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– by Kyle Lesniewicz
ONE PIECE © 1997 by Eiichiro Oda/SHUEISHA Inc.

“You have no idea of the value of food and the effort that goes into cooking it,” Sanji scolds his brother, Niji.

This centerpiece of Sanji’s character is the flavor that permeates volume 84 of One Piece. Here, food serves as the catalyst for exposing privilege. Later, Sanji’s determination to share a home-cooked dinner with his mother encapsulates the bonds that can be made with a meal. Finally, after literally weaponizing his appetite, Luffy’s refusal to eat again unless the food is cooked by Sanji is the make-or-break crux of a dissolving friendship. Though this main course is ripe with promise, its execution leaves something to be desired.

Sanji’s betrayal of the crew doesn’t elicit the genuine mystery that Nico Robin’s CP9 heel-turn did, nor does this dispute between comrades feature an honorable fight as the one between Luffy and Usopp did. Whereas the former Baroque Works assassin’s intentions could never be fully trusted, as Oda chose not to convey Robin’s disappearance from her point of view, much of volume 84 is told from Sanji’s point of view. His internal struggle about leaving the crew is never near as in doubt. Likewise, although Usopp never stood a chance, Luffy dignified that rift by exchanging blows with Usopp as equals. On Whole Cake island, Luffy takes each of Sanji’s kicks square to the jaw without a shred of resistance. Visceral though it may be to see Luffy take it on the chin from one of his most loyal friends, the stakes don’t feel quite as real in this iteration of crewmate abandonment. The well of Straw Hat division plots may be running dry.

What Luffy vs. Sanji offers in place of these shortcomings is a Sanji-centric narrative unique in the span of the series. Apart from Luffy, significant characters only get one story arc to be the focal point of One Piece (typically their introduction to the series). Baratie may have been Sanji’s introductory arc, but it is on Whole Cake Island that Sanji finally grapples with his oft-hinted North Blue past.

This volume fully fleshes out the militant, genetically engineered, country-for-hire that is Germa Kingdom. Judge and his sons are foils for Sanji’s ideals: men lacking in empathy, chivalry, and an appreciation for the culinary arts. A failed superhuman experiment, Sanji struggles to please his father while clinging to cooking as a memento of his mother. The Vinsmokes take pleasure in kicking Sanji when he’s down at every turn, but no physical strike hurts quite as much as when Judge catches his son trying to escape Germa, only to be relieved of his secret shame.

The execution of flashbacks is one of the greatest strengths that One Piece can boast. The consequence of Sanji’s flashback, however, is that for all the sympathy it merits, its contrast with present-day Sanji is unflattering. A key difference between those desertion attempts by Robin and Usopp that I mentioned earlier is that Sanji was there for them. That he would abandon faith his crew at this juncture is frustrating. Likewise, the impetus for Sanji’s chivalry being Zeff helped to explain some of the more annoying interactions this character has had with the opposite sex over the years. That will be short-lived, for Sanji’s declaration to his bride-to-be Pudding that she is his salvation undoes this goodwill. These panels of lovers’ sweet-nothings are juxtaposed with Luffy’s agonizing battle of attrition, putting their frivolousness into perspective.

When Luffy isn’t getting his face kicked in this volume, his time is spent dishing that pain onto the Big Mom Pirates. This volume sees the conclusion of Luffy’s clash with Charlotte Cracker: a refreshing throwback of a bout that features our rotund, overstuffed hero beating the odds through creative ingenuity rather than pure strength. This fight draws favorable parallels to that of Luffy versus Crocodile outside the Alabasta palace. From there, he incurs the wrath of the emperor’s forces in retaliation. This constant barrage of warfare is a tantalizing backdrop for the much-hyped tea party between Big Mom and Germa, complete with delectable homies begging to be devoured. This unlikely collage of panels contrasting dinner etiquette and talk of matrimony with unsettling freaks and the promise of violence give the volume a nervous, captivating energy that breaks away from its exposition. I’m particularly intrigued by what is to come from the briefly introduced espionage plot line of Brook and Pedro.

All in all, this installment of One Piece raises the stakes in what is shaping up to be one of the more riveting arcs in recent memory, complete with the quality flashback we’ve come to expect and a cliffhanger to boot, but the meat of this story is yet to be paid off. Despite what it gets right, this volume’s reliance upon recycled tropes hurts its effectiveness in maintaining the tension created by the surrounding narrative. I’ll finish my plate, lest the cook call my manners into question, but I’d be lying if I said I was satisfied.

Grade: C+

Have you had a chance to pick up One Piece Volum 84? Let us know down below!

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