One Piece – Volume 5

I’m pretty stuck on this train at this point. One Piece’s fifth volume concludes the fight with Kuro’s cat-themed pirates, and adds one more member to Luffy’s humble crew. In doing so, it consistently demonstrates the two-pronged atmospheric attack that I assume has made One Piece such an unstoppable institution. The volume opens with Luffy fighting Kuro on the slopes while Usopp’s pirates attempt to stop Django, who react to his new weapons with the wonderfully absurd “he’s not a typical traveling hypnotist after all!” It’s absurdity and action all the way down, a ride that doesn’t let up for the first two-thirds of the volume.

One Piece

In retrospect, having Luffy’s first opponents be a circus-themed pirate crew kind of gave the One Piece game away. One Piece can be both consistently funny and also consistently dramatically engaging – it’s basically a carnival, where you’re enjoying the roller coaster drops but also laughing all along the way. It has a sense of earnest fun that reminds me of stuff like Girls und Panzer, or Yozakura Quartet. Action doesn’t have to be grim and self-serious to create a sense of tension or emotional investment; in fact, for me at least, the opposite is almost always true. Action is inherently silly, so it’s nice to let it be silly. Let your stories embrace a sense of fun.

Anyway. In comparison to the somewhat weightless Buggy fight, the fights in this volume’s first half still somewhat lack a sense of danger or consistent tension (it almost seems like they’re all kind of floating here, for example), but make up for it through Usopp’s strong presence and Oda’s consistently improving sense of visual timing. On the Usopp side, it’s clear now that more than any other character, Usopp really does represent the heart of this series. Luffy and Zolo are strong confidence and clear goals backed up by tremendous, as-of-yet largely unchallenged power – Usopp is all of that confidence backed up purely by flimflam and belief in himself. Usopp making brave declarations while lying with his butt in the air is pretty much Peak Usopp – his body is weak, but his conviction is unbreakable. And more than anything else, Luffy and Zolo respond to conviction – in fact, that Usopp is so emotionally strong in spite of his physical weakness probably makes them like him even more.

One Piece

On Oda’s side, this volume is elevated by inconsistent but much-appreciated visual highlights that offer nice bits of tonal diversity to what can sometimes be somewhat underwhelming fights. Oda doesn’t have the control of negative space that makes Bleach’s fights so distinctive (though Kuro’s outfit does help), and there aren’t yet any fights that demonstrate the tactical intrigue of Naruto’s best moments – so far, One Piece’s best fighting trick has been to mix traditional shounen fundamentals with his own Looney Tunes worldbuilding quirks. But in small moments here and there, One Piece is finally starting to demonstrate some tonal punch.

It’s the little things, really. A slight aside where Luffy grins before pulling off his counterattack, momentarily letting the audience take a breath and be positioned right there with him. Or the sequence near the end of the arc, when Luffy yells at Kuro’s pirates to run away. The sequence starts out visually crowded, following up on the end of a messy fight with several panels of pirates rushing this way and that. Then the space clears, with a sequence of three open shots conveying first Luffy taking a breath, then beginning to fall, then being caught by Nami. It’s a great sequence that uses panel positioning, negative space, and even a well-chosen page turn to make sure the audience follows Luffy’s energy as it falls, using Nami as a final reminder of the bond shared by this crew. A few more sequences like that, and One Piece will actually start looking like a top-tier series.

One Piece

But there’s plenty else to dig into here, both good and bad. As far as bad news goes, as I mentioned before, the fights still aren’t quite as tense as I’d like. On top of that, the plotting could still stand to be more graceful; in the last volume, it somewhat felt like Luffy was forced out of the narrative for arbitrary reasons, and here, sequences like Usopp retroactively saying “that branch was in my way” after Zolo clears his shot feel like needlessly clumsy dramatic failures. Sequences like that just shouldn’t happen – Zolo’s actions shouldn’t be given an empty justification after they’ve already taken place, Zolo should be provoked into performing actions by dramatic needs the reader can also parse. It’s a simple issue of poor narrative drafting that I have to assume Oda will eventually learn to avoid in the planning stages.

