Friday, October 6, 2017

One Piece Revisited vol. 23 - Vivi's Adventure

From the forehead, to the positioning of the ears, then the neck, and the torso, you can tell Oda is deep into his own style at this point. I don't necessarily dislike it, but let's just say anatomy isn't exactly my favorite thing about his art.

This volume concludes the Alabasta saga with appropriate fanfare, bringing to a close the lengthiest story arc in One Piece to date. But first, we have to deal with the cliffhangers from last time - namely, that damn bomb. Vivi gets catapulted up to the clock tower to prevent it from being launched, in a clever string of juggles. Usopp, carrying Chopper and Vivi, is launched into the air by Nami's clima-tact. Sanji intercepts them at the apex of their jump and kicks them up another few stories, where Zoro is waiting to launch them even higher. Finally, Chopper throws Vivi to the target, where she deals with the overlooked Baroque Works agents, Mr. 7 and Ms. Fatjer's Day. It's a nice sequence that shows the whole crew working as a team.

While all of this is going on, Luffy and Crocodile's fight is drawing to a close. Here's another example of Luffy putting his educated feet to good use.

But, because Crocodile is an extremely effecient villain, that's not the end of it. The bomb is still on a timer, and even if it doesn't get launched into the plaza, it'll still detonate and cause catastrophic damage. Just like his death trap with the alligators and the cage, there's no "victory condition". You're just supposed to lose.

But, because this is One Piece, someone shows up to handle the situation. Pell, one of the redundant Alabastan guards, grabs the bomb and flies it up into the sky like Iron Man in the first Avengers movie, where it explodes harmlessly. Well, Pell dies of course.

I like how his makeup suggests tears, and fits with his tragic role.

Except later we'll find out he isn't, actually, dead. I don't remember when it comes, but it's some afterthought about a wounded man being nursed back to health, strongly hinted at being Pell. Then even later he just shows up in Alabasta scenes, healthy as can be. It's honestly insulting to his sacrifice, and the narrative, that he can be brought back like that. For the longest time, Pell was the Ur Example of "nobody dies in One Piece".

Luffy just really feeding Croc the right-lefts. I admire how One Piece villains nearly always take a thorough beating, not just get the tables turned on them and overwhelmed in a single blow.

Which is kinda true - outside of flashbacks, do people ever die? Those elite guards that took the poison potion died, I suppose. Possibly the fodder the Straw Hats mow down die. But any time anyone makes a big sacrificial scene, they invariably turn out okay. Eventually it gets subverted, to great effect, but... it's one of the few things that bugs me about One Piece. I don't need death aplenty to keep me engaged, you can tell an emotionally involving and tense story without needing to kill characters (sup, Attack on Titan), but you DO need to have consequences for actions. It also ruins the tension of future "sacrifices", because the readers will suspect that the characters will live like all the rest.

 But at the time, a reader doesn't have any of that baggage going on. So they're free to concentrate on this epic spread of Luffy thrashing Crocodile. And I use "epic" purposefully - an oft maligned word, I think it truly fits here. In the anime, they played the 4th movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony, and it was glorious. Please, give it a listen as you study these pages.

oh baby I love me some rapid punches. This is the first time Luffy's used a Gatling variant to finish off an enemy, and boy is it sweet.

My man got pummeled through 40 feet of bedrock and up into the sky, has anyone ever gotten defeated so soundly in the history of anything holy shit

Afterwards, the rain falls again, and all of Crocodile's lies are exposed, thanks to Igaram also coming back from the dead, and a little boy acting as witness to Mr. 2's masquerade in Nanoha earlier. It's a little weird that they suddenly believe him, but Kohza also wakes up and tells everyone the truth like he tried to earlier, so that helped. Also with the smoke gone, Vivi and the King speaking openly, and nobody really wanting to fight anyway, I suppose I can accept it. Some may say it's conveinient that the rain would fall just now, but I think Crocodile was probably drying out the atmosphere with his powers, in addition to the Rain-stealing powder. So the moment he fell, since that powder wasn't currently being used, the rain just let it go.

