The following recap contains spoilers for Chapter 1038 of the One Piece manga. You can check out the latest chapters in English via Viz Media.
Standard One Piece convention dictates that a “vs” title for a manga chapter means we’re in for a conclusive fight victory within the next chapter or two (or three). Specifically, Chapter 1038 is called “Kid & Law vs. Big Mom,” so it’s only a matter of time before this fight reaches some sort of ending.
On my first read-through of 1038, I got the impression that my prediction from the last chapter two weeks ago might be in for a rude upset (Oda never ceases to surprise me, after all). That prediction was that Big Mom’s fight with Kid and Law would either end in a stalemate or not end at all and be disrupted by either Kaidou’s fight or Onigashima plummeting toward Wano.
The “vs” title in this chapter upends the latter guess, and it makes the former guess far more unlikely. I think Oda might seriously be setting up a loss for Big Mom at the hands of Luffy’s pirate captain allies (and soon to be Whitebeard and Roger type rivals). After all, Oda goes well out of his way to set up how an emperor like Big Mom can be whittled away to defeat, not too differently from what finally led to Whitebeard’s defeat way back during the Marineford arc.
This chapter covers far more than just the titular fight, of course, and I’ll be sure to get into most of Onigashima’s sprawling dangers and intrigue, as there’s surprisingly a lot going on right now. Especially for a title fight! First, though, let’s talk about the cover story.
GERMA 66 COVER STORY
I didn’t find last chapter’s cover story all that interesting, as it simply set up some sort of series related to what Germa 66 is up to in the aftermath of the Whole Cake Island arc. But this week’s chapter certainly raises the stakes and even corrects a plot development that a lot of readers, myself included, took keen issue with. The Straw Hats and Jinbei and the Sun Pirates all seemed to get away from Big Mom’s territory with scant consequences, so it seemed even wilder that Germa 66 managed to get out pretty easily, too.
Thankfully, we now know the Big Mom pirates captured Niji and Yonji, which makes Judge and the others’ emotionless stare from last chapter make a bit more contextual sense. They’re probably weighing the risks of going back to save two of their own, which might be a tricky decision considering their lack of, well, emotions. Save for Reiju, of course.
On the cover we see that Niji and Yonji are being held by those same “book prisons” that contained the Straw Hats way back when, and they’re being monitored by Oven and Pudding all the way on Cacao Island. This cover story confirms one of the main reasons for why some of Big Mom’s heavy hitters stayed behind. We can probably assume that Cracker was demoted as a Sweet Commander, just like Snack, since he lost to Luffy. As for Katakuri, it’s hard to believe Big Mom would demote him, too, but it would explain why we only saw Smoothie and Daifuku on the ship still hanging around outside Wano.
So I’m looking forward to tying up those loose ends regarding Big Mom’s crew, especially as we’re seeing her potential downfall happening in parallel. Will Pudding betray Oven and help Sanji’s family? If so, I could see her tagging along with Germa 66 as a result, leading to a future reunion with Sanji toward the manga’s endgame. But ultimately, Judge and his remaining officers will have to contend with an overwhelming force in order to succeed, unless for some reason Katakuri does something truly unexpected.
ONIGASHIMA HEATS UP
As I mentioned before, we got quite a few cuts to what’s happening around the Skull Dome. These scenes certainly add even more impending doom as the allied pirate forces scramble to save not just themselves, but their fallen comrades. We get a quick check-in with Raizo’s fight against Fukurokuju (one of the longest ever in the entire series at this point?), and it’s not looking great for either of them. While still in their “paralysis jutsu,” the fires from Kanjuro’s fire spirit form, Kazenbo, have spread all over the castle, so Raizo is quite literally engulfed in flames, yet still standing firm.
Fukurokuju even tells him that they’ll both die if Raizo doesn’t relent, but channeling his inner Oden, the Scabbard appears ready to die if it means he’ll topple the captain of the Oniwabanshu. It’s a sweet nod to Oden enduring the burning oil, which I believe Raizo even complained about at the time regarding the heat.
Elsewhere, we see Jinbe assisting some of the samurai trapped in the castle, noting that the fire will almost certainly kill many, many people. Yamato has made it in time to stop Kazenbo from immediately setting off the explosives, but it’s not over yet. She quickly unleashes her ice attack (which she used against Kaidou) to seal the explosives in ice, protecting them from setting off right away. But it clearly won’t last forever.
Just as she tries to attack Kazenbo, it apparently calls out for Orochi and then covers Yamato in flames. Since this spirit blow embodies the hatred of the Kurozumi clan, we can probably assume that Orochi has some control over it. I won’t be surprised if this gets addressed in the next chapter while he’s still fawning over Hiyori.
IZO VS. CIPHER POL?
Also in the castle, we see Izo finish off a large group of Beast Pirates, but not easily. He’s taken a ton of damage, and we even see blood dripping from his wounds as he jumps down a floor. To make matters worse, he collides with CPO, which easily dispatched of X Drake, with Apoo narrowly escaping them. Izo doesn’t appear to stand a chance against the masked Aegis, even if he was in full health, but they walk past him declaring that they essentially don’t have time for a former Whitebeard division leader. They’re after the Straw Hats, or Nico Robin to be more specific.
