Here we finally are: The Marineford Arc. When I started getting into One Piece proper I heard about this then-publishing story arc, a showdown with the most teased-as-powerful characters finally unleashing a fraction of their power in a big war with Luffy’s brother Ace’s life in the centre of it, and thought it sounded great. I obviously heard of the ending long ago, which takes some of the edge off of it, but I still enjoyed my long-awaited watch through of the story arc. So let’s take an overall look at it, shall we?
Firefist Ace is about to be executed by the Marines, his Captain Whitebeard and crew are on their way to stop it. This war will change the face of the world, and Luffy, fresh from escaping the inescapable Impel Down prison, is desperate to be in the middle of it…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Luffy faces impossible odds all to save his brother…
I think the thing I like most about this story arc is how plays with the Shonen story tropes and teases going in the way you assume it’ll go, only to suddenly switch. Let me explain: Whitebeard, Ace’s captain and father-figure, is an old man who’s extremely powerful. In most regular Shonen stories, that means he’s due to die in some spectacular way in order to inspire the younger generation (a.k.a. the main cast) So when you see Ace is about to be executed but strong old man is here to try and save him, you assume Ace will be saved at the cost of Whitebeard’s life. Not to skip over too much, but Ace does get rescued by Luffy (and “oddly far more story relevant than I’d ever have thought” Mr. 3) and begins to make his escape as Whitebeard, already gravely injured, stays behind. Everything is going as you imagine it would… then Admiral Akainu catches up to Ace and Luffy and BAM, Ace is killed in Luffy’s arms anyway, despite escaping, and even though an enraged Whitebeard gets some measure of payback, he too dies as he was always going to. It’s pretty much a complete defeat of the good guys by the “villains” of the story, and a gravely hurt Luffy has a mental breakdown at the gory loss of his older brother. Dark, emotional, gripping stuff that subverts expectations (well, unless you have an ear to the anime community like I do, then you already knew what happens before watching it…)
I have to say that Whitebeard appearing behind Akainu, putting the fear of God into the Admiral before quake-punching his face so hard into the ground it distorts was a great moment, as I said above, a small measure of vengeance for what the high-ranking Marine did to his beloved “son”. Despite being stabbed by his own subordinate due to Marine scheming and having lots of other injuries, Whitebeard’s final end is at the hands of the late-arriving Blackbeard and his crew, which now includes a bunch of high-ranking criminals from Impel Down. Even near death, Whitebeard injured Blackbeard a bit before he gets shot and stabbed to death in a harrowing black, white and red toned scene. Great moment, and the fact Whitebeard “dies standing” was a great final act of strength and defiance. Somehow Blackbeard steals his fellow beard’s Quake powers to go alongside his Dark powers, making Blackbeard absurdly strong going into the post Time Skip stuff, and clearly Luffy’s final enemy at the end of the series (whenever the hell that is!).
Speaking of Luffy, his struggle against clearly impossible odds in order to reach and save his brother was well done, gaining the fear/respect out of everyone on the battlefield and making a clear name for himself. It is disheartening that after everything, from losing his crewmates at the Sabaody Archipelago, to all the poison and stuff at Impel Down, to everything here at Marineford, he doesn’t actually stop his brother’s death or reunite with his men. That’s a harsh “downfall to bring him back up” story arc, that’s for sure…
The war only ends when Redhaired Shanks, one of the four Emperors, arrives and stops everyone without lifting a finger, all thanks to his reputation of being one of the four strongest people in the world. He did thank the returning marine understudy Coby for giving an impassioned speech in a good moment, both the speech and Red’s sudden appearance. It was also good writing that he just missed out in seeing Luffy again, so that was a good tease for something else that is clearly being saved for the finale. He did make sure to re-gift him his straw hat though, which was a nice moment. I liked Trafalgar Law, who I enjoyed from a couple of arcs ago, reappearing to save Luffy in his little yellow submarine. Overall it was a satisfying end to the darkness.
Whitebeard betrayed because one of his “sons” is a complete knob. Not the way he wanted to (start to) go out…
I also have to mention Garp, the high-ranking Marine who is also the grandfather of Luffy and Ace, having to watch one of his beloved sons (who we find out he adopted from his old nemesis Gol. D. Roger) get executed while the other struggles in vein to stop it. At several points he breaks down, caught between duty and his grand-paternal instincts. Eventually he pretty much tells Luffy to punch him unconscious, because he has to try and stop him but deep down he doesn’t want to. When Ace is killed and Luffy is seemingly up next, he’s held down by Marine head honcho Sengoku, and tells his superior (and old friend) to keep him held down, because if he lets go he’s going to attack and try to stop Akainu. Great stuff.
As for the rest of the arc? Well, it was mainly fighting, and some of it was fun. Loved seeing people like Dracule Mihawk, Admiral Kizaru and Admiral Aokiji getting to show their stuff a bit more, plus some of Whitebeard’s crew were good too, like Marco the Phoenix, and Luffy’s new ally in Jinbe put in a good showing as well. Crocodile goes from enemy of Whitebeard to ally of Luffy due to his wavering sense of loyalty in several good moments. Hell, even a side-story with often too-over-the-top annoying Ivankov knowing Bartholomew Kuma from the past and trying to help him was actually interesting. That’s not to say everything was great, but there were plenty of episodes that were fun to watch.
“Listen Oars, I appreciate the help, but can you just stop now?”
As with most of One Piece, there were some slow episodes, where you wonder how the Pirates / Luffy can keep running towards Ace’s scaffold and not seemingly get any closer at all despite all that happens. Then there was some comedy filler… in amongst all the shots of marines getting chopped down or pirates getting shot, we had bloody Boa Hancock day dreaming about marrying Luffy for 10 minutes, or Buggy The Clown hijinks with a camera. Of all the arcs to cut back on the comedy and let the drama play out, this should have been it…
The worst offender was early on, where the weird revelation of Oars, the long-dead giant from the Thriller Bark Arc, having had a son called Oars Jr. who was a member of the Whitebeards. Oars Jr. slowly made his way to the Marineford shoreline before getting cut down, and then got up, cut down, on and on, all the while Ace is constantly shouting “OARS!” all the damn time. It really felt like you’re on the starting line of an exciting race, but every time you’re about to rush forward, you get pulled back, someone saying “No, not yet”.
Always loved Dracule Mihawk’s design, right from his extremely early appearance. His inevitable showdown with Zoro at the end of the series will be worth the wait, I’m sure.
The Marineford Arc lived up to the hype in its last 8 or 10 episodes. One Piece goes extremely dark as our anti-heroes are all beaten, battered and / or straight up killed, and it’s all pulled off with great flair. A few slow episodes to start, followed by some misplaced comedy, nearly knocked it down from a 5, but the final third of the story saved it. It was a great moment, and a good way to end coverage of the series for a while on this site (no UK release date for any further episodes, and Toei are still refusing to give anywhere in the UK streaming rights…)