This is a good thread idea. I've been tapping down my full thoughts on each chapter in a notepad doc since the forum went down, each week thinking "this time for sure it'll come back before the next chapter drops." Maybe I should start a blog or something… I'm gonna post it all anyway with all the guesses that got proven wrong a week later unedited.
! Another fight down, and very likely another volume as well, although I guess there's a nonzero chance it'll run one more chapter to full confirm King's defeat and maybe wrap up the Orochi thread as well. And I think with both Queen and seemingly King falling off the island after being beaten, we can finally put to rest the theories that Kaido's officers will get back up via Awakening or some other nonsense. The bigwigs aren't just down, they're gone. Not on the island and not equipped to come back. The end is close at hand for the battle of Onigashima.
! The new cover story is a pleasant surprise. Showing the aftermath of the naval battle off Cacao Island though… I was kinda hoping we'd see more of that in a Jinbe flashback later. The Vinsmokes and Jinbe both getting to just sail off, even after Big Mom returned to the fray, feels a little to easy. The long wait for more on the battle had me expecting some kind of a secret cost that hadn't been revealed yet. Someone dying offscreen wouldn't be Oda, but someone captured or short a chunk of their lifespan would have been nice. I guess we haven't seen who's actually on these Germa ships yet, but I doubt they'd be pulling back if anyone major had been captured. It does also seem to be the morning after the battle already, so I imagine, like Bege's escape, the cover story will about what the Vinsmokes do next, not the battle. Twenty installments of silliness as they take on a new contract followed by a tantalising plot hook right at the end sounds about right. Given that this is back before the Reverie, I wonder if the last-minute tie-in could involve the SSG or the big moves the World Government is making on the Warlords and other big name pirates.
! But that's getting way ahead of ourselves...
! Alright, so Queen is done and dusted, as expected. Some people wanted more back and forth between him and Sanji before it was done, but this battle was a mental one for Sanji, and he won it already. There wouldn't be any substance in more hitting. The callback to Sanji feeding mice as a kid is a really nice bookend to him choosing his humanity in this bout. There is a question as to what kind of damage Sanji has actually taken, knowing his broken bones heal on their own. Is his collapse just exhaustion, or is there other internal damage not covered by the healing?
! Zoro and King's fighting is flowing a lot better than last time we followed the two of them, with some incredibly well drawn fire and magma effects now in the mix. I'm really looking forward to seeing this one in colour in a few years, all of the clashing with explosions in the background and flaming dragons twisting around. But a feeling lingers that the fight-ending solution doesn't really gel with the choreography up to this point. I still don't have a good idea of how the stretchy-headed Imperial Deep Pride Stake is meant to work. The moment in chapter 1033 where King seems to explode entirely because Zoro stabbed the right spot also doesn't feel like it was ever fully explained. I can appreciate that looking back over the fight we can see the fire going on and off King's back just like Zoro notices here, but maybe we could have used some moments where Zoro wonders about things that actually play into the solution, like "he bled when I hit him before but he shrugged the last one off, is his durability fluctuating" or "damn, he just got a lot faster all of a sudden." I really go like how the section of the fight right after the flasback goes, but the battle as a whole can't help feeling like it wasn't planned all the way in advance.
! We get a little more on Lunarians here, confirming that the World Government is specifically hunting for them. Given the similarities - the World Nobles styling themselves as dragons compared to King's use of a dragon motif in his fire attacks, Lunarians being known as gods in the past and the Celestial Dragons calling themselves the descendents of gods today, and of course both groups seemingly having inhabited the Redline - it's becoming clear that the World Government usurped and exterminated the Lunarians. What remains to be seen is whether the Lunarian civilisation is the same important one alluded to by Clover, if they're the same group that hid the One Piece and the Poneglyphs, and if they're the same group that gave the world Joyboy back in the day...
! King's subordinates being tempted by the hundred million for a tipoff brings up an angle on bounties that I hadn't really considered. It's often noted that there don't seem to be any bounty hunters at the higher levels, raising the question of "why bother giving bounties that high at all?" But here we see that a fraction of King's actual bounty in exchange for a tip-off is enough to present a real threat of betrayal. High level bounties pit pirates against each other. And while it doesn't seem common for pirates to cash in on the bounties of other pirates, we have seen Blackbeard and Law approach the government directly to exchange wanted men for things they want, so we know the government is willing to look the other way if a big enough threat is taken out of the picture.
