Well that was quite the thing.
Kuma seems to be the main mystery of One Piece at the moment. Oda does a good job of not making it too obvious that he’s saving The Straw Hats. The only “attacks” he makes are those which make our heroes disappear from the field of battle, and the only other things he does is deflect attacks. Compare that to his actions on Thriller Bark, where he released considerable destructive power in his battle with Zoro.
The mystery is what are his motivations?
There’s a few unanswered questions from Thriller Bark that perhaps play into his actions.
Firstly, why does he ask Nami if Monkey D. Luffy has a brother? When she replies that it’s Ace, he says “I see. So it is true”. Does he need to know that Ace is his brother? And if so, why?
Later in that conversation he says “Whatever I do is my business” which, like his actions this chapter, appears to contradict Gecko Moria’s claim that Kuma is the only Shichibukai who is loyal to the government. His loyalty seems more like a work to rule – in this chapter he informs Kizaru he only co-operates with marines when the government is involved, presumably his actions here are his business too.
Secondly, what is his connection to Monkey D. Dragon? At the end of chapter 485, he has a monologue where he acknowledges the Straw Hats as good companions and that Luffy is Dragon’s son. Is he acting on Dragon’s orders, does he have some past with Dragon. Given the utterly corrupt nature of the other Shichibukai we’ve met so far, it would make thematic sense for the seemingly most loyal to be the biggest traitor of all.
Outside of acting on his own accord, or being part of Dragon’s revolutionaries, the other candidate for being behind this would appear to be Monkey D. Garp who was going to “handle” Raleigh, but whose actions had not been seen yet.
As for the Straw Hats, this seems to be their (and the readers’) wake up call to The New World. The stakes have been raised over the last few months worth of chapters, and this feels like the exclamation point on all that. After ten years of teaching the readers that Luffy is going to pull through in the end, that’s brought crashing down when he is finally unable to “save” his crew. It’s a good place to build from again for the second half of the series.
Of course for the sharp-eyed reader there’s many clues that the Straw Hat’s aren’t as doomed as they themselves think, but with the so many other characters who also need to be onstage (Kuma, Kidd, Law, Killer, Bege, Bonney, Ace, Whitebeard, Garp and so on) it may be interesting to push the Straw Hats out the limelight for a while.