Hey, guys. It's been a while. Wow, it's been almost 2 years since I last wrote anything. Dang. Sorry, I've been busy. This won't be that kind of blog post.
I've been thinking lately about why my two favorite story arcs (Punk Hazard and Dressrosa) are my favorites and I realized that it had nothing to do with the fights or the new characters or anything flashy like that. It had to do more with the setup and execution of the elements involved. The themes at work in each arc, I think, are some of Oda's best writing in the whole series. I'd like to examine why these arcs worked so well thematically in their execution.
Punk Hazard was one of the few arcs after East Blue where we had no idea what was going to happen. Unlike Little Garden, where the crew had a goal beyond that (get to Alabasta), Punk Hazard had no clear goal after it (speaking from when the arc started), so we had to take it as it came. If I had to describe the theme of that arc in one word, it would be "Madness". Not the psychological definition, mind you, but in regard to wild unpredictability. The island itself is a climatically polarized wasteland, freezing on one side, burning on the other. We see mythical creatures roaming around: Satyrs, centaurs, yetis, a dragon, and three of those are in the first few chapters of the arc. Law shows up, and we still have no clue what's going on. Apparently a samurai is involved. There are giant children on the island. It seemed like some sort of dystopian Carrollian nightmare.
Then we learn that this is all the work of a literal mad scientist who is only getting away with this stuff because an agent of Doflamingo's infiltrated the Marines, made it all the way up to VICE ADMIRAL, and is stationed at the nearest base where he's running interference so Caesar can experiment in peace. We get to see inside the mind of a true mad man when Caesar unleashes the Land of Death, when madness is in total control. I imagine Oda gave Caesar the power over gas so at the time he would seem untouchable, figuratively and literally since he couldn't be hit by conventional means and because he had the protection of a Warlord. It builds to one of the most spectacular climaxes ever seen, and then nothing. The whole point of this arc was to world build. We learn about the black market, SAD, Smile, and Doflamingo's involvement, and then we move on. All that buildup and all the Straw Hats got out of it was help from a friend and a bargaining chip.
Punk Hazard was the stepping stone to Dressrosa, where the real power lies. The theme of this arc can only be "Control." Before the story gets too deep, we see the overall culture of the place: The Land of Fervor and Toys. Right off the bat, we can tell something is off. Living toys and humans intermingling and all seems right. A happy country is an orderly country. I'll admit I almost didn't want anything to happen a place that seemed so happy. Then almost right away the veneer gets peeled back. Slavery, memory manipulation, resistance factions. It's only happy on the surface. Doflamingo orchestrated all of it. The best way to control the masses is to control what they see. And ten years ago the people of Dressrosa saw their king ride through the streets and massacre innocent civilians. Any dissenters disappeared, becoming toys or gladiators. The gladiator matches not only fed the masses' thirst for violence, but also their thirst to feel superior. Rebecca gave them a figure to hate, so everyone would focus on her and not Doflamingo. The three most dangerous people in the Donquixote Family were Doflamingo himself, Sugar, and Pica. Sugar controls the toys, and thus people's memories, Pica can manipulate the land itself, and Doflamingo tells them what to do. And while all this is happening, Dressrosa is the hub for black market trading, with Doflamingo being the most powerful broker in the world.
All of this, ALL OF THIS, comes out into the light and crashing down over the course of a day. Doflamingo never gave up his hold over the country until the very end. I consider Dressrosa to be Alabasta to the Nth degree. Crocodile's defeat rippled throughout the country, with only the World Government feeling the effects beyond that. Doflamingo's defeat rippled across the world. The fight between Luffy and Doflamingo kept building and building, but never to the point of overkill. I think Oda did that as a way of telling us exactly what was at stake when the dust settled. In defeating Doflamingo, one man; Luffy destroyed an empire, but saved a kingdom.
When I think of how well executed those two arcs are, I can't help but sit back in awe. The settings, the symbolism, the intricacy, the storytelling, all of it culminating perfectly. So with that, let me ask you. What arcs come to mind in terms of theme and how well they're executed?