! I loved seeing a flash of Punk Hazard in the past. The first thought I had was whether these old experiments on King were where Judge got whatever Lunarian liniage factor went into Sanji, but I don't think Judge was ever directly employed by the World Government as a scientist (MADS was before Vegapunk was recruited by them and was broken up by the World Government) and thus he probably wouldn't be at Punk Hazard. And of course, if it wasn't Judge getting Sanji's flaming feet from these experiments, who was working on them and what did they get out of it?
! I'm sure this won't be the last we hear of Lunarians and World Government science...
! Kaido looks bloody weird without his beard. It's not surprising he has confidence in his ability to change the world though - it seems he picked up enough important info about the One Piece and the the true history of the world through his position in Rocks' crew long before he started chasing it himself.
! It's also cool to get King's real name and confirmation that the card themeing in the Beasts Pirates is all codenames. It's a shame the Vivre Cards for this lot have come and gone already, we could have had a huge dump of new info like when the Baroque Works agents' true names dropped. They also missed out on some great lore and killer panels by doing the databook in the middle of the arc like they did. Oh well, maybe in the SBS instead...
! And the fight ends on another fairly brutal note with King's wing being cut off. Between this, King's arm, Jinbe curshing Who's Who's hands and Robin's assault on Black Maria's spine, we've had some pretty full-on takedowns for the Wano villains. And as I said above, the fact that this has happened to King while he's off the side of the island is a strong sign he's not coming back.
! The next steps for this arc, as we go into volume 103 and the new year, have to be the resolution of Orochi, Fukurokuju, CP0 and the armoury clusterfuck, but the armoury is the only one of those I think will actually need more than a chapter to wrap up. The two Emperors are a bit more complicated though. A few weeks ago I would have said Big Mom was next on the chopping block after Orochi, but lately I've been giving her more thought. It's tough to picture the arc ending without Big Mom and Kaido both falling, but the first outright defeat of an Emperor of the Sea in the whole series (and who knows how many in-universe years) is going to be such a game-changing moment. Is Oda going to let Law and Kid take the honour of the first Emperor victory from Luffy? Is the arc going to be able to keep its momentum if Big Mom is still fighting after Kaido falls? Or will Oda contrive a way to make their defeats all but simultaneous (leaving room for the three captains to argue about who actually was the first to conquor an Emperor)?
! Between the strong action beats, great art and interesting lore snippets, this has turned out to be a great chapter to close out the year with. I'm looking forward to the final battle and post-arc worldbuilding dump in the coming months.
! First things first, what the heck is going on with the Jump cover? There's something about that bread Luffy (call him Loafy) that's just incredibly offputting. I very much love the the colour spread though - the city of tall buildings flooded and frozen over with the towers protruding from the ice is a beautiful setting. It's far from the first time we've seen these puffer jackets in a cold weather colour spread. Hell, it's not even the first time in Wano, But damned if they don't look good. Loving Jinbe's kimono as well!
! We're back for the probable start of volume 103 and King is confirmed to be down. His little flashback is some cool confirmation of what was hinted by Kaido's lines after tossing Luffy from the roof: that Joyboy isn't just a figure, it's a role that needs to be played, and that Kaido thought it would be him. What I'm interested to know is what new information he was able to find after the Rocks era that confirmed this for him. I wonder if it has to do with the reasons Wano is so important. I'm so ready for the post-battle lore dump. So ready! But I'm trying not to dwell on that, lest I set myself up for frustration with the minimum full volume's worth of fighting still to go.
! A whole double page near the start of this chapter is a recap of character positions and stakes, which is a big part of why I'm reading it as the start of a new volume. It may be worthy of note that the recap makes it clear that Kaido's defeat will result in Onigashima falling. Momo is focusing only on moving it away from the Capital, not holding it up himself. So here's an out there theory: perhaps when Luffy beats Kaido, he does so by dunking him off Onigashima, sending him plummeting into a Kaido-shaped hole in the ground, in a mirror to his introduction, before the whole island comes crashing down on top of him. Being stuck under all of that (with it felt ambiguous whether he's alive at all) might be a fun way to make good on his deathwish without making Luffy an outright murderer.
! At last, the final Number is revealed, and he's another goofy-looking one like most of the pack have been. Interestingly, this leaves one silhouette from the Numbers' introduction that doesn't seem to have an exact match in the final designs. Newcomer Rokki has the straight horns and flat head of this last figure, but lacks the underbite and has a much stouter body. Just a yet-to-be finalised design (most likely), or evidence of a secret zeroth Number (tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory)?
