Hey all. There are a few things that have been nagging me for a while and I’ve had a pretty difficult time narrowing down what those things were. Ever since the timeskip, the way Oda has handled his storytelling has felt distinctly different to me. I think I’ve pinpointed a few issues that have been bothering me personally, though I’m not the most elegant when it comes to putting these issues into words so please bear with me.
The first issue I have is how Oda handles the big-name players. In the past we got a glimpse of the world at large maybe once every hundred chapters, but nowadays Oda has been throwing characters in willy-nilly, often to the detriment of the arc I feel. Dressrosa for example. We’re finally getting the long-awaited confrontation with Doflamingo BUT SUDDENLY JESUS BURGESS. Oh well that’s pretty cool I guess BUT SUDDENLY CP0. Okay well don’t you think maybe this is a bit mu—BUT SUDDENLY FUJITORA. Okay okay I get it jeez BUT SUDDENLY BIG MOM Christ Oda BUT SUDDENLY SABO.
Let me elaborate. The problem isn’t so much that these people are here (well it’s partly that, but I’ll get to that part in a bit) – it’s that Oda doesn’t really seem to know what to do with them. It feels like he’s throwing all these characters in as mere fanservice for people who get off on namedrops or whatever. The same kinds of people who hate Skypiea because it “wasn’t important to the main story”. You knows the ones. People who just want a quick adrenaline rush. Almost feels like Oda is resorting to cheap thrills. I mean heck, half the stuff these characters have been doing this arc is fighting each other, because Oda doesn’t have plans for them (short-term, I mean) and just needs to get them out of the way or make them look cool.
Speaking of Oda needing to get them out of the way… Do we realize why Oda needs to do this in the first place? It’s because most if not all of these characters could probably shit on Doflamingo if given the chance. Logically speaking Fujitora should be hounding down Doflamingo right about now but of course that would take away the drama in the arc so Oda had to get him out of there somehow. I think we all know what kind of convoluted mess that resulted in, but Fujitora’s confusing reasoning is not really a can of worms I want to open in here.
The fact that all these characters are on the island right now is concerning to me for several reasons. These are all characters that will most likely be more important in the long-term than Doflamingo, so them all being here almost overshadows Doflamingo’s role as a villain. Like, who the hell would be intimidated by someone like Diamante when Burgess and Sabo are standing right there? To me, it also doesn’t help that Doflamingo is shaping up to be merely a pawn in a bigger plan to take down Kaido. This brings me to another point.
People have to understand that we're past the halfway point now.
We need those characters to act now. The first 15 years of this series were all about building those guys up. Now finally they get to act and people are complaining?
Are we going to have to wait more 300+ chapters or something to have Sabo, Burgess, Big Mon, etc. to start being active on the plot?
Pretty much everything in the New World, it seems, is going to tie in somehow to the Yonkou. Punk Hazard, when we first landed, just looked like a cool wacky adventure and a fitting introduction to the craziness of the New World. But then, as we all know, that got tied into the overarching plot when we found out who Caesar was working for. For a future example, there’s Wano Kuni. This is a land that has been hinted at and built up for a while now, but from the looks of it, it’ll somehow tie in with the Kaido storyline as well. I may be jumping the gun here but I don’t think this is an unfair statement to make, given the clues we have. Some of you may question why I think this is bad, but I think you will understand where I’m coming from in a minute.
This ties up to what I've said above. Oda is not immortal. He has to move the plot forward and wrap up all the things he introduced. Standalone arcs are going to be a rarity from now on, assuming they'll even exist.
I'd love to see another Skypiea-like arc (even though the arc itself ended up being more important than it seemed), but that's just how things are. People get old and tired.
If you will allow me to change the subject a bit for a moment, I’d like to talk about another fundamental shift I feel Oda has made with his storytelling. This’ll all tie together by the end – I promise! The issue I want to talk about is scale. I mean this in a few different ways. Firstly, the most obvious is how Oda has handled the more recent islands. This is a discussion that I think this forum has already handled quite in-depth, so I won’t dwell on it for long.
