One Piece Episode 701
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 701 of
One Piece ?
The flashback adventures of Trafalgar Law continue, and I mean that very literally because the centerpiece of this episode is a flashback within the flashback. As of this point in the story we've still been left with several questions: Why did Law enlist in Doflamingo's crew to begin with? What has he seen in the past that makes him “believe in nothing?” We already knew this ten year old Law was dying of some illness (set to kill him in about three years) and we learn this week that all those inquiries are connected.
While Law dedicates his time trying act out his grudge against Corazon for throwing him out a window, the rest of the Doflamingo crew is out on a somewhat vague mission involving shootouts and mysterious briefcases and so on, keeping in tone with the crime family vibe they have going on. In the middle of all this action, the various crewmates exposit what they know about Law and his hometown of Flevance to each other. Flevance used to be a prosperous town, capatilizing off of the rare white lead that existed in abundance underground. However, this lead was also the cause of many civilians becoming poisoned, growing white splotches on their skin that would develop and eventually kill them slowly over time.
That alone could probably give you an idea of the kind of tragedy at hand, but it gets worse. To the world outside of Flevance, the illness's frequency made it look contagious, forcing the town to become quarantined and eventually the target of mass attacks. In the course of Law's first ten years of life, he witnessed his friends and family growing sick, only to be slain before a chance at healing was ever given to them. He had spent several years studying to be a doctor to help his little sister get better, and now she's dead along with his parents. In one night his town was massacred, and he himself only barely escaped by hiding among the dead bodies.
One Piece's flashbacks are notorious for being where the series really lets loose and gets overwhelmingly dark and depressing. The show as a whole is incredibly optimistic, so the fact that it's able to dig deep and deliver some of the toughest tragedy seen in anime while still targeting its rather young demographic is a testament to what this show is capable of. The tragic backstory of Law and the Doflamingo family has only just begun, and yet we've already gotten genocide out of our system. Though, honestly, I wish I could feel a little more impressed than I do right now.
This is an episode where the focus character discovers his parents dead in a pool of their own blood. This is an episode where the focus character's little sister gets trapped in a burning hospital and dies. This is an episode where the focus character walks out onto the street and finds the corpses of the dozens of children who used to be his classmates.
The thing that bugs me the most here is that I got a stronger emotional reaction out of myself writing those three sentences than I did actually watching it happen on screen.
Yes, it's time once again to feel slightly miffed at Toei's handiwork. Animation is purely middle of the road, meaning that we're spared from any embarrassing screw-ups as well as any worthwhile creativity in the presentation whatsoever. Flevance is pretty and whimsical, but not that pretty and whimsical. Sad music plays in the appropriate spots, but what else would you expect? There's a lot here trying to tug at your heartstrings, but none of it has anything to do with any sense of craft.
The fact that we lose the swiftness of the manga's pace makes the lack of personality in all the soon-to-be dead characters (like Law's family and the nun who watches over his class) a bit of a problem, too. There's no sense of priority or focus in the storytelling to distract us from the more shallow aspects. Law's little sister is the most “little sister” a character could possibly be. Nothing more, nothing less. Dead children is a sad concept, but it becomes a little less sad when given the chance to imagine how it could have been even sadder with more development.
In the grand scheme of things, this episode gets the job done. If you're watching it in a marathon where it's sandwiched between all the other stuff, then a lot of its weaknesses (or, lack of strengths, more appropriately) really won't matter so much and the impact should remain. However, if a review is a summation of my own subjective feelings, then I'm underwhelmed.
One Piece is a tough show to review sometimes because I have to make the judgement call on whether the craftsmanship of an episode compared to the original material matters or not. If I was measuring this based on how shocking the original manga content was when it was new, this would be a completely different story. But right here, right now, my mind keeps coming back to the realization that I just watched a bunch of children die and I felt nothing.
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