Fun’s over, everyone. Time for pain. Time for a lot of pain.
After taking their leave of Thriller Bark, the Straw Hats arrive at the halfway point of the Grand Line. However, a problem arises: Fish-Man Island is on the bottom of the ocean! Luckily for them, some new friends lead them to Sabaody Archipelago, where they can find an expert to prepare the ship for them. But this peaceful, happy island is riddled with danger. From the most infamous rookie pirates to the heads of the World Government itself, the Straw Hats walk a dangerous line. One that they may have no choice but to cross when one of their new friends is captured to be sold into slavery.
That’s right! We’ve officially got slavery in One Piece! Yeah, this is where the themes start to take a more mature, dramatic turn. Bet you didn’t think this fun story about pirates would turn into a critique on how powerful militaries are nothing more than bodyguard services for rich people.
This is thanks to the Celestial Dragons. At long last, we get to see who is at the top of the World Government. And they are the most despicable characters in the series to date. They’re disgusting to look at, they have absolute power and absolute wealth, and no one could even cross them without catastrophic consequences.
Which makes it all the more satisfying when Luffy does this.
They’re not the only new characters. We’ve also got the Eleven Supernovas! Sure, two of them are Luffy and Zoro. At this point, most of them are just interesting designs and some fun personalities/powers. But they all go to some crazy places later on! Especially Law and Kid! A few arcs from now, a good number of these guys turn out to become some of the best characters in the series!
I’m especially fond of Law. As you might know, if you remember my character analysis of him from way-back when. Even here, upon his first introduction, he’s clearly different from the others. His power is cool and his quick rivalry with Luffy and Law is a ton of fun. I love him even more considering how central he becomes to the story later on.
We also get a brief glimpse at the top of the Navy through Kizaru. I love this dude. He’s got the Devil Fruit power that I would most want; I love how he should be the strongest character in the series, but he’s too lazy to get to that point. Even still, as lazy as he is, he utterly dominates every single foe in his way. Luffy and the gang have been in some dire straights up until now, but facing off against Kizaru feels truly hopeless.
Well, until this dude shows up.
Rayleigh is such an incredible character. The right-hand of the former Pirate King himself does not disappoint. He’s badass, charming, and just the right level of mysterious. You could tell that he is more than willing to give the Straw Hats the answers they want. Luckily, our crew doesn’t want answers, so the series can go on.
“That’s dumb, though!” You may argue. I argue that it’s perfectly within Luffy’s character to say “No, I don’t want answers, I want adventure!” and I much prefer that. Sure, we got another fifteen or so years of manga out of it. But… wait, why is that something to complain about?
This is also the arc where we get properly introduced to Haki! Which I do not like! Sure, hitting someone with the magic power of willpower itself is dope! But it sucks away the creativity that made One Piece fights so engaging. On the way out are the days where the Straw Hats had to find a way to overcome a power’s weakness. On their way are the days where it’s just “Who has the strongest Haki?”
Granted, it’s pretty cool in how it’s introduced. The mystery of it is pretty fun, with Luffy defeating animals without even touching them and being annihilator by people without powers. It does serve as a good indicator for how much more difficult things are going to get from here, as well as how woefully unprepared the Straw Hats are.
Which leads nicely into the ending of this arc. Watching the Straw Hats get completely wiped out and seemingly slaughtered is equal parts tragic, horrifying, and shocking. After seeing them escape from so many tight binds, it’s a slap to the face to find them in a situation that they simply can’t win. Unfortunately, one simple fact detracts from the tension of the event: the existence of the next five hundred or so chapters of manga.
Oh, to be a reader back when this chapter first came out…
This arc was surprisingly intense. It starts out so relaxed and charming, with the gang exploring an amusement park and having fun. But then it rapidly snowballs into one of worst situations the crew have ever and will ever get themselves into. It sets the stage for everything to come perfectly. This is but the first chapter in this dark saga of One Piece.
Although calling Impel Down dark is a bit of a stretch. That’s more of a prison-break comedy than anything else.