I mean, it also took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from a small group of individuals, but hey

Then there's the requisite celebration banquet and party, a necessary step before we get to the part where the Straw Hats have to escape on short notice. Look, Oda has a pattern and damn if he doesn't make the best of it, okay? Though he mixes it up a bit, with some of the first outright fanservice in the manga. Far from the last, as Oda gets older he also seems to get hornier, despite getting married. But at the time, a bath scene with Nami and Vivi had me like that wolf from the Tex Avery cartoon.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like it when the fanservice is just that - rare little scenes that act as special service for the loyal readers, instead of tits and panty shots every single chapter. 
In the interest of fairness, here's the dudes nekkid, too. I'm a strong supporter of equal-opportunity fanservice. Chopper looks weird without his hat.

I might not have mentioned them much, but Tashigi and Smoker have been minor players in this arc, too, however ineffective. And actually, that ineffectiveness is the point. Smoker tells Tashigi that she must enforce her own sense of justice, instead of being beholden strictly to the Marine's laws. However, she finds herself unable to do so, powerless to stop Zoro and the Straw Hats from running amok, or Ms. All-Sunday and Baroque Works from doing whatever they want. In the end, she prevents the marines from arresting the Straw Hats, because she realizes they were the ones who saved the country. So that's something of a personal justice call, but still. She's too weak to enforce her own ideals, or change the situation herself. I wish she'd get more screen time, I think Tashigi is a really interesting character.

I've read a translation that worded this more strongly, like "Tell 'em to eat shit", and I much prefer it. There's a time and place for profanity, and this is one of them. Let it be the one of the few hard swears in a PG-13 movie.

Speaking of the Marines, if you've been following the cover stories, you'd know that Django (formerly of the Black Cat Pirates) reformed and enlisted, along with his new buddy "Ironfist" Fullbody (who appeared in the Baratie arc). For those who aren't aware of the cover stories, because I haven't been mentioning them, the title page of every chapter features a little illustration unconnected to the main storyline. Sometimes it's just non-canon bonus stuff, like Nami chilling with a python, but sometimes it's installments of a B-plot featuring characters from a previous arc. There was one documenting Buggy's trials and tribulations after being defeated by Luffy, one about Hachi the octopus-man going on an underwater adventure, etc. And of course, one about these two knuckleheads.

Maybe that's the reason nobody dies in One Piece - so they can return later.

The Marines set up a blockade, but the Straw Hats are saved by Mr. 2, who proves his honor and loyalty to the bonds of friendship. Remember, this is the guy who impersonated the king and sparked the revolution, plus who knows how many other nefarious deeds, but he's wacky, and made it clear that outside his work obligations he would have been a great friend to the crew. So, now Baroque Works is gone, and he acts as a heroic decoy. Again, I have to wonder - is it problematic to present a queer dude like such a goofball? or is it progressive, to portray him with such heroic attributes? Probably both, I don't want to write about it anymore, I said my bit in Volume 21.

Now I'm gonna be a huge hypocrite and say I love that this isn't the last we see of Mr. 2. Some characters are just so awesome you can't help but be glad of the fake-out death. Though I suppose it was always more likely he got arrested than killed, anyway.

Finally, we come to the end of the volume and the arc. This puts such a nice, neat bow on the whole thing, I'm almost tempted to say it could be the end of the series. Well, not really, if it ended here I'd be pissed that I never actually saw the One Piece. But if it suddenly got axed, and ended like this - all the characters present in one final arc, many plotlines resolved, with some sort of "and the adventure continues!" message... it would be okay. Not good, but I'd accept it.

Mention this scene to any One Piece fan and see how long it takes them to start crying.

Vivi tearfully admitting that she treasured her time aboard the Going Merry, but she loves her country too much to join them and run away to sea, while the Straw Hats (unable to officially give any sort of recognition to her for fear of connecting her to pirates) raise their arms to wordlessly display the symbol of the bond they shared - it's just too much, man. It's reminiscent of Koby splitting from Luffy, but without the "put on a farce, but all parties know it's fake" element. The general populace still doesn't realize Vivi was a pirate for a time, and the Marines don't know for sure either. Wonderful way to end the arc and the volume. Next time, something fresh and new.

