Wednesday, August 9, 2017

One Piece Revisited vol. 11 - The Meanest Man in the East

"The Meanest Man in the East" is a great epithet, though it fits someone like Arlong more than Luffy (the Marines are the ones ascribing it to him). Also, those outfits were costumes in the Grand Battle game!

The bulk of this volume is Luffy's fight against Arlong. There's shark-jaws being used as handheld bear-traps, a giant saw, a lot of blood, Arlong makes like a living harpoon, Luffy trashes a room, it's good stuff. Luffy does some clever stuff with his fingers, spreading them to make a net. But even as he makes up new techniques, you can see Luffy building a repertoire of signature and finishing moves. He finishes Arlong off with the Gum Gum Battle-axe, which was previously used to great destructive effect at the Baratie, so you know it's gonna be strong, but he's never used it against a person before, so there's the interest.
I love it when Oda remembers Luffy's entire body is stretchy, and someone slings him around like a rubber chicken.

In the end, Luffy defeats Arlong, along with the room where Nami was forced to work - like the tattoo earlier, destroying symbols of oppression is liberating. Then we get yet another iconic moment (this arc is full of 'em) where Luffy declares that Nami is "one of us now". Or at least, that's what he says in the Viz translation. In the actual Japanese, he's declaring her his nakama. That word means "comrade", essentially - closer than friends, arguably as close as family, usually connected due to a shared working experience. Soldiers in the same unit would definitely consider each other nakama. Crewmates on a ship might, as well. And that word used to be the source of major tension in the One Piece fandom.

damn, Arlong looks jacked up.

See, some people wanted to keep it untranslated, as if the concept was too quintessentially Japanese to be butchered into an English word like "crewmate" or "friend" or "comrade". I disagree, but as with much of translation, it comes down to context. Luffy's line here is perfect - it sounds natural, yet more emphatic than saying "we're shipmates!" or something. The problem is coming up with a term someone would actually use to describe their own close friends, which in English is neither "comrades" nor nakama (I've suggested "homie" in the past, to mixed reception). Further complicating things is that this particular line is delivered from a man to a woman, and English is lacking in ways to describe inter-gender platonic relationships.

Nami's cup size famously fluctuates through the early volumes, until Oda just decided on making her full Barbie-mode. Here she is looking particularly cartoonish - remember how she looked just a few volumes earlier? Maybe that tanktop is a corset of some sort.

In any case, the debate of To Translate or Not To Translate is eternal. I find myself on both sides of the line - I like Shichibukai instead of "7 Warlords of the Sea", and haki instead of "ambition", but "seastone" instead of kairoseki, and "Straw Hats" instead of Mugiwara. I admit much of my bias just comes from which translations I read first, but in general I think I'm in favor of translating, when it will help clarity. We don't need any more "all according to keikaku" lines.

Also, maybe you noticed how I treat the Japanese words in italics, and quote the English ones. I don't know why I do that, but it makes sense to me. Too many quotation marks looks messy, and italicizing English words as if they're special vocab items seems wrong.

Every arc ends with a party. I like the mood of the top panel, you can feel the warm tropical night and clear sky, the dark waves gently lapping...

In Roguetown (which clearly inspired the town of Rogueport in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door) the Straw Hats each go off and wander around town, spending money and/or getting into trouble. It speaks to the strength of their characters that they can operate just fine without the rest of the crew around to bounce off of. Then we're introduced to a few Marines who aren't corrupt and evil for once! Tashigi is a little weird, and raises some questions of why "girls can't be strong swordsmen" in a world where clearly the powerlevel spectrum an individual is capable of attaining greatly outclasses any biological differences. I mean, sure, maybe Kuina would get overtaken by Zoro, but she'd be able to get far stronger than the average man. Also, there's Smoker, who is a total badass and chomps on TWO cigars because he's just that tough, but is also nice to little kids and would probably make a great dad.


But the most important thing is that Buggy and Alvida (slim mode, since she ate a Devil Fruit) show up again, proving that the cover page storylines are indeed canon and it's a mystery why Toei never animated them when they needed filler. They try to execute Luffy on the same spot that Gold Roger was killed, and to complete the symbolism, Luffy smiles at his own death, just like Roger did. This is something Luffy's pretty consistent about - he doesn't put any value in his own life or safety, if he dies in pursuit of his dreams then so be it. It's other people's lives he cares about, as evidenced above by the thrashing he gave Arlong.

Is it ironic that Buggy, of all people, has come the closest to actually killing Luffy?

Favorite Page:

There's a two-page spread of Arlong Park collapsing, but I like this one better, how you can see the impact spread downwards, as Luffy smashes Arlong through each floor.

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