Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 2nd 2013
DVD - Season 4 Part 2
The Davy Back Fight finishes its final round as Luffy faces Foxy in a duel of captains. Which will prevail: the Slow-Slow Beam or the afro? Later the Straw Hat Pirates drop anchor offshore of a quiet island. When Luffy and the rest wake up in the morning, no one remembers joining the crew. Someone on the island is stealing from people's brains, and Luffy and his crew are going to have to beat their memories out of them. Poor thief. Still later Luffy and his compadres stay awhile on a deserted island only to discover it's being visited by Admiral Aokiji, one of the three most powerful Marines in the world. Aokiji has some history with Robin, and though he wants no trouble, when he warns Luffy against her he finds himself on the pirate's bad side. It is one fight, however, that even Luffy cannot win.
Call this set “The Many Moods of One Piece.” It may not cover every story tack that the long-running shonen juggernaut has in its arsenal, but it gets to a good three or four, which is pretty impressive. And certainly highly entertaining. When is the show not? But it does make for kind of a herky-jerky set. A herky-jerky set that leaves the show teetering on the brink of another grand, emotionally fraught story arc. I smell good times ahead.
Not that there aren't good times right here. The set begins with the final episodes of the Foxy fight, which finds the show at perhaps its silliest. It's the kind of slapstick showdown that only One Piece is capable of: a farce of a fight, as much a series of gags and goofs as a serious brawl. Luffy goes the entire fight crowned with a fabulous Jim Kelly 'fro, and Foxy spends most of it fleeing, cheating, and donning hideous disguises that, naturally, fool only Luffy. A pedal-powered, gorilla-themed punching machine (with flaming fists!) features at one point, as do frequent references to the mysterious powers of the afro. Even enemies respect the mystical forces of the 'fro. It's an enthusiastic, devilishly inventive brand of weirdness—as distinctive as a fingerprint. None of which, of course, precludes the fight from finishing on a note of pure, bone-crunching, bad-guy-smashing satisfaction. Nor does it stop the arc from falling into a vat of save-the-old-guy treacle at the end.
From an admittedly fillerish slice of prime comedic insanity, the show moves on to a more overt and less enjoyable slice of filler. The memory loss story loses much of the previous arc's mad energy, and most of its madcap imagination. Instead it delivers a gimmicky short-form arc that is too interested in sentimentality and not interested enough in dreaming up strange New People and places, or just kicking butt and having fun. At best it's a reasonably amusing look at how the past versions of characters react to each other and, indirectly, to the current versions of themselves. At worst it's a clunky excuse to revisit the dreams and traumas that shaped the cast (and, not incidentally, provided the show with some of its best moments). The enemy is ultimately not worthy of Luffy or his crew, and thus not all that satisfying to see pummeled. The parts where Luffy's crew literally beat him 'til he barfs up memories are pretty funny, as are some of his odder quirks (when his true identity is revealed), but that's pretty much all anyone's going to take from the arc.
It's when the set enters its third stage that the show takes off again. The arrival of Aokiji signals the onset of a promising long-term arc, with a terrifying new opponent and some upsetting hints that Robin's history is as dangerous and tragic as anyone's—and about to bring god knows what down on her new comrades. It's the first time, at least since the Skypeia arc started to peter out, that we've had real reason to be excited for the future. The conflict with Aokiji concludes quickly, without resolving any of the questions it raises or the challenge that Aokiji presents to Luffy, but it's hard to care too much. Not when the main plot is grinding its way forward again, towards what we can only assume is another of its patented mixtures of heartbreak and action catharsis.
Or when the following episodes find the crew heading to another bizarre new land, full of bizarre new customs and bizarre New People; this time in search of a shipwright to join their crew. Water 7 is a city-island built in the shape of an enormous fountain and navigated by tying boat-shaped saddles to the backs of powerful fish-horses. Yep, pretty neat. It's the one time this set that the series gets to really show off its artistic strengths: in this case, the sheer visual imagination of its piratical setting. The Foxy fight struts the show's aptitude for comic art (Luffy's goony posture coupled with his new 'fro is murder, as are Foxy's disguises) and in the end gives a taste of how it can combine cheapo animation, oddball perspectives, and strangely cool designs with great pirate themes to stirring effect; but ultimately it and all the other arcs offer no opportunity for the full-on confluence of music, art, animation and pure directorial panache that mark the show at its best.
If the cast weren't at ease in their roles by this point, they'd have to be pretty slow on the uptake. They aren't. Funimation's dub goes down easy, its principals making short work of set's shifting tones. They handle the humor with notable skill, riffing easily on the “soul” theme suggested by Luffy's Foxy-fight hairdo. Of the new additions, Jonathan Brooks plays Foxy with a goony accent and a faithful laugh (which is to say, a dorky one) and Jason Douglas does a deep-voiced, kind of backwoodsy variation on Aokiji. Brooks is no match for the practiced buffoonery of Bin Shimada, nor Douglas equal to the shifting threat levels so easily suggested by the great Takehito Koyasu, but no one expects that.
There's a lot to like this volume: the crazy goofiness of the Foxy fight; the new-world adventures of the few Water 7 episodes; Aokiji's reminder of just how freaking scary the show's antagonists can be. But when it gets right down to it, this is a set that is most remarkable for the promises it makes. About the brave new water-land that Luffy and his buds head off to. About the possible fights against the seemingly unstoppable Aokiji. And, especially, about the demons hiding in Robin's closet. Maybe they'll be a long time in the fulfilling, but hopefully they'll be worth the wait.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Hugely fun fight at the start; opens a promising new arc at the end.
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