Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Sep 13th 2012
DVD - Season 4 Part 1
After using Nami's navigational know-how (and some surprise luck) to escape from the island fortress of Navarone, the Straw Hats find themselves on the elongated island of Long Ring Long Land. Unfortunately they aren't the only ones there – the Foxy Pirates, an enormous and varied crew, have also come ashore, and they challenge the Straw Hats to a Davy Back Fight! If our heroes lose any of the three battles, they'll lose a crewmember as well...are they up to the challenge?
Ah, the Davy Back Fight – a series of pirate versions of playground games with a high stakes outcome – the losing team must surrender a crewmember or their flag, as the winning captain chooses. Falling between (in the manga) Skypeia and Water 7, the arc took up roughly a volume with a loose chapter or two beforehand. In the anime, however, it fills the majority of the twelve episodes presented on this set and likely will also comprise the first one or two of the next one. While those familiar with the manga or simply intrigued by the images in the new opening theme might be impatient for the Straw Hats to just get moving, these episodes manage to be surprisingly entertaining, and if they don't move the major plot along, they still make for a fun few hours.
This set of two discs covers episodes 206 – 217 and picks up with the Straw Hats attempting to make their escape from the anime-only island fortress of Navarone. Nautically-minded viewers will appreciate the way the Navy uses the tidal peculiarities of the island to their advantage, and while this isn't the strongest episode, it certainly still has its entertainment value. As soon as they're back on the open sea, the storyline returns to its manga roots and the crew finds themselves on Long Ring Long Land, an open island with strangely tall and long everything. Visually this is one of the best episodes – the elongated fruits, trees, and especially animals are delightful to look at, particularly hoooorse (all animals are given a drawn out pronunciation to differentiate them from normal ones) Shelley, who has the same beauty as the camels in the Alabasta arc. Luffy, Chopper, and Usopp meet Tonjit, an old man who has spent the last ten years up on a pair of stilts, and with his melancholy (albeit slightly silly) backstory, things seem to be following the usual course.
That, naturally, is when the Foxy Pirates arrive. An enormous crew captained by Foxy, this group seems to make its living by challenging other crews to something called a “Davy Back Fight,” a series of games governed by piratical rules. Over Nami's objections, Luffy agrees to a three game fight, and the main plot of the episodes begins. Readers of the manga will notice immediately that this segment has been elongated almost as much as the animals on Long Ring Long Land. Three more games are added that are not present in the manga, and the infamous 'fro doesn't appear until the final episode of the set. While this does cause the action to drag in places – for example, the between games scenes tend to go on too long – it also allows for some interesting foreshadowing of what is to come.
Of the games played in these episodes, probably the most entertaining is the Groggy Ring fight, a sort of basketball where one of the players is himself the ball. This game forces Zoro and Sanji to work together against three enormous monster-men, and viewers familiar with the swordsman and cook's dynamic will immediately realize that this is not going to be as easy as it sounds. The verbal bickering that goes on is equally funny in the sub and dub tracks (with the dub being slightly ruder), and the joy of rooting for the underdog in a clearly rigged game is very much present. The anime-only roller derby is another highlight of the Davy Back games, with ever more ludicrous odds and a chance for Robin to strut her stuff. Other games, such as the boat race and a vicious round of “red light, green light” are less enthralling, although they too have their moments. Overall what this arc has going for it is the addition of voices, making a fairly mediocre transition tale into something more. A major contributing factor is the sports commentator character Itomimizu, equally ably voiced by Ian Sinclair and Keiichi Nanba, who has a Seussian appearance that is difficult to look away from and an impressively high energy in both languages. (One actor in the commentary for episode 211 remarks that he looks like “Waldo's acid-trip cousin.”)
Both dub and sub are consistently good, with the unfortunate low point being Colleen Clinkenbeard's Luffy. It isn't that she does a bad job, because she doesn't. While some higher energy sections can have her sounding a bit strangled, she for the most part does a credible job of voicing the pirate captain...it just simply doesn't work quite as well as Mayumi Tanaka's voice, mostly in terms of the little nonverbal vocalizations. That the weakest voice is far from being bad says good things about the dub, and some viewers may find that giving dub Zoro a more resonant voice actually suits the character better than his Japanese counterpart. Ultimately a dub/sub preference will be a personal decision based on your own tastes, as good jobs are done all around. The art gets a little patchy in places, usually when the episodes are not manga-based; mostly this surfaces as ham-hands and misshapen shoulders, although an even more stretched out look for some of the people also occurs from time to time. The major extras on these discs are two episode commentaries, both hosted by line producer Mike McFarland and both quite interesting to listen to.
Overall the Davy Back Fight isn't the most powerful or interesting of One Piece's many arcs, and it perhaps isn't the most compelling place to resume the story. It is, however, silly and fun, and viewers in the know will appreciate some of the foreshadowing that has been added. With very good voice work in both English and Japanese making up for some of the deficiencies in visuals and plot, the option to “marathon mode” past the theme songs, and overall a feeling of good-natured shonen fun, this is still a voyage worth taking.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Somehow greater than the sum of its parts, good foreshadowing for the next arc, voices well done. Long animals are visually neat, some great Zoro vs. Sanji moments.
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