shine soon enough. I’d even say the story kicks into high gear when we reach the surprise murder of Orochi at Kaido’s hands, with Kaido done playing as equals, and announces his true plans for Wano; to turn the country into an arms-factory that will bolster his forces in the coming war.

Overall I think Oda still has a flair for storytelling where it counts, but is struggling to not only balance the growing size of Luffy’s crew, but also coupling that with one of his most ambitious arcs, as well as trying to guide the story towards its conclusion. With just 4 to 5 years left Oda still has a lot of work. He’s kept so many characters in play, narrative twists unfinished, and mysteries to solve. Hopefully Wano’s troubles are less of a sign of things to come and more a testing bed to help Oda figure out how the series’ final arcs can be enjoyably complex, rather than frustratingly complicated.

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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