Reading Comics: Fart Jokes Are Funny

May 7th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

If I had to rank the human body in terms of comedic potential, butts would come in first place, followed by penises, and then noses would be back in third. I dunno why it is, but dirty, coarse humor sometimes hits the spot about as hard as the spot can be hit. Even the word poop, when it comes out of the mouth of an adult, is inherently funny, save for certain specific contexts. Movies like Bridesmaids and TV shows like Veep have had some pretty amazing poop jokes, but the danger with dirty humor on film is that it’s way too easy to go too far. The goal is to, at most, walk right up to the edge of making your audience retch, and movies often fly past that mark and right into disgusting territory. Death at a Funeral, for example, went way too far.

Something about comics, though, makes it a great delivery system for coarse humor. It’s probably the basest form of comedy, really, but whenever it pops up in a comic, I tend to get a childish chuckle out of it. I think the childishness is what makes it work, honestly. I love smart people jokes or whatever, Louis CK and Chris Rock and them. Sarcasm, droll humor, whatever whatever. I laugh at that. But there’s something to be said for dick jokes and fart jokes.

Anyway, here’s some butt-related jokes from the past three or four months of comics that I have been looking for an excuse to post (gotcha), and then a classic one about dirty butts from Dragon Ball that I tripped over recently.

Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko 4 (volume one is three bucks until midnight tonight, give it a spin):

Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece chapter 663:

James Stokoe’s Orc Stain 7:

Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko 178:

Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball 1:

(i think the Orc Stain one might even be a reference to a similar, but fart-less, scene from Moebius & Jodorowsky’s The Incal, which would be amazing)

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


ah, so it’s a mysterious joke

January 10th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

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.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


a quick look at comedic comics

December 8th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I was listening to The Roots’s undun on the way home. On the song “One Time,” Dice Raw ends his verse with “to make it to the bottom, such a high climb.” It’s one of those lines that kicks your feet out from under you. It’s not just something intensely sad. It’s something where the implications are horrible. It’s despair that sticks to your ribs. It got me thinking about other things in media that are sad like that, and I think there’s a post in it. I have to work through it a bit more before it’s go-time, though.

It’s a huge downer of a subject. (“Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?”) That got me thinking about the funny parts of comics, the gags that are the polar opposite of the things that kick your guts out. They make you pause in place to collect yourself, you show them to your friends, and you do a really poor job of retelling the joke at your earliest convenience. The good jokes are ones that break the flow of the comic, but not necessarily in a bad way. I mean, on a certain level, anything that takes you out of the book is bad, but I don’t think that enjoying something so much that you get pulled out of the work is bad by any reasonable standard. I bought a couple books this week with good ones.

I started writing this and realized I was just explaining jokes. That’s dumb. Here’s a list of stuff I thought was pretty funny, and hopefully I’m not ruining the jokes with my words.

Zeb Wells, Joe Madureira, Ferran Daniel, and Joe Caramagna create Avenging Spider-Man, and it’s definitely a worthy book. Wells writes the best Spider-Man in the business right now, and the series plays to Joe Mad’s strengths. He actually draws a pretty great Spidey, but it’s J Jonah Jameson that he really goes to town on. Wells, too. The second issue dropped this week (four dollars, ugh), and I really liked this exchange:

Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece is still basically the best comic. I read volume 60 and it was pretty great. One thing Oda excels at is smart dumb humor. Monkey D Luffy is an idiot, at best, and a lot of the jokes come from that. The best jokes come when Oda plays up the Looney Tunes absurdity that’s lurking beneath his art. He does a great job with people pulling faces, but his comic timing is pretty great, too. He likes to throw in a beat before the joke starts. You aren’t quite sure what’s gonna happen, maybe he’ll play it straight, and then bam, there’s that punchline. First bit, read it right to left:

It reminds me of another, similar joke earlier in the series. In volume 53, Boa Hancock, the most beautiful woman in the world is taking a bath. Luffy drops in out of the sky, sees her nude, and she attacks him with her attack that uses the dirty thoughts in men’s minds to turn them to stone. Luffy mistakes it for something else, another attack that slows you down. He gets caught in the blast, slows down, and then pauses. Nothing happened. Hancock looks at him in shock, does it again, and Luffy stands there awkwardly before trying to get away. He’s too stupid for dirty thoughts. (Later, Hancock falls in love with him. He remains oblivious.)

