OK it's WATER 7 REVIEW TIME BABY
Long Ring Long Island - 8/10
Arc Duration: Chapter 303-321
Listen. I know you might be looking at the score for this arc, and then looking back at my score for Skypeia and thinking I've completely lost my mind, or that I have terrible taste. You also might think I'm being a bit contradictory, too. But please, hear me out.
Long Ring Long Island might just be the most underappreciated arc in the series. Yes, I'm being serious. Sure, it feels like filler, but its timing in the story, the events it sets up and the overall fun value it brings to the series is both textbook Oda and a reminder of just what makes One Piece so fun.
So Foxy is a total joke villain, and I think that's clear from the start, but for an arc this short that's meant to give us a break after the climax of Skypeia, which was pretty intense, that's absolutely fine. One of the aspects of Oda's writing that really shines through, especially early in the series, is his ability to write slapstick comedy. Goofy looking characters and dumb character gags are one of his calling cards, and it's on full display this arc. Whilst the Foxy Pirates won't be turning the world upside down any time soon, they're certainly a welcome addition to it.
The Davy Back Fight concept is also very cool, and it's a nice little tidbit of information as to how "normal" pirates (and not pirates on the journey to find One Piece) spend their time.
However, the real fun aspect of this arc, and what makes it such an enjoyable read, is that we get to see the Straw Hats mess around together. So far, even in such a large and memorable cast, it's hard to make a "favourites" list that doesn't include all seven members in the crew. Considering most of their recent adventures have involved saving kingdoms and such, we finally get to see them kick back a little and have some low-stakes fun. It's like a "reset" on the series after the events of Alabasta and Skypeia. This crew are the heart and soul of the series, and when they're having a good time, we're having a good time.
Obviously, the end of this arc takes a very intense turn when the crew meet Marine Admiral Aokiji, an oddly relaxed man, who can beat the entire crew without so much as breaking a sweat. He also says something very ominous about our newest nakama, Nico Robin. Apparently she's going to betray them? Uh oh...
Long Ring Long Island is a fun excursion on the Straw Hats' journey, with a completely unexpected tone shift at the end that only builds anticipation for what comes next...
Water 7- 10/10
Arc Duration: Chapter 322-374
The ominous ending of Long Ring Long Island delivers in a BIG way in Water 7...
If Long Ring Long Island was meant to get your spirits up, Water 7 takes those high spirits and crushes them under its big ol' boot. It's easily One Piece's darkest and most intense arc so far, and has the most hard-hitting moments of anything that's come. I said in my East Blue review that I consider Arlong Park to be a perfect manga arc, and Water 7 is the first half of a big Arlong Park. What more could you want?
The major themes running through this arc are loyalty and betrayal. It starts with Robin, who very ominously disappears right as the crew reach Water 7, immediately after Aokiji's ominous warning that she'd betray the crew. This mysterious element puts unease in the air; an unease that's immediately rammed home in the worst possible way with Usopp's character arc. Usopp's loyalty to the Going Merry, the ship that came from their hometown, combined with his growing insecurity about his value to the crew, when he loses 200 million Berry to the Franky Family, leads him to "betray" the crew by challenging Luffy to a fight for the ship when Luffy decides they have no choice but to get a new ship. Their fight is painful to read, and the visible after-effect it has on the crew is felt for a long time afterwards - Luffy doesn't smile for the remainder of the arc after their fight. We also see the Straw Hats have serious arguments for the first time, and there's a real lowering of crew morale after all their high-spirited adventures.
And if you think that's bad, just you wait.
Our worst fears about Robin are confirmed, when she's allegedly spotted alongside some people that tried to kill the Galley-La shipwrights who were initially helping the Straw Hats with their ship situation. It turns out the Galley-La group had been infiltrated by a World Government organisation, Cipher Pol 9 (CP9), who were after a set of ship blueprints (that are actually blueprints for the Ancient Weapon Pluton) the head shipwright, Iceburg, allegedly had. But he didn't have them.
