Yes! YES! YES!! This is what I’ve been waiting for!
This is easily my favorite saga of One Piece. The character drama, the action, the setting, all the history, all of it work together to create the most thrilling and engaging arc yet! I legitimately couldn’t stop reading until it was done! I binged the whole damn thing in a day! When I was done, I was half tempted to go back and do it all again!
But spooky islands and musical skeletons were waiting on the next horizon. So I couldn’t exactly start back tracking now.
After their run-in with Aokiji, the Straw Hats continue on their way, searching for a carpenter to repair the Merry Go! Their journey takes them to Water Seven, a gorgeous island populated by shipwrights and a strange train that runs on the surface of the sea itself! But shortly after their arrival, things start to take a dark turn; the carpenters are all in agreement that the Merry is beyond repair, Usopp is attacked by the Franky Brothers, and Robin goes missing! With a growing divide within his crew, Luffy is faced with his greatest challenge as a captain yet!
Once again, the arc is slow goings towards the beginning. A lot of time is spent fleshing out Water Seven as a location and introducing the key new characters of the arc. The plot still has a sense of forward progression, but it’s like the rise on a rollercoaster; slow, but with a great view.
Then you reach the drop. And all hell breaks loose.
Putting the Merry Go on the line is a surprisingly effective plot development. We, just like the Straw Hats, have spent forever with that ship! We’ve been with her ever since the East Blue! She’s been all over the place, from the peak of Reverse Mountain to the white rivers of Skypeia! She’s been home to the crew forever! Whether we knew it or not, we’ve gotten emotionally attached to the ship! We feel the fear and sorrow of losing her just as poignantly as the crew does!
It also serves as a perfect event to drive Usopp forward. He’s been with the crew just as long as Merry has been. To hear that they need to abandon the ship plays off of his insecurity; he’s always felt like the most useless member of the crew, and suddenly Luffy seems to be abandoning dead weight! It drives a perfect wedge between the two!
I love the confrontation scene between Luffy and Usopp! The dialogue is so natural and flows so smoothly! The conflict sucks in each and every member of the crew except for the missing Robin, and each one manages to contribute to the argument! It’s such a natural and powerful scene!
And it leads into one of the best fights in the series! Usopp VS Luffy!
You wouldn’t think it would make much of a fight. After all, Luffy’s combat abilities are well beyond Usopp’s. But Usopp gets through using creativity and cunning! He busts out the Dials from Skypeia, he uses all his tricks and gadgets he’s developed over the series up to now! It’s a surprisingly engaging showdown!
Even if it ends exactly as you would expect. But that’s the point. This isn’t supposed to be a fun or exciting fight. It’s the tragic divide between two of the closest friends in the entire crew! It hits like a god damn truck!
And that’s just one part of this story! There’s so much more!
Like the introduction of Franky! It’s hard to forget, given how ingrained he is in the crew now, but this dude used to be an antagonist! Granted, he’s always been a goofball, but he used to be a threatening goofball! And with all of his absurd cyborg powers, he makes for a fun opponent for Luffy to deal with! Even if their match is brief.
Not to mention that he has one of the best flashbacks in the series. His childhood with Tom and Iceberg and building the sea train is one of the most engaging to date. Plus, it adds a nice layer to the long established mystery of the Ancient Weapons and even acts as a connecting thread to Robin!
Also, he and Usopp become best bros after Franky kidnaps him. Which leads to another powerhouse moment where Franky forces Usopp to confront reality about the Merry Go. This arc is just stuffed with moments like these!
We even get a taste of some conspiracy mystery shit! Where did Robin go? Who tried to kill the town mayor (who is another amazing character, by the way; I love Iceberg) and frame the Straw Hats? Who are these CP9 guys that approached her?
Then, when we reach the climax of this first half of the saga, things get fucking crazy dude! A giant tsunami is moving in on the whole city that threatens to drown our heroes! Robin and Franky are taken away on the Sea Train and its up to Sanji and a captured Usopp to save them! The rest of the gang needs to find a way to catch up without a ship! This shit goes off the rails and it demands your attention from start to end!
And to top it all off, we meet the man, the myth, the legend: Sogeking! It is kinda weird that Oda wrote Usopp out of the story, though. Why would he do that?
I’d love to keep going and cover the rest of the saga. But that will have to wait until next week, when we cover Enies Lobby itself. Which is just as insane, if not more insane, than Water Seven.
Fuck, man! I love this arc so much!