Let’s take Fishman Island. We were given glimpses of many different towns, yet our main characters only really visited like three places. Oda was trying to give the illusion of a big bustling island without actually delivering on it. Fishman Island felt soulless and empty (and the architecture was kinda underwhelming given the concept of an underwater island, but that’s a different issue). Almost like it was introduced simply as a stage in a fighting game; a mere backdrop for the climax. Punk Hazard was the same. Dressrosa has pretty much shaped up in the same way as well. The only town we’ve really explored is Acacia. Everything else has been relegated to passing glimpses in flashbacks or panel transitions.
What about the undersea exploring? Or the PH burning side exploring? Or Green Bit?
And how was Fishman Island soulless?
The second way in which I feel the story’s sense of scale has diminished is the passage of time. A comparison may be apt here. Take Alabasta for example. Not only did it handle its locales better by virtue of the characters actually… well, going there and seeing the culture, it also did a much better job conveying the scale of the country and that this was actually, well, a country! Know how? Because we actually saw time go by. The Strawhats spent several days traveling the country. They visited these places and saw how the villains actually affected them. Nowadays this kind of worldbuilding is mostly relegated to info-dumps or short flashbacks. Modern arcs feel like they have a start and a finish but no middle. I want something like Yuba again. I also feel like spending a few nights on some of these islands would serve well as a breather amidst the constant running around.
Taking all these points in together, I feel like there has been a fundamental shift in the series, from “Let’s go on an adventure and explore these weird islands!” to “Gotta take out these strong guys (and maybe see some weird islands along the way)!” I would love it if Oda could interject some smaller, self-contained stories like Little Garden in there somewhere. Or you know what? I want another Skypiea. Not necessarily a sky island or anything, but an arc that is somehow removed from the overarching story. It would be a great opportunity to rekindle the series’ sense of adventure. Fishman Island had the potential to be such an arc, but making it the only way for pirates the cross the Red Line ruled that idea out pretty quickly.
The shift you mentioned is natural. We can't wait for another decade to have Luffy take down those strong guys.
And hell, Skypiea ended up being part of an overarching plot just like Fishman Island, but it took a while to reach there.
I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with the following statement, but I preferred how Oda handled his overarching story before the timeskip to how he handles it now. We may have been in the dark most of the time, but when these big players finally did show up it felt special. I remember almost shitting my pants when Kuma showed up on Thriller Bark or when Ace finally found Blackbeard. That’s why Marineford feels so special to me, ignoring whatever other issues some may have with that arc. We finally got to see some of these characters we’ve only gotten glimpses of up to that point in action, and it was awesome. By now, though, this sense of magnitude has been mostly diminished. I suppose this was inevitable though as the Strawhats finally graduated from their underdog status, but I don’t like how Oda has been handling it.
Basically, the story is being handled naturally. After spending 15 years of introducing all those elements, he's finally having them being active on the plot.
And he's still introducing more plot elements!
On a more general note, I’ve noticed an interesting paradox with these latest arcs. Since there are so many storylines going on at once, Oda is devoting less and less time to each individual one, yet the arcs are still getting longer and longer. Did Punk Hazard really need to be forty-something chapters? And then we’ve got Dressrosa here, which is shaping up to be an eighty chapter arc or something along those lines. Oda is cramming each arc with way too much. It gives this weird feeling that the story is both rushed and dragging at the same time. Oda really needs to refocus.
Wait, so you want Oda to not drag the story while wanting more standalone arcs?
This is expected from a story which already has a ton of plot elements and that keeps introducing more. Multiple plots are unavoidable, and they're also the reason why those arcs take so long.
This is without even going into the myriad of smaller issues I have with One Piece as of late, such as how Oda’s handling of haki has devolved most fights (especially among fan discussions) into power level wankfests. God, I’m almost scared that having written that, people will now focus more on that one sentence than on the main topic at hand… Well, whatever. I feel I’ve conveyed my opinion here at least decently, and would like to hear what everyone else has to say regarding this. If I feel I forgot something important, I guess I’ll edit it in later.
Ultimately, a lot of this is subjective. Feel free to agree or let me know how completely wrong I am or whatever in between. Thanks for reading, and I hope this monolithic wall of text maybe manages to spark some interesting discussion!
Personally, I just think this is nostalgia speaking, coupled with the illusion that Oda is still a young, healthy, energetic fellow.
That, and some people are getting impatient with the breaks.