I complain about a lot of manga. Everyone knows my hatred of Air Gear, and my distaste for Fairy Tail is starting to become more obvious. Following these you’d assume I dislike manga, or that the medium is chock full of garbage, but that’s not the case. The only reason I harp on titles like Air Gear and Naruto is because there are so many better titles to compare them to. I want to give proper notice to these stories—in fact I want them to garner much more attention that any of the shitty series. So I will take note to really discuss some of the better stories and chapters out there when they come around, and this whole idea is spurred on by the most recent chapter of One Piece: Chapter 589, Sabo’s Ocean.
I love One Piece, and to discuss why I love it in every minute detail would take days. Instead, I’ll just say that One Piece always blows me away with its storytelling. Normally the battle shonen scene is pretty tame in terms of telling a good story, but One Piece never falls into that stereotype, and in fact it’s almost single-handedly changing that negative connotation. The latest chapter of One Piece has served as a full circle in Luffy’s personality, but a change that’s been in the making for years. A common complaint haters state is that Luffy is too stupid. Well, for starters Luffy isn’t stupid, he’s simple, but people dislike that his character simply shrugs off angst. It’s easy to say “well Luffy hasn’t had it so bad in comparison to other shonen heroes”, to justify his lackadaisical nature, but Luffy’s two flashbacks show his life wasn’t “easy”. Sure he didn’t watch his mother get devoured by a demon or his father murdered by an evil king as per the standard with bad anime heroes nowadays, but he did watch his idol have his arm ripped off in an incident that was entirely his fault. That’s pretty heavy stuff, but One Piece has never been a series to let a character mop around. If they do, then someone comes by and kicks them in the bottom, and we’re left with the important lesson that can be summed up in just a few words “this too shall pass”.
Even characters like Chopper, Robin, Nami, and Franky who had some really terrible, heart-wrenching pasts are still gleefully optimistic characters. We see them in their moments of weakness, but these are brief moments that highlight the struggle without dwelling on it. For every character who displays a healthy amount of angst, there are two or three more than dwell on how shitty everything is and are just overall depressing characters. One Piece subverts this by rarely letting characters get depressing, and instead keeps the characters upbeat and fun so that when things do get serious you know that “shit got real”. That’s why Chapter 589 is so important. For 500 + chapters we’ve seen Luffy as a very optimistic, wide eyed adventurer who rarely let the gravity of a situation affect him. The changes to his personality mostly involve going from goofy to serious when a villain crosses his moral event horizon, and until recently I can’t recall a time where Luffy got really “angsty”. That’s what makes this character development so powerful.
We see Luffy, our affable hero, down on his knees, crying about how weak he is. This came after watching his friends become split up and sent away one after another, and then watching his brother get killed. Again, it’s the fact that until these points, Luffy has never shown this kind of emotion before that makes it so meaningful. If Luffy always whined about wanting to be stronger than this chapter’s weight would be miniscule at best, but since we’ve always seen Luffy as this confident, good-natured hero, seeing him broken into a sobbing, broken mess is much more moving. The final page of 589 carries so much weight with only a few lines of dialogue show casing Oda’s skill as both an author, and as a storyteller.
Plus the foreshadowing! My God how much better could Fairy Tail be if Mashima Hiro knew how to foreshadow like Oda? So much in recent chapters has been alluded to for years. The faces on Ace’s hat, the crossed out “S” on Ace’s tattoo, and even the seemingly throw away “I’ll never die” panels at the end of Chapter 574 now carry so much more weight now that we know what they mean in context. Plus I absolutely love the little cameo with Zoro. Pretty much unnecessary, but awesome in the same respect.
I loved this chapter, and the wait until next week is going to murder me. More than that, I’m really looking forward to seeing how Oda gets Luffy back on track. For most mangaka I’d worry, but Oda has proven time and time again that my faith is well-placed in him. For those naysayers out there that ignore One Piece for being too goofy or having a bizarre art-style, I just want to say that you guys are missing out on the best shonen manga series ever. I feel absolutely no bias when I make that claim, and Chapter 589 of the series is perfect proof why I feel that way.