Let's explore the mysteries of Zou and the magic of One Piece's storytelling with RogersBase!
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 inaugural article in the series "My Favorite One Piece Arc!"
My first guest in this series is RogersBase, a Nintendo Brand Ambassador. For my chat with him, he chose the Zou arc, in which Luffy and his crew head to an ancient civilization that sits upon the back of a giant elephant.
A note on spoilers: If you haven't seen the Zou arc yet, this interview does contain major plot points. Watch the Zou arc starting RIGHT HERE if you'd like to catch up or rewatch!
Dan Dockery: In one sentence, could you sell me on Zou?
RogersBase: Okay, here we go — Mystery, romance, and a little bit of the Mammoth Boyz. I think that’s the perfect way to describe the best story arc in the post time skip era of One Piece.
The best? Really?
Yeah, by far. For me, at least.
Yeah, I feel like post time skip has been a certainly interesting array of storylines. I think my personal favorite is Whole Cake. So much of the back half of it as soon as the wedding goes awry is great, and the entire Katakuri fight is a masterpiece.
I think Whole Cake is a totally reasonable answer, and I think you probably like it for the same reasons that I like Zou: the characterization and the drama that isn’t centered around the characters saving a kingdom. The kingdom of Zou has already been destroyed. There’s no saving it at this point. The only thing they want to save is Raizo. So you don’t have to deal with the villain hierarchies and families of say Dressrosa or Wano. And the nice thing about it is that since it’s a shorter, condensed story arc, it really hammers home the motivations of the characters and gives us this terrifying villain that’s not even present for most of the arc.
I really like Jack. He only appears in a flashback for the most part and he’s a scourge of the kingdom. And then he comes back, only to be hit by that elephant. And that’s one of those things at the beginning of the arc, when I saw this massive thing, I thought “Aw, man. I wanna see what that elephant can do. I hope it hits something” and then IT DOES. I flipped out. It was so satisfying. Did you know that Zou would be your favorite when you finished it?
Yeah, I think I did. All the arcs up to that point had really high highs, but some of it just didn’t land with me. So to have Oda move away from these long story arcs that end in big one on one fights and go to this shorter, mystery-focused arc: What’s going on with these minks? What’s atop this elephant? Is Raizo still alive? What is The Voice of All Things? What connection does Luffy have to these giant creatures? And with so many great designs and characters, too, with the Minks. It’s really fascinating, and you have bits and pieces that lead up to it, but there’s so much here.
I feel like the Minks might be Oda’s purest expression of side characters because he’s playing with all of these animal figures that are both interesting to look at and emotionally evocative. It’s him flexing his muscles as a character artist. And the landscape of Zou as well - It’s beautiful to behold.
Especially when you think about the amount of content that’s there in a short amount of chapters or episodes. There’s so much that’s told about the overall world, the Road Poneglyphs, the relationship between the Minks and the Kozuki Family, the Beast Pirates, so much gets touched upon that will expand in later story arcs. There’s beautiful, immediate payoff there and later.
It has such a comparatively goofy start, too. They’re climbing this giant elephant on the back of a cartoon dragon that Robin thinks is adorable. And I’m glad she gets a little bit of focus here because, with the Poneglyphs, Zou is a really big set-up arc for Robin. So her role in One Piece’s endgame has exponentially increased.
Also, the focus on characterization. In earlier, post timeskip arcs, you have these epic clashes that take down kingdoms, but here you get a cute moment with Robin. It’s so refreshing to see her in a natural element where she’s comfortable.
What did you think of the Mink tribe’s living situation? The giant white whale tree and the treehouses and all. Do you have any favorite parts of Oda’s worldbuilding here? Not just as a story designer, but as someone who crafts actual places where races and species can live.
It’s cool to see the animals he chooses for the Minks, and how he constructs the power structure and who controls the land at what time, with the dog during the day and the cat at night. The big pineapple trees and the ruins that you see in the Jack flashback, he created a full-blown, believable civilization. It’s always a pleasure to see Oda working in jungle vegetation-type areas. He really excels in this in Skypiea and in his color spreads. So it seems like Zou is something that he’s wanted to do for a while. And how much effort he puts into it is why you feel so attached to the Minks at the end.
