Manga-ka: Eiichiro Oda
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: June 2010
Synopsis: “Camie the mermaid offers to take Luffy and the crew to Fish-Man Island if they’ll help rescue her boss Hachi from the notorious Flying Fish Riders. Ignoring all of the warning signs (hint: her boss sounds suspiciously like an old enemy!), the crew agrees to help their mermaid friend, only to end up losing Camie to the kidnappers too!”
An alternative title for One Piece vol.51 could be “How to Write a 50+ Manga Series.” In this volume Oda reintroduces characters from over a dozen volumes ago and also weaves in new ones who have strange but important ties to the main cast. It’s amazing how easily both the old and new characters are able to slip into the story. The huge cast highlights how big and real the world of One Piece feels. While of course the main cast is always caught up in some adventure, the side characters have lives and goals of their own that continue even after they’ve left the main story.
The book starts off with the Straw Hat pirates debating whether to rescue Camie’s boss, a fishman named Hachi, from a gang of slavers. Usually the Straw Hats are quick to help out anyone in need, but they have a history with Hachi. Hachi was part of a gang that terrorized Nami’s hometown, and neither Nami nor the rest of the crew have forgotten about it, or at least, the ones who were there remember it. This happened like forty volumes ago, so even some readers’ memories might be a little hazy about what happened exactly. (Luckily there’s a cute panel where Usop quickly fills in the rest of the crew, while at the same time tweaking the story to make him sound like the hero). Eventually the Straw Hats decide that for Camie’s sake they’ll put the past behind them and fight the slavers.
The head of the slavers is eager to take them on. Duval, the gang leader, has a serious grudge against the ship’s cook, Sanji, and won’t rest until he’s killed him. This is a guy Sanji has never even meet in his entire life, so at first it’s a mystery as to why Duval loathes Sanji so much. The eventual reveal about the source of Duval’s hate is both hilarious and satisfying.
Duval’s hatred of Sanji is another plotline that goes way back. It actually spawns from a little thing, practically nothing more than a throwaway gag. Back when the crew first saw their ‘Wanted’ posters, Sanji was aghast because there was a very serious mistake on his poster (it’s a great visual joke, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read One Piece yet). It turns out that because of that mistake, Duval has been hunted by bounty hunters and the Navy, both of whom have mistaken him for Sanji. Once you know his back story, it’s easy to see why Duval wants Sanji dead.
This being One Piece, everything is resolved in a crazy battle. This one involves a bull, flying fish, and of course the crew’s weird powers and talents. It’s a good fight scene in that every single member of the crew is involved and gets a chance to fight in their unique way. And, in another move that’s a big part of the series, enemies end up becoming friends and allies.
But wait: that’s just the first 1/3 of the book! The next two thirds revolve around the crew taking a trip to the Sabaody Archipelago, an amusement park like island. In theory they’re there to find a man who specializes in ship coating, but for the most part they just end up sightseeing, buying souvenirs, and going on rides.
It’s nice to see the cast relax and have fun, but it doesn’t last long. On the Sabaody there is a group of people called the Nobles who can pretty much do whatever they want, including keeping slaves and killing ‘commoners’ without a second thought. Though Hachi makes them promise not to get involved, the Straw Hats aren’t ones to just standby when they see someone being mistreated right in front of them. It’s not long before they get in trouble with the Nobles, putting not only themselves but also Hachi and Camie in danger.
That is a very brief summary of what happens in the rest of the book, but it would take several paragraphs to go over it in detail. The plotline of the Nobles seems a little dark for a light-hearted adventure series like One Piece. The offhand way the Nobles kill people in the street is disturbing enough, but the casual way they treat slavery is even more unsettling. Of course, this makes it even sweeter when Luffy and co., give them their comeuppance.
One Piece is great at bringing back bit characters and developing them even further. For example, when we see Hachi again it’s not just the manga-ka bringing back a villain, he’s showing the readers the same character from a different angle. In the thirty plus volumes since he was last in the pages of One Piece, Hachi has changed. He’s left the gang and gone straight, opening an octopus fritters shop (which, seeing as he is part octopus is actually really disturbing). He really cares about Camie and even eventually the Straw Hat crew. It’s a nice bit of believable character development.
This volume also introduces a lot of new characters. Sabaody is a popular place for pirates of all stripes and is considered neutral territory. Oda introduces a ton of new pirate captains, and while they look cool in the brief glimpses we see of them (my favourite is masked pirate X.Drake) they don’t get much to do in this volume. It makes you wonder if Oda is just introducing them now in order to lay the groundwork for future volumes. That kind of planning in commendable, but I also want an entertaining story here and now, not just in another twenty volumes. Part of the reason Hachi’s reintroduction works is because the reader got really got to know him in his first story arc. I barely know these new characters, so unless they do something really cool soon I don’t really care if I ever see them again.
At least their character designs are unique. Oda’s continues to draw from a seemingly endless well of unique character designs. He also has a gift for coming up with outlandish and fun settings that are almost characters in themselves. Sabaody is half rainforest, half amusement park. Ferries wheels and roller coasters stand beside huge trees whose roots rise up above the ground. Bubbles emerge from the forest floor and people use them to get around the island. It’s a really neat setting and reflects One Piece’s whimsical nature. Even more mundane settings, like Duval’s headquarters, are still laid out clearly, making the geography of the action scenes easy to follow.
Viz does a nice job with the translation. I like that they include a list of the different One Piece arcs at the back of the book, and that they include Oda’s question and answer sections with the fans. Another nice bonus is the title page of each chapter. Oda uses these to show what other characters in the One Piece universe are up to. In this volume, the title pages follow CP9, a group that is one of the main villains in the series, as they struggle through hard times. The cover pages are not only fun, they manage to work up a little sympathy for a group of characters who are supposed to be the bad guys.
The first part of the volume is a great example of One Piece at its best. The rest of the book is also good, though it feels more like set-up than anything else. It’s still a lot of fun though, and since Oda has a great record of delivering awesome payoffs I have high hopes for future volumes.