One more:

That three panel sequence of the monkey trying to use spit to fix his wound kills me. It’s so dumb.

One more one more, because I like this, too:

The puns on Luffy’s shirts are great. It’s not fall out of your chair funny, but I appreciate the fact that Oda puts that much effort into things that are really hard to see.

Next week: sad songs.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


Buckshot Blogging: On Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece

December 4th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

One Piece! Manga Movable Feast! I could do an essay, but I think this will let me hit more of what I enjoy about the series so much. In short, though, it’s the best adventure comic, consistently good, and even when it’s less good, it’s still better than a whole lot of comics. That’s not a manga thing, either–it’s good comics, full stop. Here’s a series of observations why it’s so good, running from early in the series to late:

-Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece feels like the child of Dragon Ball and classic Looney Tunes/Tom & Jerry shorts. It being a post-Dragon Ball work is kind of obvious like Veronica Mars being post-Buffy is obvious–Luffy is definitely in the Goku mold, though exponentially dumber, and the escalating stakes over the course of the series should be familiar to anyone who’s even accidentally seen an episode of Dragon Ball Z–but the humor isn’t as much of a direct descendent. It’s a little more sophisticated. Not by much, Sanji’s whole gimmick is proof positive of that, but maybe like two notches on the “dumb joke” dial.

-The Looney Tunes/Tom & Jerry stuff is harder to pin down. I hesitate to call it an influence the way I can with DB, but there’s definitely a connection to be made. One Piece has the usual manga physical humor, like Nami handing out dummy smacks to every guy in the cast despite being the second weakest member of the crew, but it’s delivered alongside gags based around subverted expectations and hardcore slapstick. That’s stuff that I definitely associate with Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry. Luffy’s pliable body lends itself very well to that kind of stuff, which is probably why I made that connection in the first place. Maybe I’m off-base, but I haven’t been able to get the comparison out of my head.

-This clip is pretty much exactly what I mean. The humor isn’t quite the same as what you’d see in DB, but it wouldn’t be out of place in something like Duck Amuck.

[clip lost to the whims of hulu]

-The fights are deeper than “Who’s stronger, him or me?” Luffy is strong, but he isn’t the strongest pirate in the series. He’s got determination, and that tends to make the difference, but he gets stomped out fairly regularly. What makes the difference in the fights, other than surprise new special techniques, are teh gimmicks. Luffy’s made of rubber, and that means he has certain advantages and disadvantages to play with. You can see this in an early episode where, rather than letting him drown, Luffy’s friends pull his head above the water, stretching his neck. Later, when fighting Eneru, a guy who has steamrolled everyone ever with his electrical powers, Luffy shows up. Eneru blasts him and whoops, look at that, electricity doesn’t work on Luffy because he’s made of rubber. That sort of thinking works for me, and it was so blindingly obvious that you don’t even see it coming.

-Nami has an interesting position in the cast. Up until Robin joins, Nami is the only person with even an ounce of common sense in her head. This means she spends a lot of time pissed off and trying to keep the boys in line. It’d be easy for her to come off as a killjoy, but instead, she’s absurdly sympathetic. The crew of the Going Merry are, in a word, insane, and she is the lone spot of sanity in the group. I’ve seen a lot of anime with pretty unsympathetic female leads, but something about Nami is just awesome.

-Nami’s Clima Tact, a weapon that lets her control the weather, is very cool, too. It doesn’t make a lick of sense if you look at it too hard, but in terms of execution on the page and visually, it’s great. It’s not just a magic wand, it plays directly to her strengths as a normal human, and it’s effective.

