I recently read Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece 62, which means that I’ve read over 12400 pages of this series, far more than anything but maybe Amazing Spider-Man, which I’ve read almost front to back, barring an extended break when it went sour in 1996. But yeah: 12400 pages, minimum. It’s as good as it ever was. It’s not at the emotional heights of Water 7 (I called it “a complete and utter emotional apocalypse” a while back, and I stand by that), but it’s still plenty enjoyable and better than most books.
Here’s a couple pages from it that I like a lot:
Oda does that thing at the top of page two a few times throughout the series, and it never fails to slay me. Someone starts to explain something related to the plot or science and Luffy listens, nods, and goes “Ah hah! So it’s a mysterious _______!” It emphasizes how dumb he is, but it’s also a good joke. He doesn’t have to know how things work, because he’s just going to barrel his way through anyway.
I dunno a lot about Japanese pop culture. Actual pop culture, I mean, not just manga or anime or movies. Maybe this “Ah, a mysterious _____” is a reference to a Japanese comedy show, or the “That’s what she said!” of Japan. But this gag works for me in a way a lot of equally dumb jokes normally wouldn’t.
Part of it is Oda’s cartooning. The contented smile, lazily closed eyes, mugs of tea, and body language elevate the dumb joke. I don’t even know that I can really articulate why I find this so funny. It’s like–you get it or you don’t. The earnestness, which is mirrored on the preceding page by Luffy aggressively wondering about the conditions required to sail underwater and then immediately pretending like he knows what “salinity” means, is crucial. (One day I’ll write a really salinity post.) Nami’s the eternal straight man for the antics of the rest of the crew, even Nico Robin, and is alternately horrified and exasperated with the rest of the crew.
I never get tired of watching her bounce off the rest of the crew, in part because Oda has created clearly-defined characters with their own comedic hooks. Luffy is endearingly stupid, Chopper is unbelievably naive, Sanji is Pepe LePew, Zolo gets lost, Nico Robin is morbid, Franky is strange and really into building fancy things, Usopp is a coward, and Brook is a pervert. Once you start combining the cast and creating combinations, you’re looking at differing types of humor. Zolo and Sanji are aggressively and absurdly competitive. Robin has no time for Franky’s strange antics. There’s a great bit in the “Thriller Bark” arc where Franky comes up with a combining robot (think Voltron with humans) for the crew to pilot. Robin refuses because it would be undignified, which pisses off the giant they were fighting, who thought the finished product would look really cool.
There isn’t endless potential here, but there are so many different hooks and combinations that no type of joke overstays its welcome, so each joke comes off fresh and funny.