Why, I'm glad you ask. : :
Water 7 introduces us to Franky, the head of the group of thugs who robbed Usopp. Initially antagonistic towards the crew, particularly Luffy, who he's mad at for attacking his family, and who Luffy and co. are in turn mad at for attacking Usopp. He's a weird guy with some weird features (he'd like me saying that), but as we get to know him over the course of the arc, and see his dreams, it turns out he's actually a good guy with some interesting connections. See, Franky is a shipwright, and his mentor built the ship the Pirate King sailed on. Oh, and he's also got the blueprints to the weapon, which leads CP9 to come knocking at his door. Aside from his backstory being very well-written and giving context to just who he is, it completes his "redemption" for the readers. See, he's being supportive towards Usopp's futile efforts to repair Merry, and he's actually not just a thug and he has a dream, as well as something to protect. The perspective shift we get over the course of the arc is probably one of the more underappreciated parts of this arc, and Franky is probably one of the more underappreciated characters from the series as a whole if popularity polls are to be used as a metric of which characters readers enjoy the most. He goes from being a dickhead in a speedo to a guy we can genuinely root for. And just in time for the arc's dramatic turnaround.
So CP9 arrest Franky (and Usopp), and it seems that Robin is going with them to Enies Lobby, a World Government base where prisoners are processed. After Robin and CP9 find out that Iceburg doesn't have the blueprints they want and they target Franky, we find out that Robin hasn't betrayed the crew after all, and she's in fact sacrificed herself for them. Knowing this, the crew make the only logical decision: go to Enies Lobby and save Robin. And they're joined by Galley-La and the Franky Family, who are determined to put their differences with the Straw Hats aside and save Franky. Alliance in tow, they get on the sea train headed to Enies Lobby. All the Straw Hats. Luffy, Nami, Zoro, Chopper... wait? Isn't there someone missing?
Now it's time for me to talk about one of my arc highlights - Sanji on the Sea Train. Sanji's picked up this habit of disappearing during the arc and appearing at crucial moments, and he does it yet again here, following Robin's train directly. The group of Sanji, Usopp (or rather, Sogeking) and Franky make themselves known to Cipher Pol, and kick some serious ass while doing it. Sanji vs. Wanze and Franky vs. Nero are enjoyable fights that also signal the shift in "seriousness" in the arc. Whilst Luffy vs. Usopp was obviously emotionally intense, the other fights in this arc (i.e. Luffy vs. Franky) didn't quite have that "punch" to them, mainly because the crew had no reason to fight. Now they have their reason, we see a major step up in intensity that sets us up for the next event: Enies Lobby.
Enies Lobby - 10/10
Arc Duration: Chapter 375-430
And the second half of the Big Arlong Park begins... and much like the OG Arlong Park, it does not fail to deliver.
Now full of resolve, the Straw Hats, Galley-La and Franky Family head in to rescue Franky and Robin from CP9. However, there's one problem with the Straw Hat plan: Robin does not wish to be rescued.
It would be amiss of me to discuss Enies Lobby without discussing Nico Robin's backstory. The tale of her homeland, Ohara, gives us a genuine reason to be skeptical of the World Government (other than "booo marines catch luffy"). It adds a political element to the story that will undoubtedly be more long-running than say, the politics of Alabasta - it's one that brings an entire new dimension to the One Piece world, and makes us question the World Government's sense of justice even further. Robin's tale is one of the most heartbreaking of the series so far, and changes our perception of Robin as "mysterious lady" to a much more tragic one of a woman who has tried and failed her entire life to find somewhere to belong. I definitely felt myself choke up at the panels of Robin escaping Ohara, alone, on a little wooden boat. What this backstory also does is completely eliminate any remaining doubts about her loyalty to the crew (which was a pretty grey area until now). Whilst she got on their ship out of a mix of curiosity about Luffy and having nowehere else to go, she ends up becoming genuinely attached to the Straw Hat crew, to the point where she's willing to sacrifice everything for them - a generosity she hasn't extended to any of her previous benefactors.
The moment Luffy shows up at Enies Lobby for her, she's forced to confront her fears of being unwanted and abandoned in a way she likely never thought she would. She genuinely loves the Straw Hats, and was willing to sacrifice herself to see them follow their dreams. However, she did this without realising just how much they valued her - them showing up entirely subverts her expectations because she had been so used to being dispensible. The question posed to her by the Straw Hats showing up is this - "We see you as one of us. Are you coming or not?"
Whilst she may initially feel unworthy (ooh?) of their kindness, seeing them ready to fight for her finally allows her to accept herself as one of the crew. This is the real weight behind the iconic "I want to live" line - Luffy accepted her from the moment she asked to join, and the crew grew to see her as one of them relatively quick as well. Without initially realising it, she found what she had been searching for her whole life; it just took her a while to realise it.
