I don’t think anyone could have predicted this arc to have been what it is. I also don’t think anyone is going to complain. This is legit one of the best arcs in the entire series!
Putting his crew on hold, Luffy sets his course to save his brother, Ace. With Hancock’s help, he sneaks into Impel Down, the most secure prison in the world. Here, he’s reunited with old foes and new allies. Can Luffy fight his way through the world’s most impenetrable prison to save Ace?
This arc is so much god damn fun, dudes! Seeing old foes we never expected to see again return and actually work with Luffy rather than against him is the most fun I’ve ever had with this series! I never thought I’d become so invested in a group made up of Luffy, Bon Clay, Mr. 3, and fucking Buggy the Clown, but here we are!
This leads to some of the funniest gags in all of One Piece! Seriously, the writing and paneling of this arc is comedy gold! From Buggy and Mr. 3 wildly flailing around and acting like idiots to Bon Clay being themselves. It only gets even more hilarious when Ivankov and his crew get involved. Even more so when Crocodile the straight-man shows up!
Without a doubt, that’s my favorite aspect of this arc: all the returning villains. We’ve got Crocodile and other members of the Baroque Works! We’ve got Buggy! Seeing them all come back and actually work with Luffy is a ton of fun! It feels like all the other arcs were a setup, and this is the payoff! Seeing them all come together as things slowly descend into chaos is so much fun that it should be illegal!
Bon Clay is the highlight, without a doubt. The dude talks a big game about friendship and they walk every god damn step of the walk! Seeing their friendship with Luffy and exactly how far they’re willing to go to help his Straw Hat buddy is so good! It all culminates in one of the most heartbreaking farewells in the series.
It’s not just old characters, either. We’ve got a ton of new characters to work with!
First up is Ivankov. This character is really weird and I kind of really like them. Their design is delightfully bizarre and they shed some light on Luffy’s dad, Dragon, and the Revolutionary Army. Although I do think their presence is a little convenient; oh, one of the most powerful people in the world, someone entirely loyal to Luffy’s father and therefor to Luffy, is just hanging out in the prison waiting for a chance to escape? Their presence makes sense; of course a member of the Revolution would be imprisoned. But isn’t it a bit convenient that that person would instantly turn to Luffy’s side?
Secondly, we’ve got Jimbei. And I fucking love this dude! Granted, a large part of that is because of how he effects the story later on. But even here, he’s a ton of fun! He’s kind of like the straight man in a cast of maniacs and idiots. Plus, his initial chemistry with Luffy is fun.
As for the villains of this arc… meh. They’re fine, I guess. Magellan is a cool and intimidating villain, especially given how he nearly murdered Luffy in horrific fashion. But he, as well as all the other wardens, lacks in any depth. They’ve got wonderfully goofy designs, as most characters in One Piece do. Still, he is far from the most memorable villain; compared to Crocodile or Enel, he lacks anything to help us remember him.
Hell, Blackbeard outshines him. And he’s only got two scenes in this arc. One of them features him getting punched by Luffy!
Impel Down itself is a great setting. It’s a simple setup; each floor presents a unique kind of torture. Simple, but remarkably effective! Each floor presents Luffy and his slapped-together crew with fun and interesting challenges. And seeing all hell break loose as they make their escape is easily the most fun set piece in the entire series! This is one of the most memorable settings in One Piece to date!
And the ending of this arc is honestly perfect. It sets the stage for Marineford perfectly and wraps up on an incredibly heartbreaking note. I genuinely broke into tears when I read Bon Clay’s final words to Luffy and the gang. After seeing how much of a true bro he was throughout the arc, having to say goodbye to him is legitimately heart breaking!
Overall, I loved Impel Down. It may not have the most memorable villains, but it’s still a ton of fun! We’ve got returning villains made friends and brand-new allies, an incredibly fun prison break, and a heartbreaking ending that sets the stage for the grand battle perfectly. It’s one last bit of fun before things turn entirely into darkness.
Cause woo fucking boy, is Marineford dark.