! I really enjoy seeing Usopp get to make a stand for Kin's sake given that he was robbed of a big moment against Pageone. Also good that there are some Gifters in the crowd he's facing off against - it makes sense that word of Tama's control would start to go around and the smarter ones would avoid her (or that she just wouldn't be able to reach every corner of this huge fortress), and pushes back against the idea that the dango were a free win for the good guys. And I actually enjoyed Usopp and Izo's pushback against samurai culture as well. Ideas of harakiri and honourable/redeeming deaths show up a lot in Japanese media and while I get it it's also something I've never been able to sincerely empathise with. People should live! You can do more for your cause, fix more mistakes and help more people over the course of a lifetime than you ever could with most deaths. Dying is a one-off - fighting on is something you can do in perpetuity. Even if you can only take small steps forward, living means that you can keep taking them until they add up! But I'm getting sidetracked. I think the bottom line here is that it's cool how Oda has written and drawn a huge love letter to Japan and its culture and history but still isn't afraid to use his main characters to challenge ideas he disagrees with.
! I think this ends the idea of any of the samurai dying during the raid. A lot of readers won't like that, but it's the message Oda's decided on. They all came to Onigashima expecting to die, ghosts choosing to join their lord in death, but the point of Luffy's presence is to derail that narrative. That's how it goes on every island. The locals and villains think the story is going to go a certain way, and the crew arrives and breaks the script. This can create thematic contradictions across arcs - for example the difference between Vivi thinking she's found an easy way out of the civil war and Luffy giving her the reality check that she'll have to struggle and sacrifice to reach the root of the issue, compared to the samurai coming prepared for sacrifice and being made to live on after the crew protects them - but it makes for strong storytelling and dynamic interactions with the heroes and villains of the individual arcs.
! So needless to say I'm not one bit worried by Raizo starting to catch fire in the next scene. Not one bit.
! It's also nice attention to detail that Usopp wouldn't know that Izo is here yet, and a fun touch that Izo calls him by the name on his wanted poster.
! As we flash past a few more scenes, it's a good time to note we've had great art this week. Zoro falling with smoke and lightning coming off his blades was cool, as is the low angle shot of Apoo and Inbi running side by side, and that's not even to mention the final spread. But Izo's arrival during Usopp's scene is a great highlight of Oda's ability to do a lot with a single frame. In the second-last panel of page 11, Izo is seen jumping in from such a difference he's barely recognisable. And then, in a single panel, he's landed and spun 360 degrees shooting two guns, mowing down countless minions while Usopp dives for cover. The ring of gunshot flashes and smoke puffs is such a simple effect, but it's more than evocative enough to get your brain to fill in a lot of action in a very natural-feeling way. Where other mangaka might have used four panels for the landing, shooting, mooks reacting and Usopp fleeing, Oda packs a lot of information into a very litte space.
! I'll feel pretty bad for Drake if he doesn't manage to pick himself back up for one last attack after this. The guy started out the night getting attacked by Queen, Who's Who and Hawkins, toppled a Number, parried a hit from Zoro, fought Apoo in one of the arc's longest fights by chapter count (even if it was mainly offscreen) and managed to leave his CP0 opponent bloodied before seemingly biting the dust here. The man's put a crazy amount of effort in and it would be a shame for his story to end like this.
! I've read a couple of concerns about Luffy laughing with Kaido at the end, wondering where the anger and desire to avenge Wano has gone. But my read of the situation is that Luffy sees all that serious stuff as paid for. As shown in Whole Cake Island, even something as serious as shooting a friend can be paid for with a good smack in the face.
Think back to the punch that ended chapter 1000 and the series of Scabbards-centric flashback panels that led into it. That was the moment that answered for the personal harm Kaido did. While the fight has to continue until he can do no more damage to Wano, having the emotional payback sorted up front has given Luffy the freedom to fight the rest of battle for himself - with all the freedom to enjoy the challenge and use it as a proving ground for new techniques that implies.
! The scheduling makes January such a hard time of year to be a One Piece fan, especially when it rolls around just as the series penultimate arc reaches its climax. If nothing else, it's comforting to know the year ahead will be a big one, with the toppling of Emperors and the probable reveal of series-spanning mysteries as Oda starts to set up his endgame. I absolutely cannot wait to see where this story has left to go.
