One Piece – Volume 6

One Piece has been chugging merrily along so far, gathering crewmates and engaging in one-off adventures, but it’s been a fairly self-contained story. We know this is the “era of pirates,” but that doesn’t really feel tangible outside of the fact that all of the bad guy groups have been pirates or naval officers. The story doesn’t really have a sense of coherent scale – it’s largely felt like episodic adventures were just being invented one after another, which is quite possibly true. On top of that, very little so far has felt legitimately threatening; though Luffy and his friends have certainly been in danger, there’s been little threat of actual consequences or death.

One Piece

In its sixth volume, One Piece begins to rectify these issues, as Luffy’s quest to find a ship’s cook just runs into one complication after another. In truth, this is a somewhat messy arc; characters are introduced and shuffled off the screen within awkward sub-chapters, and the overall dramatic arc bobs and weaves as various opponents appear and disappear in sequence. On top of that, new potential crewmate Sanji doesn’t initially do much to recommend himself; though he’s clearly got a bit more complexity than Zoro, his “loves the ladies” gimmick feels old the moment it’s introduced. One Piece’s sixth volume is one that perhaps most clearly demonstrates the difficulty of starting a major shounen manga – many such manga are actually sunk by middling arcs such as this, and it’s almost sad to think of how many mangaka really just needed a few more volumes of breathing room to find their storytelling feet.

And yet, for all those various issues, this volume also clearly demonstrates that Oda is beginning to gain both an understanding of the scale he could possibly be working in and a much stronger eye for visual composition and setpieces. There are some breathtaking moments in this volume, and ideas that point to a willingness to engage with storytelling on a much larger scale. The world is expanding now, something clear in both the dramatic fights and the worldbuilding reveals.

One Piece

As far as worldbuilding goes, early on, this arc’s villain is set up as “Don Krieg,” a pirate who commands an armada of fifty ships. Don Krieg is built up as a powerful and bloodthirsty pirate, someone our heroes should clearly respect, but when he appears, he’s nearly in pieces. Apparently, Don Krieg journeyed to the Grand Line, and was rewarded for his troubles with the destruction of his fleet. The Grand Line has been a nebulous concept so far, but this volume is clearly committed to making the audience understand that the arcs so far have been small-fry material. The story gets almost videogame-esque in its detailing of how minor Luffy’s adventures have been – when describing the scale of the world, the great swordsman Hawk-eye describes their quadrant as the tamest of all of them. Clearly there’s plenty of leveling up to be done.

On top of that, One Piece’s heroes are finally starting to run into conflicts and characters that challenge their initially simplistic perspectives. So far, Zoro and Luffy’s strength-focused philosophy has been unchallenged by the powers arrayed against them, but here, Zoro is soundly defeated by a swordsman far above his level. Shounen strength is in truth a death wish, and though Zoro promises by the end of the fight to never lose again, I have to imagine this battle will be at least something of a humbling experience. On top of that, both Sanji and Nami demonstrate more texture in these chapters – Sanji through his uniquely humanist philosophy (“my job is to feed people, not judge them”), and Nami through the strange admission that accompanies her latest betrayal.

One Piece

But if the storytelling here is somewhat messy in its ambitions, the art just keeps getting better. Volume six is elevated by both small tricks of composition and dramatic visual setpieces, starting with the shambling arrival of Don Krieg’s tattered ship. The man himself has an equally strong entrance, one demonstrating how Kuro’s simple but iconic, manga-friendly design has lead into more designs demonstrating a strong understanding of dramatic two-tone contrast and negative space. Even in the smaller moments, this understanding of how bold visual contrast creates dramatic tone is starting to elevate the storytelling.

The panels expressing motion are equally strong, with Sanji in particular getting some real standout highlights. Unlike some of the earlier Luffy fights, there’s a sense of movement to these panels, of momentum in the swinging limbs. Tricks like the previous volume’s use of busy panels leading into open ones to create a punchline return, and when it comes time to really impress, Oda is ready to please. There’s an inherent majesty in these great ships, and a sense of horror in seeing them destroyed. It takes quite the steady hand to capture that sensation, but it’s looking like Oda’s arrived.

