The battle against Don Krieg continues in One Piece’s seventh volume, hampered only by one small but somewhat significant problem – Don Krieg himself is not an intimidating villain or interesting character.
Part of this comes down to his fundamental design. If Krieg has any character or power-related gimmicks, they are “weapons and ruthlessness.” His personality is based on only looking out for himself, which somewhat works in the context of this particular arc, but doesn’t make for a particularly engaging character. And his battle tricks lack the unique style or cohesion of Kuro and Buggy – he’s just a guy in a big metal suit who shoots a lot of cannonballs.
Part of this also comes down to the context of the arc. One Piece’s sixth volume saw the arrival of Zolo’s fated rival, who quickly mopped the floor with Krieg’s group before facing off against Luffy’s swordsman. In that volume, Krieg and his men were simply instruments designed to first appear strong, but then immediately get knocked down in order to demonstrate just how imposing the Grand Line actually is. To have the story then turn back and say “okay, now the audience needs to see Krieg as dangerous again” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of dramatic stakes. Krieg’s moment of power lasted from when he invaded the restaurant to when he was defeated by Zolo’s rival – everything after that is him running on borrowed dramatic time.
Finally, the second-in-command introduced in this volume (a trick that’s becoming just a bit too predictable) is even more of a ridiculous non-threat than Krieg. Pearl’s theme and defensive powers don’t make for compelling drama, and it almost feels like Oda’s aware that this character is a joke. The one bright spot in the antagonists here is Gin – not only is he just a slightly more nuanced character, but the fact that Oda was able to use his relatively mundane design in order to hide his power is a clever twist on One Piece’s usual extravagant costuming. But overall, as far as villains go, Krieg and his men fall far below par for what One Piece has come to offer.
Fortunately, Krieg’s failings as an antagonist do little to mar this volume’s plentiful strong material. Much of the good here comes down to Oda’s increasingly impressive panel and fight composition. Oda is getting better and better at using the “camera’s lens” of his panel positioning as a tool for dramatic effect, and his control of his characters’ naturally loose anatomy is improving to the point where even where their legs are swinging like impossible noodles, there’s still a sense of momentum and weight to their actions. There are single panels that evoke great excitement purely through their composition, and full pages elevated through coherent exchanges of movement.
In addition to the overall framing, Oda is also getting better about managing the balance of blacks and whites. Kuro seems like he must have been the turning point here, where Oda discovered that in spite of his natural tendency towards absurd and fairly detailed costumes, an all-black suit is actually one of the most compelling manga uniforms. And so Sanji gets highlight after highlight in these chapters, spinning across the pages and cutting an imposing figure even when he falls to the ground.
The combination of Oda’s improved framing and understanding of Sanji’s visual value comes through most clearly in a pair of key panels, where in spite of being near death, Sanji’s presence absolutely dominates the frame. Oda’s embracing of the power of negative space reaches a crescendo during Sanji’s backstory, when Oda finally leans into that classic trick of casting dramatic moments in full silhouette. Just look at the way the cliffs and ocean each use black space in that first panel, creating a powerful visual symmetry in the frame.
That backstory is also this volume’s narrative peak, a gripping story that feels absolutely visceral in spite of leading to an already known conclusion. Oda’s getting better about characterization in general – instead of simply opening with dramatic reveals, the relationship between Sanji and the head chef is seeded by their interactions all throughout this arc. And when the truth is finally revealed, it’s a wonderful vignette, a story that stands far outside of One Piece’s usual action wheelhouse. The opponent here isn’t some villain One Piece’s overpowered protagonists can defeat – it’s hunger and thirst, the base power of the elements. In panels that alternately portray the violence of the sea and the quiet desperation of being shipwrecked, One Piece’s world starts to feel truly vast.
The head chef’s story sets a clear contrast with Krieg’s values. When the chef lost his crew, he lost his drive as a pirate – his goal wasn’t victory, but victory with a valued set of friends at his side. Left without his crew, his situation becomes reflective of his feelings; all the riches in the world, but they’re meaningless without food to eat. This vignette is easily one of the manga’s peaks so far, a stylistic digression that hopefully hints at more such stories to come.
That flashback provides the context that lends some actual weight to Luffy’s final confrontation with Krieg. As Sanji learns the value of a simple meal, Krieg’s men learn that he only measures value in gold, sacrificing even the men who once gave everything to support his cause. And Luffy rises to fight, ready to knock down a man unfit to become the king of pirates.
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