So they cut Izo a break, insisting that they’ll deal with him another day. But the Scabbard tells them to wait, pointing his flintlock up. The English translation infers that he might want to speak with them about something, but the original Japanese seems to imply more of a self-sacrificial move. As in, Izo might be pulling a Raizo (and Kinemon, and Ashura, etc.) He can’t stop CPO, but he can probably delay them at the expense of his own life.
ZORO VS. DEATH?
Near the Big Mom fight, Chopper returns to his original size, so the side effects of his new Rumble ball have officially worn off. But he’s clearly more worried about Zoro, as he reminds the Mink doctors (Tristan and Myagi) that the swordsman took their experimental medicine. Zoro was able to “heal” in the sense that he could move again after his fight with the two emperors, but the drawback was that eventually he’d receive double the damage. That’s coming back to haunt him, perhaps literally, as we cut to Zoro outside the Skull Dome now facing all that damage in addition to his wounds from fighting King.
What happens next is wildly unclear. Zoro can’t move, and he sees a “grim reaper” standing in front of him wearing a cloak and wielding a scythe. As this possible manifestation of death raises the scythe, perhaps to take Zoro to hell, we only hear Zoro cry out for the reaper to leave him alone.
Franky is on the move, blasting through the dome to get to Zoro, and the manga even shows us a map confirming that the cyborg is pretty close. So what’s going on here? Is this a real grim reaper? Is it just Brook, but Zoro is maybe hallucinating due to the side effects of the drug? Perhaps we’ll get an answer next week from Franky’s perspective.
If it’s actually death, that would fit with how Zoro has contended with death itself before, specifically when he fought Ryuma during the Thriller Bark arc and took on all that damage from Kuma afterward. I like the idea of his sword, Enma, saving him from death somehow, showing that the blade has accepted Zoro as the “king of hell” or something like that, as a nice way to tie off that dream of his.
It’s way too difficult to speculate, honestly, since this could mean almost anything, and I doubt Oda is playing this as a joke. Either way, this all appears to be a set up for some of the Straw Hats reuniting and regrouping as the raid reaches its final stage.
BACK TO THE FIGHT
Judging by the name of the chapter, I certainly wasn’t expecting to start with Big Mom unleashing flurries of lightning attacks on Kid and Law, who appear unconscious. Even their respective crews call out for Big Mom to stop or else they’ll die, which she notably calls “pathetic.”
But Big Mom is weakened. Perhaps heavily. Most of her dialogue in this chapter ends in wheezes and hard breathing. She’s covered in manga-type damage, and she even says she’s tired at one point. And as she floats up to see why Kaidou is taking so long with Luffy, Law and Kid rebound, somehow, and set off a counterattack. I have absolutely no idea how they could possibly be standing, but Oda’s gonna Oda.
First, Law uses his awakening ability, “Kroom Anesthesia,” again, slipping his sword through “room” and causing it to expand and enlarge. The image of the sword piercing Big Mom’s arm and then face is what made me realize, “OK, they might actually beat her!” The real damage comes when he uses “Shock Wille,” essentially sending tons of damage to Big Mom internally. We even see blood coming out of her mouth, ensuring that this fight is still competitive. Big Mom even comments on how they must really want her head.
The Homies immediately try to take out Law in response, but Kid is back as well. He uses his magnetism to combine them into a new bull form called “Punk Corna Dio” (I believe this is supposed to mean “Punk Horn God” if translated from Italian). The bull is even bigger than Big Mom, as we can see from the attack and hear from a commentator, so the attack appears to do some damage as well. So while Law attacks Big Mom internally, Kid tries to overwhelm her externally. Makes sense.
THE NEXT BEST GENERATION
The chapter ends with Law and Kid declaring that they won’t let Big Mom get to the roof. “I’d rather die,” they both say. This means their goal isn’t even to defeat Big Mom, necessarily, just stall her so Luffy can deal with Kaidou on his own. You can also read it as the two of them making it clear that they won’t let Luffy be the only one who defeats an emperor. Their rivalry with him is dependent on them besting Big Mom, and I do think Oda has a lot of incentive to bring her down either at the same time as Kaidou or shortly before.
And upon further reflecting, I find myself more interested in the idea of both emperors losing to the next generation. Luffy still gets the bulk of the glory, since he defeats the stronger emperor and by himself. But it raises the profile of his two biggest rivals, which is more intriguing than them simply losing and Big Mom getting brought down by something or someone else.
Additionally, this can all be seen as an overall victory for Luffy against both emperors, since he’s the unofficial leader of these allied forces, at least how the world will likely perceive it. That would certainly give Law and Kid a big reason to hate Luffy moving forward and end their truce as we all expect. Even Law has shown a lot of disgust at the mere perception of Luffy ordering him around, back when they were all on the roof.
GRAND FLEETING THOUGHTS
- No Zunesha sighting this week, but all those fires made me wonder if he’ll use his trunk to douse the flames at some point.
- I appreciate how Oda constructed a scenario where absolutely everyone in the raid has a truly important purpose. Momo has to slow down the descent of the island. Yamato has to keep the explosives from setting off. The remaining Straw Hats have to help evacuate everyone from the castle. All the while, two emperors of the sea are on the verge of defeat.
- No break next week! See you all back here for Chapter 1039.