One Piece

One Piece’s sixth volume is messy, but messy in ways that seem reflective of necessary growing pains more than actual failures. Its narrative shuffle points toward increased storytelling ambition, and its visual highlights reach higher peaks than ever before. The manga’s fundamentals continue to steadily improve.

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6 thoughts on “One Piece – Volume 6

  1. Ah, yes. Sanji. The character that is constantly the source of many of my frustrations, but at the same time, also has some amazingly fantastic scenes when used compellingly.

    Perverted guy is just a character type I almost always absolutely HATE, and the manga’s very serious issues of sexism that become very apparent later on just don’t help me to like that aspect of him at all.

    Add in Assassination Classroom and My Hero Academia, that also ran/run in the same magazine, that I feel have been VERY fantastic with how they treat their entire cast, not just the male leads. Which just makes One Piece’s sexism stand out even more jarringly as not just a heavy, but also very seriously dated issue. Likely being an unfortunate result of its length. The world has changed, but, for better or worse, the series has stayed largely the same.

    Though that rant aside, what I’m basically saying is cool* Sanji is really great, and I’m constantly disappointed how we have far less of him than perverted comedy/Romeo Sanji.

    *cool meaning good, not shonen standards of “cool”, though there’s probably some overlap

    • I think something that lessens the impact of Sanji’s shtick is the extents to which he’s true to it. I can’t say any more without going into spoiler territory – you know what scenes I’m referring to most likely – but what I mean is that however old fashioned it might be, his gallantry isn’t simply a sugar coating for a desire to exploit women; it runs through and through and is something he’d be ready to give his life willingly for. It may still be annoying from a woman’s perspective as it can feel like it’s a smothering attitude, but if the worst form of sexism in the world was this kind of genuine old style chivalry we’d already be leaps and bounds better than we are.

    • I actually think pervert Sanji can be hilarious. The early parts keep a lot of that type of comedy somewhat restrained, but the later arcs have running gags like that actually be a part of the character instead of just how they act when it’s comedy time, which tends to weaken the humor. Like Gan_HOPE326 said, Sanji’s “perverted chivalry” actually becomes a plot point on several occasions (frequently hilarious ones).

      If the lack of scale has been a problem so far, you’ll be glad to know that that changes as the series goes on. It takes a while, but one of the best parts of One Piece is how large the world starts to feel in some of the later arcs.

  2. I’d say not to worry – this arc is IMHO by far the worst One Piece has to offer, ever. It’s telling that I consider it as the absolute lowest point. The next one on the other hand is one of the best and most emotionally powerful arcs in the entire manga. Though for the true highlights in terms of world building and complex narrative you’ll have to wait a bit.

  3. This is one of the arcs that I felt worked better in anime form. The slower pacing gives the characters a little more presence, while animation and color makes Kreig and Hawkeye a bit more distinctly intimidating. Sanji’s shtick certainly does get old(and worse), but I think he’s still one more immediately likable of the characters. Overall though, I agree Baratie is a pretty messy arc.

    But good news! The next arc is my favorite, and easily the peak of the pre-Grand Line material. Nami is a good girl (T~T。)

  4. Since you’re finally at the part of the manga that has it, I figured I’d mention that the cover stories aren’t just random side things but also generally tie into the main plot as well. Though it can take a long while a lot of the time (some really old ones even current readers have little to no clue how they’ll connect, if at all), so don’t worry too much about it. Just think of it as a sort of way for Oda to bridge gaps without interfering with whatever the current narrative focus is.

    Also, I’m not sure if you have been , but I would also recommend reading the SBS as well. It is generally just Oda playing with his fans, but there’s also quite a fair bit of trivia, details you might not have noticed otherwise, behind the scenes (both creative process and in-universe), and so on. It’s not specifically needed, as all the important stuff is put into the manga proper, but it does add a nice bit of depth and can give light to plenty of things you might not think about or notice otherwise.

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