Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Nov 18th 2012
GN 63 - 65
Things are heating up on Fish Man Island, the Straw Hats' first stop since they got back together. While Luffy and Princess Shirahoshi head out of the palace, rebel fishmen attack the kingdom. As the Straw Hats learn about what happened in the past on the island – not to mention the origins of Arlong, the fish man who destroyed Nami's childhood – it becomes increasingly clear that this is one town that won't survive without a little help. But there has been so much bad blood between humans and fish men in the past...can they work together to bring down Hody Jones and Vander Decken? Can the fish men even bring themselves to consider it?
Hey, remember Arlong? The fish man who made Nami's life horrible way back in volume 8? Eiichiro Oda does, and now that the Straw Hat pirates are on Fish Man Island, he's returning to one of the series' most emotional arcs to give us the backstory of a particularly nasty villain. While it seems a bit late for that – nearly sixty volumes – Oda manages to use the former enemy's history as a way to bring the entirety of the events of this arc into focus.
In volume 62 Luffy and his gang, newly reunited after a two year separation, boarded their ship and headed beneath the sea to Fish Man Island. Once there the gang found themselves in the palace, and while the rest of the crew was being harassed by palace guards, Luffy wandered off and encountered Princess Shirahoshi, the giant-sized mermaid princess of the island nation. Volume 63 has the two of them escaping from the palace (although the princess promises to be back by dinner) as the vicious fish pirates Hody Jones (enhanced by steroids) and Vander Decken launch their attack. Halfway through the book, Oda switches us to flashback mode in order to explain just why it is that the two seem set on bringing down the government of this particular place, as well as what happened to Queen Otohime, Shirahoshi's mother. Volumes 64 and 65 deal with the battle for the island, with the crew showing off their new and improved powers, all of which are quite impressive.
Thematically Oda is treading on some fairly serious ground here. One of One Piece's strengths has always been its ability to blend action, humor, and heavy fare together, and this arc is really no exception. The basis of the distrust that some of the fish men feel for humans is slavery, something briefly dealt with in Saobody, and this resentment has been festering for many years. It corrupted Arlong to the point we found him at in volume 8 and it nearly took Jimbei down as well. Hody Jones now is blinded by the misdeeds of some humans to the point where he has decreed all humans inferior to fish men and not worthy of living, or at the very least not worthy of being free. Equal parts pre-Civil War America and French Revolution (executions are to be held at Conchorde Plaza, presumably a reference to the Place de la Concorde in Paris, where La Guillotine held sway), the blind hatred engendered by the enslavement of fish men by nobles is both understandable and frustrating. No one seems able to see the other side (except our heroes, of course), and each act of violence begats another one. The slow realization that not all humans are alike takes place over the course of the three volumes, balancing the mad action of the fight scenes with the more human moments of the story.
The action is very exciting, as well it should be. Everyone has been training and powering up between volumes without our really knowing what they're all capable of now, so this is Oda's chance to show us the fruits of their labors. While Zolo's new skills are pretty much where we'd expect them to be, Nami has a few new tricks that build nicely off of her old ones, as do Usopp and Robin. Sanji accesses his new reserves of power by a very humorous means, but it's really Brook who gets to shine here. He hadn't been with the crew long enough to really get developed prior to the Paramount War arc, and with volume 65, Oda really digs in to what the skeleton is capable of. He manages to do a lot of damage both by allowing enemies to underestimate him (or just plain misunderstand him) and with his newfound powers. Meanwhile Luffy's haki add a layer to his gum-gum moves and Chopper's forms have some nice improvements as well, making the Straw Hats an even more formidable force than they were previously.
Art-wise one of the most credulity-straining issues is Nami's new pants, which she has presumably glued on, but otherwise Oda is in his usual good form. Panels tend towards the small and crowded, so reading is not as easy as it might be, but the attention to detail and the variation of character remains impressive. All three volumes' cover series feature characters from previous arcs and what they're up to two years later (Alabasta and Vivi get a few), with a few lamentably black and white splash pages thrown in as well. SBS sections are as entertaining as ever, and Oda's willingness to play with his readers continues to make these stand out from the average Q&A corner. The final voice actor SBS is in volume 64, and it lives up to its predecessors.
With 65 volumes currently available in English, One Piece can be a bit intimidating for new readers. They should rest assured, however, that the journey is worth it and these latest volumes are as enjoyable as the earlier ones. Luffy and his gang are both amusing and heartwarming with occasional bouts of stupid and Oda's varied artwork keeps things moving at a rapid clip. With nods to real world history and pirates, One Piece is a terrific pirate fantasy, and as the Fish Man Island arc nears its conclusion, we can all look forward to what is going to happen next.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ New skills and powers help to make the battles fresh, good backstory explains about the series' world as well as the events we're following. Impressively detailed art for both people and places.
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