With her new found determination to go out to sea and live once again, it's up to the Straw Hats to free her, through gruelling fights with the CP9. And oh boy, do these fights deliver.
CP9 are pretty unique as antagonists as they really feel like a "group" of villains rather than one villain and his subordinates. This is partially helped by their leader, Spandam, being the weakest of the group, but also by the fact that the CP9 move as a unit. I could go and break down every fight here, but I don't particularly feel the need to as I feel they speak for themselves, and they're already very highly rated by the community, but the one I will break down is Nami vs. Kalifa, because I feel it's probably the one that's slipped under the radar.
Now, Kalifa's original opponent wasn't Nami - it was Sanji. Obviously, we go into this fight knowing that Sanji doesn't hit women. But would he do it for Robin? No. Despite the clear difference in combat ability, Sanji's adherence to his principles result in him losing the fight quite brutally. And who's there to see him fall? Why, Nami-san, of course! Seeing this, and seeing the reason for Sanji losing causes their relationship dynamic to flip for the first time. Since they met, Sanji has been very clear that his main reason for being on the ship is "Nami-san". He dotes on her endlessly, and is always the one who wants to protect her. Whilst Nami is generally very un-receptive towards Sanji's advances, and often seems irritated by them, she knows she can rely on him to protect her. But this time, her knight in shining armour has been defeated, and it's for the very reason that he's so good towards her - his chivalry. This time, she willingly plays the role of protector, sending the message to Kalifa (and to the audience) that Sanji's chivalrous nature isn't something she takes advantage of - it's something she respects, and it should be known that she does. The fight itself is very quirky, with Kalifa's soapy abilities ( : ) being a very fun matchup for Nami's Clima Tact sorcery.
The theme of loyalty from Water 7 has been the core of the events thus far, and it makes a big comeback at the arc's climax through none other than Usopp and Merry. Usopp, who followed the crew to Enies Lobby under his Sogeking alias (that is obvious to all but Luffy and Chopper) and fought with them, finally takes the mask off, and shows Luffy that he still believes in him despite their falling out. They may not be crewmates at the moment, but their bond still runs deep. And speaking of deep bonds, a once dead ship sails ITSELF to Enies Lobby to save the crew. The nakama who was there from the start, that we sometimes forgot to count, shows us just how loyal it is to the crew, defying death itself for one last voyage. Merry's sendoff was also incredibly emotional, providing yet more tears to a very tearful saga.
Post-Enies Lobby - 8/10
Arc Duration: Chapter 431-441
CP9? - Beaten.
Robin and Franky? - Saved.
Banquet? - Yes please.
World Building? - World building?
The Post Enies-Lobby arc doesn't just serve as a nice resting point after an incredibly high-paced and action packed two arcs - it begins to paint an even bigger picture of the One Piece world, all in the time it takes Franky and co. to build a ship.
We meet Monkey D. Garp - Marine hero and... Luffy's grandfather? Huh?
We find out that weird man from Loguetown who saved Luffy from Smoker is... his dad? And his dad is the World's most wanted man, Monkey D. Dragon the Revolutionary?
We find out more about Shanks... he's apparently one of the Four Emperors of the Sea - the four strongest Pirates on the sea, who rule over the second half of the Grand Line (known as the New World)?
Man, Luffy has some dangerous connections...
All the Straw Hats have bounties, and their reputation skyrockets?
We meet Coby and Helmeppo, and they're Marines now?
We also get the not-so-surprising addition of Franky to the Straw Hat crew (after some literal ball-busting), and the emotional apology and return of Usopp - who, after Enies Lobby, sees that he does indeed have value to the crew. We also get our new ship - the Thousand Sunny. With two new nakama and a returning one, the Straw Hats are back together and stronger than ever after their strongest trial yet. This arc provides a satisfying conclusion to the events of the very intense Water 7/Enies Lobby arcs, but also gives us a picture of the series' future.
Oh, and Ace catches up with Blackbeard and fights him. Hope that's not too important...
All in all, the Water 7 saga is by far the strongest yet in terms of writing and in-universe impact. Is it possible to top this? Only Oda knows...
Water 7 Saga Total Score: 36/40
Average Score: 9/10