Weekly Shonen Jump will be off next week because of Golden Week over in Japan, so this week's issue is being billed as issue 22-23, despite being a normal sized issue. Of course, even though it's *only* over 200 pages, it's certainly still worth your attention: Naruto is back with a mini sequel series Naruto Gaiden: The Seventh Hokage and the Scarlet Spring (which I am covering separately because NARUTO'S BACK!!!), and Luffy is setting a new precedent in One Piece by going into Fourth Gear. FOURTH GEAR!!! Oda deserves massive amounts of credit for how freakishly creative he is, but one thing that people not privy to One Piece may not know is that this creativity is most effective when it extends to the weirdly specific battle mechanics of Luffy and his friends and foes. Super Saiyan in DBZ is just an awkwardly "Aryan" rage-fueled punch-fest, and Sage Mode in Naruto is slightly more explained but still pretty much magic; but, Luffy's way of escalating fights in typical Shonen style is actually given a naturalistic explanation. Luffy's gears involve him exploiting the properties of his rubber form using tension, air, heat, and pressure to create a serious problem for the people messing with his friends.
Okay, okay: so Haki isn't exactly a naturalistic explanation and is pretty much a magical force that everyone in One Piece has access to. And Haoshoku Haki is even rarer and seems to be the exact kind of power thingy that I was just jabbing at DBZ and Naruto for. But it's not as if what makes Luffy's gears special is the Haki: the Haki gets thrown in as an additional element, but it's not the most important one. By far the most interesting part of Luffy, other than the fact that he is currently bouncing around Dressrosa like a toy beating the absolute shit out of one of the most powerful beings on the planet, is the fact that he integrates immensely powerful techniques with the really stupid fact that he is made of rubber.
And herein lies the absolute genius of Luffy as a character: his rubber power is supposed to be stupid. I think sometimes that even big fans of One Piece forget that this power is supposed to suck ass. The first thing Luffy does when he gets this power is get abducted and almost drown, a series of events which results in Shanks losing a damn arm. But from day one Luffy has been showing that because of his brash, prototypically brave but stupid Shonen mentality, he can turn this inherently pointless ability into one of the greatest weapons in the world. It sends a message that is important but goes overlooked: what makes Luffy great isn't the fact that he ate the Gomu Gomu no Mi. What makes Luffy great is the fact that he is great in spite of eating the Gomu Gomu no Mi. And, if you really think about it, the whole point is that this little stupid kid would do absolutely anything to be the Pirate King, rubber powers or no.
I am going to go out on a limb and make an unfortunate prediction: someone is going to die in this final battle between Luffy and Doffy, and we're not going to like who it is. My first guess is Law, and I know it's the most obvious guess, but that's simply because it would make the most sense. I usually don't like putting story predictions out there like this, but this is a really pivotal and interesting time in One Piece: as was pointed out this chapter, what the Straw Hats and the revolutionaries are doing in Dressrosa is going to change the landscape of this world for better and for worse. People are going to realize that the government's association with certain pirates is incredibly dangerous for them, and the government is going to crack down on pirates and exercise its authority over civilians more than ever.
In any case, the reason I think someone has to die in this fight is because Luffy really is kicking the absolute shit out of Doflamingo right now. And it seems like Doffy's only out is that he will have to put Luffy in some kind of compromising position. Zoro, who is really one of the biggest heroes of this arc, has a plan to take care of Doffy's birdcage; but, Doffy is by far the evilest dude we have encountered in this series, and if he would kill an entire island over being minorly inconvenienced, I do not want to see what kind of shit he will do when he is backed into a corner.
Luffy's Fourth Gear and the return of Naruto alone make this a stellar issue. If I get a chance, I’ll gush about Food Wars next week. It’s a crazy-exciting time to be reading Jump.