Welcome back! After the East Blue Saga provided some great entertainment, I was ready to see what the Baroque Works Saga had to offer. In one word, this saga is gigantic. It has a giant whale, giant giants, a giant metal mouth, and giant jerks.
The last time we left our heroes, they were sailing to the Grand Line. But to get there, they would have to scale the treacherous Reverse Mountain. By scaling, I mean sailing up it! All of the series’s strengths are on full display: Oda’s dynamic art, the sense of grand adventure, and the banter between characters. This sequence may be short, but it’s some of the best chapters in the manga so far.
To top it off, when they reach the other side, they are greeted by a giant whale who swallows them whole. I like to call this arc Pinnochio: A One Piece Movie.
One Piece is always weird, but this short arc takes things up a notch. You see, Luffy is able to escape the whale's jaws and finds on top of the whale a... trapdoor? Then the rest of the Straw Hats get into the whale’s gut and discover an ocean, with an island in the middle, with an old man chilling next to his hut. Turns out this old Geppetto-like guy has been living in this whale for decades and built whole systems of pipes and mechanical doodads inside this animal. Then there’s this spy couple that have infiltrated the whale to kill it so they can feed their island. What?
Despite these weird shenanigans, the arc is able to produce some noteworthy events, like introducing the log pose, which is a pretty cool story telling concept. Having the log post have to reset for an indeterminate amount of time allows for stories to flesh out the world and conflicts when the Straw Hats get stuck and have nothing else to do.
But the real star of the show is Laboon, the whale that this whole arc is about. Like any good One Piece character, he has a sad backstory, his being a loss of friendship. We all know what it is like to be abandoned by a friend or loved one, and it makes Laboon’s refusal to accept it relatable. I didn’t realize I could emphasize with a whale, but One Piece does things to you.
Luckily, Luffy is here to make him feel better. Giving Laboon a new goal for a rematch is very smart of Luffy. I just hope Luffy will be alive to do it.
Next we get to Whiskey Peak, a fun island made of what seems to be cacti. This arc is probably the most straight up fun I’ve had reading One Piece. When you realize the spikes on those cacti are actually gravestones, you know you’re in for a wild ride.
Having the whole island be filled with Baroque Works agents is a fun way to show off the organization and give the crew some time to show off their abilities. Zoro gets the main spotlight here, going up against an opera singer whose bombs shoot out of his wig.
There's so much insanity and action going on you almost forget there's a story. Finding out Ms. Wednesday is actually a double agent, much less the princess of a country, was a surprise to say the least. Honestly, take away the action and you still have a solid arc that bombards you with twists and turns. It may be a bit of an overload at first read, but I had a great time.
Also, leave it to Nami to negotiate saving a princess and an entire country for money.
I do need to mention Igaram, not only because his wig is hilariously cool, but his death is surprisingly comedic. Like a scene from Tropic Thunder, Igaram gives a motivational speech and then promptly explodes. The series has had moments of dark humor before, so I don’t know if it was intentional. Anyone know?
Now with Vivi, the Straw Hats stumble their way onto Little Garden, which is only little for the giant dinosaurs and giant giants that live there.
Dorry and Brogy are a great duo, even if their only interactions are in battle. The “friendly rival” will always be an interesting trope, and the bond feels extra deep when you get to hear the giants talk about each other to the Straw Hats. Splitting up the crew so that each has a unique view of the giants was a smart move, though leaving Sanji out of the action was a disappointment. To me he’s still the most underdeveloped of the crew. At least he gets to mouth off to Baroque Work’s mastermind, Mr. 0.
I really liked how Oda paired Usopp, Luffy, and Karoo together for the final battle. The chemistry they have is hilarious.
The boss battle with Mr. 3 and Ms. Goldenweek is a weird one. Wax manipulation is not at the top of my “Devil Fruit Powers I Would Want” list, but Mr. 3 gives a compelling argument when you can make a robot out of it!
Ms. Goldenweek may have the most unique power set yet, and it’s not even from a Devil Fruit. Color can change a person's mood, but not like this!
