While Eichiro Oda’s neverending pirate adventure is enjoying a much more leisurely paced release schedule than some of its Shonen Jump brothers and sisters, the contents of the latest volume are anything but. Spanning chapters 177-186, Oda’s work here is feverish, running double time in an exhaustive effort to keep things moving, and very rarely does the final product suffer in any way.
Luffy’s fight with Crocodile is entering what might be considered the “second round” in Street Fightin’ terms, but just as one should expect, it seems as if our hero is about one billion times (rough estimate) weaker than Croc, making every gum-gum-powered move that much more futile than the last. Arm-slinging bazookas, quaking sledgehammers, and the rest of Luffy’s impressive arsenal are all either absorbed or cast aside by Croc’s Sandman body, and once Luffy’s 3-minute time limit is up, he’s left for dead in a massive crater of quicksand.
Meanwhile, the kingdom is attempting to mount a proper defense against the encroaching rebellion, the tally of supporters on the rebel end having increased by a staggering amount. It’s only a matter of time before both sides collide, and there may not be anything left for our heroes to do in order to stop it. Even telling the truth about Crocodile isn’t going to chop down a sizable rebellion as they approach the edge of the battle site.
Thanks in part to the impending onslaught, volume 20 is infused with the comics-equivalent of an entire case of Red Bull. One minute Luffy and Crocodile are fighting, the next minute the rest of his crew is riding across the sand on a giant crab and being rescued from the depths by a very diverse group of wild animals. They eventually roll up on Crocodile’s underlings on duck-back, further cementing One Piece as one of the most unashamedly bizarre manga out there.
Oda sure knows how to jam-pack a single page, for better or worse depending on the context. Some of the sections in these chapters are a little overwhelming, littering panels with word balloons that alternately work to advance the story and serve as the occasional comedic aside, all spewed forth from a cast that’s constantly expanding. He pulls it off more often than not, but blazing through a few pages of action before hitting an overcrowded roadblock can be a little distracting.
This art-squeezing skill of his legitimately shines once the war kicks off with a rebel yell, though, and that mid-point burst kicks off a real sweet spot for this volume that culminates in a killer Usopp fight. Unfortunately, this is right where the volume ends, with the momentum at its peak. I know that’s the nature of the cliffhanger and all, but I can’t help but want more out of Viz’s release schedule. I guess it’s a sign of Luffy’s place in the popular manga pecking order; it would be nice if people were as enthusiastic about reading One Piece as they are with Naruto.
To be fair, some of my impatience can be attributed to the fact that we’re closing in on the end of a fairly substantial story arc and, as fun as Alabasta has been, it’s always genuinely exciting to see the crew move on and kick off what will inevitably be another multi-volume tale of high seas adventure. Despite the few cluttered pages that pepper this book, volume 20 is another argument for One Piece being king of the Shonen Jump hill.
Publisher: Viz Media
Story and Art: Eichiro Oda