These three volumes of One Piece are about 2/3 of the way through the Water Seven arc. It’s the longest arc so far. Volume 40 has Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates racing through Enies Lobby, the court of the World Government to rescue Robin. They are joined by the Franky Family and Galley-La company who are there to save Franky who was taken by CP9. It’s mostly Luffy plowing through with the rest coming from behind. Volume 41 reveals Robin’s childhood and why she is the most wanted person by the World Government. Volume 42 begins the battle between the Straw Hat Pirates and CP9 to save Robin.
Volume 40 is mostly all fighting. Luffy is just punching everyone in his way and moving on, while the rest of the Straw Hats and Franky Family take on the ever-growing resistance from the marines on the island. This volume is a good example of how Eiichiro incorporates flashbacks for characters into battles, keeping them from becoming tedious. In this volume, we learn more about the King Bulls Sodomu and Gomora. They were rescued by the Franky Family, and have sworn their loyalty to them. These flashbacks, often short and spread out through the fight gives the characters a motive, and makes their determination more understandable. They are fighting for the sake of fighting, but because they believe in something and have someone to protect. I also liked the tie-in back to Giant Kings the Straw Hats met back at the beginning of the Baroque Works Arc. Usopp’s information about their true whereabouts gets the Giants at the gates to switch to their side.
Volume 41 is entirely dedicated to showing Robin’s back story. I think to be a Straw Hat Pirate, one must have a tragic past, which Robin has in spades. She’s lost her homeland, her mother, her friends, and was make public enemy #1 all in one day. This incident also reveals who I think is the true enemy of One Piece. Even though there are bad people and pirates that the Straw Hats have fought in the world, none can really compare to evil the World Government and their military arm, the Marines have done. For the sake of covering up the past and keep the truth from getting out, they destroyed an entire island and all the knowledge, including the people, that was collected on it. This might sound a little weird, but I felt more strongly about the loss of knowledge and archaeologists than Robin’s personal losses. I can deal with people hurting other people, but wholesale censorship, which is essentially what the World Government was doing, I have no tolerance for.
What really made these volumes shine was Luffy and his dedication to Robin as a friend and companion. Friendship is supposed to be one of the components of Shonen Jump stories, but One Piece takes this further. Luffy is like the embodiment of friendship. It’s always been important to him. Sides don’t mean anything and don’t get in his way. A friend is a friend, no matter what. Luffy’s constant striving to get stronger is based in his desire to protect his friends and would willingly die fighting to save any of them. How many friends can you say you have like that? There is no compromise with Luffy when it comes to friendship. He ignores Robin’s protestations of rescue, and rejects her declaration that she wants to die. After hearing what the World Government did to Robin and her homeland, he has their flag burned down, effectively declaring war on them. There are no limits to what Luffy will do for a friend, and I really like that. At one point, Oda draws an awesome scene of the Straw Hat Pirates lined up on the wall opposite Robin, showing their solidarity and determination to rescue her no matter what. The impact of it isn’t lost on either Robin or the reader. The Straw Hats are the friends that Robin didn’t realize she was looking for, but was told she would find out at sea by the giant Saul before her island was blown up.
Volume 42 returns to the more typical one-on-one fighting that is usually seen in Shonen Jump titles. Now it’s CP9 vs the Straw Hat Pirates as the race to rescue Robin continues. Only now Robin has joined the struggle. Now that she’s found real friends, she doesn’t want to lose them.
One Piece is an unusual tile for Shonen Jump in that its protagonists can have tragic background and typical goals of most Shonen Jump titles, but it doesn’t fall into a lot of the failings of those other titles. No one gets angsty about their past, at least not for long, or about not being powerful enough. If they aren’t, they just keep working to get better. Luffy’s simplistic approach to life and enthusiastic attitude makes it impossible for anyone, character or reader to stay down for long.
No matter how serious the story gets, One Piece never loses the fun and adventure that made it popular in the first place. And that’s what makes this a title to never stop reading.