Here it is. The make-or-break arc. If you don’t like One Piece after this, you won’t like it at all. Not to mention that you’re a heartless monster.
After recruiting Sanji, Luffy pursues Nami, who had just stolen the Merry Go, and the rest of the crew. This chase takes the Straw Hats to Cocoyasi Village, Nami’s hometown. Here, they meet Arlong, a powerful fish-man who rules the village with an iron fist. Turns out, Nami was a member of the Arlong Pirates all along! She’s worked as a thief to in order to make money and buy the village back from the tyrant. Can Luffy and the gang get their navigator back and defeat Arlong?
Let’s start with Arlong himself. He’s a pretty intimidating and easily hated villain! His massive stature, incredible power, and condescending attitude aren’t unlike previous villains in the series. But when you see him casually flipping buildings? It’s hard to compare him to the decently tame villains Luffy has stomped on so far.
One Piece is the only story where you can call a crazy cat man, a psycho clown, or a walking military arsenal tame.
The rest of his crew is just… meh? Most of them are pretty forgettable. The only fun one is Hachi; his fight with Zoro is entertaining. Plus, he plays a fun role in the story later on. All the others, though, feel like fodder for the other Straw Hats to fight before Luffy takes down Arlong.
But let’s be honest: Arlong isn’t the star of the show. He can’t even begin to compare to our leading lady: Nami.
We finally get to see what her backstory is all about. And god dammit, this is still one of the best of the entire series. Seeing Nami lose her mother (Bell-Mère is one of the best mother figures in manga) and suffer horrible abuse under the fish-men is truly heartbreaking. Honestly, it’s kind of horrifying; at this point, this is easily the darkest One Piece has gotten.
And then there’s the present. This arc is absolute peak Nami. You can see her struggling to keep everything together, to protect her friends and family, no matter the cost. You can tell that she’s walking on very thin ice; one misstep and she could very well fall into the water. Then, when her efforts all come to naught, you can truly see her collapse. Physically, mentally, emotionally, she’s completely defeated.
Then we get the scene that made me fall in love with One Piece.
Where do I even begin with this scene? It’s so good on so many levels! After an entire arc of Nami trying to push Luffy and the others away, to see them standing there, ready to go fight a seemingly unbeatable foe for her sake, is such a perfect encapsulation of everything I love in Shounen. A rag-tag group of friends, ready to face down evil just because it made a friend cry.
It’s also the perfect Luffy scene. We and Nami both know how much that hat means to him. Yet, when his friend asks for help, he entrusts it to her and vows to help without even a second’s hesitation. Even after all this, after how hard she tried to push him away, he still trusts her completely. If you don’t love Luffy already, you’ll love him after this. And if not… then I can’t help you there.
The other Straw Hats get plenty of love, too. Zoro proves just how badass he is by winning a fight with a near fatal wound. Sanji straight-up saves the day by rescuing a downed Luffy. Usopp gets his first proper one-on-one fight, which is surprisingly exciting and emotional. After the last arc, which was very much the Luffy and Sanji show, it’s super nice to see all five of the Straw Hats sharing the spot light.
Now, let’s talk about the action. It’s… okay. Luffy’s fight with Arlong has some fun tactics and choreography and I love the creative tactics both Sanji and Usopp use to beat their opponents. But compared to the slugfests we’d get in Alabasta, Skypiea, and Enies Lobby, these feel kind of tame and forgettable.
All in all, Arlong Park is a phenomenal arc. This, if you ask me, is where One Piece really gets going. If you enjoyed the early stuff but hesitated on reading on, I’d highly encourage giving Arlong Park a chance. If this arc doesn’t hook you in, then you can give One Piece a pass.
And if it does: buckle up. Because we’re not even 1/10th of the way there yet. Our adventure has only just begun.