By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
Technically, this is supposed to be a cooldown volume after the previous epic chapters of fighting. The crew is back at Water Seven, they've rescued Robin, and now we have some wacky shenanigans before they set sail once again. The trouble is, Oda being Oda, that this volume also casually drops in hints of the plot for the next 20 or so volumes.
First off, we have the revelation of Luffy's family. It's not really something that's come up before, and even Luffy hasn't thought much about it "I have a dad?" he says. But in a nice bit of juxtaposition, his grandfather is a Marine, his father is a terrorist - sorry, Revolutionary - and Luffy is a pirate. There's a great bit where Luffy tries to warn everyone off of attacking his grandpa, and some of his childhood training is revealed. Training from Hell.
Then we have Coby and Helmeppo showing up, taking the series right back to Volume 1. Those who follow the cover arcs knew that the two were under Garp, so it's not as much of a surprise as Luffy's parentage was, but it's still great to see. Coby tells Luffy about the second half of the Grand Line - called "The New World" - and indeed, the manga seems to feel as if it may have reached a halfway point here, 10 years into it.
The last of the callbacks we have are in the final two chapters, where Oda just goes all out in a giant "Where are they now?" reunion chapter. What I like best is it not only catches up with old characters, but tosses in tidbits we'd been wondering about. So yes, Vivi knows that Robin is a crewmember, and is OK with it. We see the mayor of Luffy's hometown, upset about Luffy's criminal activities, wondering if "Dadan" knows about this. (Who?) And we see Kaya, immediately rushing back to her studies so she can tend Usopp's wounds when he returns (if you know what I mean).
Of course, it's not just nostalgia. Mixed in with this are the new plot points that will carry the series forward. First off, the crew gets a new ship, courtesy Franky, and a new shipwright, also Franky. His joining the crew is not exactly a stunning revelation - after all, he had the multi-chapter tragic past flashback that is a prerequisite - but is welcome, as it had been 222 chapters since Robin joined. Franky will prove a SUPAA addition. We also get the new ship, which is twice the size of Merry, and has a lot of cool things.
Meanwhile, we catch up with Shanks, who has gone through several blockades to meet up with his fellow warlord, Whitebeard. Shanks being one of the 4 most powerful pirates in the world is not a surprise either - after all, Luffy will have to beat him to become the Pirate King - but seeing Whitebeard is a treat. He's huge, not in the way the Giants are, just in a "I am the largest human around" sort of way. He and Shanks have a disagreement regarding Ace's mission to kill Blackbeard, with Shanks noting that it could have repercussions that would be felt the world over. Ow! Sorry, the foreshadowing got in my eye! MY EEEEYYYYEEEE!
Surprisingly, our regulars are the ones with the least to do in this volume, with one or two exceptions. The biggest is Usopp, in a plot twist that is in-character but came as a big surprise to me. We were meant to sympathize mightily with Usopp throughout Water Seven, so seeing Zoro convince the crew that unless he apologized they would abandon him is a shock. However, Zoro's reasoning is dead on, and reminds us that Usopp's argument with Luffy was INITIALLY just his stubbornness and denial. The big reunion scene has a bit too many ugly tears for my taste (Oda draws tears and snot very realistically, but that doesn't make for attractive art), but is welcome nevertheless.
Likewise, Robin runs into Aokiji, and we get a confirmation that he's sort of in the Smoker category of Marines rather than the Spandam category. I was rather startled at his frank admission that he had assumed Robin to be suicidal. Actually, looking back, he was likely correct. Still, his comment that as long as she keeps moving forward, Ohara will live on is touching. In fact, it's about the last bit of touching we get from the Marines for some time. By the way, I note on the Bounty Posters that Robin's went up only a tiny amount. I suspect this is less from her being the victim and more that they're now giving her an actual bounty, as opposed to the fake "she sank six warships at the age of 8" one she had before.
And as the volume ends, Ace does indeed catch up with Blackbeard, and we find out he's eaten a Devil Fruit - one that grants darkness. How that battle ends will wait till next time. But man, what a packed volume. So much to take in. Awesome stuff.
Oh yes, because I got annoyed with Del Rey for it earlier, I feel I should get annoyed with Viz too. Previous volumes showed Tom's expression as "With a boom!". This volume has it as "With a bang!" Unless Viz is F-Troop, they should stick to one or the other. Continuity, people! Tsk tsk to Alexis Kirsch, Viz's credited editor of this volume! Yay to Viz for crediting the editor!