Overall, I give this arc a “Fee-fi-fo-meh” rating. There’s not much that makes this arc standout on an emotional level. It would have if Oda had Dorry stay dead, but it's clear he wanted a happy ending. Outside of giving Vivi more time to bond with the crew I don’t see the long-term consequences to the story. I hope I’m wrong.
It’s now time to get emotional and disturbing when the Straw Hats land at Drum Island, home of the kingdom with no name. When I first finished it, I thought of it as a so-so arc saved by a strong flashback and ending. But thinking back to it now, I think there were more aspects to this arc I liked than I thought. Such as Hiking Bear.
Another aspect is having Luffy learn how to restrain himself from fighting. He’s been so good at dealing with problems by punching them I wasn’t expecting Oda to go this route. But in the face of losing his friends, Luffy will do anything. Maybe learning restraint is a mainstay of shonen action manga, but I wouldn’t know as a newbie.
Something I wish I talked about in my previous post was how Oda (and Viz Book’s translation team) know how to write hilarious banter. By banter I don’t mean the characters are constant quip machines like superhero movies nowadays, but how their personalities clash and create awesome bickering. The back-and-forth when Sanji and Luffy try to summit Drum Castle is hilarious.
In terms of the plot, I think reading this arc in 2020 makes it more potent. Having the story center around the medical system makes the villager’s pleas for more doctors more potent, and it gives me more compassion for hardened characters such as Kureha and...Chopper?
That’s not how I thought Chopper looked. But before I talk about Chopper, Kureha is one great character! Oda has a knack for writing good, eccentric female characters and Kureha is a shining example. I love how tough a negotiator she is. I do laugh that despite being 134 years old she has the same figure as Nami or Vivi. I guess it is true that Oda only knows how to draw women one way.
Going back to Chopper, I was weirded out to see Tony Tony Chopper looking like that, considering I only ever knew him in his mini form. We get a proper introduction for him when Nami, Luffy, and Sanji make it to the castle, and he becomes immediately endearing.
But then Wapol shows up. Oh man, I have to talk about Wapol. Wapol is the first One Piece villain I would call “disgusting.” Not only because he’s a glutton who only cares about himself, but his Devil Fruit power is gross. Munch-Munch Fruit powers feel like something out of a horror manga. Not in a scream-inducing way, but in a way that left me greatly disturbed.
I was so ready for Luffy to Gum Gum Cannon Wapol to death, but PSYCH, flashback time!
At first I was like, “Oh, come on!” but by the end of the flashback I thought it was worth it. If you were going to put it anywhere, might as well be exactly before any of the context is needed.
Here we learn about Chopper and his backstory. Being a normal reindeer who ate a Devil Fruit is something I never thought about. Even though they are rare, an animal could stumble upon one and eat it. Being part reindeer and part human is also pretty cool, especially when it allows Chopper to transform into The Rock.
But because of that power, Chopper is ostracized by both human and reindeer. Until the local quack Dr. Hiriluk shows up. Hiriluk is an interesting character and one I think can be divisive. He wants to save everyone and cure all illnesses and has a kind heart. The problem is he has no medical training. You can view him as either a good man or someone who is incredibly dangerous. No wonder actual doctors like Kureha dislike him.
In the end, I think Hirliuk’s treatment of Chopper shows his true colors. Chopper is kind and caring, but has been ostracized by society. He has built a hard shell to keep himself away from getting hurt. But Hiriluk finds his way in and they become true friends. In fact, Chopper loves Hiriluk so much he faces his family, humans, and nature to get the medicine needed to save Hiriluk from death. Which makes the tragic revelation so heartbreaking.
I had to stop reading for a moment after reading this panel. It’s rare that a manga, let alone a single panel, can make me feel like a dagger has been shoved into my chest. I wish I could properly write out how this makes me feel, but I can’t. Remembering this now makes my eyes misty.
Now, back to Luffy kicking butt — with context! Luffy protecting Hiriluk’s flag is a series highlight. Vexillologists might understand the deep meaning behind flags, but Oda makes it clear for us flag simpletons. This arc may have a clunky storytelling structure, but the emotional punches still land with gusto.
