Let's take on the Arlong Park arc and discover Nami's past with Greg Werner!
I love One Piece and I love talking to people who love One Piece. And with the series going on 23 years now, there is a whole lot to talk about. As the series is about to publish its 1000th chapter, a true feat in and of itself, we thought we should reflect upon the high-seas adventure and sit down with some notable names in the One Piece fan community and chat about the arcs they found to be especially important, or just ones they really, really liked.
Welcome to the next article in the series "My Favorite One Piece Arc!"
My next guest in this series is Greg Werner, the official One Piece columnist for Shueshia and Toei. For my chat with him, he chose the Arlong Park, in which Luffy and his crew take on Arlong and Nami officially joins Team Straw Hat.
A note on spoilers: If you haven't seen the Arlong Park arc yet, this interview does contain major plot points. Watch the Arlong Park arc starting RIGHT HERE if you'd like to catch up or rewatch!
Dan Dockery: Sell me on Arlong Park, in one sentence. Let's say that I'd gotten to the end of the Baratie Arc, and I decided "You know what? I don't think this is for me." What would you say to convince me to keep going?
Greg Werner: I don’t know if I could sell a bottle to a milkman, but I’ll give it a shot ... Can it be in the form of a question?
Do you want to know Nami’s backstory? And that seems so facile, but you’re coming off Baratie with the knowledge that Nami has betrayed the crew, she has left the crew, and she has stolen the ship. But it seems like she’s not acting freely, and she mentions the name “Bellemere.” So if you’ve gone through One Piece and you’ve come to that point, that’s simple enough.
So, you have Luffy who wants to go get her, an injured Zoro, Usopp, who's gotta be in a weird state, and Sanji who finds her extremely attractive and cool. It's a fun dynamic.
Zoro and Usopp are an interesting combination, they always are. Usopp always feels like Zoro’s little brother and Zoro kind of has to take a back seat due to injuries here. But I always find their interactions to be very sweet, and you get to see a kind side of Zoro, which is the antithesis of how he interacts with Sanji. And you’re getting hints of the rivalry between Zoro and Sanji here, one that ramps up to the hunting contest in Little Garden, at which point they cease to call each other by their names and just insult one another. And between Luffy and Sanji, you get these kindred spirits due to their dreams. Usopp and Zoro are a little more straight-faced about their dreams, but both Sanji and Luffy utter their dreams with these big smiles. So even though Oda has his pieces all over the map, it’s nice to see the freshness of all of them working together, which is something you won’t find in anything but the best shonen action series.
When you meet Arlong, he's kind of a jerk. He doesn't seem very nice. But he's one of the first One Piece villains who seems like a complete character. He's mighty but underhanded and deceitful. What does his introduction do for One Piece?
So I bought the first ten volumes for a co-worker because he’d seemed interested in it, and I said “There, you’ve got the first ten volumes. Now you have no excuse not to get into it.” And we’ve been talking about it recently, especially the little details, and we found something very interesting about Arlong. There’s one aspect of Arlong that is completely different from every villain up to this point and it’s how he treats his crew. Buggy starts off beating up one of his crew members. Part of Kuro’s plan is to kill his crew. Krieg only sees his crew as numbers and will gas them. Arlong, though, to members of his crew, he’s extraordinarily loyal. When he finds out that Zoro has beaten up his crew, Arlong is pissed. In some ways, he’s very similar to Luffy, but he’s despicable and terrifying and he’s one of my favorite villains.
That's a great point; Arlong is the first bad guy to have pride in his crew. Speaking of Arlong's crew, this is the first time we get the classic 1v1 where a Straw Hat member matches up against an antagonist crew member. When you first read this, because it's electric every time I watch it, how did you feel to watch it go full-on battle manga?
Zoro’s a beast. Sanji’s a beast. But Usopp? Facing down this insurmountable force? How is he gonna do this? And I think that’s the moment that got me. The others are awesome, and I love them, and they’re great, funny battles. But with Usopp fighting Chew, it showed Oda’s ability to shine in a certain way. Like Toriyama and Dragon Ball, Oda’s been very influenced by Jackie Chan, because Jackie Chan fights are awesome, visually stunning fights, but they’re funny. And that’s what Oda strives for sometimes. When you combine the action with the gags, you get something very special. You’re not just excited, but you’re laughing, too. And I think Usopp’s battles represent the pinnacle of that. It clicked for me there and it became a page-turner. It feels like what a shonen action series should be. And I enjoy Oda’s different takes on it, but he does it so well here.
