Most people tend to agree that this arc is a bit lackluster. Not to say that it’s bad! It still has some incredible moments! But compared to the prior arcs, which were a joy from start to end, this one can be a bit… monotonous at times. You can really feel its length, even though it’s one of the shorter arcs of One Piece.
Now reunited, the Straw Hats dive to the depths of the ocean to finally reach Fish-Man Island and enter the New World! But upon their arrival, things quickly take a turn for the worse. Anti-human extremist Hody Jones threatens to destroy the island while Vander Decken aims to murder the princess, Shirahoshi. To top it off, a prophecy has been foretold that Luffy will destroy Fish-Man Island! It’s a clash of ideals with the fate of the Fish-Men and Mermaids hanging in the balance.
While this story definitely has its strong elements, it does drag a lot. The pacing is really slow. Hell, it takes us several chapters just to get to the island! Then we spend several more there, just hanging out, before the plot finally starts to move. This slowness permeates the whole arc, and you can’t help but sometimes wish it would just move on already. Especially when it’s just piling on exposition.
This story tackles a lot of surprisingly mature themes for One Piece. Racism, prejudice, and forgiveness are at the core of this story, which gives it a more mature and meaningful air than many other shounen storylines. And it handles all of these themes with an elegance and intelligence many other stories have failed to manage.
Hody is a villain shaped by prejudice. Unlike Arlong, who actually experienced human hatred, Hody has only heard about it from his elders. Yet he takes the misguided, violent ideals they placed in his head and takes it to a new extreme, losing track of why he was fighting in the first place along the way. The villain himself is… fine. He doesn’t have much personality or gravity on the page, so he doesn’t stand up to the likes of Crocodile or Enel or the upcoming Doflamingo. He works thematically, I just wish he had more personality than just ‘angry and sinister.’
Also Vander Decken is a thing. He is so forgettable that I genuinely almost didn’t put him in this article. And that’s all I’m going to say on that.
I love the ultimate fate of the villains in this arc. Their super power-up drug finally catches up to them and their outward appearances shift to reflect their true selves. And what does that make this bunch of racist extremists? A haggard group of grouchy old men.
Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t talked much about the Straw Hats themselves yet. And that’s because… there really isn’t a need to. Their involvement in the story doesn’t really change much; they’re just there to beat up the bad guy. And all of them are so much stronger than the villains that it kinda deflates the tension. For god’s sake, Zoro one-shots the main villain before Hody ever even meets Luffy!
The only two characters who have anything of substance to add to this plot is Nami and Jimbei. Seeing Jimbei admit his guilt in his part of letting Arlong loose upon Nami’s home, only for her to forgive him without a second thought, is so damn touching and it hits on the themes perfectly. Plus, we get the amazing flashback of the previous queen and her efforts to fight for equality peacefully through Jimbei.
And of course, there’s the final scene with Luffy and Jimbei. A beautiful moment of two characters putting aside all of their past pains or prejudices to help each other out. Because at the end of the day, no matter how different we look, we all have the same blood in our veins.
This arc also gives us some pretty massive lore bombs. From Shirahoshi (who I love, by the way) to the first mention of Joy-Boy to Noah’s Arc, there is a lot in here tied into the ancient history of One Piece. And we still don’t understand any of it, even to this day! All of these mysteries are so damn enticing, I just want to know what their deal is!
We’re also introduced to the main threat of the New World: the Emperors. Mostly because Luffy immediately declares war on one. Because Luffy will be Luffy, even all these years later.
Also, I love the ending of this arc. Seeing the Straw Hats ride up to the surface with a pod of whales like Laboon, singing Binks’ Sake along the way, fills me with so much joy I could explode! And seeing them rise out and stare down at the New World, describing how horrifying it looks with grins of excitement on their faces, gets me pumped every single time!
Overall, Fish-Man Island is an… interesting arc. It has slow pacing that can make it pretty tedious, but it tackles some really mature and interesting themes that give One Piece a surprising level of maturity. Sure, the villains are basically just there to show how strong the Straw Hats have gotten, but we still get plenty of memorable action and dramatic moments.
While I’m not in love with this arc, I still like it as a whole. Mainly because of the ending. And partly because I really didn’t care for the next arc.
Man, the first few New World arcs are pretty rough.