Monday, April 12, 2010

One Piece Volume 41

By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

Things pick up exactly where they left off, with Luffy having polished off Blueno and standing just a building away from Robin and Franky. Franky, of course, has noticed Robin's reticence to do anything, and decides to take matters into his own hands, in one of the volume's funniest scenes. Unfortunately, having briefly escaped, Robin shows she is still unwilling to be rescued, and in fact merely wishes for death.

This coincides with the rest of CP9 showing up, in a huge 2-page spread that looks great. Luckily, the rest of the Straw Hats arrive at pretty much the same time, albeit in a much messier fashion, and the next chapter has their own 2-page spread. (I was a bit confused about Sniper King's entrance, till I recalled one of the giants had told him before, "Leave it to me!" Poor Sniper King, a human fastball.) Robin is growing increasingly frustrated with all of this, and her anger is giving way to tears.

And then Spandam once again threatens the Buster Call, which leads to Robin pointing out the true horror of the thing, and leads into a flashback covering her backstory. (Of note, the only two Straw Hats who don't get flashbacks during their initial arc are Nami and Robin... both of whom briefly "betray" the crew. Oda knows how to build up drama.) Robin's childhood is shown to be a huge ball of sadness and loneliness, punctuated with occasional bursts of hope. She's clearly brilliant, as shown by her passing the archeologist's exam at age *eight*, but her joy is immediately taken from her when she realizes that her scholar friends still won't let her work with them.

Then we meet Saul, who is a truly wonderful character, and the best Giant we've met to date. His influence on Robin is seen from the get-go, as we see him teaching her to smile and laugh through her despair. Sadly, the past is *their* country this time, as the Marines arrive chasing after Robin's mother, Nico Olvia, who is the spitting image of adult Robin only with white hair (still young and beautiful, the white isn't meant to be age here). Robin's desperation for human warmth, love and affection wars with everyone trying to distance themselves from her so that she won't be killed.

Of note, the Marines in One Piece have never really been a source of fun times, but we have till now met noble Marines (Smoker, Tashigi), or at least ambiguous Marines (Hina, Aokiji). This is the volume where we realize we have to assume that 90% of the government and Marines are corrupt and evil, and that it's the people like Smoker who are the exceptions. We also get a brief hint of an Atlantis-like country that the World Government is desperately trying to hide, which apparently is the subject of the hundred missing years/true history Robin's been researching all this time. Also, gosh, Spandine looks and acts familiar...

Thank God, Robin at least gets her mother to acknowledge and hug her one last time, because otherwise I think this volume might go beyond the despair event horizon. Everyone is massacred, with Robin being the one exception. And we see what the Buster Call entails, as the innocents who had nothing to do with the research are also killed, just in case. (The future Admiral Aikanu does this, and let me tell you, it's pretty awesome foreshadowing. Expect much worse from him later.) The Buster Call also doesn't seem to mind killing a few Marines too, in the process of wiping out everything. It's One Piece's equivalent of a nuke, only delivered by cannon. The only person on the island who has any doubts is Kuzan, which is why he lets Robin escape. (Clearly, as Aokiji 20 years later, he's changed his mind.)

And so, after a brief montage of "Robin's life sucks" through her teenage years, we're back to the present. Robin admits that most of her fear is that the friends that she's finally found will grow to hate her because of her past and the Marines constantly chasing her, and again affirms her wish for death. (Can you imagine how 4Kids would have dubbed this, by the way? The mind reels...) Spandam is loving this, of course, and points out that Robin's enemy is the World Government itself, and too big for Luffy to try to take down.

He doesn't know Luffy very well. What follows is the climax of Enies Lobby. Oh, sure, there's about 4 more volumes to go after this, but that's just the dessert. The true story ends here. Luffy calmly tells Sniper King to shoot down the World Government's flag (which, give all credit to Usopp, he does immediately with no terror at all). He then declares war on the world government, and once more asks Robin: does she want to live? And finally, his words get through to her despair and fear and stubbornness and she screams out that she does. This is one of the best scenes in the whole manga, and the emotional climax of Water Seven/Enies Lobby. The goal of the arc is rescuing Robin, yes, but the REAL goal was getting Robin to trust her friends. Mission accomplished.

And then everyone dives in and we're headed for another big string of fights. Whee! Fantastic, marvelous, stupendous, colossal volume of One Piece.

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