|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.|
|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.|