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Reflecting On “One Piece” Through The Second Water 7 Arc | Column from the Editor

In August, I started watching “One Piece.” I simply was tired of getting into very good one- and two-season shows only for them to end, leaving me without anything consistent to watch. Some of those viewings have been documented on this blog and will continue to be — weekly episode reviews for select shows will be back for 2023.

I’ve finally finished the second Water 7 arc. After what feels like forever, the Straw Hat Pirates finally have a new ship in the Thousand Sunny. Franky joined the crew and Robin and Usopp finally returned to it. The existential gauntlet that Water 7 put the crew through is finally over — hopefully it’ll serve as an important lesson to everyone that there is no leaving the crew of Monkey D. Luffy.

I’m also currently at the end of the episodes Netflix has available. So this seems as good a spot as any to take a brief sabbatical from the show and reflect on the journey so far.

Perhaps what I find most unique about “One Piece” up to this point is how everything the Straw Hats accomplishes feels earned, both in terms of their victories in the various arcs and the friendships they’ve forged along the way. In no way is this more apparent than with the crewmembers Luffy gains.

Roronoa Zoro is the first crewmember Luffy gains and is perhaps the easiest to come aboard — there is no lengthy arc in which Luffy helps him overcome his childhood trauma on his home island, unlike many of the other crew members — and as a result, Zoro is perhaps the most conditional member of the crew. He is loyal to Luffy, but he’s made it known multiple times that if he doesn’t act like a proper captain, he will leave, which holds Luffy accountable as he has to continually maintain Zoro’s respect — which is fitting for the crew’s unofficial vice captain.

Nami and Nico Robin almost trended in the same direction — they joined the crew with very little struggle initially — but they were both hiding something. The show’s Arlong Park and Enies Lobby arcs serve as a means for Luffy to earn their loyalty and their membership as part of his crew, as in both arcs he fights to free them from both literal oppressive forces (Arlong’s occupation of Nami’s home village in her case) and more abstract ones (Cypher Pol 9’s threat of a Buster Call against the Straw Hats and the World Government’s general persecution of Robin). At the end of both arcs, Nami and Robin know that no matter what, their captain will fight for them, giving them little reason to even think about leaving the crew again.

Sanji, Chopper and Franky’s path to joining the Straw Hats follow similar beats, though Sanji and Chopper notably fight alongside the Straw Hats for most of their respective arcs to rid their homes of oppressive forces (the Don Krieg pirates in Sanji’s first arc and Wapol in Chopper’s). Once freed, Franky does notably contribute to the Straw Hats’ escape from Enies Lobby.

Usopp has the most complex relationship with Luffy and the Straw Hats. He also joins after they free his home island of an oppressive force — which he helps out with, until he physically can’t — but he is plagued by self-doubts that mostly stem from the fact that he constantly is put into situations that don’t take advantage of his strengths, and he is not self-aware enough to try to put himself into situations that do. As I’ve made note in recent videos on InReview’s TikTok account, Usopp is not a melee fighter — he’s a sniper. With enough time to formulate a plan, he’s at best a glass cannon — and there’s nothing wrong with that. He just has to recognize that as a sniper it’s important that he keeps his distance from his opponents and effectively uses his strongest attacks when appropriate. He’s never going to be as strong as Luffy, Sanji or Zoro, but he doesn’t have to be.

He also serves as a key lesson to Luffy in what it means to be captain of a crew and a leader. As I said before on TikTok, Luffy completely mishandled breaking the news to Usopp that their ship, the Going Merry, cannot be fixed, and his inability to handle the situation delicately needlessly escalated it. Going into that, he had to be aware that Usopp had the strongest connection to that ship because his childhood friend gave it to the crew, and that he as the captain had to keep a level head and be prudent not to take anything Usopp said personally, knowing that he is probably just acting out in anger and anguish. Usopp needed space and understanding to process the news — neither of which Luffy or the rest of the crew gave him.

Usopp’s departure for me made it hard to stop watching the Water 7 and Enies Lobby arcs, as until he returned, it felt like the group was missing something. Usopp takes his time returning to the crew — in my opinion, I think he should have returned when Luffy was fighting Rob Lucci in Enies Lobby, but the way series creator Eiichiro Oda had it play out was necessary and made perfect sense.

During the second Water 7 arc, Usopp finally makes up his mind to return to the Straw Hats, but is not permitted to unless he apologizes for his actions, as the crew needs to know that he will not abandon them again when times get tough. My only critique of this is that Luffy never fully grasps how he fell short as a leader and how his actions escalated his conversation with Usopp, ultimately leading to his departure, as the context and consequences of their fight is brushed off by Zoro — who threatens to leave unless they only allow Usopp to return after he apologizes.

Zoro is correct that Usopp needs to respect Luffy as his captain if he is to return. But his assertions that “it doesn’t matter what you two were thinking when you started arguing,” and “it doesn’t matter who was wrong and who was right, either,” is partially false. Going forward, it’s important to put the fight behind them, but Luffy really needs to reflect on what led to that fight and how he could’ve handled it differently. It was a key test in crisis management for him and he failed it.

However, it ultimately served as a measurement of how deep their bond was. Usopp couldn’t abandon the crew fully when Robin turned herself into CP9 — he never really left their side as he accompanied them to Enies Lobby as his alter-ego, Sogeking. And he couldn’t turn his back on Luffy, which becomes explicitly clear when he stepped in to give Luffy one last motivational push in his fight against Lucci when it looked like Luffy was about to be defeated. The Straw Hats up to this point have a pattern of liberating both the homes of strangers and new crewmembers from oppressive forces that seem hopelessly immovable, until they do the impossible. And they are so committed to each other that if even one of their members is in danger, the rest will move heaven and Earth to protect them.

Those are bonds that are extremely difficult to replicate in the real world; they are literally those of people who regularly save each other’s lives on a regular basis and who change the lives of each other and strangers consistently.

The anime desperately needs an edited down version in the same vein as “Dragon Ball Z Kai,” as the amount of flashbacks, repeated scenes and filler is just terrible. Without the “skip” and “next episode” buttons, the Enies Lobby arc is unwatchable. This would also help get the show’s intimidating 1,000+ episode count down a notch, potentially making it more palatable for new viewers.

But there is gold hidden in the slog of bad editing and stretched out pacing. And I look forward to picking up the show again in the near future, either on another streaming platform or whenever Netflix gets the streaming rights to more episodes.

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