One Piece’s sixteenth volume opens with the team in crisis. Having sailed to the island of the former Drum Kingdom in search of a doctor, they discovered the only doctor here lived on top of a towering mountain. Strapping the sickly Nami to his back, Luffy set off with Sanji at his side, fighting through snow drifts and giant killer rabbits on the way to the summit. But then, before they could arrive, their movements prompted a mighty avalanche. And so we find our heroes sprinting back down the mountain, time ticking down with the storm at their backs.
The battle with Baroque Works continues in One Piece’s fourteenth volume, within the leafy confines of Little Garden. The initial conceit of Little Garden was “this is an island where the creatures are huge, but still dwarfed by the resident giants.” Those giants actually get more or less pushed aside in a narrative sense here, which I frankly didn’t mind at all. Their single-minded emphasis on “honorable battle” doesn’t really do anything for me, and though Usopp’s adoration of their focus is pretty adorable, I couldn’t really buy into their feelings purely for his sake. Instead, this volume quickly resolves the giants’ battle, and moves on to something much more exciting – the next showdown with the agents of Baroque Works.
The very cover of One Piece’s thirteenth volume filled me with skepticism. Emphasizing a balloon-shaped Luffy and the Baroque Works baddies, it seemed to promise a volume filled with meaningless battles, where Luffy’s buddies fight inconsequential enemies while Luffy sleeps off his meal. “Luffy is incapacitated” has already become something of a warning sign in this manga – though Oda’s art is strong, the tactical interplay of One Piece’s fights can’t really aspire to the heights of something like Hunter x Hunter, meaning its battle scenes are less likely to be rewarding for their own sake. And after a volume dedicated largely to One Piece’s actual specialties (discovery! adventure!), a volume of empty fighting seemed like a bit of a letdown.
One Piece’s fifteenth volume offers a rich sampling of pretty much everything that makes this manga great. After a couple of Baroque Works-focused volumes that were frankly a little below par for the series, the team’s exit from Little Garden and subsequent steps offer action, comedy, and even some smaller character-building moments. One Piece may be at its best when fully embodying a spirit of adventure, but volume fifteen demonstrates it’s entirely comfortable operating within any number of dramatic and genre modes.
Look, I’ve spent eleven straight volumes offering staid, craft-oriented critiques of One Piece. I’ve discussed key structural decisions, the composition of action setpieces, Oda’s evolving visual repertoire, and all manner of other theoretically interesting facets of comic design. I have been very good about trying to ensure you generous supporters get your money’s worth out of these writeups, and that they aren’t simply the style of fan-gushing you can find on basically any forum.
With all that in mind, I think I’ve earned the right to say HOLY SHIT THIS VOLUME’S JOURNEY INTO THE GRAND LINE IS SO FUCKING COOL.
At last, the moment has arrived! After nearly a full volume of Luffy slowly drowning, the Luffy-Arlong battle begins in earnest this volume. I’ve discussed before how the fundamental assumptions of One Piece make it awkwardly inevitable that Luffy finds himself tied up for long stretches of fights. The fact that Luffy’s power adheres to cartoon logic as opposed power level logic is one of One Piece’s most distinctive features – but it also means that it’s tough for him to share the stage, or for his fights to maintain tension for long. The simple fact is, nobody in One Piece has yet managed to test the limits of Luffy’s very silly strength. And so it goes with poor, doomed Arlong.
At last, it’s time for One Piece’s triumphant return! After far too many days/weeks/months of dilly-dallying, we’re back on the One Piece train with the second volume of the fabled Arlong Park arc. Nami’s backstory, the powers of her crew, and Arlong’s menace all rolled into one explosive manga adventure. And after all this time away, I have to say that… this volume is maybe a bit of a letdown.
There are a lot of anime out there! Literally thousands, with over a hundred more being released every year. There are new hits every season, and old favorites that have slowly lost their topical sheen. Given all those shows, it can be understandably hard to pick what to watch next – anime, like every other medium, is full of stuff that will disappoint you, and everyone’s tastes are different.
My own tastes in particular are a little weird – I like arthouse stuff and intimate character studies and occasional cathartic message-focused shows. But fortunately, there is indeed such a thing as “normal” taste in anime, or at least the most common preferences shared by fans outside of Japan. And today, I’m hoping to help that audience – or more specifically, hopefully, You.
One Piece’s ninth volume is titled simply “Tears.” It’s a thematically relevant choice, but it’s also about as clear an indication as you could hope for of the emotional trials to come. This volume is a harrowing journey, featuring One Piece’s greatest moments of character writing and most cathartic points of high drama so far. It’s an easy peak for the manga, a dramatic accomplishment any story would be proud of.
The Baratie arc came to an end in this volume, concluding with as much dignity as it could muster. As before, a great deal of this volume’s weakness came down to the fact that Don Krieg is just not a particularly exciting opponent. Volume six deliberately undercut him by using him as a prop to build up a more threatening opponent, and volume seven dawdled through a series of fights with underwhelming underlings. Even Don Krieg’s theming isn’t particularly compelling – his main gimmicks are a focus on “military might” and his wide variety of weapons, neither of which serve to make him particularly threatening. Don Krieg is altogether pretty much a failure of an antagonist.