One Piece: Doing the Math Before Setting Sail

December 2nd, 2010 by | Tags: , ,

David Welsh is running the One Piece Manga Movable Feast this month, and he asked me to take a look at “Baroque Works,” an arc in One Piece. I gave it some thought during some downtime and came up with a few ideas. This is post is something I came up with that doesn’t really fit into an exploration of the content of the series, but it’s definitely something interesting about “Baroque Works.”

The “Baroque Works” arc comes at an interesting point in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. It spans roughly from the end of volume 12 to most of the way through volume 24, which puts it somewhere in the neighborhood of 2400 pages. Volumes 1-12 are collectively known as “East Blue,” but are instead more properly considered a collection of short stories and arcs rather than a long-term story arc. “Baroque Works,” though, is a monster, longer than Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (give or take a couple hundred pages). While it is composed of smaller stories–“Whiskey Peak,” “Drum Island,” that island with the giants whose name I forgot–those stories all work toward getting the crew to Alabasta. The first twelve volumes don’t have that unifying theme, beyond the goal of getting to the Grand Line. There’s no major villain lurking in the shadows so much as a series of midbosses that Luffy and crew need to get past to make it to the Grand Line. Kuro, Axe Hand Morgan, and Arlong don’t quite have the same pop as Crocodile, and Buggy and Alvida are so funny as to be more comedic relief than true blue threats.

Thinking through the length: Conventional wisdom says that if you have a super long epic in mind, and 2400 pages is several pages past “super long,” you need to hook your readers in first. You need them to believe in your story before you throw them into the deep end. You don’t lead with the uppercut. You start with a jab to test the waters. It worked for Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso with 100 Bullets, which was sold as a morality tale and ended up being something almost entirely different. Azz and Risso hooked them and then got down to business. Oda did the same thing.

Follow along: The main cast of One Piece is made up of Luffy, Nami, Sanji, Zolo, and Usopp. Chopper joins partway through “Baroque Works,” and Nico Robin joins at the end of the tale in volume 24. The next member joins around 21 volumes (another 4200 pages) later, and the final member comes a handful of volumes later. For much of the series, the cast that is established going into “Baroque Works” is the cast of the series. They’re the core, the primary cast.

Okay, so what, he has a cast, even Queen’s Blade has those, big deal, who cares? Well, by the beginning of “Baroque Works”, after having already made it through around 2400 pages of getting to know the primary cast, we’ve built up a connection between us and them. We made it through the emotional minefield that is Nami’s origin, seen Zolo’s slightly less sad in comparison origin, gotten used to Luffy’s (let’s be fair here) complete idiocy, and realized that Sanji isn’t just another pretty face. If you’ve made it twelve volumes in, you’re a fan, is what I’m saying, and you get how the characters react and feel.

That provides a necessary foundation for “Baroque Works.” Without that foundation, like if Oda had started the series with volume 13, we’d be dealing with getting used to the primary cast, meeting Chopper, meeting Vivi and Carue, and then the conflict of the arc. That’s a lot to take in all at once, but since we know all of the principal characters, “Baroque Works” is allowed to move at its own pace.

Long story short, “Baroque Works” is interesting because of its length and focus. It seems like after completing “East Blue,” Oda felt comfortable enough in his craft and in his fanbase to do something with a bit more meat on its bones. After “Baroque Works” comes “Skypiea,” which is around ten volumes. “Water Seven” is fourteen volumes, “Thriller Bark” is five, and “Sabaody” ended up being just a couple volumes, though “Sabaody” leads directly to “Impel Down.” He got away with a long arc on “Baroque Works” and then knew he could get away with it again.

That’s all I got as far as meta reasons to pay attention to “Baroque Works.” I’ve got a list of things to cover in the big grabbag in the next post (tomorrow, maybe) that’ll cover “Baroque Works” and more, but really, the best reason to pay attention to this arc is that it includes Mr. 2, Bon Clay. Bon Clay stands alongside Don Quixote Doflamingo, Hawkeye Mihawk, Rob Lucci, Trafalgar Law, Carue, Chopper, Kiwi, and Mozu as some of the best characters in the series.

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20 comments to “One Piece: Doing the Math Before Setting Sail”

  1. […] David (4thletter!) Brothers launches a look at the sprawling Baroque Works saga. […]

  2. […] Anna looks at some other stretchy comics characters at Manga Report. David Brothers takes a look at the Baroque Works arc at 4thletter, and David rounds up the latest posts at The Manga […]

  3. David,

    While Buggy and Alvida aren’t ‘true blue’ threats, they are ‘East Blue’ threats. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun.

  4. Nice bit a set up, definitely looking forward to what you have to say about the “Okama Way”.

    Though I am genuinely curious about Law’s addition to your list. We haven’t seen him do much, so I’m wondering what about him made you put him on your list. The fact that he’s a doctor, his laid back “fuck off” attitude, or his DF power.

