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.

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