Eichiro Oda is completely relentless. As volume after volume of One Piece is released, I keep telling myself that he’s hit the peak of the story; the summit of insane, gum-gum action and over-the-top scenarios. However, staying true to inspirational artists like Akira Toriyama, Oda outdoes himself one chapter over the other, and volumes 17 and 18 are certainly no exception.
The first of this one-two punch to the face wraps up the battle with the maniacal Wapol, whose power might be the weirdest one yet. By devouring and digesting pretty much anything, he can make that object or person a part of his own body. This is exaggerated to the fullest when the digestion of what boils down to an entire munitions house (for breakfast, no less) turns Wapol into a cannon-loaded house himself.
That’s not enough to stop Luffy and co, though, especially when Wapol stokes his ire by putting down the very essence of pirate life. The results of this encounter are a brand new crewmate for our heroes: Tony Tony Chopper, the half-reindeer/half-man with enough spirit and guts to fit in perfectly with the established roster. Oda has displayed time and time again that he’s a real knockout with goodbyes, and Tony Tony Chopper leaving his home is yet another departure that shows how much heart the series has. This is where the storyline shines, further showcasing the endearing qualities of the characters he’s created over the course of, as far as the domestic release goes, over 150 chapters (over 500 in Japan.)
Volume 18 starts digging into the Alabasta story, which some people may have already experienced via the anime and/or the condensed version that makes up the 8th One Piece movie, The Desert Princess and the Pirates: Adventures in Alabasta. Once Luffy and his crew reach the desert kingdom, they find themselves the target of the vicious Crocodile and his seemingly countless legions. What Crocodile doesn’t know is that he’s already become the target of Luffy, and once his sights are set on something, the only detour is death.
Crocodile somehow manages to be even more imposing than the enemies that came before, and most of his underlings have consumed the Devil Fruit in some form, so the coming volumes are guaranteed to push the envelope of Oda’s inventiveness in a no-rules world. The nefarious plan this time around is to turn Alabasta into a personal utopia for Crocodile and his people, all in the face of a booming rebellion in the country that looks to overthrow the king, even if he’s not really at fault for all the misfortune that’s befallen them.
Add in an appearance by Luffy’s older brother, Ace, and these volumes are pretty loaded. The action is particularly impressive in the chapters within, because despite the fact that so much is going on and so many ridiculous powers are coming out of nowhere in each panel, it’s never confusing to the reader. Most importantly, One Piece is just plain charming. I hesitate to call it one of the best manga out there, but that hesitation only lasts for a brief second or two. If spending some time in Luffy’s world once or twice a month doesn’t lift your spirits, then there may be some serious scurvy goin’ around.
Publisher: Viz Media
Story & Art: Eichiro Oda