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I love the detail of how the Straw Hats just collapse from exhaustion after completing their labors.

Sanji lighting up a cigarette to appear chipper, only to let it drop from his mouth as he topples over, is a nice use of a prop to show character.

Look at them, all tuckered out.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

One Piece Revisited vol. 22 - Hope!!

Love the gamut of expressions on the Straw Hat crew, from cocky to pissed to feigned bravery to unvarnished fear. 

Also, check that out! I wish I could get this as a poster, without the unfortunate printer's defects that prevent it from lining up perfectly.

Last volume dealt with the key officers of Baroque Works, but the big bad himself, Crocodile, is still active. And he's in rare form here - a squad of loyal Alabastan warriors show up, having doped themselves with a lethal drug for a temporary power-boost, and Crocodile just ducks. He could probably beat them, but he'd rather just let them die of the drug's effects, their heroic sacrifice not even amounting to a chance at defeating him.

He also introduces a new element to the plot (actually that happened last volume but I didn't mention it because it's a major focus of this one instead), the bomb that's going to be shot into the center of the plaza, killing hundreds of thousands of rebels and soldiers. Why? To clean things up, basically - after Crocodile seizes control of the nation, he has no need for a bunch of riled-up militants. Kohza and Vivi make one last attempt to stop the fighting, but the Baroque Works agents embedded in both sides prevent that from happening. So at this point, all Vivi can do is trust in Luffy to defeat Crocodile, while she tries to stop the bomb. At the end of everything, we've boiled the plot down to a time limit and a single, final enemy.
holy shit Crocodile killed Batman

Crocodile also makes short work of Chaka, and honestly it feels superfluous. I never really cared much for Chaka or Pell, felt like their roles could've been combined into one, and it's hard to take them seriously when all they do is job to Ms. All-Sunday and Crocodile. In order for that to be effective, they need to show some amount of power beforehand, which they don't really. Pell flies at least, so that makes him a useful mobility piece. But we'll get to Pell later, for now he gets to help Luffy make a cool entrance.

Wonderful visual storytelling. Croc just dissolving his hand instead of letting go is a nice touch.

So now it's time for Crocodile vs Luffy, round 2. This time around, Luffy's packing a barrel of water, to moisten up Crocodile and make him tangible. Luffy's able to land a few good hits, but in the end he still falls short - Crocodile drains the water from him, and throws him off a building. But, cleverly (or luckily) Luffy shot some water straight up into the air before he was drained, which falls right back down onto his dried-out body, revitalizing him. The kid lives to see another day!

I like it when Luffy is treated as a floppy rubber ragdoll.

This fight is good for two reasons - firstly, it's just a solid encounter, with some strategy elements in Luffy's use of water, Crocodile adapting to that, and of course the dynamic action you can expect from One Piece. But secondly, it acts as a mid-point in the arc that is Luffy's efforts to beat the Croc. At first, he was totally outclassed. In the second encounter, he fares better, but still falls short. At this rate, the reader has to ask, won't he win the third? On the other hand, Crocodile's proved to have Luffy's number twice now, maybe he's just that much stronger? How will Luffy manage to beat him, since the portable water supply didn't work?

I realize nobody is literally asking themselves that, they know Luffy will win eventually because that's the sort of manga this is, but what's important is that you're unconsciously thinking these things. People love to say (of many things) "This is boring, you know the hero will always win, where's the tension?" and that's some bullshit. In many stories, you have a strong expectation of the ultimate conclusion. Nobody watches a rom-com expecting the couple to NOT get together in the end, and nobody reads a mystery novel expecting the mystery NOT to be resolved, so why should you hold it against a battle manga when you expect the hero to prevail?

If he weren't the hero in his own series, this is where Luffy dies. He never surrendered mentally, but his body just gives up and he passes out, unnoticed among all the commotion. Like with Zoro before, I like the mundane last thoughts.

