Last time on my One Piece Journey...
Whoa, we’re half-way there! Fifty volumes and 490 chapters later, I’m still continuing my One Piece Journey, and it’s not losing any steam. As I was reading Thriller Bark, I got to wondering what makes me come back to this series again and again. There’s plenty of reasons people love to gush about. There’s the deep history, lovable characters, and backstories that will make you cry. All that’s true, but what seems to be lost in these conversations is how they all add up to a series that’s just plain fun. It’s the adventure and Oda’s infinite imagination that leaves me anticipating each new volume. Thriller Bark is fun. Thriller Bark is crazy imaginative. Is it the best saga or arc? No, but it didn’t need to be, as long as I was having fun.
The saga begins with the Straw Hats checking out the Thousand Sunny and seeing what this baby can do. Franky, you really outdid yourself. The volume has a diagram of the ship, and it is huge! It doesn’t have the same charm as the Merry Go, but it is much fancier. Speaking of the Merry Go, they’re back… kinda. Inside Sunny’s dock system, Franky made Mini-Merry, a small passenger boat. It’s great to see that goat figurehead again.
Before long, the crew sails into the fog-ridden Florian Triangle (the Grand Line’s Bermuda Triangle) and they come across a ghost ship with a skeleton crew. What a coincidence, the only crew member is a skeleton!
Brook has been a character I’ve been anticipating for a long time. Out of the Straw Hats I know of, he has the best character design. I love that cartoony look. The concept of an undead, skeleton crew mate is super intriguing. Most of all, he has an afro, the hair of champions. Too bad he doesn’t have the greatest introduction; He asks Nami for her panties, then decides to burp and fart when eating. Not quite the gentleman he portrays himself to be. Luckily we find out this whole intro is just a ruse, but it was off-putting as a new reader. I do know that he has the best recruitment ever.
Before long, the Straw Hats find themselves on Thriller Bark, the largest ship-that-looks-like-an-island on the Grand Line. These early chapters of the crew splitting up and exploring the island/ship are fantastic. After the emotional armada that was Water Seven, it’s good to break loose and have some fun for a change. Plus the art on display is the best of the series. Oda perfectly mixes that cartoony look of One Piece with the shading work of a horror manga so you get the best of both worlds. As a film buff, I love the mishmash of horror movie references throughout the start. Just look at Dr. Hogwash: He has the ears of Nosferatu, the maniacal personality of Dr. Frankenstein, the teeth of Dracula, and a face that looks awfully like Jason Voorhee’s hockey mask.
I enjoy the Usopp/Nami friend-duo, and they team up with Chopper for a couple chapters of Scooby-Doo! hijinks for extra hilarity. The creature designs for the zombies are insane fun. They’re paintings, knights, even a bear rug! Then there’s Luffy in the cemetery, which has a couple of my favorite jokes in the saga. Who knew there was a man with sever injuries on a zombie-infested island? It’s all fun and games, but then the clock strikes midnight. Warlord Gecko Moira wakes from his slumber, The Hunt begins, and the battles commence.
Thriller Bark Fight Night
Things settle down to normalcy with the fights. For One Piece, that is still a step above other manga. There’s three in particular I want to highlight: Chopper vs. Hogback, Zoro v. Ryuma, and Usopp vs. Perona.
I like Chopper, but does he ever feel a bit useless during fights? Poor fella is always one of the first to be knocked out. So imagine my cheering when he gets to clobber Dr. Hogback. Like Frankenstein, Hogback has a god complex, with little regard to his creations. He forces zombies to lick the floor just because he can. It was great to hear actual doctor Chopper give him a verbal beatdown, followed up by a physical one.
Leave it to Usopp to have the funniest fight. It all starts off with Harley-Quinn-doppelganger Perona using ghosts to send her enemies into a depressed state. Good thing Usopp has such low self-esteem that he’s invincible! Seriously, that moment of discovery made me laugh for a long time.
Zoro vs. Ryuma though, whoa! Visually, it’s the most epic sword fight of the series. Zoro fights a legendary swordsman (Though not really? We’ll get to that can of worms later), a zombie from Wano Country. As someone who has heard about Wano, it’s a tantalizing teaser for what is currently going on in the manga. The climax on the top of the tower t is the stuff of legend. Now Brook can get his shadow back so he doesn’t dissolve in sunlight. Wait, what?
I’ve been avoiding talking about shadows because even I don’t fully get it after reading it. So zombies come to life because Moira has the power to remove and attach shadows. Shadows are a part of a person’s soul, and so when the shadow is attached to a new body, their body comes alive. The zombie has the shadow’s personality and skills, while also maintaining traits from their dead selves? So when you don’t have a shadow, you dissolve when standing in sunlight. But the zombies are fine since they have a shadow. You see how this can be confusing? It’s one step too many for my smooth brain. But among the fighting and exposition dumps, a strong emotional core emerges in the most unlikely of places: Brook.
