Nine chapters to the big quadruple digits, and Oda working hard to get there this year as well! I hope he makes it!
Okay, cover story, cathartic tears for the big reunion. Now can we move on to a little actual lore/story to close it out? I'm expecting either Pound's flashback to his escape from Tottoland, showing a little more of what happened to the Sun Pirates and Germa, or some surprise news about what happened in the Reverie.
This was a good chapter for Strawhat interactions. People complain that there aren't enough scenes with the crew just hanging out since the timeskip, but honestly I've rarely felt let down by their absence. The dynamics of the crew are so well established at this point its easy to slip in little exchanges of banter among the big, plot driven scenes like this. We can still get these big personalities bouncing off each other without having to sit everyone down to do it.
It seems like Oda might be setting up the crew-focused fights here, going more in duos rather than straight one on ones, presumably as a compromise to save time. However, I'm not going to call anything confirmed on that front until there's an Odabox stating someone VS someone. For a while now, battles haven't worked like the early-story fights where crews of half a dozen each pair off for duels. Now, they're more like, well, actual battles. Clashes are objective driven rather than opponent driven. Characters fight to capture or hold ground, buy time, do crowd control or distract a heavy hitter, and it's more important that they keep doing these things rather than chase down the foe they just blew away with one good hit to make sure he stays down for good. So you get a lot of little clashes and skirmishes, and in the grand scheme, most of them end up not being worth going to the death over. Even here, we see Ulti and Page One doing effective crowd control against the nameless samurai, so Usopp and Nami draw their attention and lead them away. Same deal with Haccha's destructive potential and Franky and Jinbe leading him outside (hey, isn't Big Mom still out there?), while Zoro and Drake focus on Apoo specifically to keep him from calling more Numbers. Queen jumps in with covering fire so Apoo can do his job. It's just not about "this is my guy I have to take out" anymore, it's all efforts towards the larger goal of the battle. There's an ebb and flow to it that I feel goes underappreciated among the desperation for more old school one-on-ones.
And all of the above - the bigger picture of the fight - are why I'm not particularly stressed by things like Jack being fought offscreen. As much as I love seeing different abilities put to new and creative uses and different characters interact and clash, there are bigger and more exciting beats to move onto. What maybe could have used an extra panel is establishing how the mink/samurai forces are doing. It's implied that they and the pirates Jack brought have mutually destroyed each other, leaving only the Scabbards standing, but wouldn't it be good to know for sure? A lot of named minks are accounted for in the panels showing the battlefield, but Wanda is noticeably absent. I'm pretty sure that by process of elimination she's meant to be with that group rather than the ones inside the dome but she hasn't really shown up in a while.
An interesting note in this chapter is Kaido's sympathy and understanding toward Jack. Between this and his acceptance of his son's pronouns despite loathing the reason for choosing them (hey, he's doing better than r/onepiece on that front), could Kaido actually be a good and wholesome father and captain? Uhh no, I'm gonna say no. While he has his moments of surprising humanity, he's still got a noted tendency to get out of control drunk and casually murder low-ranked members of the crew, not to mention giving Yamato regular beatings all through his childhood. (we might also include his treatment of Speed on this list, but he probably didn't have any way of knowing she was mind-controlled at the time of her betrayal) He may occasionally tell you you're not weak, but he's still a volatile powderkeg of man and its hard to imagine Yamato and the Beasts Pirates living in anything other than a constant underlying fear that they'll be the one he goes off on the next time he drinks.
Sulong Dog and Cat look absolutely sick, and that's really all there is to say about that.
And at the climax of the chapter, bringing us into the home stretch of volume 98, Kin cuts fire. I can't believe I didn't see this coming. It's so obvious now that it's happened. I can only imagine Oda's been planning this moment or one like it since Punk Hazard. It must feel incredible to have finally done it after all those years. Now let's keep up this intensity all the way to chapter 1000!