Heads up: this review of the Wano material will cover up until chapter 1049 of the manga. This means that my coverage of the arc will be incomplete, as it still hasn’t ended as of the writing of this article. And of course: spoilers!
Here we are, ladies and gents. The most recent arc of One Piece. Our Great Journey has finally reached its conclusion, albeit a temporary one. And what a note to go out on; we get to talk about what is quickly becoming the best arc in the series!
Having successfully rescued Sanji, Luffy and his party make their way at last to the land of Wano! Not long after their arrival, however, our favorite captain is once again separated from his crew! Scattered and divided, the Straw Hat crew begins to make their move against the Emperor Kaido and put the Kozuki clan back in power. But our favorite pirates quickly learn that they’re not prepared.
God damn, where do we start? This arc isn’t just long, it is dense! Each of its three acts thus far have been crammed to the brim with fantastic character moments, for returning cast members and brand-new faces, amazing action scenes, and enough twists and turns to make a jigsaw puzzle! Oda has been building up to Wano for years, and god damn does he deliver!
This arc delivers some insane lore revelations! You know an arc is crazy when it introduces time travel into the lore and that’s not the craziest part! From minor details like the sword Zoro got all the way back in Thriller Bark to the larger revelations found in Oden’s Logbook, this arc expands One Piece in a way that no other arc before it has!
Speaking of which: I absolutely love the Oden flashback! Oden himself is one of the most lovable One Piece characters of all time, and seeing a younger Whitebeard and finally getting to interact with Roger is a delight! And it somehow makes the mystery of the One Piece even more tantalizing than it was before! It’s fantastic!
Even better is Ace’s involvement in this arc. The dude died hundreds of chapters ago and he’s still making a huge impact on the story! Through both Tama and Yamato (I fucking love Yamato, by the way; he’s such a phenomenal character), we can see just how much Luffy’s big brother affected the world. Plus, it plays extremely well into the themes of inherited will and legacy central to the series.
Now, let’s talk about our main villain of the arc: Kaido. Of all the baddies Luffy and the gang has faced over the years, Kaido definitely feels the most menacing. For fuck’s sake, the dude’s hobby is ‘attempted suicide!’ He’s massive, he’s seemingly indestructible, and he hits harder than any other villain before him. Unfortunately, in terms of personality, he isn’t all that interesting. We’ve gotten a few glimpses at his backstory, which teases something pretty interesting, and he’s a lot of fun while he’s drunk. But most of the time, he just sort of stands around being menacing. Some of his goons are much more interesting, like Queen!
Although him being a humongous dragon is pretty freakin’ cool, I’m not gonna lie.
Though, to be fair: his effect on Wano is among the most despicable we’ve ever seen. The setting itself isn’t all that memorable; it’s classical Japanese, end of aesthetic. But the horrific ways that Kaido and his crew have ruined it definitely escalate it in quality. Everything is ruined, from the food to the water to the land itself. The whole country and everyone in it is screwed, yet the people still display kindness and care for others, even the Straw Hats. Seeing just how bad it is and how good the victims are further emphasizes our want to see Luffy and the gang take Kaido down.
Now, the actual exploration of Wano towards the beginning of the story does have a few pacing issues. For example: one scene, Zoro is hanging out with Luffy. Then he wanders off and we hard-cut to him fighting a dude who apparently stole his sword between pages. Luckily, the pacing evens out later on in the arc, so it’s not that big of a complaint.
Action-wise, this arc is alright. It’s got plenty of fight scenes, and they’re all certainly cool! But they aren’t as memorable or as impactful as battles from prior arcs, like Enies Lobby or Dressrosa. Granted, that may be because they’re still so recent, so take that critique with a grain of sand.
And there is one big thing in favor of this arc’s action. Which means it’s time to talk about the biggest spoiler of them all…
I adore Gear 5. In fact, I’d be so bold as to say that it’s one of the best transformations in all of shounen manga! It’s an amazing pay-off to a mystery that’s been building since Skypiea, delivering one of the biggest twists in the series to date. The design is already iconic, and the new powers it grants Luffy are a delight! Our favorite captain just straight-up turned into a Loony Toon and I LOVE IT!!
There are tons of other, smaller moments that are equally amazing. Jimbei is finally an official Straw Hat! More of Zoro’s backstory is revealed. Sanji gets a nice continuation to his arc from Whole Cake Island. Law and Kid get a badass fight scene against Big Mom. Marco comes back! There are so many small moments that have made me whoop for joy while reading this arc! So many plotlines come together right here, and each and every one of them is incredible!
Unfortunately, the arc isn’t done yet. So I can’t really talk about the ending yet. For all we know, the arc is gonna fall flat on its face. Or something bat-shit insane is gonna happen and escalate it to even greater heights! We still don’t know. But Oda has proven his writing chops more than enough times to put me at ease and give me faith.
Overall, in its current state, Wano is one of the greatest arcs in all of One Piece. It has been absolutely insane from beginning to now, and I have no doubt it will only get crazier as we approach the end. Catching up to the series during this arc has been one of the most satisfying reading experiences I have ever had. It is a wonderful place for our One Piece read-athon to end.
Well, end for now. We’ll be back later for the end of Wano, and for the rest of One Piece. This is easily the greatest shounen story of all time and I cannot wait to see where it goes from here.
See you on the Grand Line, pirates.