ah, so it’s a mysterious joke

January 10th, 2012 by | Tags: ,

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.

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7 comments to “ah, so it’s a mysterious joke”

  1. I catch myself thinking “It’s a mystery ____!” sometimes.

    And that first page has my favorite thing about the banter in OP: Luffy’s talking to Nami, Zoro jumps in, Luffy and Zoro chat in the background while Usopp and Chopper pick up with Nami. Nami’s yelling at the four is the punchline, but then there’s Brook poking in to see if anyone (re: Nami) wants to jam a bit (re: watch Brook play Dave Matthews or something).

    When you get, say, 8-10 friends in a space like that, where folks can wander to another area but still be in earshot, that’s exactly what hanging out is like. It’s not a party situtaion, it’s just people hanging out. I honestly can’t think of another comic that does that, and gives it that realistic flow.

  2. I get it. Good stuff. We need more people writing about One Piece!

  3. Don’t forget that Nami is money-hungry and can still be a thief at times. I also figured Robin’s the “straight man,” since she seldom changes expression.

    Also, for those who are wondering why Sanji (dude in lowest right-hand panel who isn’t a reindeer or Franky) is hooked up to an IV . . . dude had not seen a woman in two years. See, in his last arc, he got teleported to a beautiful island . . . of crossdressing men. And he had to go native at times. And the head guy (whose appearance makes for one helluva “WTF?!?” first impression) threatened to take his manhood through his Devil Fruit power. So now, when Sanji sees a woman, including lust-targets Nami or Robin, the Japanese-style nosebleeds can propel him high into the air.

    PS: Apologies to David if I got any of Sanji’s story wrong. Also, I’ve been collecting sketches of the show’s characters off and on. Here they are.

  4. @Jason: Nah, Robin seems like a straight man, but she is so excessively morbid (“Boy, I hope he didn’t get eaten by sharks. I guess he hasn’t, the water would be really red if he had been”) that she’s a yukster. She’s just more dry than everyone else. She’s rarely the one who reacts to the antics of the others beyond a wry smile.

    Chris G’s Luffy rules. Thanks for the link.

  5. They have actually used the Pirates Docking 6 Big Emperor move a couple times in video games based on the series and it always is hilarious.

    Sanji wasn’t affected by Emporio Ivankov’s Hormone Devil Fruit, he just had been away from ladies for so long that seeing Nami and Robin’s more developed and exposed bodies, and meeting the mermaids he spent his entire life dreaming about was just too much for him.

    Seeing Robin display any kind of emotion is one of my favorite parts of the series is one of my favorite parts, like her small smile when she received news of Luffy infiltrating Marineford.

  6. The thing that keeps me amazed about this series is how many times it has felt like Oda has gone too far and it will become dull / rote / lose the magic only to be completely blown away when he continues on so effortlessly. I can’t think of another fictional property that has had this many chapters and kept being this fun and great. Even the backstories haven’t hit that point past the Ohara one.

    One Piece forever.

  7. […] Brothers spends a bit of time exploring a gag he really enjoys from One Piece at […]