-Sanji is Gambit from the X-Men crossed with Pepe LePew, from the French to the loverboy reputation. Oda’s hardline “Romance plots? Pfffffthahahahahaha yeah right buddy” keeps him from becoming completely obnoxious. His earnest dedication to Nami and Robin is funny, from creating special dishes just for them (which the crew immediately eats) to withholding the good food from the non-lady members of the crew.

-Sanji brings me to the next point–the fashion. Oda has a fantastically awful sense of design. A lot of characters look like they were designed by throwing darts at a board, but then, inexplicably, their designs somehow manage to hang together enough to actually be cool Don Quixote Doflamingo is a tornado of feathers, capri pants, sunglasses, and a waggling tongue, but he works. Rob Lucci is a guy in a suit with a pigeon on his shoulder that wears a fur coat.

-Rob Lucci is the greatest.

-Oda’s sense of design manifests itself in various ways. Other than stupidly awesome looking characters, he switches up the clothing of the main cast regularly. Nami, in addition to being greedy, loves shopping. Sometimes that just means shopping and sometimes it means actually buying new clothes. Nami, Sanji, and Robin changes clothes the most, I’d say, with Zolo and Luffy a few steps behind. It makes each arc feel fresh, and also gives us a better glimpse into the lives of the characters. Some outfits are less successful than others, but hey, everyone has bad clothes days.

-The animals in the series are just as weird as everything else. The South Bird is a giant parrot-thing that can only face south. Laboon is a huge whale with a guy who sometimes hangs out in its belly. There are giant, bear-sized rabbits who live in a winter wonderland. There are both merfolk and fish people. The monsters that litter the ocean are basically just regular animals adjusted for deep sea life, like a cow with fins, and scaled up 1000%. There are alligators crossed with bananas. There’s a sword named Funkfreed that ate the Elephant-Elephant Fruit. Chopper is a reindeer who ate the Human-Human Fruit and is now a… what, a were-reindeer? He squeaks when he walks. Get it?

-I like Bon Clay because of this:

[this one’s gone too]

-I also like Bon Clay because his design is so off the wall. The onion-waist, thick eye shadow, crown, ballet slippers, and everything else are the sartorial equivalent of a word jumble that accidentally spells out “awesome.”

-Bon Clay is actually emblematic of the main theme of One Piece, which is that friendship conquers all. He begins as a friend. He accidentally ends up on the Strawhat’s ship, they hang out, have some fun, and then he leaves. Later, it’s revealed that he works for Baroque Works and answers to Crocodile, the villain of the arc. He battles Sanji, gives him props after he loses the fight, and then, still later, helps the Strawhats escape from the Marines. When he shows up later, there’s no animosity and Luffy greets him like an old friend. Bon Clay responds in kind. Helping the Strawhats escape served as a single brief act of redemption, but really, Bon Clay didn’t really need it. He’s a good guy because he likes Luffy and his crew. Friends look out for each other, so he looks out for them.

-Friendship is one of those things that’s pounded into your head over the course of the city, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. Nico Robin’s tear-filled assertion that she wants to live during “Water 7” came about due to the fact that Luffy finally convinced her that she had friends.

-Buggy the Clown attempts to pervert the idea of friendship by using Luffy for his own gain, and it backfires wildly. The workers on Water 7 pretended to be friends with Paulie, another worker. Betrayal is treated as their true crime, even on top of brutalizing everyone they met. They broke the trust, and that simply isn’t cool. In Buggy’s case, selfishness is shown to be something to be avoided, otherwise you’re looking at a Spectre-style fate.

-Oda’s cast is huge. There are eight main characters, a sizable group for even an X-Men comic, but Oda manages to make it seem like every character gets a moment to shine. Sometimes he does this by taking Luffy entirely off the stage and letting someone else sit in the limelight. Usually, though, he uses that classic tactic of splitting the crew into smaller teams.

