|I think Sanji shoulda been on the cover, instead of Luffy doing his Sanji impression.|
For those who got into One Piece in the last few years, you may not be aware of the Dark Era of the fandom. See, One Piece has always been considered part of the "Big Three" along with Bleach and Naruto. This is because for about a decade during the mid 2000's to early 2010's, those three monopolized the top 3 spots of the Weekly Shonen Jump popularity polls, had massively successful anime adaptions, tons of merchandise, and generally were the most popular anime/manga properties since Dragon Ball.
The thing is, in Japan, One Piece was always the clear front-runner. It was the oldest, best-selling, most popular, etc. Eventually it would go on to simply outlast its rivals, as Bleach petered out and Naruto raced to a messy conclusion. Now, Naruto still lives on in the form of Boruto, while Bleach is essentially forgotten. But in America, it was Naruto that dominated, with Bleach 2nd and One Piece the distant third. If you were into anime or manga in America during that time period, you know what I'm talking about.
|This always grossed me out, like dude has a whole CHUNK of flesh missing, that's his entire shoulder, thank God for One Piece anatomy where you have a good couple yards of trapezius before your neck starts.|
Naruto and Bleach's popularity is self-explanatory, so why didn't One Piece take off as well? A big reason was art style, I think. It just looks more cartoonish, and for middle schoolers looking for something "badass", a goofy rubber man can't hold a candle to a ninja possessed by a demon fox, and a half-ghost samurai with a big sword. Despite how, as I think I've made plenty clear, One Piece is just as violent and "mature" as the others. But it's the same problem Nintendo found, against the Playstation and Xbox - it got labeled as the "kiddie" choice. And nothing contributed more to One Piece's kiddie image than the horrendous 4kids dub.
4kids was a localization company that handled the English dub for a lot of extremely popular anime - Pokemon, Sonic X, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Ultimate Muscle, Kirby: Right Back At Ya!, Shaman King, and of course One Piece. You'd think with so many venerable shows under their belt, they'd be good at their job, right? Wrong. 4kids went out of their way to Americanize the shows, removing all traces of Japanese culture, and heavily censoring things.
|Yes, this doesn't look ridiculous at all.|
|They edited every gun out of Yu-gi-oh, so that people now just make finger guns instead.|
|Why remove the writing??? It's not even in Japanese!|
See, Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh and the others were able to become popular despite 4kids best efforts. It was a case where the property was just TOO marketable to be ruined, and in all fairness I still like the original Pokemon dub. It's corny as hell, and full of puns, (a staple of 4kids dubbing) but sometimes manages to be honestly funny. But for One Piece, they probably had no idea what they'd just gotten their hands on.
|It's nice that Movie Gold makes use of the casino theme, since it's wasted here. Oh, and I love the abrupt two-page sequence with this and the following:|
|welp. ya got tricked.|
Take the above as an example of the 4kids CEOs when they learned the goofy, silly, cartoony pirate anime they just licences is full of guns, blood, death, smoking, drinking, and general mayhem. You know, pirate stuff! I'm constantly surprised by people who write One Piece off, or don't take it seriously, just because of the art style. Well, at this point I'm not surprised anymore. Just disappointed.
In any case, 4kids' butchered dub was never nearly as popular as Bleach or Naruto, and so Viz didn't bother making the manga released a priority. As a result, One Piece ended up years behind the Japanese release, and when 4kids essentially just gave up and dropped the licence after Alabasta, the fate of official One Piece media in the U.S. looked grim. Then Funimation stepped up to the plate, putting together an extremely serviceable dub, in a collection of DVD releases that I've yet to buy because reasons. And they got Viz Media's ass in gear, who began cranking out the volumes at a rate of 5 per month. And they got some of the new video games localized, too. Then Toonami came back, and the new dub of One Piece was on TV again!
|This is a really dynamic page, from Vivi's mid-air pose, to the continuity of the chair piece hitting the ground, to the way her whip-cutter recoils after the attack.|
So finally, One Piece has been done right by the West. But for a time, it was limbo - 4Kids had stopped at Alabasta. The last games to come out, only included elements up through Alabasta. The official releases were still in Alabasta (either this volume or the last was the first in the new accelerated pace). It was an Alabastan hell, and while it's a great arc, everybody was pretty sick of it. It was a huge moment when the Funimation dub advanced onward to Skypeia, as if a great weight had been lifted from the fandom's shoulders, like finally getting off Namek.
|such an iconic look for Robin.|
|A cool way of showing slow but deliberate movement in a single panel. Probably referencing the final fight scene in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2.|
Now that's how you make a death-trap, people. Diabolic, crushing the spirit of the heroes with a false choice, and in the end you ensure that they can't solve it anyway. However, Crocodile didn't count on Sanji, reprising his role as the best 6th man, coming off the bench to save the day. All this time, from Whiskey Peak to Little Garden to their encounter with Mr. 2, he's coincidentally remained off Baroque Works' radar. Donning a pair of glasses and going by the alias Mr. Prince, he's the unknown element that acts outside of Crocodile's schemes.
|Oda would later clarify that Mr. 3 is floating, despite being a Devil Fruit user, due to a small piece of super-buoyant wood underneath him. N-no, it wasn't a mistake! It was just the DEEPEST LORE!!|
Sanji's ability to take independent actions is a cool element to his character, and I'm glad this isn't the last time we see it. Meanwhile, Luffy and Zoro and the rest are pissed af and ready to crack heads, so they board an incredibly convenient super-fast crab and race towards Alubarna. It's a bit of plot contrivance I'll allow, but maybe it could've not been a necessity if the climax hadn't already been set for later that day? Maybe have the rebels and royal army clash tomorrow, have Baroque Works' Utopia plan go into effect tomorrow?
|I love it when stories need maps.|
This sort of thing where the Straw Hats have a deadline, but conveniently find a super-fast mode of transportation, or arbitrary shortcut, become more common in later arcs. A slight annoyance, but I guess Oda likes it when everything has a sense of urgency.
|Sanji punting the shit out of something very large and heavy will never get old.|