|From the forehead, to the positioning of the ears, then the neck, and the torso, you can tell Oda is deep into his own style at this point. I don't necessarily dislike it, but let's just say anatomy isn't exactly my favorite thing about his art.|
This volume concludes the Alabasta saga with appropriate fanfare, bringing to a close the lengthiest story arc in One Piece to date. But first, we have to deal with the cliffhangers from last time - namely, that damn bomb. Vivi gets catapulted up to the clock tower to prevent it from being launched, in a clever string of juggles. Usopp, carrying Chopper and Vivi, is launched into the air by Nami's clima-tact. Sanji intercepts them at the apex of their jump and kicks them up another few stories, where Zoro is waiting to launch them even higher. Finally, Chopper throws Vivi to the target, where she deals with the overlooked Baroque Works agents, Mr. 7 and Ms. Fatjer's Day. It's a nice sequence that shows the whole crew working as a team.
|While all of this is going on, Luffy and Crocodile's fight is drawing to a close. Here's another example of Luffy putting his educated feet to good use.|
But, because Crocodile is an extremely effecient villain, that's not the end of it. The bomb is still on a timer, and even if it doesn't get launched into the plaza, it'll still detonate and cause catastrophic damage. Just like his death trap with the alligators and the cage, there's no "victory condition". You're just supposed to lose.
But, because this is One Piece, someone shows up to handle the situation. Pell, one of the redundant Alabastan guards, grabs the bomb and flies it up into the sky like Iron Man in the first Avengers movie, where it explodes harmlessly. Well, Pell dies of course.
|I like how his makeup suggests tears, and fits with his tragic role.|
Except later we'll find out he isn't, actually, dead. I don't remember when it comes, but it's some afterthought about a wounded man being nursed back to health, strongly hinted at being Pell. Then even later he just shows up in Alabasta scenes, healthy as can be. It's honestly insulting to his sacrifice, and the narrative, that he can be brought back like that. For the longest time, Pell was the Ur Example of "nobody dies in One Piece".
|Luffy just really feeding Croc the right-lefts. I admire how One Piece villains nearly always take a thorough beating, not just get the tables turned on them and overwhelmed in a single blow.|
Which is kinda true - outside of flashbacks, do people ever die? Those elite guards that took the poison potion died, I suppose. Possibly the fodder the Straw Hats mow down die. But any time anyone makes a big sacrificial scene, they invariably turn out okay. Eventually it gets subverted, to great effect, but... it's one of the few things that bugs me about One Piece. I don't need death aplenty to keep me engaged, you can tell an emotionally involving and tense story without needing to kill characters (sup, Attack on Titan), but you DO need to have consequences for actions. It also ruins the tension of future "sacrifices", because the readers will suspect that the characters will live like all the rest.
But at the time, a reader doesn't have any of that baggage going on. So they're free to concentrate on this epic spread of Luffy thrashing Crocodile. And I use "epic" purposefully - an oft maligned word, I think it truly fits here. In the anime, they played the 4th movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony, and it was glorious. Please, give it a listen as you study these pages.
|oh baby I love me some rapid punches. This is the first time Luffy's used a Gatling variant to finish off an enemy, and boy is it sweet.|
|My man got pummeled through 40 feet of bedrock and up into the sky, has anyone ever gotten defeated so soundly in the history of anything holy shit|
Afterwards, the rain falls again, and all of Crocodile's lies are exposed, thanks to Igaram also coming back from the dead, and a little boy acting as witness to Mr. 2's masquerade in Nanoha earlier. It's a little weird that they suddenly believe him, but Kohza also wakes up and tells everyone the truth like he tried to earlier, so that helped. Also with the smoke gone, Vivi and the King speaking openly, and nobody really wanting to fight anyway, I suppose I can accept it. Some may say it's conveinient that the rain would fall just now, but I think Crocodile was probably drying out the atmosphere with his powers, in addition to the Rain-stealing powder. So the moment he fell, since that powder wasn't currently being used, the rain just let it go.
|I mean, it also took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from a small group of individuals, but hey|
Then there's the requisite celebration banquet and party, a necessary step before we get to the part where the Straw Hats have to escape on short notice. Look, Oda has a pattern and damn if he doesn't make the best of it, okay? Though he mixes it up a bit, with some of the first outright fanservice in the manga. Far from the last, as Oda gets older he also seems to get hornier, despite getting married. But at the time, a bath scene with Nami and Vivi had me like that wolf from the Tex Avery cartoon.