So even if I know Luffy will win eventually, I'm not such an emotionally bankrupt monster that I can't sympathize with the struggles he undergoes along the way, and appreciate the ways in which he delivers that inevitable victory. Not to mention the other characters, who perhaps have less "plot armor", and go through their own traumas. And speaking of those other characters, they're running around trying to find the bomb.

Sanji screeching to a halt like this kills me

Small aside about the bomb and the time limit: They say it's a "3 mile radius" which is actually freaking enormous and would decimate a major city. Chicago is only like 5 miles wide (though it's longer vertically), that would be a huge area of destruction. If Crocodile has weapons like that, what does he even need Pluton? It also says a lot about the size of Alubarna, as well as everyone's ability to move around it so quickly. But Oda is chronically bad about scale with things like this, so I guess it's more important just to know it's a "real big bomb" than to try and calculate the ramifications.

Zoro's poor sense of direction once again makes itself known. My man isn't even in the city limits anymore.

Finally, we get to the ultimate battle between Luffy and Crocodile. There's some stuff about Ms. All-Sunday reading the poneglyph but not finding the information Crocodile wanted, but he doesn't believe her, and they double-cross eachother, and she ends up skewered, but it goes over the readers heads for now. We'll find out about the poneglyphs, and Ms. All-Sunday's motives in due time, right now it's just one more piece of the equation removed, to make room for Luffy and Croc to throw down.

You gotta have a good location for a climactic fight, and a crumbling ancient temple is about as good as it gets.

And throw down they do! This time, Luffy is using his own blood as the liquid to harden Crocodile's sand body. It makes sense with the internal logic of the series, and is super metal. I don't know what 4Kids used here, maybe they said Luffy just spit on his hands or something.

This is actually from their first fight, but I'm putting all this action in a row to make it simple. Check the pain on Croc's face here.

A creative move that Luffy never used again, sadly.

oh man, do I love that punch. Not even one of those "punch to the jaw, head spins around" affairs, this is a straight-on nose-breaker.

Unique way to cancel an attack already in progress. Luffy uses all of his limbs as he fights, appropriate for his "Monkey" moniker. And that's some sweet wind-up in the 2nd panel, too.

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It's the first actual hit anyone has landed on Crocodile, who's spent the whole arc being evil and cruel and smug and untouchable and GODDAMN does it feel cathartic to see that cigar get punched right out of his mouth.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

One Piece Revisited vol. 21 - Utopia

Love line-ups like this. It's especially good because volume 22 has the Straw Hats, facing against them.

Who ever said One Piece doesn't have the best fights out of the Big Three!? Let them read this volume and shut their mouth. Last volume gave us a clever 2v2 match, but this one is all about three 1v1 affairs.

First up is Sanji vs Mr. 2, as teased by the end of the previous volume. There's a bit of gimmick, as Mr. 2 uses his powers to change appearances so he looks like Nami, whom Sanji finds himself unable to fight (hilariously, Mr. 2 first tries looking like Usopp, but Sanji has no problem kicking that face in). Sanji overcomes this by exploiting the fact that Mr. 2 has to transform back into his actual form to attack, so there's a window of opportunity to stuff that attack before it comes out. Footsies!

Sanji's eye bugging out like he's in a Tex Avery cartoon is apparently actually happening, given that Mr. 2 can chop it. Maybe he should get that looked at.
Mr. 2 also throws his eyelashes like boomerangs, and sticks his ornamental swans on his toes to extend his reach and give him more piercing power, but mostly it's just the two of them trading devastating kicks. I think it's cool how evenly-matched they are at this, but it's not like they both "went to the same school of kicks" or anything, doesn't beat you over the head with any "khg... he's just like me!" crap, they're just two kick-based fighters. They independently came up with the idea to do a hand-stand and kick a bunch, why wouldn't they?

It's almost Sanji's specialty to just get on a roll and lay down a combo. You can't let that boy get any momentum, or you're done.
I do gotta say, I'm not a fan of Sanji calling out the names for every single one of his attacks. I get that they're all French/food puns, often relating to the area of the body he's targeting, but honestly it just clutters the page and I skip over it when I'm reading. Not every single kick has to have a name, dude. Sometimes a kick is just a kick. Save it for the actually impressive stuff.