! The opening pages here cast some doubt on my prediction that 1036 was the start of a new volume. Oda's opened both volumes 101 and 102 with cutaways to the festival down below, so what's one more? It's a good way to lead into the battle, showing what's at stake. But is it better than the last chapter's soft recap of character positions and potential failure consequences?
! I'm interested to see where these floating lanterns are going. Up, presumably, but will they be contrasted with Kaido's fall? Or lead the eyes of the populace to the sky to see the final blow? Or will they just reach Onigashima in time to give someone like Momo a second wind at a critical moment?
! Back on the roof, I'm feeling pretty vindicated. I've said a few times now in a couple of different threads that I think Kaido can be kinda dull personality-wise. For so much of this arc he's been a grim, stony-faced brick shithouse. And ever time I complained about that, I said he was a lot more vibrant in his post-Zou and early Wano scenes as a sloppy, over-emotional drunkard, and it's a shame that he never gets to interact with out heroes in that state. He takes one good hit, says it sobered him up, and goes back to normal. Well now Kaido gets snookered mid-fight and gets to take Luffy on a journey through his mood swings and it's everything I've been asking for all this time!
! A shame it's probably only for this chapter, but still great to see it happen at least once. How has One Piece kept me as a dedicated weekly reader for nearly 15 years? Because Oda always comes through eventually.
! And what else can you say about this chapter? I'm not one to try to analyse which moves are the strongest, or say what kind of Haki was used where, or try to unravel the whole story through double meanings in attack names. What I'm focused here is how freaking spectacular the art is and how well the choreography flows. This is a great bit of action with some incredible panels showing motion and impact. Kaido's opening blow on Luffy sells the power and pain perfectly. Hybrid-mode Kaido looks better than ever, jetting forward with his tail undulating behind him. The moment of implied slowmo as Luffy vaults over his club to get that face kick in is exquisite. The not-even-touching headbutt, so intense. Oda gets so creative making the end of Kaido's club into a volley of spiked balls countering Luffy's Third Gear assault. He definitely takes artistic licence with the size and shape of it to make that visual work, but it's impossible to argue with the results.
! One Piece, to me, is adventure and worldbuilding over action, but there's no going past how good some of the action in Wano has been. I thought the Supernovas vs Emperors fight set a benchmark with its sense of scale, but Oda's hit the mark all over again with the ferocious intensity of this exchange.
! Another interesting note here is how quickly Kaido snaps between his hybrid and serpentine form and back again. Even with such a crazy change in mass, the transformation is all but instantaneous. King was doing the same thing between panels of his fight. The time Zoans take to transform has never been a huge deal in a fight, but it feels so much quicker in Wano than it's ever been before. There could be interesting animation potential in depicting how these flash changes work. I really want the anime to make good on this chapter, since even in manga form you can see it in motion so easily. But unfortunately, I can't hold my breath about it. Even if they can do it without adding Dragonball auras to the participants or strobing lights to every blow, the need to make each chapter last at least a whole episode will rob the sequence of the bam-bam-bam back and forth atmosphere of the manga version.
! And then we have the final two pages. Really it's just a lot of vague hinting at things we want to know about. The talk of erasing names makes me think of "the light to be erased from history" from the Reverie. I have to wonder what other lights have been erased in the past, and if the fruit belonged to one of them. Despite the framing (and the Elders having up to date enough reports to know CP0 is going after Robin) it doesn't seem like the elders are speaking directly with the fleet outside Wano as Zunesha appears, so the discussion of a mysterious Devil Fruit is definitely not a reaction to the big elephant's appearance. If you pay attention to how Oda uses split panels to mark scene transitions, you can see these are two separate scenes being cut back and forth between.
! So what Devil Fruit is it? I don't think we have enough info to say. Luffy's, Big Mom's and Kaido's are all too specific to be renamed. Law's powers are abstract enough that you could probably rename the fruit without creating problems, and we know from Doflamingo that it has some relevance to the World Government… That would be my best guess, barring some out there, shot in the dark justification like the Elders changing their topic of conversation between the scene breaks and it's not someone on Wano at all. Maybe Blackbeard, in that case. But even then, why is the fruit only just now, and so suddenly a huge concern? Or it might be a totally new fruit we haven't seen yet. That's probably the safest guess, given how nothing currently in play really seems to tick every box the conversation sets up.
