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Reading back through One Piece, it’s weird to see stuff that is commonplace now be treated like earth shattering revelations in 1998. At one point, in Volume 4, the evil Black Cat Pirates learn that Luffy ate the Gum Gum devil fruit, and they freak out. “THIS MAN HAS EATEN THE FRUIT OF THE DEVIL? Learning this fact is the biggest thing that will ever happen IN MY WHOLE LIFE.” Nowadays, you just kind of assume that most of the characters are about to explode or turn into a sabretooth tiger or leak poison or whatever. It’s weirder when a character CAN’T reveal some kind of earth-shattering power in the modern manga.
I guess that’s one of the reasons that the people on the Grand Line treat East Blue inhabitants like such backwater rednecks. Because they aren’t as sophisticated as them laser-shootin’ Grand Line city boys. There’s a lot of nostalgia for the East Blue arc, and I think the main reason for that is because all of the stuff happening isn’t just new for the main protagonists and readers – it’s new for nearly everyone.
Volume 4 almost entirely takes place over the course of one fight, which means that it’s a pretty easy volume to burn through. That said, if you’re expecting One Piece fights to be these long, drag out, one v one contests…you’re only sort of expecting right. Eiichiro Oda has said that he didn’t want to create a “battle manga” like Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, and that’s probably a good goal. When it comes to brutal fights between sweaty, magic men, it doesn’t get any better than the Dragon Ball series. One Piece has its fair share of extended one on one brawls, but they aren’t usually presented in one continuous stream…or in ONE PIECE. BOOM. THAT’S WHAT THE TITLE MEANS, Y’ALL. CRACKED. THE. MOTHER. FUCKIN’. CODE.
Instead, Oda likes to break up the battles, and while this can get frustrating if you’re solely looking for that satisfactory knockout payoff, it does constantly leave you wanting more.
For example, the leader of the Black Cat Pirates is Captain Kuro, a man that’s been posing as a rich orphan’s butler for three years in order to get close to her and steal her fortune. He’s an awful goon, so naturally, you want to see Luffy Gum Gum him into the sun. But before that fight can even happen, Luffy’s crew has to do something. One of my favorite things about One Piece (a phrase that you’ll hear me say a billion times before this series of articles is over) is that very rarely does the crew just kind of stand around cheerleading Luffy until he scores the touchdown for the Straw Hats. They participate, and that’s refreshing, especially since many anime and manga series present all of these fascinating characters, but make it very clear come battle time that only one is important.
With the One Piece method, you don’t feel like anything is lost during the build up because there’s so many working parts. So even if you feel that the main “Luffy vs Some Shitheel” fight is subpar, there is other stuff happening that will make the entire arc worthwhile. And despite the fact that this is Usopp’s introductory arc, the most interesting “other stuff happening here” is Zolo. He gets momentarily trapped by a Straw Hat plan gone awry, then gets lost (a running gag in One Piece is that Zolo has a terrible sense of direction, and despite the fact that this gag has been going for two decades, I have yet to get tired of it), and then finally joins Luffy’s side.
In more modern One Piece arcs, where the size of the crew has doubled and they’re often separated from each other, it’s easy to forget that Zolo is such an effective first mate. Luffy (and the rest of the crew) would’ve been assassinated countless times if not for Zolo watching everyone’s back. He’s such a cool character, and I’m honestly kind of ashamed that it took me a decade before I realized that he’s one of my favorite Straw Hats.
Overall, I can’t recommend Volume 4 enough, if only because the pacing that seemed to drag a bit in the first three volumes has now ramped up, and you start to get a taste of how wonderfully chaotic this series can be. A million out of five stars.
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