Notice how Mr. 2 didn't get hit by that kick in the top right, because his swan gave him the reach advantage.

On the other hand, let's talk about Mr. 2's "Oh Come My Way Karate". See, as the text on his jacket reads, Mr. 2 is an okama. This is Japanese slang for a gay man, or transvestite, sometimes implying transsexual. As you might expect, it's not very polite, and localizing it as a slur like "tranny" or "homo" might be proper in some cases. On the other hand, there are some elements of the gay community in Japan who use the term themselves, so it's not always offensive. Maybe "queer" is the best translation? Look, gender politics is a hell of a thing, especially in Japan.

Anyway, Mr. 2 practices Okama-do, or "The Way of the Okama", much like kendo is "The Way of the Sword". So you take "Okama Way", and turn it into "Oh Come My Way". It sort of works, in the sense that "Oh come my way" sounds like a flirty, stereotypical flamboyant thing to say. And it's certainly better than confusing readers with Japanese slang, or trying to navigate the perilous waters of how offensive you want to be with your slurs.

It's an odd point, because while Oda definitely uses it for comedic value (he clearly thinks crossdressing and men acting effeminate is hilarious), it doesn't seem malicious? I mean, other characters act even sillier than Mr. 2, it's not like he's the only weirdo. And then he's also made out to be a badass fighter with a strong, loyal heart, and eventually returns for some truly heroic scenes. Later, Oda introduces other okama characters, and they're mostly portrayed as the good guys, too. But also Sanji has a major case of gay panic, and they essentially molest him, and wew guys it's complicated. At least you never get the sense Oda thinks being gay (or cross-dressing) is morally wrong, he just thinks it's silly.

See, Japanese culture isn't nearly in the same space as the U.S. when it comes to "hey, maybe don't make fun of gay people all the time?", and you know we aren't even that consistent on that one, so it's tempting to just blame the culture, instead of Oda himself. But maybe he should know better? On the other hand, maybe by putting queer characters in his story at all, and portraying them as heroes despite their goofy antics, that's a good thing? I don't know how the actual okama of Japan think about their representation in One Piece.

But I do know that Mr. 2 is one of the best characters in the whole damn series.

Man, woman, swan, whatever - you know you're cool when you trade kung-fu kicks in the air like this

Enough of that, let's move on to the next fight, which is actually Nami's first proper one in the series. She's not nearly as combat-oriented as Luffy, Zoro, or Sanji, so she often draws the short stick and doesn't get a fight. Which is fine, since she plays a crucial support role, but she actually has a very interesting moveset, thanks to the clima-tact.

Don't worry, it's an illusion. Don't worry, Nami's the only one in the series who uses them. This isn't about to turn into Naruto or Reborn.

Most of this fight consists of Nami just running away, as she tries to figure out Usopp's instructions on how to get the damn thing to work. Ms. Double-Finger graciously gives Nami plenty of time to work, which is a little odd, considering she's a top assassin. I can explain it away as she doesn't think Nami's a threat at all, nor does she think her partner Mr. 1 will have any trouble with Zoro, so she's in no rush. Also, Nami is just really good at dodging. She is the thief of the party, remember. So it's not too crazy that she can just evade attacks for a good while, even from an expert opponent.

That's right, boob spikes. And lip spikes. This is what people mean when they say One Piece is "unique".

Now, let me explain Ms. Double-Finger's name. It's a reference to New Year's Day, or January 1st, which would be written 1/1. Two fingers, see? Yeah, nobody else did, either. Oda had to explain it in an SBS column. All the female agents of Baroque Works are named after days of the week (hence why Vivi was codenamed Ms. Wednesday), and the senior agents are named after holidays (Ms. Merry Christmas, Ms. Valentine, etc). Ms. Goldenweek is a reference to the Japanese period known as Golden Week, in early May, where like a million holidays happen in a row and everything just shuts down and all the weekly Manga take a break and it sucks. Okay, maybe there's only three holidays, but still. They shut down for New Year's, too. It's annoying, how dare those people spend time with their families instead of slaving away to bring me the manga I crave!!

