Once again, I’m compelled to highlight further artistic ingenuity courtesy of One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda. I don’t recall if we’ve previously touched upon the graphic novels’ SBS Corner — the Q&A section where Oda shares delectable background lore all the while publicly channeling his embarrassing inner
pervert child for the world to see — but while his absurdist gender-swaps and fun “what were these characters like as kids?” designs are always a highlight, none have mystified me more than his, ahem, “humanized” takes on Zoro’s three swords within Volume 92. Behold!
Yet another faithful reminder to never doubt Oda’s penchant for twisted visuals, this tongue-in-cheek visualization hastily summons the unpleasant image of Straw Hats’ swordsman brandishing skeevy-looking bozos, teeth-gnashed and all, to smack and flop about like rag dolls. (For those futilely resisting this cursed vision, fret not: a certain Twitter artist meticulously illustrated Zoro’s newfound battle pose.) But as much as we’re grateful for Oda’s miraculous balance of grounding bizarre concepts into seamless badassery, that we meet a half-hippo man in this volume who tortures prisoner within his massive maw only proves the sky’s the limit in the New World.
Not that I have a problem with that; really, two volumes into Wano Country, and I think we can comfortably state the Land of Samurai’s the most gripping post-timeskip One Piece arc. It is, like every New World adventure before it, insanely busy: an endless fountain of creativity and spontaneous developments from Oda’s playful mind. As a veteran fan long since familiar with Oda’s storytelling techniques, even I can grow exhausted at his constant character debuts (sup, Whole Cake Island?), yet Wano’s pitch-perfect pacing renders it all palatable. There’s no protracted chase scenes threatening our engagement, no Big-Lipped Alligator moments in Yeti Cool Brothers or smooched factory managers wasting our time; nay, we simply sit back and let each and every actor on this stage permeate themselves into the bigger picture, be they the samurai seeking to reclaim their homeland or half-man, half-animal SMILE abominations subjugating Wano’s citizens.
Take, say, our plucky protagonist in Luffy: his confrontation with Kaido ends with a mere swing of the monstrous emperor’s club, and yet again our protagonist finds himself in the slammer. We know it was an ill-fated battle the moment our fearless Gum-Gum pirate stormed off to confront the titanic dragon, but that our one-billion bounty hero was dispatched so easily raises the success of our Pirate-Samurai-Mink alliance into serious question. Our answer, then, surely lies within his latest confinement: with some familiar faces in Eustass Kid and the ever-hapless Caribou, alongside new ones in an enigmatic hobbling old man and an isolated poison-eating convict — an imposing figure who spits out tainted fish bones as lethal projectiles — could the secret to defeating Kaido lie in this soul-crushing prison?
Moreover, it’s humbling to see Oda commit so much to the Japanese period theme — as one eagle-eyed SBS reader comments, the arc’s sound-effects now emulate that of the stringed Japanese biwa (“be-beng!” as opposed to the ominous “da-doom!”). With a shamisen trouple opening and closing each individual act, it’s as if we’re watching a kabuki Japanese play infiltrating the world of One Piece, establishing a cinematic presentation you’d hardly witness in your average shonen manga. Might 2015’s kabuki adaption of the Impel Down/Marineford arcs have played a role in molding Wano?
How dare the 92 cover Robin’s glorious expression?
I’ve previously elaborated on the strength of Wano’s budding cast — while Okiku and Otama are sadly sidelined this volume, other familiar Wano natives in Shutenmaru and Shinobu maintain a splendid job in juggling new lore and One Piece’s trademark comedy in exploiting character flaws. (I’m particularly fond of how Shinobu repeatedly blows Nami’s cover by screaming repeatedly) Regardless, One Piece never ceases in its flood of debuts: there’s Orochi, Wano’s dictator shogun who intimidates even the secretive CP0 (his Devil Fruit aside, that his character design’s more akin to comedic villains ala Wapol presents a striking juxtaposition); Komurasaki, a stunning oiran who’s manipulation of depraved lovesick men may belie ulterior motives, and a personal favorite in Tonoyasu — a squat, stubby middle-aged man who, like the rest of poverty-stricken Ebisu Town, finds laughter in starvation and malnutrition. (To the sympathetic confusion of a bemused Zoro; as it happens, this is my favorite Wano sub-plot, but we’ll get to that when it develops.)
Of course, I’m never not taken by One Piece‘s penchant for left-field reveals, so what’s there to say about the inevitable Blackbeard and Moria alliance? I’d discuss the innumerable roads this team-up could take us, but personally I’m more tickled by how something from One Piece: Pirate Warriors 2‘s batshit-insane story — namely its nonsensical “what-if?” pirate alliances — became canon. (With pirate team-ups still all the rage, perhaps this means we’ll see the game’s Arlong/Crocodile/Perona alliance in the neat-future?) And let’s not forget the looming threat of Big Mom, whose mere presence would already throw a monstrous monkey wrench into our heroes’ plans; however, with this volume’s last page twist…well, let’s just say her temporary incapacity could be a blessing in disguise.
As we transition into Act Two of Wano, the country’s internal strife boiling towards an irreversible tipping point. Of course, I already know what follows, but as always, I’m always grateful for these refreshers, if only for catching hitherto-unseen details that somehow slipped me by; namely, that frog I only just noticed accompanying Usopp’s merchant disguise. Could he end up playing a pivotal role in taking down Kaido and Orochi? Probably not, but I delight in flipping back and observing how he complements the minutiae of our sharpshooter’s covert operation. Being the humble individual he is, Oda would certainly grant credit such background easter eggs to his hard-working assistants (as noted in this volume’s SBS, even!), yet such trivial glee speaks to his multi-layered commitment to his craft.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.