Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD - Season 4 Part 5
Energized by the truth about Robin's departure, Nami rushes to the station where Robin is boarding a sea-train for the World Government hub of Enies Lobby. But too late. The train is off and a raging storm is on its way in, so Nami and the Straw Hats are trapped on Water 7. Undeterred, Nami and Chopper head off to collect Luffy and Zoro, who are stuck in backstreet buildings, menaced by the violently rising tides. In the meantime, Sanji has boarded Robin's train and after freeing a captured Usopp and Franky, launches a frontal assault on the CP9 and their various lackeys. Back on Water 7, the remaining Straw Hats must wrangle up some transportation and head into the teeth of the storm to rejoin their comrades and rescue Robin.
Dragging one's feet is an art form in shonen action circles. And among the practitioners of the art, One Piece is one of the more artful. It's so good at being entertaining, at least when its main plot is running, that you can sometimes miss the fact that it's dragging its feet like a procrastinating pro. Until, that is, you get an entire set—eleven whole episodes—in which nothing happens except the good guys trying to catch up with the bad guys.
That's what this set is, at its heart. Sure there are fights, there are rousing comebacks and victorious villains and an ever-present sense of the series digging in and propelling itself forward after the outright filler of the pre-Water 7 material. But regardless, when you strip away the small-fry battles and revisiting of Robin's plight, all you have is Luffy and the Straw Hats getting on trains and trying to catch up with the CP9. All you have is five hours of shonen thumb-twiddling; five hours of the show biding its time before the big payoff… with no payoff.
That'd be downright infuriating if it weren't such a fun five hours of thumb-twiddling. The two episodes that the show spends getting Zoro and Luffy free (Zoro is stuck in a chimney and Luffy is wedged between two buildings… again) pay off with a rousing display of just how much Robin's impossible situation means to her erstwhile captain and his crew, as well as just how much her betrayal was holding them back. Sanji's assault on the CP9's government entourage keeps the action flowing—or at least dribbling—through the overlay of time-killing narrative devices, and Eiichiro Oda's cracked sense of humor colors everything. It's a lesser version of the rollicking blend of bone-crunching action, wacko laughs, and high emotion that marks the series at its best, superbly balanced despite its reduced amplitude and filler nature.
Particularly welcome is the returning humor, which had been chased right out of the series by the grim episodes preceding Robin's departure. Particularly evident is the series' knack for recombining its cast to get interesting and fun new interactions. Watching Franky's old crew team up with Luffy, taking to Luffy and Zoro like kids to new superheroes, is pretty darned funny, as is Chopper's instant bond with stationmistress Kokoro's weird daughter. (The teaming of Franky with Sanji and Usopp is also revealing, though not in a comedic way and mostly for Franky, whose noble side really comes out). But the prize, comedy-wise, has to go to Usopp, whose solution for how to team up with his ex-crewmates without actually rejoining them sets up a faux-opening sequence that'll knock you right out of your seat. Second prize also goes to Usopp, who does a most unconvincing rendition of the old fake-arms gag (with Robin) in order to elude a snoopy marine.
Even the more serious sequences benefit from the resurgent humor. There are two main fights this set, and both are equal parts hilarious and satisfying. The first has Sanji facing off against another fightin' cook, this one a miserable excuse for a chef whose specialty is squirting ramen noodles from his nose—which makes for nauseating cuisine but pretty decent offensive capabilities. He creates a power suit from nose noodles, and protects himself by shooting shotgun blasts of noodle-spikes from his nostrils. The second sees Franky taking on a CP9 newbie, and gives us our first real look at Franky's fighting style. Which pivots, in this case, on some seriously weird quirks of his cyborg body (cyborg centaur anyone?).
Both fights showcase the show's unhinged, frequently comic visual imagination in a way that the past couple of sets haven't been able to. Sanji's opponent is a hideous abomination, with ratlike buck teeth and protruding crustacean eyes, who jets around on roller blades. Franky's transformation is both kind of disturbing and knock-down funny, re-forming him into something he calls a centaur but that is definitely not what the Greeks had in mind (for one, he's backwards; for another, no self-respecting centaur would wear a speedo). The show can look mighty cheap, with its deliberately flat animation and emphasis on outrageous but cartoonishly simple designs, but cheapness is beside the point. You can't buy imagination. No amount of money will get you a scene like the one where Sanji kicks the noodle chef's hideous mug into sparkling bishonen perfection (a close third for funniest moment).
Like the show's signature musical themes and its general presentation, Funimation's dub has become a reliable constant: solid, respectful, and very consistent. As such there's little to say about it. The opening episode gives Luci Christian's Nami another chance to show off her emotional power, Sonny Strait has unholy fun with Usopp's heroic B-serial alter ego the “Sniper King,” and the supporting cast ranges from minimally effective (Franky's subordinates) to surprisingly fun (Juli Erickson's laid-back Midwest take on Kokoro).
Funimation decided to double up on the behind-the-scenes info. Along with the video interviews of the last set (this time with Christopher R. Sabat and Colleen Clinkenbeard), they also return to their habit of including two commentary tracks. The first, for episode 255, features ADR director Mike McFarland, Erickson, and Doug Goodrich (Zambai). The track for episode 263 delves into the technical side of things with McFarland, ADR engineer Kenneth Thompson, mix engineer Adrian Cook, and marketing brand manager Josh Kocurek. In terms of information, it is far and away the most interesting of the extras.
One Piece does what it can to make these episodes diverting, and in all honesty it succeeds quite well. But there's just no getting around the fact that the series is spinning its wheels—pretty literally in this case, with all those trains rushing about. In the end this is just eleven episodes of connective tissue between last set's emotional meat and the savory feast of fighting that one hopes we'll be enjoying next.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Enjoyable fights and a returning sense of humor bring back the series' signature mixture of excitement, silliness, and heavy-duty emotion.
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