Tuesday, March 15, 2016

One Piece: Yes, It’s Still Awesome

One Piece, Volume 76-77
By Eiichiro Oda
Published by Viz Media

This many parts into a looooong storyline, it may seem that Eiichiro Oda might start running out of steam, trying to keep his myriad plates spinning as he keeps charging toward a finale that is still in the future. But no, he manages to make it work, as always, checking in regularly with the dozen or so mini-plots and battles that are going on while Luffy and company keep charging toward a final confrontation with the villainous Don Quixote Doflamingo. He even manages to spend a good half volume on a flashback filling in the backstory of Trafalgar Law and his history with Doflamingo, bringing some additional emotion to the fighting. It’s kind of impressive to watch him juggle so many things going on at once; every time you wonder what’s happening with, say, Zolo’s battle with the stone-man Pica, Oda checks back in to see how it is progressing, providing a promise that a larger focus will eventually return to that subplot before zooming off to whatever is currently holding the spotlight.

So, to make an attempt to sum up, the evil Doflamingo has trapped everyone in the land of Dressrosa in a giant “birdcage” and is making them either attack each other or the Straw Hat Pirates, who are trying to fight their way up to the palace on the top of a plateau. Luffy is leading the charge, but he is joined by a large group of gladiators that he helped free from the arena, all of whom get into a huge battle with Doflamingo’s powerful officers. Meanwhile, the kingdom’s population of tiny people, the Tontattas, are trying to break into a factory that Doflamingo uses to make artificial devil fruits in hopes of freeing their enslaved brethren and rescuing their princess. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like too much to keep track of, but it’s only the starting point for these two volumes, and things get substantially crazier and more chaotic as they progress.

How crazy? Well, there’s a big fight involving a bad guy named Gladius, who is attacking Nico Robin, a gladiator named Cavendish, and another pirate named Bartolomeo who is a total Straw Hats fanboy, meaning that he is awed to the point of blubbering tears to get the chance to help out his heroes:

There’s another goofy battle going on between Franky and the tough guy Señor Pink, who dresses as a baby. They both act super badass and make manly proclamations about toughness, but when they fight, this is the sort of thing that happens:

Usopp gets a pretty great moment when he realizes that Luffy is about to be turned into a toy by the creepy-cute Sugar, which would make them all forget he ever existed, so he makes an amazing sniper shot from halfway across the kingdom to take her out at the last minute:

And there’s also plenty of really silly comedy, with moments like the elderly kung fu master Lao G facing off against a couple of gladiators and almost dying of old age in the middle of the fight:

But while that stuff all advances the overall plot, the real crucial part here is the flashback, which gives us some insight into Law’s need for revenge against Doflamingo, as well as some speculation about what message about the real world Oda is trying to convey here (if any). It turns out Law was from White Town, in the country of Flevance, where the main industry was mining a mineral called white lead, which was used to make all sorts of luxury items, but was actually toxic, slowly poisoning everyone in the kingdom. The world government let this happen even though they knew the people were dying, and even though the sickness wasn’t contagious, they allowed people to think it was, quarantining the country and eventually killing all of its inhabitants. Law managed to escape, but being infected with the sickness, he faced a certain death within a few years, so he joined Doflamingo’s pirates in hopes of killing as many people as possible in revenge. While he fit in well with the pirates, Doflamingo’s brother, Corazon, who was secretly a good guy trying to stop his brother’s evil schemes, couldn’t bear to see him waste his life, so he kidnapped him and went in search of a cure. This was eventually found in the form of the Op-Op fruit, which gave Law his super-surgeon powers and allowed him to heal himself, but Corazon died getting it for Law, demonstrating the only kindness anyone had ever shown him.

So there’s the latest heartbreaking backstory, and it works fairly well, although it seems like ground that we’ve trod before. The stuff about rich governments exploiting people’s suffering is interesting though, calling into mind the way the diamond trade destroys lives in Africa. Whatever Oda is going for, I expect it will make for some compelling emotion as the final battle plays out, with Luffy demonstrating his brotherhood and compassion for Law by kicking Doflamingo’s butt.

In the meantime, we’ve got some definite awesomeness, like in this move, when Law uses his powers to move Luffy into place for a decisive punch against Doflamingo:

That one actually happens pretty early in the fight, and things go in some unexpected directions from there, but as the various battles occurring elsewhere begin to wrap up, it’s clear that we’re heading for a finale (which will probably still take at least a volume or two to get here). That only means that Oda is going to start piling awesomeness upon awesomeness, so I expect what’s coming next to really knock my socks off. Don’t let me down, One Piece!