-The large size of the cast has the added effect of making the smaller teams interesting, too. Nami, Usopp, and Chopper make a good team because they’re all fairly easily frightened. At the same time, Nami, Sanji, and Robin make a great team because Sanji is a sucker. But then, if you put Sanji on a team with Zolo and Luffy, you’re looking at the three monsters of the crew, and they’ll bicker and fight and destroy all comers. Zolo and Chopper make an interesting duo, since Chopper is so young and earnest and Zolo is easily mislead. There’s a flexibility there that Oda is more than open to playing with, and it works to make the cast feel pretty intimate and diverse.

-Oda’s art, sense of design aside, doesn’t look like much of anything else. His characters are stretched out and warped to the point where even basic anime fanservice isn’t quite as fanservice-y as it should be. For some characters, the legs are too long, the arms too skinny, and the waists wasp thin. Other characters are built like Johnny Bravo–all upper body and stick legs. High foreheads (we used to call those fiveheads), long necks, and weird noses abound.

-It looks weird, but it works. Oda is great at cartooning, and starting off with completely unrealistic proportions actually makes the rest of the action easier to believe. Zolo’s Three Swords Style is stupid, a dumb joke for kids, but you take it seriously as you buy into the art and story. The art style certainly helped lower my suspension of disbelief, and made it much, much easier to get down with how weird the designs become later on.

-Oda’s approach to special attacks is pretty neat, too. Every character has a simple to understand starting point. One guy uses three swords, another can stretch, one kicks, another is good with the weather, yet another can grow body parts anywhere she can see. But then, the attacks they use is where things get interesting. Luffy uses his rubbery nature to increase his blood flow or to inflate his own limbs. Nico Robin can mix her limbs together, resulting in a series of hands with eyes in the center, or even wings. Sanji kicks, but when he gets mad enough, his kicks catch fire, because something something rage something love. If Chopper takes too many of his Rumble Balls, a performance enhancing drug, he flips out and loses control.

-Really, Franky is the only person the team who does normal things for his character type. He’s a cyborg that can punch hard, shoot projectiles, and so on. But then, when he has to do something simple like fashion a makeshift bridge, Franky does it between panels and does it so well that he has time to create really nice railings, and he still isn’t happy with how it turned out.

-Brook’s jokes are proof that the best jokes are bad ones.

-Usopp vs Perona is one of the best fights in the series.

-“Rob Lucci,” depending on where you from and what kind of slang you use, means “Take money.” Greatest Name Of All Time.

-Kalifa’s “That’s sexual harassment” made me laugh every time.

-Is it just me, or do Luffy and Lupin the 3rd laugh in the exact same way? That kind of wide mouth, eyes shut sort of thing? I’d be interested in seeing an exploration of how OP relates to other things from Japanese pop culture, but I don’t have the depth of knowledge necessary to do it justice.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


One Piece: Doing the Math Before Setting Sail

December 2nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

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.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


6 Writers: Eiichiro Oda

July 16th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Emotional trauma makes for good backstory, doesn’t it?

The cast of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece certainly seems to be proof positive. All nine crew members have some kind of significant traumatic moment in their life that set them on their current path. The severity of the moment varies. Sometimes it’s a friend sacrificing a limb (two crew members), sometimes it’s the death of a family member (two), sometimes it’s having your entire hometown wiped off the face of the map (one), or sometimes just the death of a good friend or six (three).

Tragic pasts quickly become old hat and boring if you read comics for any length of time. For some reason, though, it just works in One Piece. You can’t get enough. They’re spread out far enough, and executed well enough, to be interesting, instead of trite. They’re also a signifier that a character has finally become a true member of the crew, rather than just a guest star. So, how has a series with no less than eight tragic pasts (if you want to quibble over Luffy’s origin) not turned into cheap soap opera?

Rather than leading with the tragic past, like you’d see in your average superhero comic, Oda keeps it in his pocket for later. It puts me in mind of the process you go through when making new friends. The first few weeks are the probationary period, where you just kinda hang out and have fun and don’t get too deep into things. After a while, though, your guard is lowered. You’re hanging out, you’re used to each other, and you share a little more than you normally would. After that, you begin sharing embarrassing things, and eventually, things that scare or bother you. By that point, you’re on together forever status. You’re trusting someone with your innermost thoughts, the sort of thing you keep walled up deep inside your head.

