I swear, the middle chunk of this volume is One Piece gone Bruno. Bon Clay has always been a pretty outrageous dude; the okama stereotype writ extra large, he winds up looking like the straight man when he stumbles into the lair of Emporio Ivonkov, the Okama King. Ivonkov has a head five times too large for his body, dresses in full Rocky Horror drag -- with a FISHNET CAPE -- and has an ultimate move called the Death Wink. And his Devil Fruit powers revolve around controlling hormones -- shortly after he's introduced, he pokes a man with his fingernails, and turns the dude into a woman. He and his transsexual transgendered army of freedom are partying hard to prepare for the coming revolution.
The okama stereotype has gradually become a real problem for me -- I now take trotting that stereotype out wholesale as a sure sign of hack writing, and refuse to watch anything that uses that. The almost total lack of nuanced, realistic portrayals of alternative lifestyles is a big part of it (Arai Hideki and, oddly, Oku Hiroya are two of the few who have bothered) but I've gradually come to realize that it isn't just the cliche that bothers me -- like all stereotypes, it IS based on a character type from the real world -- but that the hack's portrayal of it fundamentally misunderstands why outrageously over the top okama WORK. Every flamboyant button-pushing exhibitionist I've known got a pass on their more inappropriate shticks because they were FUCKING FUNNY. Yet in most anime, the actual characters are disgusted, annoyed, or confused by the okama characters. If the other characters don't even like the fucker, why would I want to see them?
This is why One Piece, for all it's indulging and exploiting of the stereotype, fundamentally GETS IT. Bon Clay is considered HILARIOUS. Ivonkov's immensely dumb NOT jokes DESTROY his audience. We're given feedback from the start that these are likable, energetic people. And then they get to be really fucking heroic.
Glancing back, apparently I didn't talk about One Piece 54, or if I did, I didn't tag it. I was pretty thrown by volume 53's abrupt cast dispersal, but once I saw where he was headed with this, I knew once again that I should never doubt Oda for a second. This arc has been a real treat, both with old characters popping up again, and new characters. My personal favorite is Inazuma, who engages in furious battles while holding a glass of brandy in one hand.