Oda explored the idea of cutting away to global events during an ongoing arc using Wano's intermissions but even those were made distinct and separate from the arc surrounding them. For the final saga, he takes it further. Any scene break could lead to anywhere in the world and any kind of event. The rule of saving these things for the post-battle portion no longer applies. We're in unexplored territory.
And on that topic, the cover story is showing some pretty extreme relevance to current events this time around, strongly suggesting another piece of Blackbeard's plans. Usually these things take years to come back around. A shame for the anime-onlies, not being able to see that extra layer unfold, unless something changes by the time the series gets to here. Anyway, I was a big denier of the two figures who showed up at Chocolate Town being from the Blackbeard Pirates, but I have been proven sorely mistaken. Even last week I was thinking that Kuzan, not being an official member of the crew, might be acting on some other agenda. But there's no mistaking the intent behind Pudding's kidnapping. At some point I want to try and pin down the timeline of all of Blackbeard's recent moves relative to current events. The part where said he would go claim something during Wano's first intermission was around day four of the Reverie, which by my reckoning should be long after when this cover story is taking place. I have a gut feeling that it's going to be hard to make events fully line up. Blackbeard making a move on Tottoland is something the Marines should have mentioned during the Reverie arc if it happened in that timeframe. The crew seems to have moved around a lot in a relatively short amount of time as well, but given Van Auger's new fruit, that might be a feature instead of a bug.
Getting into the actual chapter, I like the new outfits for Luffy's group (despite the questionable practicality of Bonney's 'combat gear' and I'm looking forward to seeing how the lab actually functions, with the locals appearing from nowhere and Atlas's job seemingly being to cause chaos. How does that fit into the science? The Recycollie is a great addition as well. And it makes sense for the lab to be harsh on thieves, given what we learned from Lilith about their funding.
Something about the sequence of panels where the Pacifista spots Luffy and charges had me thinking on my first look that the he'd run in the opposite direction instead of charging. The camera breaks the 180 degree rule of staging, making for a slightly awkward sequence on the first look. The action that follows is pretty cool though. I love the panel of Luffy and Jinbe making cool landings while Chopper just faceplants.
It's interesting that Luffy is so confident the Kuma here is just a Pacifista. Of course, we know he's right and the real one is with the Revolutionaries, but can he sense something about the copy that gives it away? Maybe this is a sign that Luffy's Observation Haki is that much better than Bonney's, or maybe she was (understandably) just too overwhelmed with emotion to reach out rationally with her senses.
Hard cut to Law in battle with the Blackbeard Pirates, which is honestly and truly the last thing I expected to see in this chapter. I would have put money on Law not showing up til the post-arc section at least, or there even being years before his next appearance. It really feels like Blackbeard is disrupting the status quo here, moving around and hunting down fan favourite characters personally in a way the other high level adversaries, even the pirate-hunting Marines, never really get to. The man is dangerous and he could be anywhere. The endgame really does feel close when you've got the presumed final boss mobilising like this.
Fem Law sure is something. So thanks to the Seraphim being childlike versions of the Warlords, we're seeing the 'draw so and so as a kid' SBS asks being gradually canonised, now we get one of the gender ones too. I have to wonder if Bonney's powers will be used to put the aged-up versions of different characters from recent volumes in the manga as well. It's great how Oda can weave these things into the story. Personally, I'm not bothered by the Feminization Disease, at least for being what it is. This is a series where hormonal manipulation can result in on-the-spot sex changes, giant heads and bodies rewired to unpoison themselves. Plenty of real world diseases throw the body's hormones out of balance. It's not out of line for someone with a disease fruit to be able to do this kind of thing.
Where I do take issue is it being kind of a boring way to use such a high-potential fruit. Maybe Oda just didn't want to repeat the grim, zombie-like progression of mummy and ice oni viruses from the last arc, but it still doesn't feel like a power being used to its maximum potential.
Actually, all the Blackbeard Pirates' new powers have this issue. Burgess has a strength related power? Given how strong humans in this world can get through training alone, I have to ask what the point of that is. Think of the iceberg Jozu through, or Garp's iron ball weapon. Law's powers were able to levitate a mountain far larger than what Burgess lifts here all the way back at Punk Hazard. Burgess needs an attack with at least the gravitas of the (allegedly) Emperor-felling King Punch (which was done fruitless by Elizabello) to justify a power like that. A warping fruit? Either Kuma or Law's powers offer similar benefits with far more utility. And a pegasus zoan given to a horse? Come on, that's just a flight fruit with nothing else to offer. Give it to a human they might get horse stamina, deadly hooves or powerful back leg kicks, but Stronger should have already had all of that. All he gets is the wings. These are strange choices, truly.
Part of me wants to have faith that there's a plan for these underwhelming reveals, that the crew has min-maxed in some way around their basic powers. A sniper with a warping power and a doctor who can make diseases feel like decent starting points. Another part thinks Oda may have pinned down the powers he wanted the final pirate enemies to have early on and hasn't changed them as the other fruits shown got crazier and crazier. I lean toward the positive interpretation. One Piece so rarely lets me down.
Despite his recent feats, I'm not seeing much chance of Law coming out on top of this one. He probably won't die, as One Piece characters rarely do, but he's not winning. He's probably not getting away with his Poneglyph rubbings either. This plus the Pudding bit from the cover really give off the feeling of Blackbeard's plans coming together, really making him a rival for the home stretch. The only question is, has he glimpsed that missing final Poneglpyph already, or will there be a race to reach it?
Despite its short length, this was another incredibly compelling chapter that's likely to turn out pivotal for the final act of the story. As always, strongly looking forward to the next chapter and all the unknown territories it could sail into.