In real life, you get to know someone’s laugh before you get to know their tears. One Piece follows a similar arc. Characters are introduced, we get a good grasp on their personality, and then later, when it becomes relevant, bam, we get to see that little bit of ice that sits deep in their heart. Sometimes it’s just relevant and not too tear-jerking, like Sanji’s tale of the time a dude nearly starved to death to save his life. Sometimes it’s really, really sad, the sort of thing you avoid reading on a bus because then you look like a crazy person. Sometimes, it’s a complete and utter emotional apocalypse.

The flashbacks to the past are always relevant, too. They aren’t just thrown into the mix just for cheap heat. When we find out exactly why Nico Robin has been on the run, it’s because her past has finally caught up to her. When we find out why Nami has been a thief for the past few years, it’s because she can’t bear that burden alone any longer. It’s always something that either sheds greater light on the story at hand or something that moves the plot itself along.

This technique has worked out wonderfully for Oda and One Piece. Characters are defined by their dreams first, whether that’s becoming king of the pirates or finding the sea where all the fish in the world congregate. When the tragic history comes in, it adds further depth, rather than creating their entire reason for going on adventures. It’s extra context for a character you already enjoy, helping that character to be just that much more well-rounded.

It’s fair to say that One Piece is a happy manga. It’s about friendship and adventure and beating up bad guys. This doesn’t stop it from having a certain amount of depth of character, though. None of the characters, barring idiot Luffy, are just happy. Several of them needed a breakthrough before they became happy or learned to trust people. While you’ll come across emotional landmines every once and a while, the overall mood of One Piece is a very well rounded one. Oda can flip from happy to sad and back again without breaking the book.

Oda is over 50 volumes deep and creeping up on 600 chapters in a series that is extraordinarily character-driven for a manga of its genre. The action is good, and the jokes are pretty funny, but the real meat and potatoes of the book is the way the characters act and interact. Oda keeps ringing the Sad Backstory Bell, but for some reason, it gets better and better every time. It never becomes trite or boring or pat. By delaying the big emotional breakdown, by pushing the tragic past off until he absolutely has to bring it up, he manages to make the impact that much more powerful. This is killer writing, and I hadn’t expected to see something so grown-up, albeit wildly exaggerated on occasion, in a kids’ manga.

At its worst, One Piece is just pretty good. At its best, it’ll leave you a stupid blubbery mess in public.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


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

May 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

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.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


One Piece: “Luffy… help.”

April 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I talked about the shared storytelling techniques in Unforgiven and Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece last month. I was kinda bummed out, because the animated version of that chapter wasn’t online at the time, but Hulu recently put a whole bunch of episodes online, dubbed and subbed. So, re-read that essay and then come back here and watch this fantastic episode of One Piece.

I’d say that this is the main turning point in One Piece, the moment when you know whether or not you’ll like the series. I was interested way before, probably during the brief arc that introduced Zolo, but this here is where Oda’s style and planning start to pay off. Like every shonen manga ever, OP is about friendship and trying your hardest and being the best, but Oda’s use of screwball humor, clever pacing, and willingness to just let loose with the wackiest concepts and characters he can think of puts it a step above Dragon Ball Z or Naruto.

I do think that OP owes a lot to Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, at least in terms of humor. Dragon Ball Z wasn’t a super serious affair, but it was several orders of magnitude more serious than its frankly ridiculous predecessor. Oda took the nigh-constant humor of Dragon Ball and spruced it up a little, resulting in a series that is a mix of genuinely funny jokes (Luffy’s “Oh, a mystery _____” when confronted with fairly simple ideas never fails to slay me, as does Chopper’s child-like terror on Skypiea), emotional confrontations that aren’t overbearingly emotionally manipulative, and seriously rocking fights.

