Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD Season 3 Part 2
Having entered Skypiea without permission and subsequently beaten the snot out of the White Berets sent after them, Luffy and his crew are declared 2nd degree criminals. As reward for their reclassification, half of the crew is kidnapped and the other half forced through a series of trials to save them. The kidnapped half, comprised of Zoro, Robin, Nami and Chopper, immediately abandons their intended role as victims to explore the Upper Yard while Luffy, Sanji and Usopp head straight into their trial, a fight to the death with Satori, one of God Eneru's top priest-lieutenants. Havoc is subsequently wreaked. Taking advantage of the havoc, Wyper, the leader of the Upper Yard's dispossessed natives, stages an assault aimed at destroying Eneru and reclaiming his people's land. Even greater havoc is wreaked.
The Skypiea arc gets underway in earnest here, which means all of the world-building, power-explication and villain-vilifying you can stomach. Skypiea is the first extended arc since Alabasta, and extended arcs are great, but they do require a lot of grunt work to set up. This set is pretty much pure grunt work—necessary, but not necessarily much fun. Though, being One Piece, it's more enjoyable than it has to be.
This is the part in the story arc where the laws, physics, conflicts and other assorted details of whatever country the Luffy Pirates are visiting are laid out. We learn here, for instance, that the sea-shells that form the basis of Skypiea technology can also be used for more nefarious purposes than powering boats and cooking soup—like crushing skulls and torching boats. We are introduced to Mantra, a mysterious power that allows God Eneru and his followers to predict martial-arts moves, as well as the various nasties who will be using it against our heroes. Rather a lot of Skypiea history gets spouted, filling us in on who the old dude with the knight complex is, how Eneru became God, and why the Indian-looking guys hate his guts. The Luffy Pirates also investigate the fate of the city of gold they heard about back on the surface and learn more about the laws and hierarchies of God Eneru's despotic government than perhaps they want to.
That's a lot of information to be dumped in a short time, and there's no denying the drag it has on the series' forward momentum. Rather than charging, the series kind of lurches forward, stopping between fights with God Eneru's lieutenants and encounters with giant man-eating fauna to explain this or that point. The relatively minor Satori battle is so heavily inter-cut with Nami's explorations and the natives' battle preparations, among other things, that it stretches out over four whole episodes. Which, given how please-god-make-him-stop annoying Satori is, is four episodes too long. Speeches, flashbacks, and cuts to Eneru doing his megalomaniac thing have a similarly disruptive effect on later episodes.
And yet, no matter how inelegant its info dumps, or how distended its episodes, the series never completely loses its entertainer's instincts. Nami's explorations aren't just a means of resolving the city of gold mystery and overextending the Satori fight, they're also fun little interludes with a classical adventure bent. Sure the Satori fight is too long and too discontinuous, but it's also brimming with the series' customary imagination (Satori's combat style is unconventional, to say the least) and ends with one sadistically satisfying thumping. And, absent high adventure and cathartic violence, the series never loses its screwball sense of humor. Not even when expounding on the wonders of sea-shell technology.
With the series occupying itself detailing Skypiea and laying the foundation for the maelstrom that will inevitably consume it, there is little opportunity for it to showcase the capabilities of its whacked-out visuals. There are plenty of explosions, chases, boating accidents and other sundry bursts of action, but none of the explosive confluences of violence and tragedy that show off the series' seamless blend of incongruous cool, brutal fighting, and gut-punch drama to its best advantage. Goonies-styled adventuring allows for any number of opportunities to explore the many, sometimes grotesque, comic reactions Luffy is capable of, but few chances, if any, to showcase the black-faced thunder he can summon when his ideals are trod upon. And without a properly constructed no-holds-barred fight to let loose during, neither the bombastic energy of the razor-edited cheapo animation nor the stirring power of the series' larger than life score can be fully appreciated.
After some of the rather listless dubs Funimation has been saddling its less important series with, it's a bit of revelation to come back to One Piece. It isn't the company's best (that would be Sgt. Frog), but it is a lively, colorful adaptation that isn't afraid to punch up the script with character-appropriate banter or to follow the original straight over the top. Among the returning cast Sonny Strait's Usopp remains a wisecracking treat, while the smooth villainy of J. Michael Tatum's Eneru and dead-on accuracy of Chris Cason's Satori make them standouts amongst the Skypieans. Oh, and the goat people are hilarious. Good stuff.
As usual this set's one major extra (aside from the marathon feature) is a one-episode commentary track, this time featuring One Piece dub honcho Mike McFarland and actresses Stephanie Young (Robin) and Luci Christian (Nami). The advantages of multiple ADR directors, the challenges of acting and directing without full knowledge of the series, and the shifting perceptions of their characters are all discussed.
With its character introductions, motivational flashbacks, and Skypiea-expanding informational interludes, this is one of those stretches of episodes that is best appreciated not for what it is, but for what it is setting up. What it is, is exposition—alleviated by pummeled priests, bazooka-wielding natives, and eye-popping dives off of mile-high waterfalls, to be sure, but still exposition. What it is setting up, as the chaos it builds to in its final episodes attests, is an all-you-can-eat feast of unfettered pirate mayhem. Excuse me while I wipe away the anticipatory drool.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Everything you ever wanted to know about Skypiea in thirteen easy lessons.
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