Oh, and Robin's name of Ms. All-Sunday is just for "all the Sundays in the year", I guess.

something something skipping leg day

While Nami tries to get her weapon working, her opponent tries to kill her with a series of creative attacks. Ms. Double-Finger's devil fruit lets her turn her body into spikes, and a regular author would have just given her spear-fingers and called it a day, like Lust from FMA. But Oda is not a regular author (neither is Arakawa, to be fair), so he just goes crazy with it. Spike fingers, spike bracelets, spike breasts, spike lips, spike hair, spike high-heels, turning your whole body into a sea urchin and rolling around like Sonic the Hedgehog, punching holes in a wall then tearing through the wall along the perforations, giving yourself acupuncture to somehow buff up your arms then making spikes on those arms and smashing things, it's insane.

I hope Nami only stepped so that the spikes are just going through her foot, can you imagine one just going in through your heel and right up the inside of your shin? uuughgh

This sort of creativity with powers is what makes One Piece so fun, and the fights so entertaining. The characters don't just have one or two moves they spam, or spend most of the time engaging in generic hand-to-hand combat. They're constantly pulling new ones out of a hat, at a rate that it doesn't feel like asspulls. Everybody just has a deep movelist! (side note: I hope ArcSys does a One Piece fighting game in the style of Dragon Ball FighterZ next) Compare Luffy's assortment of moves to Ichigo, who basically only has one proper attack, as far as I can recall. The rest is just poorly-conveyed sword fighting and teleport-flying. Even a series like Dragon Ball, which does have good fights and multiple techniques, mostly it's just different sorts of beams they shoot. To me, the inventiveness and full exploration of powers found in One Piece is much more interesting.

It takes another attack to put Ms. Double-Finger away, but I like this one better. Nami gets more mileage out of setting up electricity combos than than the Tornado Tempo, anyway.

Finally, it's Zoro's turn. While the other fights have had their share of gags, this one is all serious. It's also a little different in that there's less strategy going on, or figuring out how to turn the tides, because from the start the point is clear - Zoro cannot cut Mr. 1. And while he strings together a lot of cool moves, nothing sticks, nothing does any damage.

notably the first time an Oni-Giri didn't finish off an opponent.

love the follow-through on Zoro's pose in mid-air

Like his partner, Mr. 1 takes full advantage of being a "human blade".

goddamn that slide along the sword-leg, right up into the jaw is satisfying. I can imagine the sound perfectly

This would've killed a normal person. Zoro ain't messin' around here.

However, it's eventually Mr. 1's turn to go on the offensive, and he spirals blades around his arms like a drill and really jacks Zoro up. Poor guy loses a ton of blood, and it's hard to believe he's not eviscerated at this point. It's definitely the closest to death he's gotten since losing to Mihawk.

I keep having to say it, but One Piece is fairly violent. 4Kids really had no idea what they were getting into.

However, Zoro made an oath after that loss, and he's not about to lose again. In the following pages, I like two things: first, the continual refusal to take wounds on the back, "a swordsman's shame". It's nice continuity with that Mihawk fight, and a strong reaffirmation of Zoro's character. Even when losing, he doesn't want to be dishonored.

Secondly, in the other page, that little "I'm having bad luck with stone today" is great because it's exactly the sort of semi-coherent thing that goes through your mind when something terrible is happening. Zoroe's so out of it from the trauma and blood loss all his brain can think when it sees the rubble falling is "oh, bad luck huh..." No fear, rage, sadness - it's just all empty. I like it when a character's last words/thoughts before they die are something mundane like that.

How does he cut the pillar without cutting literally all the way through Zoro?

However, Zoro doesn't die, because of course he doesn't. Perhaps the near-death, empty-mind thing was just the right state of mind he needed to be in to unlock the secrets of cutting steel. Again, his thoughts are elsewhere, with his friends. He's mentally removed from the fight, emotionally at peace.

They say he gets stronger the more blood he loses.

