That Time When The Big Three Battled It Out With Total War Arcs
Bakuman gives us an informative insider-look into the Japanese manga industry: the relationship between editors and the mangaka, the difficult road toward the serialization of a new series, the ruthless popularity system, and the exciting rivalry between fellow mangaka.
Out of the aforementioned information, the one element that seems least likely to happen is the rivalry. Because in reality, every mangaka is more like a colleague to the others. Maintaining the quality of their own work is already hard enough as it is, so it’s difficult to think that they have the time to worry about a rival’s work that somehow performs better than theirs.
That being said, there was one instance where it did feel like a proper three-way rivalry. It happened around 2009 to 2012, between the three biggest shounen manga at the time - One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach. This is a look back at that time when the so-called Big Three battled it out with total war arcs.
The Three Shounen War Arc
To be fair, the three biggest shounen manga of their time telling the same total war story is more like a happy coincidence, rather than a full-on rivalry. After all, Naruto and Bleach were at their last arcs, while Marineford was the natural conclusion to an overall saga that had been built up for quite some time.
That being said, it was still one of the only times when such colossal titles somehow ended up using the same theme at roughly the same time. So whether it was coincidence or not, the end result was still a proper three-way battle. So let’s explore every individual arc first and then decide which one of them was the best one.
One Piece’s Marineford Arc
The Marineford Arc was the one that started the race. The arc officially began around 2009, but the build up for this arc had been going on for quite some time. We can even trace it back all the way to the Sabaody Archipelago Arc that was published a year earlier.
The war at the Marineford happens because Portgas D. Ace, Luffy’s brother and the 2nd Division Commander of the Whitebeard Pirates, is captured by the Marines and is scheduled to be executed publicly at the Marineford. In response to the Marines’ brazen decision, the full might of the legendary Whitebeard fleet, including Luffy, descend into the Marineford to rescue Ace. So begins one of the most decisive battles between the pirates and the Marines.
Marineford Arc, and by extension all of the arcs in the Summit War Saga, has been generally accepted by the fans as one of the best sagas in the series. Keep in mind that One Piece is a colossal epic with tons of great arcs, but still this one stands out as one of the best. From the build up to the post-war, from the motivation behind the war to the devastating tragedy at the end, every single aspect of this arc is just perfectly crafted to tell a saga that will be remembered for years to come.
Naruto’s Fourth Shinobi World War Arc
The Fourth Shinobi World War Arc began right after the Marineford Arc, around 2010. And similar to One Piece, this one also has a build up that can be traced back to the Five Kage Summit Arc.
The war begins due to the leaders of the five great shinobi villages unanimously declining Tobi’s demand to give him the two remaining Tailed-beasts, which are the eight-tailed inside Killer B and the nine-tailed inside Naruto. In response, Tobi declares war on the shinobi world and threatens to unleash the power of the seven tailed-beasts that the akatsuki had already gathered thus far. To deal with the upcoming threat, they form a joined alliance between the shinobi from the five great countries, plus the Samurai from the Land of Iron.
This arc is divided into three parts: the countdown, the confrontation, and the climax. That being said, the overall saga also includes the aforementioned Five Kage Summit Arc, and the Birth of the Ten-Tails’ Jinchuriki arc. With a story that spans across 20+ volumes, this is easily the longest arc in the series. Unfortunately, with such a long arc, it’s difficult to maintain the same level of quality across the board - the second half of the saga is definitely weaker than the first half.
Bleach’s Thousand-Year Blood War Arc
The Thousand-Year Blood War Arc was the last one to enter the fray, with the arc officially beginning in 2012. At this point, One Piece was already moving on from Marineford, while Naruto was at the tail end of its war. Similar to Bleach’s other story arcs, there’s no build up to this arc; the last one ended and then this one simply began.
The war begins with the Quincys’ sudden invasion of the Soul Society. They draw first blood and then continue killing every Shinigami that they see. There are some small events that happen in Hueco Mundo, but the majority of the war happens within the Soul Society itself. As for the reason behind the war, it is basically due to a fundamental difference between how Quincy and Shinigami deal with the matter of the soul, as well as the grudge from the previous war that happened around 1000 years ago that ended with the Quincys’ massive defeat.
Similar to Naruto, the Thousand-Year Blood War is also Bleach’s longest arc, with a story that spans across nearly 30 volumes. The end of this arc also marks the end of Bleach as a whole. Unfortunately, this arc is easily the weakest one of the three. It certainly begins with a big bang, but the lack of any sort of build up prevents it from hitting as hard as it should’ve. The end is also infamous for being lackluster and disappointing. However, some of the best battles happen in this arc, so it still has that going for it. The middle part is also quite decent.
So, which one is the best? It goes without saying that the crown has to be given to One Piece’s glorious Marineford Arc. It manages to pack more impact than the other two while using fewer pages. Second place goes to Naruto’s Fourth Ninja World War Arc, and Bleach comes in dead last with its Thousand-Year Blood War Arc.
Don’t get us wrong - it’s not that the war arcs from Naruto and Bleach are bad. On the contrary, they are definitely two of the best arcs that have ever graced manga as a medium. However, if we compare the three of them, then One Piece is clearly the one that manages to tell a better story with its war arc.
What do you think? Do you agree with this conclusion? Which one of them is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below.