February 5, 2011

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One Piece Volumes 4 and 5

Written by Eiichiro Oda
Illustrated by Eiichiro Oda
Viz

Sometimes it's true when they say "The Butler Did It!" Luffy and his small crew come face to face with the Black Cat Pirates, a band so evil their leader hatched a three year scheme to gain wealth and power. Aided only by three small children and a perpetual liar, can even Luffy's band stop them? Or is this the last stop on his quest to be King of the Pirates?

Plus, what happens when Luffy accidentally performs a canon attack on a floating restaurant? Hijinks, of course! It's all part of the continuing saga of One Piece.

I mentioned towards the end of my last One Piece review that the new story arc didn't do much for me in its early stages. I'm afraid that carries on here, as I mostly read this because I wanted to find out what happens next in the career of Luffy and his band. I didn't think much of the villain this time out, Captain Kano. He's absolutely ruthless, but his powers are so-so (long claws, teleporting power) and overall, feels like Oda read some Claremont X-Men books and picked a few characters to homage in this storyline. I'm sure the little kids appeal to the younger readers of One Piece, but I just found them to be annoying. Lastly, it felt like Luffy and the rest were taking too much of a back seat on this one. They're the main reason I'm reading, after all.

The tone of these stories lacked some of the insane fun of the prior volumes. Sure, the pirates have a black cat theme and there are some funny moments, like how Luffy finally dispatches Captain Kano. But overall, I felt like the sense of fun was missing here, as more adult ideas like blackmail and mass slaughter took the place of good old fashioned pillaging and targeted murder. (Hmm, did I really type that? I guess so. It looks a little strange to put it that way, but it's the best I can describe my feelings.) In a strange way, this made the story feel more realistic, despite all the impossible battles of the characters, and I didn't like that here.

I also feel like Oda took a step back with the artwork. The battle scenes are far less clear cut in these volumes, with a lot more action lines covering the scenes, which were in turn harder to follow than they'd been in the first three volumes. Facial expressions rely more on the stereotypical manga exaggerations than on showing true emotion. The panel structure is also far more rigid I believe, though I don't have the other volumes out to compare them. I'm hoping that things get a little clearer and a little sharper again in the next story arc.

Speaking of the new story arc, what I saw here in Volume 5 looks promising. The character designs are funnier and the violence stems (at least so far) more from comedy than malice. Luffy is front and center again, which is where he definitely belongs. The setup feels a bit like an old Three Stooges gag, with comedic chefs and straight-man customers. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of that story soon.

Overall, I thought this was a rather weak link as a story arc, and it's a shame that it came so early. I was warned about that, however, so I'm going to keep on with the series. If you're not as obsessed with continuity as I am (I blame reading so many floppy comics over the years), it's probably okay to skip ahead. I do wish that Viz had made this easier to do. The fact that story arcs don't mesh up with the volumes is kinda not cool, and they didn't fix it in the omnibus editions, either, which are running three volumes at a time. One Piece is still a lot of fun, and I'm glad I'm finally reading it. Hopefully, the cooking craziness arc will get this book back on pace for me. Either way, I'll be sure to share my thoughts soon.