By Eiichiro Oda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.
Oh boy, where to start? First of all, this review contains big spoilers for this volume of One Piece. Seriously big spoilers. Only read this if you know what gets revealed at the end.
I'd mentioned the cover arcs in my last MMF piece, so I should note that starting here we do begin to see what the rest of the crew are doing while Luffy is busy rescuing Ace. These range from the funny (Sanji, Usopp) to the serious (Robin) to the mysterious (Franky), but each are only two 'cover pages' long. I suspect Oda had to be thinking of the anime here, and was suggesting what happened in order to allow the filler that must inevitably come to stretch out and tell a relevant story.
I also rarely mention the SBS questions, but they're always fun, and two here are particularly relevant. First, someone asks Oda to draw the Straw-Hats gender-reversed, which he does. This led to a fanart EXPLOSION in Japan, which is still ongoing in many ways. Secondly, Oda was asked what 'Nationality' the Straw Hats were, should they be in our world. His answers actually make a lot of sense and work very well. Except for Brook being Australian, which... whuh?
In any case, the manga itself. There's a lot of things happening here, so I'll just touch on a few points. Mr. 2 has never been more awesome than we see here, and his final sacrifice to allow the others to escape is incredibly moving both on and off the page. Blackbeard gets to show off his evil crew here, and I was pleased to note that we once again see what a total wuss he is when it comes to pain, something that has come up before and will again. Of course, when you have his powers, that's not necessarily fatal.
Buggy and Mr. 3 both semi-reluctantly join the breakout, and both have oddly similar arcs, in that they spend the entire time whining and bitching, but tend to step up at odd times with their own strengths (and they do have some). Mr. 3's wax powers can slow Magellan, even if only for a little bit, and seeing Luffy wearing wax boxing gloves and legs is, as he notes, awesome. Meanwhile, Buggy is a failure on every level, as is lampshaded by the entire cast. He was on Roger's crew, but has amounted to only a minor pirate. And yet he has a guile that, once it can overcome his basic cowardice and petulance, is a terrific force. When Buggy decides a course of action can benefit him most, he can be an amazing leader. And he now has a huge crew of criminal pirates who, thanks to various misunderstanding, think he's the Messiah. Yes, this is a comedic plot, but it's handled realistically - I really enjoy it.
And so we finally pull away from Impel Down, and head for Marineford, where Ace is about to be executed. This execution is, oddly, being simulcast all over the entire world, to all four Blues and the Grand Line. (Gotta love transponder snails, which seem to be able to do more every time they appear.) It's beginning to be slightly ridiculous that the World Government is devoting so many resources and so much time to executing Ace. And then Fleet Admiral Sengoku tells us why it's so important that Ace be executed in so obvious a fashion. Because of Ace's father, Gold Roger. This blew every fan away when it first came out, and even now the impact is tremendous. Leaving aside the realism of a woman carrying her baby an extra year to throw off suspicion (seriously badass, I might note), this means that Ace is not merely a pirate, or one of Whitebeard's crew, but a symbol of piracy itself. THIS is why everything is so public.
And of course, we aren't done yet. Ace has been insisting, even as he kneels at the execution place, that Whitebeard is his true father. And naturally, this means that Whitebeard shows up, right in the middle of everything, to save his son. To be continued. And yes, now we wait some more. THe speedup spoiled us all, I think, and it's very difficult to wait for May for our next One Piece fix. But I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be epic.