One Piece, Volume 79
By Eiichiro Oda
Published by Viz Media
This is it; after around 12 volumes, Eiichiro Oda finally hits the big finale of the current One Piece storyline, which has seen the Straw Hat pirates fight in increasingly high stakes battles to liberate the nation of Dressrosa from the tyrannical rule of Don Quixote Doflamingo. In the previous volume, the various battles between characters reached their conclusions, leaving only the big showdown between Luffy and Doflamingo, and it seemed like it was almost over. However, Oda manages to drag it out for a few more chapters, ratcheting up the drama and turning it into an expectedly epic final confrontation that allows the entire nation to contribute to the victory.
That's a great example of how well Oda paces the series; even though this battle has lasted multiple volumes and hundreds of pages, it doesn't feel like it's padded. The stakes build and build, with the fates of thousands of people in the balance, and while the good guys are sure to prevail, they end up doing so not just through determination, but by rallying an entire kingdom.
So how does Oda take a fight that seemed to be drawing to a close at the end of the last volume and drag it out for several more chapters without making it seem tiresome? He has Doflamingo briefly knock Luffy out, meaning that our hero needs about 10 minutes to recover his strength for a final attack. But during that time, the "birdcage" that Doflamingo has placed around the kingdom is contracting, and it's likely to cut everyone to ribbons before that 10 minutes is up. So that gives everyone, from the Straw Hats' remaining allies, to the surviving gladiators and pirates, to the members of the Navy, a chance to struggle as hard as they possibly can to buy Luffy enough time to get back on his feet:
And then, when Luffy is just about ready, the coliseum announcer from the gladiator battles earlier in this storyline makes sure everyone in the kingdom knows exactly what is going on and who the man fighting to take down the tyrant is:
This makes for an incredibly rousing moment, with the entire kingdom cheering for Luffy and lending him their emotional strength. And sure enough, the final confrontation is awesome and epic, about as satisfying a finish to one of these lengthy storylines as the series has ever done. Oda is a master at building emotional stakes and then paying them off in spectacular fashion, and this is just the latest example.
So what's next? With the battle wrapped up, the rest of the volume provides some nice closure, including a look at how Luffy's childhood pal Sabo survived his apparent death and eventually made it back into his life, and it starts setting up what's to come by introducing a new antagonist, a guy so tough that he survives a suicide attempt in which he jumps from a city in the clouds:
That's funny stuff, a great way to show us that this guy is going to be a major threat. I'm sure it will be another dozen volumes or so before Luffy gets around to fighting him, but I'm happy to wait that long, because it's sure to be awesome.