I’m glad you bring up Toriyama and Dragon Ball because if you read any interview with any Shonen Jump author, they praise Toriyama. And it’s deserved. The man’s battle scenes and pacing have never been beaten and probably never will be. He’s the master. But one of the things I like about Oda is that he doesn’t try to copy them. Rather, he takes bits and pieces and spins it off into his own thing. Do you remember the Oda interview with Toriyama where he was like “I really liked Tao Pai Pai …”
From Color Walk 1.
And Toriyama was like “I ... drew that?” It’s the funniest thing in the world to me.
I think his exact words were “Now you’re getting into the minor characters.” And Oda’s like “MINOR CHARACTERS?”
He nearly killed Goku! But I dig that kind of reverence and inspiration. So Nami’s backstory — it’s heart-wrenching. Bellemere’s awesome. Makes you wish she was still around in the series.
Isn’t that perfect? That’s exactly what he goes for.
In the end, she refuses to say that she doesn’t have children, even after a bad spat with Nami. This flashback is one of my favorite ones. What did you get out of it and how did it take the story to another level? Because to match it, every flashback to come had to do some heavy lifting.
Every detail in this flashback builds on itself. There’s no excess. And maybe outside of the Chopper backstory, I can’t think of another backstory that is so full of necessary information that weaves into a single narrative. Every event evokes an emotion in the reader and pushes the story forward. Bellemere has the fight with Nami, makes dinner to reconcile with her, a Fishman crew member sees the cooking smoke from her house, the Fishmen find her, she refuses to discount Nami as her family, and she’s killed. It all comes together so neatly in three chapters, I think. Oda sets a reeeeeally high bar for himself, but to be able to match that through nearly a hundred volumes of story takes a special kind of manga genius. It’s also the very first time I cried while reading manga.
Next, we run through basically a Greatist Hits collection of One Piece moments: Nami asks for help, Luffy gives Nami the hat, the march to Arlong Park, Luffy slugs Arlong, the fights happen, Luffy brings down the Gum Gum Battle Axe, Arlong’s spine gets turned into clam chowder, etc. So much of what we think about One Piece is distilled into the final chapters of Arlong Park. So do you have a favorite moment from this climax? I honestly can’t pick.
I didn’t realize this when I first read it, and it took me several years to understand the importance of the giving of the hat. It’s one of only two times in the series that Oda uses five exclamation points in a row. The other one is when Luffy comes swooping in to save Vivi from Crocodile. Even the famous “dreams of mankind will never end” doesn’t get five. Luffy’s pissed and the best part about this is that he doesn’t have a single reason to be. He knows nothing about Nami’s history and actively refuses to listen to it. He takes a nap instead. He’s just ready to be a tool for her, so when she asks him to help her? YOU GOT IT. And then, the next thing he tells her, after the fight with Arlong, he tells her that she’s his crewmate. Nami has held this by herself for so long, she’s so strong, and she finally opens up to accept help from someone else. And it tells us that Luffy knows what kind of person you are, even if he doesn’t know that much about you. He might be dumb and reckless and strong, but there’s a spark there. He can read you.
One thing I like in the anime is that Nami is the first Straw Hat introduced in the story. She’s at the boat party that gets attacked by Alvida, and her showing up there and then being the main focus of Arlong Park bookends East Blue and kind of turns it into her saga. But as they leave this arc and head to Loguetown, what is new about One Piece? What's there that wasn't around before?
That’s a good question.
Because I hear many people say “Arlong Park is what made me a One Piece fan.”
You get to see their daily routines onboard their full ship. You have the established East Blue crew in one location and we get a slice of life. In just a few scenes or panels, you finally get to watch the crew relax. You get a window on their lives and there’s a sense of completeness. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling.
ONE PIECE LIGHTNING ROUND!
Luffy, Franky, and Zoro.
Favorite fight scene?
Luffy vs Bellamy. It’s so satisfying.
One Piece island that you’d want to live on?
What Devil Fruit would you eat?
Flower-Flower fruit that Nico Robin uses. I’d get so much work done.
One Piece moment that made you cry the most?
One Piece moment that made you cheer the loudest?
The defeat of Lucci. That was remarkable.
Stay tuned for the next installment of "My Favorite One Piece Arc" as we speak with Aggretsuko and The Black Mage writer Daniel Barnes about his favorite One Piece arc: Marineford!!
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
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