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One of the coolest parts about the early volumes of One Piece is that they deal with a journey to GET TO another journey. The beginning of One Piece is set in a section of the map called “East Blue,” and most of the main characters that show up in East Blue are either trying desperately to get to, or have just returned from the Grand Line, a swath of the ocean that is spoken about with equal parts horror and awe. You know the feeling when you’re about to get on a rollercoaster and suddenly you get really excited, but also start wondering if the coaster is going to break apart mid-ride and fling you into the sky? That’s the feeling that the Grand Line gives these characters.
It’s all part of the beauty of One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda’s work, though: He gets you excited, not only about characters and events, but about geography.
Volume 2 is still pretty far away from being prime One Piece, but it is an improvement over Volume 1. I wrote about the lackluster villains in the last volume, and luckily that sort of changes here. Captain Buggy the Clown is a man-clown-thing that desperately wants to get to the Grand Line, a man-clown-thing with the ability to separate his limbs thanks to having eaten the Chop-Chop Fruit. He is, as my second grade self would say, a weirdo and it’s telling that the only person that wants to get to the Grand Line as much as he does is Luffy, another, more embraceable kind of weirdo. Thus, the Grand Line is set up, not as a place for regular people to accomplish their dreams, but as a kind of ropes course for monsters.
I said “sort of,” though and that’s because, outside of the awesome reveals of Buggy’s powers, I don’t latch onto much about him here. He comes back in the story at different times later in the series, and I’ve always enjoyed Buggy more as a comedic character that Luffy has already pummeled, and not as main threat. I do like his circus-themed henchmen, Mohji and Cabaji, though. Mohji rides around on a big lion named Richie, and is such an insufferable dick that it gives us another installment in a series of my all time favorite thing: Radically Satisfying Luffy Punches.
Something like the Radically Satisfying Luffy Punch is kind of expected in a shonen series: These stories are built around awesome displays of power, and it’s only natural that their many climaxes will often play out with a fist dramatically rocketing into a face. But the Radically Satisfying Luffy Punch is different from the Oh Hell Yeah End Of Fight Luffy Move, usually in that it doesn’t come after a long battle or extended conflict, but when Luffy is forced to put someone in their place. He did it to Helmeppo in Volume 1, and he does it to Mohji here, after Mohji bullies a dog that just wants to defend its dead owner’s pet store.
The Radically Satisfying Luffy Punch is always inflicted upon people who’d never dreamed that they’d eventually have their skulls realigned by a man made of rubber. It drops them down a peg. You don’t have to be invincible in order to feel invincible, and a man that spends all day riding on an enormous lion obviously feels invincible. Thus, Luffy comes in, not to kill Mohji, but to switch around the social order.
Which brings me to my next major point: I’ve seen a lot of people complain about characters (mostly villains) not being killed. Forcing death into a series that is made for teenage boys is kind of silly, and these complaints remind me of every argument that I’ve ever seen that giving the Dark Knight treatment to a superhero would inherently improve that superhero. However, I get it. Death is a very dramatic thing. It can raise the stakes of a conflict or an entire story.
But while I’d first argue that it’s simply more fun to see these villains progress down the road instead of ending their arcs with their rubber murders, I’d also argue that, in One Piece, death is not the worst punishment that someone can receive. And that brings me to a major theme in Volume 2: That of someone’s (or something’s) personal treasure.
For a series about pirates, they don’t talk about riches and gold that often. Don’t get me wrong, money is a big thing for characters (and usually characters that are just beginning to have their stories told like Buggy and Nami), but “treasure” is even bigger. The shop that the dog is defending is that dog’s personal treasure. The poodle-haired Mayor Boodle’s (Heh, I get it) town that he helped to construct is his treasure. The straw hat that Shanks gave Luffy in Volume 1 is Luffy’s treasure. These are all very tangible things with importance attached to them that is greater than any other character could ever know. Their treasure, while also being sort of a security blanket, helps to define who they are as people.
Which brings me back to the death thing: Oda has talked about the fact that, when a pirate loses a fight, their loss of pride is way more damaging to them than a loss of life. When it comes to One Piece villains, their pride is often their treasure. They’re villains because they don’t really hold anything near and dear to them. They simply lust for greed and power, and that’s why a loss is so devastating that they can drop out of the main story entirely. They have lost their treasure.
OH DAMN. I SPENT THIS WHOLE REVIEW TALKIN’ ‘BOUT THEMES. UMMM.
What else is cool? Zolo, that’s what. At one point, Luffy finds himself in a cage, with the Buggy pirates about to shoot him with a Buggy Ball (which is like a cannonball, but it’s Buggy’s, and I don’t think copyright is very big in the pirate world.) Luckily, Zolo, who has already been stabbed by Buggy, saves the day, and picks up the cage with Luffy in it. Luffy remarks that Zolo’s guts will squirt out and Zolo replies “Then I’ll just shove ‘em back in!” It’s really hard not to stand up and clap every time Zolo is around.
Also, I forgot how well they built up the mystery surrounding Nami’s intentions. They tell us what she wants, but only tease why she wants it. While Luffy is technically the main character of the whole show, the strongest character arc of the East Blue Saga belongs to Nami. Sometimes Nami’s role in One Piece can seem a little vague, as she’s not as strong as the superpowered badasses that typically lead the Straw Hat Crew into combat, but you can’t deny that her entrance in the manga, as a mysterious thief who isn’t really on anyone’s side yet, is a strong one.
So, if you read Volume 1 and weren’t sure about continuing with the series, I (obviously) recommend heading into Volume 2. One Piece is still finding its footing, but it’s definitely laying the groundwork for the themes that will drive the entire series.
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