But there are also lots of positive details, too. Awkward as the setup may be, the visual punchline of Usopp and Luffy finishing their fights on back-to-back pages is one of the manga’s biggest dramatic payoffs yet. The rapport of the main party only gets better once Usopp joins the crew, and the addition of an actual boat means One Piece is finally embracing the exhilarating freedom its premise represents. There’s a whole world out there, and if it’s full of Dr. Seuss-style embellishments like a friggin’ free-floating restaurant, I can’t wait to explore it.

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10 thoughts on “One Piece – Volume 5

  1. Yeah, One Piece is quite the slow burner, and of the Big Three quite possibly the one whose style evolved the most during the years (though now it seems to have achieved a stable and consistent maturity). Looking back on these pages feels somewhat nostalgic at this point – being a time when the art and framing were far less refined but also somewhat neater and less crowded. Sometimes modern One Piece pages feel so crammed to the brim with details they’re trying to explode in your face. And the absurdity of the settings – the Restaurant Ship being the first of a long series of peculiar oddities – is definitely one of its strongest points. A series about the joy of freedom and exploration wouldn’t work without a suitably exhilarating parade of locations that evoke surprise and sense of wonder.

    • The good thing with One Piece being a slow burner is that it didn’t lost any steam after all those years (We don’t talk about Bleach, who should have ended years ago, but even Naruto ost my interest after some time). It’s nearly 80 Volume in (at least where I live), and it still doesn’t seem close to ending. One Piece really impress me, honnestly. Oda managed to create a vibrant, exciting, crazy, yet coherent world (and his ever expanding cast of colorfull characters. No wonder it ends up being so crowded.)

      • Well, I think that has less to do with it being a slow burner (though that certainly contributed to progressively creating the sense of a world of epic scope that always broadens as we push forward, and only now seems to finally touch on the point where we have a good full understanding of how the setting works) and more to do with the fact that Oda is very good at planning his plot and world building. By comparison, Kishimoto clearly dragged Naruto out far more than needed (it didn’t help that his art has always been super confusing in fights and the last Ninja War was a giant mess) by making up stuff as he went along, and Kubo obviously never had a plan for Bleach to begin with besides “now THIS would be a totally shocking twist!”. Bleach just coasted on its own stylishness while it lasted, and then crumbled as soon as the weight of the plot became too heavy (which is basically around Hueco Mundo, from then on it has consistently been getting worse).

        With One Piece you never get that feeling because Oda has no qualms throwing away entire finely built settings to make up new ones (every time he jumps from one island to the next) and at the same time his planning is careful enough that it always gives the impression of a perfectly oiled machine. Now it’d be spoilers to discuss this but there’s at least a couple cases where he seemed to have planned a twist or revelation with nearly 10 years of real time preparation. And THAT is real dedication.

        • It wouldn’t surprise me if he had at least some of the big plot revelations planned from the start. He said before that he’s had the ending planned since he started.

          • There were/are many important characters introduced relatively early on to be fully exploited later on.
            Oda brought live to a fully constructed world.

  2. I never expected to read Naruto and Bleach mentions on Wrong Every Time outside of the Top 30 comments.

    Fun fact: my city actually has 2 or 3 floating restaurants on it rivers. Almost all tourist visit at least one of them. The I one usually take my visiting friends is actually pretty good.

  3. I’m really enjoying these write-ups, but I would really prefer it if you used Zoro instead of Zolo. The official Viz translation uses Zolo, but for dated political reasons (and the fact that at this point it’s too late to go back) but I don’t doubt they’d change it if they felt they could. It’s like using the english versions of JoJo names, Cool Ice vs Vanilla Ice.

    • The Italian translation uses Rufi instead of Luffy. It’s maddening, considering that the official romanization is written out in clear letters multiple times in the manga itself.

      • The French Translation first “translated” Usopp name (to “Pipo”.), but they gave him his original name back later on.

  4. Early One Piece has a bad habit of coming up with reasons to sideline Luffy until the arc is at the point where he needs to show up. It gets better after a while. Almost everything about One Piece gets better over time, the action scenes especially. I’d say some of the later ones surpass Naruto and Bleach.

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