Oh wow, Luffy and Lucci back in the ring after 16 years, how far we've come. The year's shaping up to end on a really high note with this one. Even the cover story's worthy of note this time. I love seeing unexpected connections like Du Feld funding the original MADS, it makes it feel like there's always more going on below the surface than we can know. The Lu Feld name is another example of Oda not keeping track of his romanisations though. It was clearly spelled out as Du back in Whole Cake Island. Unless Feld got married and took his partner's name since the MADS days lol.
I can't take credit for it, but I saw a reddit post comparing the MADS ship here to the abandoned ship Franky found right before cyborging himself. They're not an exact match, but it would an extremely cool way to tie things together and put a bow on Franky's relationship with the scientist.
Kaku being wary of sparking a war against Luffy is a fantastic inversion of the place the crew was at back in Ennies Lobby. From it being a massive deal that a small fry crew would declare war on the World Government to the World Government acting wary of sparking an open war with Luffy. Our boy's gotten so big! I like the feeling of progression that comes with Luffy now having so much influence that his actions and the fights he picks have global ramifications, whether he chooses to care about those consequences or not. There's a final war coming, and any move could be the one that sparks it.
So, what happened to Luffy's outfit when he started fight Lucci? Would have been cool to see a whitened version of his new Egghead one, but I guess he ditched it during the cutaway to New Marineford? Except in chapter 1063 the clothing machines allegedly undress the user to get the new fit on. Or do only the women get that treatment, Oda? You'd think with all the flipping around during the fight with the Kuma cop we'd have seen a glimpse of the shorts under Luffy's coat if they were still there...
While there is some debate about whether Luffy felt like he needed Gear Five for this bout or if he just does it for the feeling of freedom, I'd like to put forward that he was just mad about Atlas, at least at first. We've already seen him half-shift just from being frustrated at holographic food. The euphoria of Nika's freedom could have taken over after the transformation. There's so much we don't know about how this form works yet.
Lucci's awakening is a great design on its own, but I can't help feeling the rules about awakenings, especially Zoan ones, are only getting muddier. How far do we read into the wreath of smoke as a sign of awakening, considering Enel and all Gear Four forms also had it? Lucci's hair is also standing up and burning like Wano's koma-animals, but Luffy had that back in Snakeman form, and Kaido and Momo's dragon forms also both have it. I don't think there's any one visual trait we can say for sure is meant to indicate an awakened form, particularly when the ones from Impel Down have so little in common with the recent ones (even accounting for Oda changing his awakening plans over time). Well, I'm sure it'll all get sorted out eventually.
And the Devil Fruit lore just keeps on rolling with the reveal of their possible origin - an manifestation of people's desire for change. This remains pretty vague, I'm sure we're gonig to learn a bit more about this later on, but I think it's the right way to go, making them something akin to a natural phenomenon. We can see an echo of the Ancient Kingdom's technology on Egghead, and while it's sci fi even by real world standards, it doesn't seem able to recreate the sheer mysticism of Devil Fruit operations. Editing genes to give one person a superpower is fine, but things like Sugar's ability to erase the memories of people she's never even seen through a target's connection to them is literally reality-breaking. That's not an effect that can be scienced up. While superhuman feats and moments of heightened reality are abundant in One Piece, Devil Fruits remain the lone, one-time exception to its world's absence of magic. Having them be literally pulled into being against the resistance of regular nature by the collective will of humanity - like any one of the many stories where gods are brought into existence and empowered by man's belief in them - is a fine evolution of the mythology.
My big lingering questions are when did they start appearing (Toki tells us it must be pre-Void Century) and have any new fruits been brought into being since that first batch. And could a fruit - particularly a mythical zoan - have its powers altered if the lore surrounding the creature changed? On that line of thinking, did Sasaki, King and Queen's dinosaur powers work the way they did not because it was how dinosaurs hunted, but because this world's paleontologists are genuinely bad enough that they believed that? Seems to line up with Page One's tail being retconned purely because the science changed.
So yeah, I'm definitely excited to see were Oda's going with this.
But I do agree with what's been said already, that the Nika reveal should have been saved for this scene instead of the Kaido fight. Simply doing the revival and Joyboy comment from Zunesha, then leaving the new form and powers a mystery for a few months before dropping the bomb here I think would have been really effective. Oh well, too late to change that now.
I enjoy the throwback to Luffy and Lucci's first fight. The paneling certainly isn't as clean as the first time around, but the context is also different. A major fight against an overwhelming enemy back then is now an enjoyable skirmish intercut with exposition. It would be nice if there was enough room in the chapter to lay it out like the original, but this isn't a big enough fight to need to breathe the same way.
The arrival of Sentomaru and the Seraphim seems to set up an escalation of the Cipher Pol conflict. We can assume the Strawhats have grown at a much more exponential rate than the agents they fought the first time around, but Oda went out of his way to show us earlier that a single Seraphim is a considerable threat. The authority hierarchy and rule that the commander needs to be present in person set things up for chaos. But... even with Atlas down, there are still six people on the islands who can override Cipher Pol's orders, plus the possiblity of stealing or damaging the authority chip. A single Vegaclone with a Strawhat bodyguard who knows Cipher Pol will target them is all it will take to turn the tides here, which makes me think even a Seraphim rampage isn't the final battle or ticking clock for this arc. Or at the very least, Oda's going to have to rule out a few more solutions first.
Jinbe seems to confirm that S-Shark has the same skin as the others. Lunarian tan overrides Fishman blue. Seems obvious, but I like having confirmation.
Sentomaru's defeat is the only part of this chapter that doesn't do it for me. Oh, it's brutal and shocking and sets up the Seraphim trouble, but after Sabaody, I wanted to see a bit more of how the "most defensive man in the world" stands up to the series' current skill ceiling. Maybe Oda's saying Lucci's just that good, but I would still have liked to see the axe guy's skills acknowledged first. Maybe there's more coming, but I can't help feeling like there just weren't enough pages in the chapter for him.
To get back on a positive note to out, there was also a log of great humour in this chapter. Luffy getting caught out by Lucci saying Egghead is Government territory was great, and I love Chopper deferring Atlas's treatment to Franky. Luffy's Gear Five battle was just as fun and inventive as the first time. You can tell Oda loves drawing this thing.
So we've got one chapter left to go this year, if I'm understanding the schedule right, which should be close to the halfway point of volume 106. 2022 is poised to go out on a high note, and if the Egghead momentum keeps going, 2023 could be one of the series' best years to date.