That’s really cool. There are a ton of anime side character animals, like Kakashi’s pet dogs and the little animals that hang out with Goku and pals, but Oda really lets loose here with a whole species. And as you said, we should’ve kinda seen it coming with all the work he’s done with anthropomorphic animals. But then, you have the big Jack flashback. And the stereotype of the One Piece flashback is “Oh boy, it’s ‘bout to get sad.” But Zou’s feels like an epic piece of mythology, and Jack is just this being of pure cruelty without any kind of sad backstory. How did you feel about it? Did it surpass your expectations?
Oh, absolutely! To see a character as violent and ruthless as Jack was something needed, I think. He’s an overall threat, not goofy. And his Devil Fruit is fascinating, as you finally see the return of the Prehistoric Zoan type fruit after you last saw it with Drake turning into an Allosaurus. So it’s cool to not only see that Jack can turn into a Woolly Mammoth, but it’s a Woolly Mammoth fighting on top of a giant elephant. And with the way he gets teased leading up to his appearance in the flashback, I remember thinking “How cool would it be if there was a Woolly Mammoth fruit!” and sure enough, there it is! Jack feels like a fulfillment of the promise of the New World — It’s not going to be a cakewalk. Your opponents will be devastating and Jack is so determined, coming because he knows Raizo’s there and then coming back because he STILL KNOWS Raizo is there. He’s like “You can tell me all you want that he’s not here, but I know, and I will crucify you and cut off your limbs. I don’t know why you’re trying to defend this one ninja, but I know he’s here.”
Zou is kind of a double feature. We have Raizo and the Minks and the lore, but we also have the stuff that leads to Whole Cake with Sanj and Capone. Now, I see Sanji’s whole arc here sometimes referred to as Robin 2.0, because it’s a lot like Enies Lobby on the surface. Guy gets taken by the bad guys and is like “Don’t follow me because they’ll kill you, etc.” That’s always felt a little hollow to me because Sanji is not Robin and they don’t have the same motivation.
No, absolutely. And I’m glad you mentioned it because it’s phenomenal how well Zou has aged. They manage to give these characterization moments to Robin and Sanji and the crew while introducing all this stuff and managing to make us care about all of it. There are people that are like “I can’t wait for Carrot to officially join the crew,” and it all stems from this story arc.
In terms of characters that get done so well that even though their time with you is brief, they still stick with you for a long time, I think a good example is Pedro. He joins everyone and he’s this stoic, mentor figure, a character type that usually doesn't fare so well when it comes to surviving anime series intact. And obviously, RIP Pedro. But it’s a testament to what you’re talking about because he just joins the crew and you’re like “Yeah, sure. Gimme fifty more chapters of him.”
He’s got this cool eye patch, he has a beef with Big Mom, he knows about the world. And he’s the one who’s sort of the most hesitant to trust the Straw Hats at first after the disaster with Jack and all. But by the ending, he knows that the Straw Hats are the guys that he’s been waiting for. This is the crew that will bring upon that new dawn. And we haven’t even talked about Pekoms yet! He has those ties to Big Mom and to Bepo and to Zou and to Pedro and to Capone, who shoots him.
What do you think of the Poneglyph system? It’s both indicative of the Straw Hat endgame, but it isn’t like this magic map. What do you think of it as kind of a quest marker?
It’s great because you learn that there are a definite few that mean something and that they’re all being held at various places that are run by Emperors. So trying to find them gives you an actual reason to fight these Emperors of the Sea and heading into their territories. They don’t really need to be fighting Kaido in the grand scheme of things, but the Poneglyphs add to the direction of the series.
ONE PIECE LIGHTNING ROUND!
Trafalgar D. Water Law.
Favorite Straw Hat?
I go back and forth between three, but Sanji.
If you could live on any One Piece island, where would you call home?
Dressrosa without Doflamingo would actually be pretty nice.
Favorite One Piece fight?
Luffy vs Lucci.
One Piece moment that made you sob the most?
“Raizo is safe!” I was so overwhelmed with emotion, seeing the resolve of the Minks.
One Piece moment that made you cheer the loudest?
Sabo getting the Flare-Flare Fruit in Dressrosa.
Stay tuned for the next installment of "My Favorite One Piece Arc" as we speak with Official One Piece Columnist for Shueisha and Toei Greg Werner about his favorite One Piece arc: Arlong Park!!
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
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