|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.|
|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.|