I thought that meant American Sign Language for so long and I was unbelievably confused before I finally read this arc.
After the events of Marineford, we’re treated to a flashback of Luffy’s childhood. Here, we learn what happened in the time between Luffy meeting Shanks and him setting out. Shortly after being sent off by his grandpa Garp to live with mountain bandits, Luffy meets Ace and his friend, Sabo. The three quickly become inseparable. But when Sabo’s past catches up to him, will he be able to maintain his friendship with Luffy and Ace?
This is an incredibly short arc, even shorter than Amazon Lily. That’s definitely to the arc’s benefit. You can’t exactly squeeze out one hundred chapters of content about Luffy being a little kid.
Although the anime will definitely try sooner or later.
Timing is this arc’s biggest enemy. I like the idea of finally getting some background on Luffy and Ace, given what we learned about the two during Marineford. That said, this arc has the same effect as a Demon Slayer villain’s backstory. Tragic, yes. But a little too late. Kinda hard to get invested when you saw Ace take a lava fisting in the last chapter.
Not to say that this arc isn’t good. It’s got tons of stuff in it that I like. Luffy, Ace, and Sabo are all adorable kids and their chemistry is pretty fun. Even more so when you include Dadan and the mountain bandits. Together, they all make up a wildly fun and totally disfunctional little family.
We also get to learn more about Luffy’s home island, as well as some finer details of the world’s political situation. Granted, it’s far from the most interesting information; I frequently found myself spacing out and wishing the next page would come already. Still, it does add some layers that will undoubtedly be important later.
My biggest criticism is with Sabo. I think he’s a fairly decent character; a little noble boy painfully aware of how vile and corrupt the society his family leads is wants to escape. Compelling! But his actual personality only shines when he’s with Ace or Luffy, and his ‘death’ lacks much impact beyond the shock of a Celestial Dragon doing it. All his presence here really does is setup a big ‘twist’ later on in Dressrosa.
To be fair, though, I love how this arc ends. Seeing Luffy set out for the first time again, full of confidence and vigor, only to cut back to the present and hear him weep in despair, is genuinely heartbreaking.
But then my boy Jimbei steps up and helps Luffy find the will to live. I love this scene. It’s such a real and emotionally powerful depiction of loss and mourning, which isn’t something we often get in a Shounen manga. It plays extremely well into the series’ strengths, that being the family like dynamic of the Straw Hats. After so many chapters of heartbreak and dispair, this one little ray of sunshine is as bright as a fire and just as warming.
This is also where we see Luffy’s growth in emotional maturity. We see, we feel, how desperately he wants to see his crew again, and we can see just how badly they want to see him. But Luffy sees the sense in what Rayleigh tells him; if they go back now, they’ll only be destroyed. So Luffy does the mature thing to do and decides to wait and train.
And he sends them the most ingenious secret message I think I’ve ever seen in a manga. Which is surprising, since Luffy is probably the one who came up with it.
Speaking of the rest of the Straw Hats, we get a little view of where they’re all at after Sabaody. This is to mixed effect, in my opinion. Some of them ended up in really fun and interesting places, like Zoro arriving at Mihawk’s castle or Franky at Vegapunk’s lab or Robin ending up with the Revolutionary Army. But others, like Usopp on the island of giant stuff and Nami on the sky island, just don’t do much for me. Each location is perfect for the character involved, but some are definitely more interesting than others.
Also, Sanji acting very anti-trans towards Ivankov does not do much to endear us to Sanji. This is the beginning of what I like to call ‘Worst Straw Hat Sanji’, the era pre-Whole Cake Island where Sanji is kind of the worst member of the crew.
We also get to see the ramifications of Marineford all across the world. From characters that we know and love to familiar villains who escaped the battle to the random shmucks living their every day lives. It goes a long way in making the events of the previous arc feel more impactful and it makes the world feel that much more alive. The setting is just as reactive to events as the characters. It’s a small thing, but it’s stuff like that that really makes me love One Piece.
With all that, the stage is set. Luffy’s training has begun and all the other Straw Hats are doing the same. The curtain falls on the first half of this grand adventure. Now, it’s time for the second act to begin.