The Great One Piece Journey (Part 20): Marineford

After this, I’ll cover the A.S.L. arc, then I’ll get back to fixing Dragon Ball Super. I’ve been putting that off for too long. But when we’ve finally reached the biggest climax in all of One Piece so far, it’s kind of hard to focus on anything else.

Whitebeard is so badass that he could grow a mustache, call it a beard, and no one would call him out on it.

Ace is on for execution, with all the world to bear witness. Luffy and his make-shift crew is on their way. But well ahead of them is Whitebeard, the man who rules the seas and Ace’s captain. It’s an all-out war between the Marines and the strongest pirate crew in the world. Will this dramatic battle mark the end of the Golden Age of Piracy?

This arc is absolute insanity, dude! It starts out crazy and then only gets more insane from there! The only direction it knows is up! Just when you think things are going to calm down, even if only a little bit, they just get crazier!

Without a doubt, this is the largest and most engaging battle in the entire series. We have hundreds of characters, each with their own abilities, clashing all over the place! Some we know, like Coby and Helmeppo and Garp and Whitebeard and the Seven Warlords of the Sea. Others, like Akainu and Marco and Oars Jr., are brand new. All of them are absolutely insane, and their clashes make for some of the most interesting in the whole series.

Whitebeard is easily the highlight. We’ve seen him a few times before, but this is the first time we really get to see the dude in action. Not only is he monstrously powerful (and not even at his strongest; we learn in a later flashback just how strong the dude was in his prime), but he commands an incredible amount of respect! By the end of the arc, I loved this dude like he was my own father!

Kiss my bloody wound. Kiss it!

I love how everyone contributes to the battle, even if only a little! Crocodile is straight-up the MVP, saving Luffy’s ass half a dozen times! Mr. 3 proves to be the biggest help in the moment of truth! Every member of Whitebeard’s crew, from the nameless goons to the Division Commanders, all contribute. Unlike so many other Shounen, this isn’t a one-man show; Luffy very much has to rely on everyone around him to succeed.

Then, of course, there is Buggy. Trying to steal the cameras to boost his ego.

Ace gets some much needed character development in this arc. His screentime up to this point has been extremely limited, making it difficult to get attached to him for any reason beyond the fact that he’s Luffy’s brother. Finally, we get his backstory, as well as a shocking twist connecting him to the most important figure in the whole series: Gol D. Roger.

The problem with having this many characters is that only a small handful of them get enough page time to become memorable. For example: one of Whitebeard’s crew betrays and stabs him. It’s treated as a big dramatic moment, and it’s certainly a gut punch because of how much we like Whitebeard himself. But I’m sitting there, wondering who the hell the guy who stabbed him is, while the story is treating him like he’s some established character. Then he just disappears forever!

Narratively speaking, there’s not much to talk about. It’s a whole ton of fighting, an ever constant struggle to save Ace before he can be executed. It’s incredibly exciting and engaging, and filled to the brim with some of the coolest moments in the whole series. Seriously, there are so many full-page spreads in this arc that it’s insane!

My personal favorite is the brief moment after Ace’s escape. Seeing Luffy and Ace tag-team, working together to fight off the marines is so exillerating that I actually stood up and yelled “FUCK YES!” while I was reading it. Few moments in even fewer manga have ever had this much catharsis!

Unfortunately, it is soon followed up by complete heartbreak. You all know where I’m going with this.

The image that shattered millions of hearts.

Ace’s death is a huge blow. You spend so long thinking that Luffy and the others will save him, because that’s what’s always happened before. When he tried to save Nami in Arlong Park and when he tried to save Robin in Enies Lobby, he always succeeded. To see Luffy face failure in the most emotionally devastating way possible, with the most important person in his life, is genuinely devastating!

But wait! There’s more! Because now that Oda has gotten us emotionally invested in Whitebeard, of course he’s gonna kill him off too!

This death is the perfect blend of tragic and badass. Yes, Whitebeard died. But he did so not only protecting his family, his legacy, but also protecting Roger’s. His final declaration may have been an obvious one, but holy fuck was it powerful! To hear the simple confirmation that the One Piece is, in fact, real, was the ultimate middle finger to the World Government. Whitebeard truly did go out like the ultimate chad, without so much as a single coward’s wound.

And Jesus Christ, the story isn’t even done! Things take a turn from tragedy to horror after this! Luffy is on the brink of death, with all the Marines after his head! Blackbeard has somehow stolen Whitebeard’s powers and is now causing mass devastation! Everyone is slaughtering each other with reckless abandon! You can really feel just how desperate and terrible things have gotten for every character involved on both sides!

Then, just when all hope seems lost, he appears.

Dude walks in dressed like that and everyone is still scared of him.

Seeing Shanks again after all this time is such a huge moment. We’ve had the occassional glimpse of him here and there, as well as the odd rumor or two. But here, we can see exactly how far he’s come since we first met him all the way back in chapter one. The instant he and his crew shows up, the whole war ends. No one wants to fuck with them. It’s such a badass and relieving moment. We even get to see Shanks and Buggy reunite!

It’s incredible how good Marineford is. This is just the halfway point of One Piece, yet it’s more satisfying as a climax than most full stories! This is how you write a war arc into your story! A perfect blend of awesome and tragic, it’s easy to see why so many consider Marineford to be the best arc in all of One Piece.

And to think: Oda has promised the final battle of the series will be even bigger than this!

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