One Piece is hands-down the best adventure comic.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


Unforgiven, One Piece, and Suspended Expectations

March 16th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

William Munny, as played by Clint Eastwood, spends most of Unforgiven stumbling around, missing shots, and falling off horses. Eastwood, the prototypical Western hero and a guy who has starred in a majority of the good ones, is used to disassemble the myth of the gunfighter. He’s old, he’s slow, he’s tired, and he makes you wonder if he was ever really all that. He’s washed up and broken, shaken in body and in spirit.

The rest of the movie works similarly. The violence is ugly and awkward, with none of the style and swagger of Fistful of Dollars. There’s no “My mistake: four coffins,” to be found here, just a man bleeding out on the sand and desperate for a drink of water to quench his thirst. There is only an old man who has outreached his grasp and outlived his own usefulness.

And then Morgan Freeman, his friend, dies because of what Munny did and is trussed up in the town square as a warning. After that, Munny takes his first drink of liquor in years, and then he goes and proves that gunfighters do exist, but they are cruel, evil men, and God help you if you get in their way.

“Well he should have armed himself if he’s gonna decorate his saloon with my friend.”

Another good example is in The Bourne Ultimatum, or possibly The Bourne Supremacy. At one point, Jason Bourne is arrested and taken to an embassy. He’s meek and silent throughout the scene, despite having displayed the ability to mow through trained soldiers with ease. However, he waits, and when an agent gets too close, he explodes into the action we expected to see.

I don’t know the term for this sequence of events. It’s different from the normal action movie move, where the hero is beaten down before getting a second win or new motivation. The best way to describe it is to describe a boiling pot. It is the conscious avoidance of explosive action on the part of a character who, by all rights, should be knee deep in it until the anticipation reaches a certain level, critical or not, and then the pot boils over and we’re in the thick of it. It’s always done for a specific storytelling reason.

Call it “suspended expectations,” maybe?

(An aside: Mark Millar and Steve McNiven bit the plot for their Old Man Logan, but never even came close to stepping out of Unforgiven‘s shadow, nor approaching the subtlety to be found in the film. When Eastwood starts gulping whiskey, there’s no clever callback to when his wife made him stop. It just happens and it is up to you to connect the dots. In Old Man Logan, Millar and McNiven pull the trigger on the violence too soon, save the turning point until after the violence, and then spend an entire issue bathing in blood. It doesn’t work because it has none of the pointed menace of Munny shooting an unarmed man and listing his sins, and hinges on excess, rather than precision and context. Millar, as ever, is derivative to the point that he cannot escape his influences.)

One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon is in Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece. OP is dumb boy’s comics, like Naruto or Bleach, but consistently maintains a higher level of quality over its several hundred issue run. This is due in large part to the fact that Oda often focuses on characterization over action, building a fairly tight cast who are funny, engaging, and most of all, fun to read about. We want to know about their quirks and their tragedies.
Read the rest of this entry �

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon


One Piece: I’d Be (East) Blue Without You

December 8th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A few days before I received my copy of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece: East Blue 1-2-3, Shueisha announced that One Piece volume 56 had a print run of 2.85 million copies, the largest first edition print run in manga history. A couple days after I finished reading its 600 pages, a chart detailing the best-selling manga in Japan by series for 2009 dropped, revealing that One Piece sold 14,721,241 copies over the course of the year. To put this in perspective, according to Brian Hibbs’s Bookscan analysis for 2008, the total units for comics sold in America last year was 15,541,769. The top 750 sold 8,334,276 total copies.

What I’m trying to say is, even before you factor in toys, movies, other media tie-ins, and video games (though if you don’t own a Wii, it’s been a while since one of those), One Piece is an industry of its own. It’s kinda like a big deal.

It’s not hard to see why. One Piece is the story of Monkey D. Luffy, a teenager who wants to be the King of the Pirates by finding Gold Roger’s lost treasure “One Piece.” Along the way, he collects a crew of interesting weird crewmates, battles incredible enemies, leaves a trail of broken bodies and new friends in his wake, and punches so far above his weight class it’s a wonder that he doesn’t simply get squashed by his betters.

