Ahoy, mateys! For this year’s Summer Comics Binge, I’ll be tackling a huge gap in my manga library; the gargantuan “One Piece,” written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda. Over the next few weeks I’ll be journaling my way through the first 100 chapters, making up the East Blue Saga. This week we come to the end of the road as I tackle chapters 91 through 100. The finale of the “Arlong Park” arc and the “East Blue” saga are at hand, with more than a few big surprises.
After almost drowning at the hands of “Saw-Tooth” Arlong, captain of the nasty Fish-Man pirates, Luffy bounces back with a few tricks up his sleeve. The fate of Coco Village, if not the rest of the East Blue, rests on the outcome of their final battle!
Chapter 91-93: Darts, Happiness, Going Down
It’s one big knock-down, drag out brawl between Luffy and Arlong and despite Luffy’s plot armor, it’s hard to imagine him beating Arlong. This has been a recurring issue I’ve had with “One Piece,” in that the confrontations always seem lopsided against Luffy, but he nevertheless overcomes, with often little explanation. To be fair, this is shonen manga to the letter. However, compared to something like “Dragon Ball,” where Goku is a near perfect analog for Luffy, the stakes and the power balance never feel quite right. Rather, where “One Piece” excels is in the emotional significance of its fights. The fights, after all, are just the physical representation of the battle of Ideas, man.
The emotional climax of this fight takes place within Nami’s old cartography room. We see countless bounded tomes and loose leaflets, representing a life of indentured servitude and exploitation. Luffy’s victory against Arlong is not just the physical defeat of the fish-man, but the dismantling of his power structure and the destruction of the fruits of his extortion. Honestly, I was a little worried about how Nami would react to her life’s work being destroyed by Luffy. In truth, however, the maps were not her work. The work was in the saving and the stealing to free her people which, with Luffy’s help, has not been in vain.
Chapter 94: The Other Villain
With Arlong defeated, there’s just one last thread to tie up before peace can reign once again; Captain Nezumi. Nezumi, however, possesses all the fearsome villainy of a trumped-up middle-manager, and he’s dealt with accordingly.
So, all’s well that ends well, yes? Not quite. As with many man who, after years of failing upward finally meet their comeuppance, Nezumi has a nuclear contingency in the form of running back to his betters. He uses what remains of his ill-begotten power to place a warrant on Luffy.
Chapter 95: Spin, Pinwheel
Here we get our “Battle of Endor” celebration, but sadly, no Ewoks. Instead, we have Luffy searching for prosciutto and melon?
As I’ve come to expect from the ending of “One Piece” arcs, there are several heartwarming moments and tearful goodbyes. The idea of leaving home is an important theme in “One Piece.” Although Nami has left her home in the past, she has always been bound by Arlong’s leash. Now that he’s defeated she’s able to leave on her own terms, which means making a hasty getaway while robbing the town blind. She did leave them a 100 million berry fortune, so what’s a little petty cash?
In the chapter’s most touching moment, we find out the origin of Genzo’s pinwhell. This pinwheel, along with Belle-mère’s tangerine’s, form the inspiration for a new tattoo to replace Arlong’s branding, marking the start of Nami’s new life.
Chapter 96: The Meanest Man in the East
We’ve got one last arc to close out the “East Blue” saga, and it’s a short one! This first chapter find the Straw Hats finally on their way to the Grand Line when Luffy finds out about the massive bounty on his head, by newspaper advertisement, no less.
As they near the Grand Line, they come near Roguetown, “The Town of the Beginning and the End.” Roguetown is significant as being one of the last landmarks before reaching the Grand Line and for being the site of the execution of Gold Roger, Pirate King. Of course, Luffy must stop to pay homage to his hero.Continued below
Rounding out this chapter are three call backs to the series past. First, Zolo comes across a mysterious swordswoman who bears a striking resemblance to his late childhood friend. Second, we see the return of Hawkeye, bearing information on Luffy to a mysterious group of pirates. This leads to the chapter’s final and most surprising reveal, as it is none other than “Red-Haired” Shanks himself.
With shonen manga, the plot often moves at a breakneck pace with little time for retrospection. I certainly did not expect so many call backs to the series’s early roots, especially this early in the run, even with the first saga coming to a close.
Chapter 97: Kitetsu III
While this chapter features hijinks from all of the Straw Hats, it is by far Sanji-centric. In need of two replacement swords, Sanji enters a sword shop. Surprisingly, Oda uses this moment for some significant world building.