|Call me old-fashioned, but I like it when the fanservice is just that - rare little scenes that act as special service for the loyal readers, instead of tits and panty shots every single chapter.|
|In the interest of fairness, here's the dudes nekkid, too. I'm a strong supporter of equal-opportunity fanservice. Chopper looks weird without his hat.|
I might not have mentioned them much, but Tashigi and Smoker have been minor players in this arc, too, however ineffective. And actually, that ineffectiveness is the point. Smoker tells Tashigi that she must enforce her own sense of justice, instead of being beholden strictly to the Marine's laws. However, she finds herself unable to do so, powerless to stop Zoro and the Straw Hats from running amok, or Ms. All-Sunday and Baroque Works from doing whatever they want. In the end, she prevents the marines from arresting the Straw Hats, because she realizes they were the ones who saved the country. So that's something of a personal justice call, but still. She's too weak to enforce her own ideals, or change the situation herself. I wish she'd get more screen time, I think Tashigi is a really interesting character.
|I've read a translation that worded this more strongly, like "Tell 'em to eat shit", and I much prefer it. There's a time and place for profanity, and this is one of them. Let it be the one of the few hard swears in a PG-13 movie.|
Speaking of the Marines, if you've been following the cover stories, you'd know that Django (formerly of the Black Cat Pirates) reformed and enlisted, along with his new buddy "Ironfist" Fullbody (who appeared in the Baratie arc). For those who aren't aware of the cover stories, because I haven't been mentioning them, the title page of every chapter features a little illustration unconnected to the main storyline. Sometimes it's just non-canon bonus stuff, like Nami chilling with a python, but sometimes it's installments of a B-plot featuring characters from a previous arc. There was one documenting Buggy's trials and tribulations after being defeated by Luffy, one about Hachi the octopus-man going on an underwater adventure, etc. And of course, one about these two knuckleheads.
|Maybe that's the reason nobody dies in One Piece - so they can return later.|
The Marines set up a blockade, but the Straw Hats are saved by Mr. 2, who proves his honor and loyalty to the bonds of friendship. Remember, this is the guy who impersonated the king and sparked the revolution, plus who knows how many other nefarious deeds, but he's wacky, and made it clear that outside his work obligations he would have been a great friend to the crew. So, now Baroque Works is gone, and he acts as a heroic decoy. Again, I have to wonder - is it problematic to present a queer dude like such a goofball? or is it progressive, to portray him with such heroic attributes? Probably both, I don't want to write about it anymore, I said my bit in Volume 21.
|Now I'm gonna be a huge hypocrite and say I love that this isn't the last we see of Mr. 2. Some characters are just so awesome you can't help but be glad of the fake-out death. Though I suppose it was always more likely he got arrested than killed, anyway.|
Finally, we come to the end of the volume and the arc. This puts such a nice, neat bow on the whole thing, I'm almost tempted to say it could be the end of the series. Well, not really, if it ended here I'd be pissed that I never actually saw the One Piece. But if it suddenly got axed, and ended like this - all the characters present in one final arc, many plotlines resolved, with some sort of "and the adventure continues!" message... it would be okay. Not good, but I'd accept it.
|Mention this scene to any One Piece fan and see how long it takes them to start crying.|
Vivi tearfully admitting that she treasured her time aboard the Going Merry, but she loves her country too much to join them and run away to sea, while the Straw Hats (unable to officially give any sort of recognition to her for fear of connecting her to pirates) raise their arms to wordlessly display the symbol of the bond they shared - it's just too much, man. It's reminiscent of Koby splitting from Luffy, but without the "put on a farce, but all parties know it's fake" element. The general populace still doesn't realize Vivi was a pirate for a time, and the Marines don't know for sure either. Wonderful way to end the arc and the volume. Next time, something fresh and new.
I love the detail of how the Straw Hats just collapse from exhaustion after completing their labors.
|Sanji lighting up a cigarette to appear chipper, only to let it drop from his mouth as he topples over, is a nice use of a prop to show character.|
|Look at them, all tuckered out.|