Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 16th 2011
DVD - Season 3 Part 5
What are you supposed to make of a ship that plummets out of the sky into your heavily-fortified back yard? That's the question facing the Marines of the Navarone, a mighty fortress dedicated to providing safety and succor to wounded and defeated Marines on the Grand Line. The rank and file treat it as a ghost ship. Sure, it's a well-known vessel piloted by the infamous Straw Hat Pirates, but what happened to the pirates in question? They're nowhere to be found, aboard or in the fortress. Wily fortress commander Jonathan is harder to fool, however. He figures the pirates are in the fortress and wastes no time in weaving a strategy to move them into his prison. Naturally Luffy and his crew aren't going to make it easy for him, but can they really get out of a fortress that pretty much everyone considers impregnable?
Unlike the last couple of arcs, the Navarone arc doesn't lean on One Piece's formula; it plays around with it, tweaking it in interesting and amusing ways. Tweak number one is to begin the arc from someone else's viewpoint. Specifically, the Marines'. Seeing the Luffy Pirates from the outside drives home just how much their position has changed since they first set out for the Grand Line. Rather than no-name up-and-comers, they are now notorious pirates in their own right. They have name recognition among law-and-order types, some budding legends of their own, and, yes, even inspire a little fear. For the first episode or two the series uses them as boogiemen, and while of course it's a joke—there really isn't anyone less scary that Luffy and his goofy buddies—they're surprisingly effective in the role. After all, they have become something of monsters in the course of their adventures.
The show isn't stupid enough to try keeping that up for long though. Soon enough Luffy and his crew, conveniently split up in the first episode, are wandering the base, teaching various marines lessons about their various specialties—Sanji schooling cooks in the kitchen, Chopper schooling doctors in the infirmary. In truth, it's kind of a letdown. We've seen these kinds of stories before when the series needed filler. But then comes the arc's second tweak: its villain. Namely, Jonathan. He isn't really a villain. He's just a good guy trying to do right by the law and by his subordinates. He doesn't have grand ambitions or super-powers, just a job to do and a great head for strategy. The ensuing chase—that's really all the arc is, one big chase—is as much a battle of wits as a physical battle. Or a battle of luck and pluck vs. wits. After all, Luffy isn't known for his brains.
It's a two-edged sword, having no hissable villain nor any grand smackdowns. The variety is certainly welcome, as is the novelty, and moving the conflict away from brawn towards brain ramps up the tension in interesting ways. We know Luffy could beat the snot out of Jonathan, but he is at a clear disadvantage in a battle of strategy. Still, smacking hissable villains down is what One Piece does best, and the lack leaves a definite hole. There're plenty of chances for Luffy to indulge his playful, happy-go-lucky side, but none for him to demonstrate his cool, righteous side. There aren't any emotional stakes either. Like Luffy, we never get riled up enough to really care about the outcome. Sure we want Luffy to get away with his ship and his treasure (that's what's at stake), but without the extra force of wanting to see Jonathan defeated we don't want it, not in the way we wanted Luffy to beat Arlong or Crocodile.
Which explains why some of the episodes have a filler feel; they're filling in that hole—with feel-good stories about Sanji and Chopper, with demonstrations of Luffy and his crew's strengths, with reminders of their growing status, and of course, with lots of off-the-wall humor. Navarone may be short on mind-blowing awesomeness, but there are no shortage of chances to appreciate the show's inherent humor. Luffy blows his cover for a couple of fried fish balls, Usopp builds a terrible disguise for the Going Merry, and Luffy and Sanji carry out the world's least dignified jailbreak. As ever, the show has much fun with Eiichiro Oda's lanky, bizarre designs and fondness for insane angles, and there are plenty of recurring sight gags (Chopper's ineffectual peeping technique, the abuse of Usopp's nose).
This isn't to say that there's no action. Far from it. The latter half of the arc is one giant, frantic chase punctuated by brawls with armies of marines. Luffy stretches, Sanji twirls, Zoro pummels, and bodies fly willy-nilly. They may not get the blood pumping, but the fights still exist at that nexus of coolness and laugh-out-loud insanity peculiar to One Piece. One fight, with the arc's only true villain, ends in a hilarious anti-climax involving a weapon that he really should have read the instructions to. Another finds Luffy's crew battling special forces over, under, and across an iron bridge, pausing long enough to give each fighter his moment in the sun before ending it all with an act of destruction that proves that the series still knows how to wow, even when the story doesn't. Limited involvement notwithstanding, the combination of rousing musical bombast and pointedly artificial movement as the Going Merry plummets from the night sky or Luffy and his friends take a dive off of a bridge can still get an "ooh" out of you even after all this time.
Funimation continues to adapt One Piece with a minimum of monkeying and a lot of perfectly professional acting, if not a whole lot in the way of inspiration. The leads have dug as far into their roles as they probably can, only rarely outdoing their Japanese counterparts, while the new additions do fine without ever really distinguishing themselves. If you need a dub, it'll certainly do, and pretty handily, but it isn't going to blow your mind.
Look for the customary episode commentary (for episode 196) in the episodes menu. It features Bryan Massey (the fortress's sub-commander), Mark Stoddard (Jonathan), and a goodly amount of behind-the-scenes insight.
This set finds Funimation dropping the episode count from thirteen to ten. That wouldn't be such a problem if it didn't also mean that they cut the Navarone arc off one measly episode from its end. It's the kind of move that makes you want to throw stuff at whoever it was who okayed it. Which I guess proves that the Navarone arc is pretty good, warts and all. No one gets pelted for cutting a bad story short.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ An atypical arc with an atypical villain and no shortage of fun.
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