Yes, his introduction was but a ruse! He is a true gentleman, at least where it counts. Throughout the saga, Brook has been hellbent on getting his shadow back and avoiding damage to his afro. It originally seemed like it was out of vanity and survival, but not so. Instead, it was so a certain someone could recognize him when they meet again… Laboon!
From way downtown, it’s a callback of the century. I had almost forgotten about the crew that brought the whale over all those chapters ago. It was unexpected and sent me back to Reverse Mountain arc and reading it again. So this is what everyone is talking about when they mention Oda as a master of foreshadowing. It’s a great moment that could only be done in such a long-form story such as One Piece. Guess “Brook as my favorite Straw Hat” is back on the menu, pirates!
But after the emotional reveals and the battles, it’s time to take down one of the seven Warlords of the Sea, Gecko Moira. He’s piloting the largest zombie, the giant Oars, and has Luffy’s shadow! To defeat him, the Straw Hats have to work as a team. The final battle does drag on a bit because of how overpowered Gecko is, but it is also a great team exercise. Previously, we’ve seen the crew battle individually, and only gets brief snippets of the occasional duo. But now we’ve got them all together fighting like the great team-up books of comics. We got Franky building structures like it’s Fortnite so Chopper can land a punch. I’m telling you, this saga is just plain fun. Then there’s Nightmare Luffy.
We find out that you can consume more than one shadow, so you can theoretically combine multiple shadows and take all their strength. So when Luffy consumes over 100 shadows, he’s a total beast. At least he sure looks like a swole Frankenstein monster. It does make his defeat of Gecko more poetic. Having the shadows defeat their former “master” is one heck of a way to go. So everyone gets their shadows back, no one disintegrates, everyone is happy. Nothing can go wrong… wait, who is that guy with the panda hat?
Much like the end to the Long Ring Long Land arc, the story ends with the proper introduction of a scary character sure to shake things up in the future: Kuma, another Warlord of the Sea. Kuma has only appeared in brief scenes during the beginning of Skypiea, so now we see his terrifying powers. One by one he cuts down the Straw Hats. He can teleport, use giant paw-shaped air blasts, and appears to be a cyborg. After such a hard victory, having another crazy guy appear is almost too much. But Zoro proves to be the man of the hour with one of the crew’s biggest sacrifices. In order to save Luffy’s life, he has to let Kuma project all Luffy’s pain into him, no doubt killing Zoro in the process. Zoro believes in Luffy so much he is willing to give his life up for him. He is so selfless that when Sanji tries to take Zoro’s place, he knocks him out. To see Zoro’s dedication for Luffy in action was really intense. Good thing he is able to stand the pain, just as a true friend can do.
But after that dark moment, it’s party time! It’s a bittersweet scene. You have everyone in pure bliss, and then you have Brook playing Bink’s Brew on the piano, pondering over his backstory. We see him as a living man, partying with his Rumbar Pirates, “The crew that brings a smile to every child.” They definitely leave a smile on a young Laboon, as the whale travels from West Blue to the Grand Line with them. The crew have to leave Laboon behind, promising to come back after they sail around the world. Then we see them having to break that promise as they die off. All of them, expect for Brook. As he finishes playing, he looks over at his new friends, singing to the tune cherished by his old ones. When he once again accepts Luffy’s invitation to the crew, he does so not out of desperation, but out of friendship.
We can’t end on such a note, literally. The crew learns of vivre cards, which can lead you to whoever made the paper, and also shows the person’s state. It reminds Luffy of the paper Ace gave him back in Alabasta. He takes a look at it, and it looks like Ace is in serious trouble!
So comes to a close the short but sweet Thriller Bark Saga. After such an emotional saga beforehand, we get to cut loose as readers watch Oda have some fun. This would have been a perfect Halloween season read with its horror elements. It does drag a bit at the end, but that doesn't take away from the strong start. Brook more than redeems himself by the end, and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the crew. Just a nice break from reality for the fun I come to One Piece for. Now it’s time for Paramount War Saga, which is shaping up to be the most epic one yet!
My updated One Piece arcs rankings
- Arlong Park
- Enies Lobby
- Water 7
- Sky Island
- Orange Town
- Drum Island
- Thriller Bark
- Syrup Village
- Whiskey Peak
- Post-Enies Lobby
- Long Ring Long Land
- Reverse Mountain
- Little Garden
- Romance Dawn