We learn that there are many famous swords in the world. In order of descending rarity and importance; 12 supreme swords, 21 excellent swords and 40 fine grade swords. The female swordsman shows up at the perfect moment, just as Zolo is nearly swindled out of his one remaining sword. She reveals that his sword is named Wado Ichimonji, The Straight Road of Peace, one of the 21 great (or excellent?) swords. She herself wields the Autumn Rain, which, while named, is not indicated to be one of the 73 famous swords.
Over the course of the rather lively conversation between Zolo, the swordswoman, and Matsu the shopkeeper, Zolo comes into possession of two “fine” grade swords, the cursed Kitetsu III and Yubashiri. Of note, Kitetsu III has two sister swords, Kitetsu and Kitetsu II, “supreme” and “excellent” grades, respectively. I fully expect this point to come up in the future as Zolo continues his quest to become Master Swordsman.
If you can’t tell by how much time I’m devoting to this chapter, I’m crazy interested in all of this. Maybe it’s the years of JRPG’s, but I’m significantly “turned on” by a story that features dozens of legendary named swords with fancy Japanese names. With just one chapter, Oda pushes my excitement for Zolo’s quest into the stratosphere.
This (extremely exciting) chapter wraps with the arrival of the cowboy hat wearing pirate from the Buggy side-story. It’s all coming together!
Chapter 98: Dark Clouds
I feel like such a fool. Seriously, such a huge goof. I’ve spent weeks blabbering about the “mysterious female pirate” in the Buggy chapters, the one with the distinctive cowboy hat. Not once did I put two and two together, despite Oda’s emphasis on highlighting past villains. When this pirate finally confronts Luffy and admonishes him for having “forgotten this face,” the truth hit me like a ton of bricks. She’s Alvida!
This is such a fantastic twist by Oda. Of course, she looks significantly different from when we last saw her, due to her consumption of the Slip-Slip Fruit. So, Oda kills two birds with one stone, bringing back a quickly dispatched villain from early in the series, while also furthering the Devil Fruit mythology.
Not only is Alvida here in Roguetown, she’s accompanied by Buggy and his crew. The pair has caught Luffy at the execution scaffold, the very same one that claimed the life of Gold Roger.
Luffy has enemies on all sides. While he’s preoccupied with the pirates, we learn the identity of the “monster” alluded to in an earlier chapter, Navy captain “White Chase” Smoker. We also learn that the swordswoman is named Tashigi, Navy Master Chief Petty Officer.
Chapter 99: Luffy Died
“Legends that endure in the future…were events that took place in the distant past.” Oda, you freaking poet.
Nami senses that there’s a storm coming, and that seems true in more than the literal sense as two forces bear down on Luffy. Oda seems intent on taking this saga out with a bang. All the old favorites are back to take their bow. I’m quite smitten by this rebooted Mohji and Ritchie, with Ritchie styled as the “Ritchie Bike” (rarr rarr).
Even with this chapter’s ominous, past tense title, it’s hard to believe that Luffy will actually bite it here. I’m certainly letting Christocentric upbringing shade my reading here, but there are serious shades of the Crucifixion as Luffy, his execution at hand, declares his goal of becoming King of the Pirates. To the end, Luffy faces his fate with a smile.
But fate has other plans. Freed by a literal act of God, Luffy and the Straw Hats make their escape.
Chapter 100: The Legend Begins
“It was the spark that started the fire. A legend that grew in the telling.”
Oops, sorry, wrong book.
I may have been a bit early in my attributing divine powers to Luffy’s escape, as a new player enters the scene. Cloaked and hooded, with a distinctive face tattoo, the mysterious Dragon appears to have control over weather and to be the one responsible for this present storm. He’s not the only one to be revealed to have powers, as yet another Devil Fruit user is revealed in the form of Captain Smoker’s Plume Plume powers. Again, Oda is going full stop. Case in point, Buggy turns into a car:
The final pages go by in a blur. Dragon confronts Smoker, Tashigi confronts Zolo, and the Straw Hats escape. Just like that it’s over, and all parties make their way for the Grand Line.
Finally, that wraps up my reading of the “East Blue” saga. However, that’s not it for my Summer Comics Binge. Next week, I’ll reflect on my time in the East Blue and close things out with a bunch of ranked lists. I do so love making lists.