Just when our emotions thought they were safe, the arc ends with the eruption of cherry blossoms. A second gut-punch that made my heart warm.
Now we finally reached our destination: Alabasta, and this arc is a huge one. The biggest hurdle when writing this blog is not writing too much, which is easy to do. I wrote so much about an arc 25 chapters long, how am I supposed to write about an arc with 50 chapters!? I’ll just focus on the best things about this arc: The villains, art, and the power of friendship.
First, the villains are some of the most inventive and sinister yet. Crocodile being a hero to the Alabastian citizens and enemy to the world is a cool hook that I wish was explored more. But considering how all-plot this arc is, it’s not a huge deal. Not like Crocodile is supposed to be a sympathetic villain.
He’s also got some cool sand powers from the Logia Devil Fruit, making him turn into sand and even suck moisture out of people's bodies. Seeing him nearly kill Luffy was really something. Luffy had been beaten up good in the past, but not like this.
Also, I have to give a shout out to Mr. 4’s … gun? Dog? It’s called Lassoo, and it’s a gun that somehow consumed a Devil Fruit so now it can partially turn into a dog. Gun-Dog?
And how can I mention villains without talking about Nico Robin — er, Miss All Sunday. She’s got the neatest Devil Fruit powers in the entire series so far.
There’s not much to talk about her other than that and I want to learn more. She can read ancient text, has a name that she despises, and is just cool. I’m sure she’ll show up eventually. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
Of course, none of the Devil Fruit powers would be nearly as glorious if it weren’t for Oda and his assistants bringing their A game to the art. I can truthfully say this is the best art in the series so far. In the East Blue Saga, Oda’s action didn’t flow between panels, so he drew as much energy into each panel as possible. Now things are starting to flow while keeping the individual panel energy intact, making for the most epic, exciting arc yet.
Oh, and you know how I said in the last blog that Oda had trouble ending chapters? He’s gotten way better.
Finally, the trope that’s been done to death, the power of friendship. This is a trope that I know is prevalent in anime but I’ve never noticed. Now that I’m reading what is essentially “The Power of Friendship: The Manga” I realized I’ve seen this trope play out many times before. You know what? I don’t mind it at all. In anime or real life, fighting for the ones you love is a powerful motivation. When Oda wants to write a monologue about friendship, it comes from characters that need it like Usopp. If this is what The Power of Friendship really means, then give me some more!
This theme is encapsulated in Vivi. Despite always having a presence in the story arcs, she never took the spotlight until Alabasta. Which is weird because, you know, the whole saga revolves entirely around her. But here I began to really “get” Vivi. Time and time again throughout Vivi’s life, her friends and family got hurt because of her. Rather than carry that burden, she isolated herself and became a self-sufficient person. Which, as someone as loving as her, doesn’t work out. This comes to a head when Luffy and Vivi argue in the desert. I’m not going to lie, I had to reread this part a bunch of times to get it. I can’t believe I got outsmarted by Luffy.
Then, even when Crocodile is defeated and Vivi retakes her rightful place on the throne, she still doubts. Even when she ditches her grand speech to say goodbye, showing her full appreciation and love to them, does she mean as much to the Straw Hats as they do to her?
Yes, indeed they do.
Does it suck that Vivi didn;t become a permanent crew member? Yes. Is there a valid character reason for her staying? Absolutely. She loves the Straw Hats, but she has to put her duty as a leader above all else.
And so, the Baroque Works Saga comes to a satisfying conclusion. One Piece continues to be as entertaining as ever. With Oda fixing some of the weaknesses from the previous saga, he makes the Baroque Works Saga much better.
From now on I’ll be keeping a running ranking of my favorite story arcs. Do you agree? Make sure to take to our social media accounts and tell us your opinion.
- Arlong Park
- Orange Town
- Drum Island
- Syrup Village
- Whiskey Peak
- Reverse Mountain
- Little Garden
- Romance Dawn