“When a bullet blows by, he’ll probably feel a little breeze”

May 11th, 2010 by | Tags: , ,

Good villains deserve what they get. We look forward to it and revel in it when it finally happens. That’s why they commit crimes, make us afraid, or do terrible things. Sometimes this leads to situations where the accumulated crimes of the villain are too heinous to be settled by a punch in the face. When done properly, however, the fistfight on top of a burning building is just what’s needed to salve the wounds caused by a villain’s actions in a story. The villain catches a bad one, the hero gives with a quick one-liner, and fade to black.

It’s a tried and true formula. Someone does something bad, someone else punches that first person in the face, and we all feel better. In One Piece 16, subtitled “Carrying On His Will,” Eiichiro Oda switches up the formula a little. Wapol, the villain of the volume, was introduced in a scene that was more funny than threatening. He chewed up a bit of the Merry Go and was punched over the horizon for his folly.

Later, the Straw Hats show up on Drum Island looking for a doctor. Wapol shows up once again and attempts to reassert his control over the kingdom. He does some more buffoon-type things, in addition to beating up a former subordinate, and then moves along. He causes some more minor mayhem, but nothing overly serious, on the way to reclaiming his throne at Drum Kingdom’s castle. He eventually scales the sheer cliff face that sits below the castle, only to find Luffy, Nami, Sanji, and their two new allies, Dr. Kureha and Tony Tony Chopper, occupying it. He flips out.

The problem is that despite his antics thus far, he hasn’t quite managed to become a worthy villain. He’s an obstacle. He is, at best, on the level of a mid-boss, someone you beat up on your way to tackling the real bad guy. Wapol’s arrival is just a stepping stone to the point. He’s been completely undersold. There’s no “Oh no, Wapol!” or “Grrr, this guy!” at work. He’s just a funny fat guy with an eating disorder-based superpower.

Oda seems to recognize this, too. There’s no build-up or no big speech from Luffy. He just says “I’ve got a score to settle with you guys!” and whips his arm back for a Gum Gum Bullet. Quick, easy, to the point. Pop him once and we’re on to the next one.

Freeze frame, director. Wapol’s eyes are bugged out in surprise. Luffy’s fist is six inches away from impact. His muscles have gone tight from the strain. He got as far as “Bul-,” with the “-let” sitting somewhere in the future. The record scratches and we pick up six years in the past.

We see the story of how Tony Tony Chopper came to be. We meet Dr. Hiriluk, a quack doctor who does about the same amount of harm as he does good, in the service of a kingdom that is lacking in doctors. We see Dr. Hiriluk rescue and befriend Chopper, who is drawn considerably more round and fuzzy than he is later in the series, and we watch their relationship blossom over the course of the year. We meet Dr. Kureha back when she was a spry 133 years old.

And then there is Wapol, the spoiled prince who became king and immediately began squandering his father’s legacy. We get a proper introduction to Dalton, a warrior who doesn’t like where Drum Kingdom is headed. We see how Wapol ignores the politics and civility that are required of his station. In a remarkable coincidence, we see Wapol literally bump into a young Nefeltari Vivi, bruising her forehead, and watch her react with poise and sincerity. And then we see Wapol cause the death of Dr. Hiriluk and motivate Chopper to become the greatest doctor the world has ever seen.

The film skips and fades out on Wapol’s laughter. The camera fades back in eighty-eight pages and six years later. We’re looking from Wapol’s perspective and see Luffy’s fist swung back and a hard grimace on his face. The camera turns 180 degrees and focuses on Wapol’s face contorted in surprise. Wapol says, “Wha–!!?” Luffy says, “-let!!!!”

Impact. To be continued in volume 17.

Hey, Wapol of Tin, leader of the Tin Tyrant Pirates… you earned that.

Eiichiro Oda’s skill at pacing, building tension, and and creating believable characters puts many other creators to shame.

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15 comments to ““When a bullet blows by, he’ll probably feel a little breeze””

  1. Great. Now I want to start buying up the One-Piece trades. I hate you Brothers. HATE YOU SO MUCH!

  2. Wapol’s face gets me every fucking time

  3. Also the flashback in question needs to be mentioned as well. Probably his greatest skill is to make you feel true sorrow for people who only appear in flashbacks.

    “My life is so wonderful”

    It truly was Dr. Hiriluk, it truly was. I got something in my eye

  4. I love how Oda seems to be in a competition with himself on creating increasingly sad origin stories.

  5. @Nik: Seriously. When I was reading Ennies Lobby, I thought Oda had hit the top in his Robin flashback because of the sheer scale of the injustice done to her. But then we get Brook’s flashback which was so comparatively small and understated and it was one of the most depressing sequences I’ve read

  6. This is truly one of Oda’s greatest talents as a Shounen Manga writer. He’s a master at this sort of set up, and if you think you’ve seen him at the top of his game here, wait for Skypiea.

  7. @Nathan

    Brook’s story is so sad because of how it ties into you-know-who’s story. Two tragic perspectives of the same events.

  8. @EndOfTheWorld: The bell. He has a habit of topping himself like crazy. Alabasta, Skypeia, Ennies Lobby, Thriller Bark, Shandoby, and the fucking Summit War. No wonder the guy started smoking.

    Only current shonen writer that comes close is Arakawa and FMA is one chapter away from completion.

    @Onion: I meant more the “final concert”

  9. God, I wish they’d keep making those omnibus editions, but I guess I’m going to slow the fuck down on my consumption of this since I have other things I need to pay for. $10 for something I blow through in 20min is a bitter pill to swallow compared to $15 for a few days of train rides.

  10. @Nathan

    Did you watch it or read it? Because watching it was. . . *sniffles*

  11. @Syrg

    You could always do what I did; train yourself to read comics slower. Try finding Panda Man or the like.

  12. @Onion: Read it. The anime has a tendency of stretching 10 minutes of plot into a full episode. Do check it out from time to time to see certain fights animated (Luffy vs. Lucci was cool in the manga but BAD ASS animated)

    In any case Brook’s flashback was plain depressing

  13. @Nathan

    Dude, you gotta watch (and hear) that scene. I mean, seriously, youtube it (crunchyroll it? funimation it?).

  14. @Onion: I have too much shit to read in my backlog, books and trades alike. Trying to go SLOWER would basically result in me dying under a toppled-over stack of the things I had been putting off.

    Shit, there is a pile coming up to my waist beside me as I type this. I should just grab something out of this and read it tomorrow, just finished the last novel.

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