I really disliked this chapter. It’s emblematic of a whole host of the things that bother me most in latter-stage OP storytelling. Parsing it is taking up considerable mental real estate for me, so why not dump it all here as a point-by-point numbered list.
1: Retroactive Tragedy Reduction: First things first, the reveals of this chapter massively reframes the scale of tragedy of the Robin Flashback. Interpretation is subjective, and I know that these reveals are expected/unsurprising to some, but to me the tragedy of Robins flashback was about how everything was stripped from her, how the entire legacy of Ohara end up contained within this one poor child. The scholars desperately try to save their research materials, but the materials are still discovered by the WG after the raid. Regardless of whether or not Saul is frozen with a move called “capsule” at the end the process is still visually indistinguishable from the previously established Quite Quickly Lethal Ice Time move, and Sauls final words is for Robin to find new friends since, you know, he won’t be around. Cue him going out with a laugh, D style. ”Returning things Robin thought she’d lost” by revealing that neither the research nor Saul were gone reduces the tragedy of the flashback, unless you wanna go full “Pells sacrifice still has weight in retrospect because he thought he’d die at the time."
Furthermore, in keeping Saul and the research alive…
2. Reframing Robin in the present: This might just be me, but for a longas time I viewed Robin as this pretty unique and singular factor in the series; the only one who could discover the Ancient Past, the Only one actively working to uncover said Ancient Past. Skills and goals that in turn made her a massive target, and in turn isolated, hunted and friendless. But as the series goes on, it turns out theres quite a few people sympathetic to Robins cause, including the Worlds Most Dangerous Man and his army of revolutionaries, as well as the Worlds Most Brilliant Man. And hey, Saul too is alive as well- good on Robin for finding some new friends as well in the time before a literal army sympathetic to her plight found her , and also her old friend is still alive too, nice.
The avenues for discovering Ancient History also keeps expanding, as does people with extensive knowledge of it, eclipsing even Robins. In the case of one giant Elephant, it even lived during the Ancient History! I know both these Things aren’t new, theres Precedence etc, but this chapter is just so emblematic of it, and leads to a separate issue:
3. Thrilling adventures in exposition! Again this might just be me, but way back when I thought the conceit of Robins character would be that we’d gradually piece the Ancient History Mystery together along with her, as the story progressed and she did Adventurous Archeology. And to an extent, we are learning of the Ancient History through her, but now it’s through more knowledgeable, senior characters telling Robin these things up front. It’s not so much about Robin uncovering these things, it’s about Robin being an excuse for other characters to exposit about it, because she’s the only one with the correct frame of reference. What started as this huge unknown void left for Robin alone to fill is now becoming other characters handing over their notes on the subject, pointing Robin in the right direction and going “you might find the very last puzzle piece kiddo, or at least appreciate the completed puzzle in a new way”. This is again an issue going back to the gang chillin’ at RayRays 560 chapters ago, and much like that chapter, a further problem I have with the Exposition here is…
4. It’s just so friggin boring to look at. Regardless of what the characters are talking about, regardless of the occasional insert shot of Robin looking sad/happy, I just have a really hard time finding this comic book chapter compelling when so much of it is a bunch of characters talking back and forth in a hallway. Half the characters literally can’t move, the other is devoid of personality and incapable of expressing emotion due to a Daft Punk reference (and possible Reveal Concealer). The insert flashback is mostly a conversation between a guy with a permanent scowl, and a guy almost incapable of expressing emotion due to a giant Einstein reference. Though at least they both stand up and sit down. The most dynamic panels in the first 13 pages are the ones quickly recapping a 670 chapter old flashback.
5. Selective Incompetence: Those books did turn out to be pretty important after all huh? Pretty wild that when sent on a mission to eradicate Ohara and its researchers for the crime of doing forbidden research, and you find a whole bunch of research materials the scholars were evidently very keen on saving, you just shrug and go “eh whatever, probably unimportant”. And then despite Ohara being branded highly evil enemies of the world you just, idunno, let the island and the leftover books be completely free of surveillance or barriers, allowing symphatizers to make it a memorial site and salvage the scholars belongings a few months later? Cool cool. I’d say the WG being incompetent is at least in character, but then again these are also the same guys who can learn of the illicit Oharan research in the first place, or Roger having a son, or the Pluton blueprints and so on. More like the WG is exactly as competent as it needs to be for the Current Plot Development to happen.
