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One Piece Collection 21 [Episodes 493-516]

SPOILER WARNING: Contains Spoilers For One Piece Collection 20.

Following the shocking climax of the previous volume, One Piece takes a trip back in time. We pause the action in the present to explore a previously unknown chapter in Luffy's past. It takes us 10 years back to before the start of the series and recounts how Luffy and Ace came to form their brotherly bond.

One Piece Collection 21 comprises episodes 493 to 516 of the series, originally broadcast between April and September of 2011. The English version is produced by Funimation and released in the UK by Manga Entertainment.

Fans of any long-running anime series know very well the tactic of switching plotlines (often to filler episodes) in the middle of a vital point of the plot. However, after the dialled-up-to-11 feel of the previous volume, a change of pace seems quite welcome.

Besides, this mini-arc actually feels like it has purpose. It fills in missing parts of Luffy and Ace's backstory and fleshes out their relationship- making the impact of the loss of Ace seem even more significant. It also gives the whole arc a bittersweet air.

It takes us back to when Luffy was seven and Monkey D. Garp delivers him to Mount Corvo, where he instructs Mountain Bandit Curly Dadan to take care of him. Dadan is already (reluctantly) raising Ace, and the brothers meet for the first time. Although Ace tries to push him away at first, Luffy, Ace and a local boy name Sabo soon form an inseparable bond and begin to plot to become pirates together. Their mischievous antics draw unwanted attention, and they soon find themselves up against foes like pirates, bandits and devious nobles from the nearby town.

The story is a flashback in narrative terms, but it also feels like a throwback in many ways. The younger version of Luffy is like older Luffy only more so. He's even bouncier, more impetuous and even less worldly. As it starts off with simple antics and new friendships it feels much like early One Piece. Eventually, even this story begins to get more serious, but it remains engaging enough to ensure you're not just longing for the present-day story to get going again. The whole story also functions as a great way to say goodbye to Ace.

In the latter half of this volume, we do indeed catch up to the present day. After showing us some of the fallout of the events of the great battle of Marine Ford, it's time to finally catch up with the rest of the Straw Hat crew. It's been quite some time since we've seen them, and it's been even longer since we've seen them together. But the news of Ace's death is enough to finally make them determined to reunite.

Of course, with them scattered to various corners of the world, getting back to their promised meeting place isn't going to be that straightforward. So fans are going to have to be patient a little while longer. To try and make their way back, they'll have to contend with challenges such as warrior baboons, wizards, giant insects, giant birds and more.

The crew's exploits while separated- Luffy's excluded- have not exactly been a highlight of the series so far, but they are all finally justified here in their importance to the story, and without lingering on any one of them for too long. They definitely work better in small doses.

This means we get a run of episodes that are largely set-up, moving all the pieces into place for upcoming events. Not only showing the crew's efforts to reunite but also opening up to show how the war and its aftereffects are changing One Piece's wider world.

It all makes for a pleasingly varied volume, delivering plenty of the over-the-top action, comedy and melodrama that makes the series such a consistent delight, even after 500 episodes.


IN A NUTSHELL:  The final volume before the time-skip is a fittingly entertaining end of an era- reflecting on the past, while looking to the future.

*Review disc supplied by Manga Entertainment *