Finally, Zoro takes out Mr. 1 in a single blow. Unlike the other fights, which featured one character figuring out a tactic to overcome the other's gimmick, this one is more of a Shonen cliche and Zoro just kinda developed the WILLPOWER to get stronger mid-fight. But I don't hate it! In fact, I love this fight!

See, the difference between this, and a generic Shonen fight is that the victory feels earned. Zoro doesn't suddenly well up with "gotta fight for my friends!" and win, instead it's something more subtle than that - he begins to hear the "breathing" of the plants, the stone, his sword, the steel. There's a little flashback where he recalls his master telling him that a truly great swordsman can cut anything, or nothing at all. He wills the sword to his purpose. And Zoro does that, slashing through a palm leaf without cutting it, and effortlessly slicing a boulder like it were butter, before turning his blade to Mr. 1.

So yes, it's kinda bullshit. He couldn't cut steel before, now he can. Physics don't work that way, his swords would either break or cut it, blah blah. It's a manga, it's not real, shut up. The important thing is that it feels real, and I think it does. It definitely helps that the rest of the fight prior to the finish saw Zoro putting on quite the offensive show, simply unable to do any damage. It wasn't like he was totally outclassed in speed and strength and technique, then came from behind to win a fight he had no business winning - it's just that Mr. 1 had stupidly high defense, and he had no way around it.

Even in victory, he's not vindictive. He's only honestly grateful for being forced to improve.

Until, of course, he does. It's interesting that back in Vol. 2, Zoro mused how he wished he could just cut Luffy out of that steel cage, sort of setting up a bar of progress he needs to hit. Later, he'll think about cutting other things. Then there's the argument that all of this is just Haki, which actually explains a lot, but honestly I don't think it really needs to be explained.

It's just a cool fight, and it's okay once in a while to have your hero tap into a previously-unknown reservoir of strength, or realize some profound truth of martial arts, and turn the tides. Just don't over-use it.

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Remember when Zoro was exerting himself to pick up that steel cage? Looks like all that weight-lifting paid off.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

One Piece Revisited vol. 20 - Showdown at Alubarna

A striking cover that shows the 5 sides involved - the Revolutionaries, the Loyalists, Luffy's crew, the Marines, and Baroque Works. Then it mucks it up with Karoo's unnecessary face in the middle. Shouldn't it have been Vivi instead?

This volume opens with the fight between Luffy and Crocodile. There's an odd bit where Zoro tells Vivi that Luffy is keeping Crocodile busy so she can get to Alubarna and stop the rebellion, which comes at odds with the dramatic speech Luffy gave her the other volume. So before, stopping Croc was of paramount importance, but now that it's actually possible (thanks to Pincers the Crab) to hustle on over to Alubarna in time, they should do that instead? Kinda ruins any impact that scene had, doesn't it, if the presence of a superfast crab would've changed Luffy's whole tone.

Anyway, the fight itself is a conflict a long time in the making, especially after his actions last volume, we really want to see someone slap Crocodile's smug shit. And according to the previous arcs, once Luffy gets his hands on the main villain, things are about to wrap up. But that's not what happens - Luffy tries everything, exhausting his arsenal of moves (and even coming up with a new biting attack) to no effect. The fight does a good job of characterizing Crocodile and explaining his powers, too - at first, he simply tanks everything Luffy does (further showing how his sand powers render him untouchable) because he's trying to monologue. Finally he gets angry and starts using his actual attacks, which take advantage of the desert to create blades and sinkholes.

When Luffy gets close, he hits him with his draining attack, though Luffy recovers thanks to the water the old man at Yuba had given him. This justifies Luffy carrying it around all this time, but also hints at a counter to a seemingly overpowered move. But in the end, Crocodile decides he's wasted time long enough, and summons a sandstorm before impaling Luffy with his hook, and burying him alive. There's no two ways about it - Luffy lost this fight.

Sometimes this silhouette style is used as a fake-out, and it'll be revealed that the attack missed. In this case, however, Luffy's actually skewered like a worm on a hook.