    On that note I hope Beppo finds himself a female bear one of these days :frown:

  5. @Nathan: Tafalgar Law just has a dope name and design, is all.

    And forget Beppo, I need some closure with Laboon STAT.

  6. @david brothers: Well he DOES have a cool hat.

    and I definitely agree on Laboon

    But as with Nami’s World Map, and All-Blue and One Piece, I don’t think we’ll see it until the last act. :negativeman:

  7. Rob Lucchi, though? Eh…he’s always seemed pretty dull compared to most of the major villains.

  8. I always saw Lucchi as simply a road block from keeping Luffy the hell away from Spandam (IMHO the true villain of the arc). Otherwise Luffy would have kicked his teeth in before he could activate the buster call.

  9. @PGWAP: He did have a pretty interesting “back”story (:smugbert:), and his utterly unshaking devotion to the status quo is something few villains we’ve have.

    Also the man had a rocking beard/hat combo the likes of which few have seen :c00l:

  10. I know this has nothing to do with One Piece, but it is another shonen manga, so… how do you feel about Dragon Ball? I’ve been watching Kai a bit and it’s much more palatable with all that yelling filler taken out.

  11. I still do not understand why I should read One Piece after reading Baroque Works is lengthy and focused. I’m reading through BW now and I get that it’s long, but it doesn’t grab me as much as the future Skypeia, Water 7, and Thriller Bark arcs would (I’ve heard about them, they sound more exciting than desert battles).

  12. Bon Clay is love!

  13. @Lugh: Personally, I’ll always recommend Dragonball the manga over Dragonball Z. I don’t have much experience with Kai, but the fact remains that Akira Toriyama was far more consistent with his writing and wasted much less time than an anime that had to embellish things in order to not out-pace him could possibly be. Kai is just a condensed version of the same twenty year old show, so I have to wonder how much they can do by just cutting it down and re-dubbing it. Anyhow, I’m not David, but I have to say that DB is nothing if not hugely influential and is worth a look for that alone. Whether you enjoy the writing will obviously be a matter of taste, but I think most people will agree that Toriyama set a standard for fast, readable action scenes.

    @Oliver: Not everyone likes Baroque Works (I’ve heard it referred to as the weakest part of One Piece), but it does contain a lot of world building, and a surprising amount of it becomes relevant later. It’s where you start to realize that Eichiro Oda puts a lot more effort into the story of One Piece than is immediately obvious. Honestly, the deliberate pace with which the complexities of the story and the interconnectedness of its characters are revealed is one of the things that I think makes it great.

  14. Gaijin D said it better than I could. I love Dragon Ball and just like DBZ (I just recently started buying the Vizbigs, as I haven’t read it since the Shonen Jump days).

  15. @Gaijin D: If you want an example, a lot of fights have been pretty much cut in half with a lot of the exposition gone (a lot of it is still there but most of it was plot stuff from the manga), I mean the Ginyu Force went by in a blink of an eye, and they got to namek like 2 episodes after Vegeta left.

    Also all the stuff like “Piccolo and Goku Get Their Driver’s License” are gone.

    It’s definitely not going to top Toriyama’s original but it’s easier on new people (even though all my nephew cares about if the explosions and punching :raise: )

    Also on your other response, what always got to me in Baroque Works was how well the threat of Crocodile was set up, how he came off as invincible and if he got his ways thousands would likely die. So having Luffy take him on in the collapsing temple by bleeding all over his hands was a huge “FUCK YEAH” moment for me

    @david brothers: How are those put together anyway?

  16. @Nathan: Three volumes at a shot in a larger size, with a fistful of color pages at the start of each volume. It’s pretty much my favorite way to read manga. I’m up to volume 9 for Vagabond, which runs through chapter 27, and I may pick up v2 and 3 of DBZ once I shave this to read stack down some.

  17. I agree, VIZBIGs are pretty awesome. It’s great to finally get the color pages from these series original magazine run; even Viz’s version of Shonen Jump doesn’t always reprint pages in color, and before VIZBIGs collected volumes just about never did. My only complaint is that online retailers, including Viz themselves, never seem to mention what volumes are included in their product descriptions. Hell, Amazon seems to think VIZBIGs are just newer editions of older single volumes. Makes them hard to shop, at least compared to a brick and mortar store.

  18. @Onion: No, Meng is love. Bon Clay is just… disturbing. :raise:

  19. Zoro. Zorrrrrrrro. ZoRo. Zoro Zoro Zoro.
    It’s the way the author spells it on his wanted poster, even. “Zoro” is the name of an awesome swordsman using the three-swords style.
    “Zolo” is the name of a clown with big floppy shoes and a dumb smile.

  20. @JK: And yet, the official manga, created with Oda’s permission and run by his people for accuracy, calls him Zolo. Perhaps one is correct for the anime, and the other is correct for the manga? Is that possible?!

    Basically, what I’m saying is this: get over it.