! I was wondering what Zunesha's role in the battle was going to be. Too much setup for it not to make an appearance. But what triggered it to move inward and defend Wano's waters, then? It couldn't be a standing order from Momo, even if he had the confidence to do such a thing, because it made no moves against Big Mom's crew.
! I've got nothing to add for an outro. Just great action and big mysteries. What more could you want?
! I'm pleasantly surprised to see some real fallout and consequences from the sea battle from the end of Whole Cake Island. Now this cover story has my attention. Will Judge go back for Niji and Yonji? How will the timeline for a rescue mission line up with Big Mom's departure for Wano, which should be only a couple of days after the fight? I'll be waiting eagerly for the next part.
! Raizo and Fukurokuju is proceeding basically exactly as expected. Raizo will endure the flames until their heat makes Fuku drop his jutsu, allowing Raizo to go in for the kill. The only surprise is that it isn't over yet. This is a lot of anticipation for a pretty obvious conclusion. Maybe Oda will find a left-field resolution to the fight instead…
! Jinbe's moment holding up the ceiling is pretty cool. It's a small beat, but Jinbe joining so late needs as many of those as he can get. It also shows Oda committing hard to the castle coming down. If a whole floor's caved in already, the rest can't be far behind. It also makes for a great panel. There's a few good shots of the burning and crumbling structure throughout this chapter (the room where Izo had been fighting is another standout). I really enjoy the sense of space we've had for Onigashima, and that kind of build-up makes its destruction all the more satisfying.
! There's no doubt in my mind that this Zoro grim reaper sequence is setting up a gag. I only wonder which one Oda will go with. Brook all along? Or Zoro being strough enough to fight off death, or just being shown the path to the other side and getting lose when asked to walk down it. I'd have a great time seeing [this] Dr McNinja bit played out by Zoro. Oh, and if it turns out Death is real, does that mean we'll eventually be part of the Vivre Card databook? I wonder what kind of trivia there'll be for him…
! Izo fighting CP0 is one of those "sure, why not" kinds of developments. Certaninly would tie off the CP0 loose end for them to get taken out this way, but it's way too late in the game to get invested in it as a long-term fight. Maybe Drake gets back up and helps him finish them off? I feel like that could be played with enough gravity to make a satisfying ending to the subplot.
! After eight chapters, the saga of Yamato and Kazenbo is finally coming to a head. I was actually close to complaining a lot harder about how long it's gone on, but the December and January breaks have really skewed my perception of time. I think it'll be smoother on a binge reread. The armoury is another really great bit of environmental design. Such a detailed background! But wait, are those radiation warning symbols on some of those boxes? Under that pallet of cannon balls? Does the One Piece universe have nuclear weapons? That certainly ups the stakes if it's true (which it probably isn't). I bet Vegapunk had a hand in this...
! And then the centrepiece scene, the eponymous battle with Big Mom. Oda's flagging hard that she'll be going down this arc one way or the other, but this chapter definitely isn't the one. I don't see Oda shortchanging her by ending the fight while enemies like Orochi, Fukurokujo, CP0 and Apoo are still running around. She has to be going down either immediately before Kaido or at the same time as him, so while it might look like Law and Kid are making their final push, they'll have to last a bit longer for the sake of dramatic timing. I'm very curious to see what the finishing blow looks like - how to give it the same, raw knuckle-to-face intensity as if Luffy had done it himself while still letting Law and Kid share the spotlight equally. Big Mom is basically the only arc antagonist to go unbeaten, and will likely be the first Emperor to fall since Whitebeard. That moment needs a bit of gravity behind it!
! This is another chapter where the final spread feels hurt by the 17 page limit. Kid's Punk Corna Dio would probably have had a bit more an impact (and the big spread panel would have read easier) if Oda had found the space to actually show us its appearance unobscured first.
! I like that we see a bit more of Kid's crew than just Heat and Wire again. Wonder if they'll get names in an SBS at some point. The flip side of the crews' moment is that a lot of Law's guys in this scene were last seen on the ground. I'm guessing we'll get an SBS saying that this one scribble is them clinging to Momo's tail or something.
! Whatever comes next, I'm honestly just happy to be back on consistent chapters for a couple weeks. Looking forward to Oda bringing Onigashima to its finale!
Whew! Good luck to anyone reading all that. I'll see you all tomorrow for the chapter 1039 discussion!