6. Interconnectedness and the shrinking of worlds: Also helping the plot expediation along is the increasingly elaborate Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon’ing of the Opverse. Like we need to have an excuse for why Vegapunk and also Dragon are invested in Ohara, so we get a retroactive rejiggering of Clovers character – 670 chapters ago he was just a kindly head of research, but now we need a reason for why Dragon would know such a guy I guess so now he’s also a rogueish adventurer who hunted the world for Lost Century Knowledge and amassed an army of followers! Which is a wrinkle that drastically reframes the whole Oharan research effort; instead of it being a generational effort of the entire culture it now becomes extremely Clover centric – there may have been research before, but he – this guy that Clover and Vegapunk knew – was the one that REALLY got Ohara going, which moves the needle from “WG discovers that the respected research institution of Ohara is doing forbidden work” to “Rogue and 10-times jailed Void Century enthusiast Clover and his group of personal followers were doing Void Century research? Yeah that tracks, wonder why it took us so long to look into that.”
The more details we get the more issues and inplications are raised, and on a personal level I’m just so exhausted by the amount of connections between various disparate characters/plotthreads, connections the story need to relegate time to address or awkwardly ignore. Going into a new island some of the new characters might have connections to pre-existing things, but here Vegapunk is juggling:
Being the friend of Clover and an Ohara sympathizer and also a friend/sympathizer to Dragon despite being the head of the WG super-science division, by Dragon also acquainted with Kuma whom was used as the basis of the pacifista lineup thus also making him acquainted to Bonney, this being a different pacifista project than the one that produced a super-soldier child clone of a SH pirate member the crew fought five minutes ago (we’ve moved on though, will probably get back to that shortly)
Vegapunk was also a former criminal as part of the MADS gang which included former antagonist and drugger of SH-befriending PH children currently getting de-giantification treatment Caesar Clown, as well as super scientist asshole father of SH Sanji, and also Vegapunk made the experimental DF of the SH’s good personal friend Momonosuke based off of preceding arc antagonist/Emperor Kaidou and has his hands in all sorts of other research projects, such as giantification…
I realize this is Endgame One Piece Babyyy but it’s just so much, and it makes the world feel small, inorganic and convenient to me; Like theres a singular panel of 5 different Straw Hats having 5 different parallel crumb-sized reactions to different parts of Vegapunks whole bombshell spiel. Theres just so much going on, but no time for anything more organic.
7. Clueless Best Friends: Lastly, the subject of the supposed depth of friendship in the SH pirates have been discussed several times here. Mostly it is what it is; OP is a series where you have to buy that the Crew will put their lives on the line for each other, despite the story showing making little time for deep moments showcasing bonding or deeper affection/understanding between them. And so in the CP9 arc, where Robins past/goal was this whole curse that prevented her from forging any connections, the story had the Crew go “We don’t know or care about Robins past, but like her regardless” as opposed to the more powerful “we know Robins past, but like her regardless”. It is what it is. But the problem with that former approach is that when you get a situation like this some 670 chapters later where Robins past/goals are explicitly brought up, the crews reactions make them seem clueless at best, insensitive at worst. You’ve got this new character whom Robin has never met before moving her to tears of happiness because he provides catharsis rooted in knowledge of Robins past and goals, while her supposed best friends go “DURH, WHY YOU MAKE ROBIN CRY YOU BAD MAN” to the side.
And on top of that, for three of the 4 other crewmembers, the reaction to the discussion of Robin/Oharas past is, the past that hounded Robin and made her friendless until she met the SH’s is…to freak out, to want no part of it. Oof. Beyond “Oh noooo the government is gonna get mad and target usss” being pretty outdated at this point, I’d just be so bummed out if I was Robin, and this was what I got out of my “accept me for who I am” friends. Like I know the two moments are displaced by real time and narrative YEARS, but can you picture this reaction playing during the Enies Lobby Raid? Like, this reaction while the crew are standing defiant before the tower of Justice? I certainly can’t, and it makes the bond between the crew seem puddle deep.
So yeah. I didn’t like this. I can understand why others might. But regardless of whether or not the current reveals “make sense” or could be expected”, I just can’t with the current OP trend of dragging past seemingly clear-cut things out in the present and retroactively reframing them, certainly not when it seems like it’s mostly for the benefit of efficiently propelling the plot forwards and managing its increasingly tangled Plotline Web.