I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion or not, but here goes: this is my least favorite arc of One Piece. Not to say that it’s terrible. But I definitely felt my interest wander more than once.
The Straw Hats successfully have entered the New World and are ready to begin their new adventure. Shortly after their arrival, they receive a distress call from a nearby island, Punk Hazard. On this island, the crew ends up split apart, with one half ended up lost on the fire half while the other was captured and taken to an odd lab on the frozen half. Here, they’ll have several fateful encounters that will completely change the course of their journey to come.
While I’m not a huge fan of this arc overall, there are a ton of things about it that I love. From character moments, minor and major, to its perfect setup for the arc to come after this, Punk Hazard does plenty of good things. But it’s dragged down by lackluster pacing, boring villains, and an uninteresting setting.
Let’s start with the positives. I love some of the Straw Hat character moments here. Nami choosing to save the kids is my favorite; seeing her act as the beating heart of the crew is very fitting for her character, and it’s plenty heartwarming. And I love the love-hate relationship between Sanji and Kinemon in this arc; our favorite cook might want to help the samurai, but he ain’t gonna be happy doing it. I’m really sad that aspect got dropped in the arcs to come.
Speaking of which, tons of characters, some old and most new, make their splash here. Law steps into the story in a big way, giving us one of the most iconic moments in the entire series as he forges an alliance with Luffy. Smoker and Tashigi make their post time-skip return, and… Smoker is allowed to be cool, but Tashigi has been left so far behind power wise that she’s basically just a damsel in distress.
Her fan club, on the other hand, is an absolute delight.
There are plenty of other small things, as well. I love Franky being a dad to all the kids (the gag that all the boys think he’s the coolest thing ever and the girls being unimpressed will always make me laugh), and Chopper using his medical abilities to save them is fantastic. Plus, this arc gives us one of the most badass Zoro moments of all time; motherfucker defeated a snow woman simply by scaring her!
To wrap up the positivity train, I’m quite fond of the ending to this arc. It’s wonderfully wholesome and it leads into Dressrosa perfectly. The love-hate relationship between the pirates and the marines is delightful; hopefully that will pay-off in some way in the future.
Alright, now I’m gonna bully this arc really hard.
Punk Hazard is among the most boring settings in One Piece history. Sure, it has cool lore regarding the Marines. But in the end, it’s just an island that is half frozen and half fire. Compared to the vibrant settings we’ve seen before and would get later on, this one is lame. It’s a super disappointing way to start the New World with.
The villains are also really weak. Caesar is kind of enjoyable, due to how cartoonishly sinister he is. But his goons are super forgettable. The only reason I remember the snow woman is because Zoro beat her ass in the coolest possible way. I genuinely can’t even remember any of the others.
Action wise, this arc is super disappointing. It’s a strong display of why I don’t like Haki. Caesar is a gas man, he is literally made of gas. Before the time skip, Luffy and the gang would have had to find some clever way to turn that power against him or discover some weakness. Now, Luffy just punches him in the face because Haki lets him hit Caesar. Luckily, later arcs would find ways to implement Haki into combat without sacrificing creativity. Unfortunately, Haki hurts this arc more than it helps it.
My biggest issue is with the pacing. So much of this arc just feels like it’s wasting time. Like the entire body-swap scenario Law causes. It’s a funny gag at first, but it gets old really quickly and it slows the story down so damn badly. Three chapters into it, I wanted it to be over.
Overall, is Punk Hazard a bad arc? No, not necessarily. I don’t like it for the reasons I just listed. But it didn’t make me want to quit One Piece.
Still, I’m not exactly eager to revisit it. It feels like a stopgap in the story, a piece of setup for more interesting and compelling stories to come. Luckily, the arcs to come are absolutely amazing, so Punk Hazard is ultimately worth it. You just have to get through it to get back to the amazing stuff.
But, again: I’m not sure if that’s an unpopular opinion. For all I know, I just turned the entire One Piece fanbase against me.