It's an important moment, because it's the first loss we've seen him take. Up until now, he's looked invincible when facing down the bad guys. He may struggle, but he'll always pull through. Not so with Crocodile. Immediately this cements Croc as the toughest opponent he's faced so far, and signals that the Grand Line may not be something the Straw Hats can just waltz through like they've been doing so far. But, even in defeat, there's hope - the water from Luffy's flask drips onto Crocodile's arm, and Luffy is able to grab it. This gives us a second hint at a weakness in the Sand Sand fruit's powers.

Great range of expressions. 

Luffy is of course rescued by Ms. All-Sunday (aka Nico Robin), whose motives are a mystery. But the rest of the crew arrive at Alubarna, and they cleverly split up to trick the Baroque Works agents waiting in ambush. It's the shell game classic - 6 cups, where's the princess? Trick question! She was never one of the 6 to begin with. I wonder if Eyelashes the Camel was introduced solely to play the dummy in this situation.

But then there's a bit of logistics that I don't really understand. We've reached the point in the arc where everybody needs to pair off and have their fights, which will eventually be:

  • Zoro vs Mr. 1
  • Nami vs Ms. Double-Finger
  • Sanji vs Mr. 2 Bon Clay
  • Usopp & Chopper vs Mr. 4 & Ms. Merry Christmas
  • (Eyelashes sits this one out)

However, the initial split has Sanji and Chopper facing the Mr. 4 combo, while Usopp is stranded with Eyelashes against Mr. 2. Immediately, Mr. 2 defeats them and runs off to track down Vivi. She escapes from him, as Sanji abandons Chopper and ends up intercepting Mr. 2. Meanwhile, Usopp meets up with Chopper. This re-shuffling only takes a chapter, but it's pure filler. Why not simply have Sanji and Usopp switch places from the start? It makes me wonder if Oda changed his mind on the matchups after the initial set-up.

Somehow, I watched this short AMV about "Captain Usopp" before I met Usopp in the manga. Not sure why I was spoiling myself with AMVs, but.

SNot knowing it was a joke, I thought this Usopp character was a crazy badass who wielded a 5-ton hammer. I still can't believe I actually got tricked by one of Usopp's lies...

The first fight we spotlight is a tag-team affair, as Usopp and Chopper face off against Ms. Merry Christmas, Mr. 4, and his bizarre dachshund-gun. There's not much for choreography here, but it's still a solid fight with a lot of strategy and team synergy. The dog spits exploding baseballs, while Mr. 4 exploits his partner's tunnels to pop up and re-direct to devastating effect. Usopp tries just dodging, but the balls are set to explode on a timer, covering that option. Chopper mentions they're also too heavy to just catch and throw back, so the team has to come up with something else.

Cool guys don't look at explosions.

And they do, tricking the dog into sneezing an explosive down into the interconnected mole tunnels! But then Ms. Merry Christmas just grabs Usopp and starts dragging him through walls, eventually setting him up for a skull-cracking home-run hit from Mr. 4. However, Chopper is able to use his Rumble Ball to turn this tactic back on them, scooping up the mole-lady with his horns and tricking Mr. 4 into hitting her instead of Usopp.
Is it weird to say I like it when Usopp gets all beat up? He sells it very well, I guess. Poor guy looks just about dead in that top panel.

Finally, they do a proper combo attack - using Chopper's horns as the base for a slingshot, to nail Mr. 4 with a (regular, not 5-ton) hammer. The dog gets caught in the crossfire, and they land next to Mr. Merry Christmas, he coughs up one last explosive ball, which detonates, finishing them off. I like this fight because it shows how two "less powerful" characters are able to turn the tables on their stronger-on-paper opponents, by using their own techniques against them. There's no part where Usopp heroically summons his willpower to punch out Mr. 4 himself, because it's been established that's just not possible. However, through clever thinking and teamwork, he and Chopper are able to eke out a  victory.

 It's cool how Usopp uses hammers in his fights, because of his dual role as the crew's sniper and carpenter.

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You've seen dramatic punch clashes, but hardly ever kick clashes. Mr. 2 has been built up very well, he's is a prime example of a silly character that can still appear threatening.