Except this is shonen manga, and like every other shonen hero, Luffy has heart, magic powers, the power of true friendship, and about thirty gallons of blood in his body. His heart comes from his drive to become King of the Pirates and live up to the expectations of his mentor, Red-haired Shanks. His friendship comes from the mutual respect between all members of the crew, even when they quarrel. The blood is a genre trope, and the magic powers come from the time he eat the Gum Gum Fruit, which turned him into a rubber man.

Luffy is kind of like Reed Richards, if Reed was good at fighting, really really dumb, but focused enough to achieve anything he put his mind to. His rubber skills range from purely offensive (Gum Gum Gatling) to protective (Gum Gum Balloon) to ridiculous (Second Gear), but they are all visually entertaining.

Oda’s style is somewhere between Dragon Ball and Looney Tunes. The proportions vary from character to character (Nami’s impossibly long stick legs [she’s like 2/3 legs, seriously], Usopp’s nose having actual bones in it, Luffy’s rubber body, Buggy’s weird face), but they all manage to look good. It looks weird, but endearingly so. Several traits that I usually associate with American animation or cartooning mix with traditionally Japanese effects, resulting in situations where characters simultaneously bug their eyes out like Ren & Stimpy while sweat drops or anger clouds (for lack of a better phrase, the swirly anger stuff usually seen around yakuza/hooligans) flood the panel.

One Piece has some great fight scenes, in part due to the weirdness of the design and art. Characters have powers that are more than just “shoots lasers” or “ninjutsu.” One guy splits apart into floating pieces, another’s made out of sand, another uses three swords at a time (Santoryu: Three Sword Style means two in the hand, one in the mouth), and still another just has an ill iron jaw and an axe for a hand.

East Blue: 1-2-3 collects the first three volumes of the series for fifteen bucks or so and establishes everything that you need to know. The piracy tends toward the fun and melodramatic, but there’s a clear delineation between fun and “We will straight up kill you.” Luffy and friends stay on the fun side, of course, but some of their villains are genuinely villainous.

Over the course of the volume, we meet the first three members of Luffy’s crew, though the third doesn’t join just yet, get all of the introductory business out of the way, and meet a gang of villains, only a couple of which are recurring characters. You get to know the weird nature of the series through the lion tamer who has hair just like his pet Richie (it’s not a mask) and Luffy’s Amelia Bedelia-esque nature.

He’s very… credulous, if I can use that word like that. He’s not too far off from Yotsuba in that sense. When an enemy, when referring to one of Luffy’s friends, says, “Maybe I know… then again, maybe I don’t,” Luffy simply responds, “What are you talking about? Are you an idiot?”

Oda created a manga that’s both funny looking and funny. It switches from hardcore action to comedy to tear-filled drama at a moment’s notice, and it never feels like a jerk from one kind of writing to another. It’s always very smooth and well-earned.

One Piece is one of my favorite manga, and it’s definitely the one I’ve stuck with the longest and read the most of. I discovered it back when Shonen Jump first started, and though I’ve taken breaks off and on, it’s one I’ve kept up with over the years.

Oda’s painted a world that’s a great storytelling engine, with enough freedom to tell almost any kind of story. Just when you think you’re going to get yet another story about pirates vs pirates, you end up with a civil war or a trip to heaven or something equally ridiculous. (Both of those happened.) Or hey, you can get a madcap escape from an underwater jail with several floors of gimmicks. It’s fresh and interesting and it’s easy to see why it’s such a huge hit in Japan. It’s childlike in a way that adults and kids can both appreciate, not very deep, but immensely entertaining.

I’ve got to praise this new 3in1 format, too. It’s a masterstroke, making it easy for new readers to get into the series or long-time readers to have handsome new volumes on their shelves. If you get impatient, you can just pick up the series where the omnibus leaves off. East Blue covers the first twelve trades, so there are three more of these due over the next few months. I’m hoping that these sell well enough to justify the next arc, and the arc after that, catching 3in1 releases. I love these. I went ahead and preordered the next three (4-5-6, 7-8-9, and 10-11-12), because, at Amazon prices, these are basically three for the price of one at full retail.

That’s a steal.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon