Up to this point, post time-skip One Piece has had some issues. The reunion on Saboady was enjoyable, but the following two arcs were among the weakest in the series. Fish-Man Island had some great themes, but felt like a chore at times. Punk Hazard was more or less a setup arc with disappointing villains and a boring setting. It definitely felt like the series was losing some steam.
Then Oda decided to shove a whole damn coal mine into the engine and gave us this arc.
Now allied with Law, the Straw Hats make their way to the island of Dressrosa to initiate the first step in their plan towards defeating the Emperors of the Sea. However, things quickly start to fly out of control. Luffy is lured into the gladitorial arena from which there is no escape by a certain Devil Fruit; there, he’ll make new allies and have a most unexpected reunion. Meanwhile, the other Straw Hats uncover the terrible oppressions the people of the island suffer, some of them unknowingly, and they can’t turn a blind eye to it. All the while, the Warlord Doflamingo quickly proves a deadly threat. An all-out war is building, with Luffy and Law, two members of the D clan, right at the heart of it.
Where do I begin? This is a long arc, easily one of the longest in the whole series. Covering it all in this one article is going to be a challenge, to put it lightly. But I’ll try my best.
Let’s start with our main villain: Donquixote Doflamingo. This dude is easily one of the best villains in the series! At his most confident, he’s cocky, mocking, and sadistic. When he starts to lose ground or his patience wanes, he becomes a cruel, spoiled brat. But at the same time, he isn’t objectively evil. He values his crew members more than he ever did his real family; when any of them are insulted, or even worse: hurt, he goes absolutely ballistic! Plus, his Devil Fruit power is amazing and makes for some amazing fight scenes. He even comes packaged with one of the darkest backstories in the whole series!
I never thought I’d see a child get crucified in One Piece, let alone two.
Speaking of two: this arc can be cleanly divided into two halves. The first is all of the arena stuff. The second is the all-out war that comes afterwards. Both halves have their ups and downs, but they both make this arc as a whole one of the best in the series.
While I prefer the second half, I still adore the first half. Luffy’s time in the arena is an absolute delight. We’re introduced to a truly massive cast of supporting characters, all with their own colorful designs, personalities, and backstories. Including everyone’s favorite insert of the fan base: Bartolomeo. All of these dudes play a huge role in the story going forward, both in this arc and even in arcs that we haven’t seen yet!
And it’s here that we’re treated to a shocking, emotional reunion. Not gonna lie: I cried a bit. Maybe more than a bit.
Meanwhile, all the other Straw Hats are on their own little escapades. It is disappointing that half the crew has to dip pretty early on, but the arcs to come more than make up for that disappointment. Besides, what we get aside from that is awesome. Because the rest of the crew gets to hang out with the Tontattas!
Speaking of which: Oda’s foreshadowing skills are fucking insane!! The dude foreshadowed this adorable little warriors all the way back in Skypiea! Noland mentioned going to a kingdom of tiny people, and the Tontattas worship him as a divine savior! This dude set up a plot threat that wouldn’t pay off until several HUNDRED chapters down the line! All with a single stray line of dialogue! If that ain’t commitment, then we need to update the dictionary!
They’re not the only thing to come back from Skypiea. Belamy is back! Remember him? The dude Luffy beat the shit out of? Yeah, he’s got an actual character arc. And it’s honestly one of the best parts of this arc. I never thought I’d feel bad for Belamy of all characters, but here we are.
Then we get to the second half. This is when this arc goes absolutely fucking ballistic in all the best ways. Of all the battles in the series, this is still among the most chaotic and engaging of the lot. It ain’t as insane as Marineford or the recent Wano arc, but it’s still nuts. Every single character of this arc, and I do mean every single one, gets brought in on the fighting, and every one of them gets their own moment to shine.
All of this culminates in the grand finale: Luffy VS Doflamingo. This is one of the best fights in the series, hands down. The sheer creativity and savagery displayed by both fighters is intense! And the ultimate climax is incredibly tense and actually got me teary eyed.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Gear 4.
I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I really don’t care for the design. It’s just too much. On the other, it is fittingly goofy for Luffy; of course this guy would come up with this power up. Plus, the things he can actually do with the form are all pretty cool. Overall, I think Gear 4 is an okay transformation.
On the subject of mixed feelings, we need to talk about Usopp. This arc really damages my affection for our long-nosed liar. The whole point of his character is that he’s a coward, but he always steps up and proves his courage whenever his friends need him; that’s what makes him so compelling. But when things start to go poorly early on, Usopp straight-up cuts his losses and runs, abandoning the Tontattas.
Now, I get what Oda was going for. Robin has been erased from his memories, so he believes himself to be alone, so his courage fails him. But even if Robin weren’t there, the Tontattas still needed him. It wasn’t until they all but guilt tripped him into it that he turned back and tried. It isn’t the most important part of the arc, but it still bothers me.
Luckily, he more than made up for it later by becoming a god.
There are a ton of other things that I love about this arc. Seeing Franky act like a dad is delightful, and it’s nice to see him step into the spotlight here. The backstory flashback of Doflamingo’s rise to power is genuinely haunting. Law’s backstory is one of the best in the series and the dude isn’t even a Straw Hat! Fujitora is the coolest marine in the whole series; seeing him essentially tell Akainu to fuck off is cool as hell!
Then, of course, there’s the ending. The birth of the Straw Hat fleet. Luffy is rising high in the world, but it doesn’t change him. He doesn’t ask all the others to swear to him or anything like that. In fact, he tells them not to do that no matter what. They all follow him not because they swore to him, but simply because they respect and admire him. It’s the perfect way to raise Luffy’s influence in the world while not damaging his character.
Dressrosa still stands as one of the best arcs in the series. It’s a perfect example of why the length of One Piece is to its benefit, not its detriment. Every single thing, every single character, plays a role in the larger narrative of the arc. Not only that, but the consequences of the ending will no doubt have huge ramifications on future arcs to come.
And now, we get to take a relaxing break on an elephant. And after that… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.