Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 17th 2011
DVD - Season 3 Part 4
Eneru is a god, but that's no protection from a pissed-off Luffy. The two square off for the first time and Eneru is shocked—and seriously pained—to discover that rubber pirates don't conduct electricity. He resorts then to keeping Luffy contained; which is a nice way of saying that he saddles Luffy with a two-ton ball-and-chain and pushes him into a ravine. Luffy is not pleased by his fashionable new accessory (it's gold!), but is even less pleased by the electrical havoc Eneru is wreaking on his own worshipers. But how can Luffy get to Eneru when the erstwhile god is in a floating ship and he has four thousand pounds of gold welded to his wrist? Well, pirates are nothing if not resourceful...and persistent.
The Skypiea arc has been pretty mechanical so far, chugging predictably through each of the usual shonen fightin' checkpoints. The wonders of Skypiea have been extensively toured, its culture and politics properly fleshed-out. The technologies and special powers particular to its inhabitants have been delineated and demonstrated. The locals have been established as sympathetic characters in their own right. The villain has been identified and been allowed to run freely amok, indulging his megalomania, frying Luffy's friends and innocent locals alike, and generally behaving like he's untouchable. The peripheral fights have been fought, Luffy has been detained in a snake's intestinal tract until the exact right moment, and just last episode the first punch landed in Eneru's waiting gut.
Some of the checkpoints have been difficult to sit through, particularly the less interesting underling fights and that ridiculous business with Luffy inside the snake (there has to be a better way of keeping your main character out of the fray). But that's over with now. The groundwork has been laid. Now it's pummeling time. Or so it should be. The pummeling begins promisingly enough. Luffy spends the first episode inventing bizarre new moves (Gum-Gum Octopus Fireworks, anyone?) and hitting Eneru until he folds in half and coughs up blood. It's immensely satisfying stuff after all those episodes of watching Eneru being an arrogant a-hole. And then Luffy ends up eighty-sixed with a giant golden shackle on one arm. Once it's clear that the series has devised yet another way of delaying the inevitable, the cathartic euphoria wears off some. By the time the series inserts a three-episode flashback into the heat of the battle, it's completely gone.
Actually, if it wasn't for its lousy timing, the flashback would have been a decent little tale of male friendship. It details the rocky relationship of Noland the Liar and Shandoran hero Calgara and actually manages within its tight timeframe to conjure up a couple of those doses of manly yet uninhibited affect that One Piece is known for. Normally that would be quite enjoyable. Unfortunately the series' frustrating use of it to extend, yet again, Skypiea's climactic showdown completely destroys any enjoyment. Worse, however, is the flashback's effect on Luffy's fight. The full-tilt charge to his final showdown loses a lot of its steam thanks to the interference, and it takes some time to get it back. It eventually does, and the force it musters when that last blow finds its inevitable target is not to be dismissed. It's a stirring moment, and thoroughly gratifying. But it still feels like it could, and should, have been more.
Contrived, over-extended, and slightly underwhelming though it is, the series' handling of the Skypiea climax has its advantages. For one, it offers no shortage of opportunities for Luffy to wig out—and few things in Shonen Jumpdom are as cool as an angry Luffy. Keeping Luffy occupied also gives his crew a chance to strut their stuff. Nami's desperate bid to survive Eneru (long enough to escape his ark) highlights her pluck and ingenuity, and the rescue mission Sanji and Usopp launch shows them, and the series' oddball mixture of goofy humor and scary violence, to their best advantage.
While the action is running strong, the series' sense of style also runs strong. Skewed perspectives and simple effects using separate planes of animation make the most of the series' flat look and outrageous character designs. Skillful editing punches up the frankly cheap animation and digital zooms and other computer effects—particularly those involving Eneru's island-destroying finishing move—are deployed such that their incongruity adds to the impact rather than detracting from it. The swashbuckling score still rouses, Luffy's black-faced rage still thrills, and the inventive staging of his increasingly weird martial-arts moves still impresses and amuses. When it all comes together, the series is very close to being at its best. But that doesn't happen very often, and never outside of an action sequence. The remainder of the time it's perhaps a little too easy to focus on the series' technical shortcomings, as when a frantic mid-disaster meeting takes place amidst a fleeing crowd in which not one person is actually moving.
Nothing Funimation's cast and crew do this time around will change your mind, either about the dub or the show itself. Again Colleen Clinkenbeard proves she can shout with the best of them, again some of the bit parts are slackly played (don't listen too hard to the peanut gallery), and again the script finds that sweet spot between faithfulness and freedom that preserves meaning but leaves room for the dialogue to flow naturally. Or as naturally as over-the-top, exposition-laden dialogue can. It's generally very good, especially when J. Michael Tatum's Eneru is serving up five-course meals of pure ham or Sonny Strait is letting loose as Usopp.
As is Funimation's wont on One Piece releases, there's a one-episode commentary track squirreled away in the episodes menu. Featured this time are Clinkenbeard, Tatum, and line producer Mike McFarland. It's a great listen, both for information and entertainment. Highlight: Tatum ordering fast food as Eneru.
Perhaps we've been spoiled by the Crocodile fight. It was so close to perfection (that's shonen fighting perfection, which is a lower order of perfection than most other kinds) that the Big Fights that have followed seem underdeveloped and underpowered in comparison. The truth is, by any standard but One Piece's own, Eneru vs. Luffy is a really good fight. Eneru is one of the most hateful of One Piece's villains, and his end is spectacular and oh so very well deserved. It's hard not to feel like dancing and partying right along with Luffy and his pals when they throw themselves into the usual post-fight celebration. It would have been nice, however, to get that reward without all of those hours of Luffy lugging a big gold ball up a giant beanstalk. Perhaps next time. With something like three hundred episodes to go (and counting), there's still plenty of time for One Piece to strive for perfection once more.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Eneru gets his just desserts.
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