Tailing out the end of the gloriously gothic arc that was Thriller Bark, just before this collection hauls anchor for new territory, Zoro is given an unexpected platform to prove his dedication: to his dream of being a master swordsman, as part of the Straw Hat crew, and to Luffy. Higher forces in the World Government are getting desperate to eliminate these pirates’ names by any means necessary, and so the Tyrant Bartholomew Kuma is set on their trail with total annihilation in his orders. As Luffy lies unconscious after his final battle with Moriah, Kuma promises to spare his life if Zoro will make a willing sacrifice. We knew all along he was a hero, but this is something else. He’s accepted, and choosing to be the standing proof, that strength and skill are nothing without someone to devote it to.
The only problem with this moment is its placement in collection 16. Held separate from the crew’s reunion to face Luffy’s bad zombie double Oars at the end of the previous collection, the emotional impact of Zoro’s choice is sliced into considerably. Instead, the bulk of the tear-jerking revelations characteristic to One Piece are passed over to Brook and his newly fleshed out backstory. We see him ravaged by his drastic fall from buccaneer of fortune to the lone soul on a ghost ship. His promise to return to his one remaining comrade, the whale Laboon, seems all that kept him alive. This bond, even for being a new addition to the OP family tree, is as pure and beautiful as any other in the show, and all the more remarkable for being between man and beast; even man and the spirit of the sea itself. On his way to being initiated as the Thousand Sunny’s official bard, Brook’s little arc becomes testament to the power of music, bringing hope and carrying messages between friends, comrades and loved ones, however far apart.
Pointers of political relevance and the wonders of the real world come in unexpected places, perhaps more so here than anywhere else in the anime so far. The Red Line, which marks the halfway point along the Grand Line, is a sunset in craggy rock like Uluru, the ‘red heart’ of Australia. Aboriginal legends of wars between serpent beings that gave the rock its scars, and Sleepy Lizard Women distracting doomed souls like sirens, leave little wonder why Eiichiro Oda wanted to have Ayers Rock appear in his story. And along the way, punchlines to gags lined up whole islands ago pop up too. A joke on Sanji involving a man in an iron mask is made up for by the discovery that his dream mermaids do exist. As they arrive at the Red Line they rescue Camie, an adorable soul who could have been Nami’s sea-sister, from the stomach of a Sea Rabbit. But even as mermaids are dreamed of by some, they’re loathed and objectified by others, and their new friend soon finds herself in danger from poaching, and worse.
In the Sabaody Archipelago, the only viable detour for our crew to make it past the Red Line, its slave trade offset by a fae forest of floating trees sees Camie thrown to the whims of the highest bidder. Meanwhile, the 11 Supernovas, piratical superpowers with Luffy-level bounties, linger in the shadows and size up their new competition. They know better than to burst in on a high-profile auction, after all. These are sure to be thrilling foes.
Extras: English dub; marathon feature; episode commentaries; In the Galley with the Straw Hats; Villains and Fishmen: A Peek Behind the Curtain; clean opening/closing animations.