Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD - Season 4 Part 3
On the friendly island of Water 7, Luffy and his crew exchange their Skypeia loot for cash and head to the docks to get the Going Merry repaired and maybe track down a shipwright to join in their adventures. What they find is a crew of pros who swear up and down that Merry is irreparable and a local thug named Franky whose gang keeps stealing their money. When the Franky Family beats Usopp half to death, Luffy and the crew utterly destroy them, but the damage is done. Sick of his own ineptitude and furious at Luffy for giving up on the Going Merry, Usopp parts violently with his comrades. With Robin already vanished into Water 7's underworld and a betrayal about to bring a nasty frame-up down on their heads, are the tight-knit Straw Hat Pirates ready to disintegrate?
The premonition last volume was that One Piece was about to take off again. Boy was that premonition right. The show is out of the gate and racing for the horizon in this third of Funimation's season four sets, and it doesn't seem it'll be stopping anytime soon. This is a darker, more powerful, more evilly addictive show than One Piece has been in a long, long time.
It doesn't start that way, though. The beginning of the Water 7 arc is pure One Piece adventure: free and fun and full of new customs, odd people, and weird geography. The first couple of episodes see Zoro spank some of Franky's would-be pillagers, Sanji and Chopper and Robin gallivant around town, and Luffy and Nami and Usopp use the city's steep waterways like theme-park rides. It's one of the things the show does well, lighthearted adventure of this sort; and it doesn't disappoint here. Luffy and co.'s antics on Water 7's horse-fish transports are pretty funny and very acrobatic, and the crew's rapport is honed to a fine (and amusing) point by this juncture. There are a couple of fine comedic moments—Nami eating a slippery banker alive, everyone confusing Usopp with one of the dockworkers because of their rhinological similarity—and an ongoing Keystone Kops routine involving three suitcases full of cash.
It's all quite diverting, but serious things are brewing beneath the surface. The first clue comes early, when Robin disappears at the summons of a masked figure. And then Usopp is kidnapped by the Franky Family and the show jams itself into gear and puts the pedal down. It was easy, in the reams of silly side-adventures and less-than-awesome Skypeia adventuring between this and Alabasta, to forget how the show can stomp all over your heart with its big pirate boots. You can hear those boots a-shuffling when Nami discovers a battered Usopp in the street, and starting to tap-tap-tap when he apologizes for being too weak and pathetic to protect their money. They get a good rhythm going as Usopp storms Franky's hideout and later when Luffy drops the Going Merry bomb, but its only when Usopp and Luffy cross swords, so to speak, that they find our beating hearts and proceed to dance a drunken Irish jig on them.
That fight is possibly the most heartsick of One Piece fights, because you know that at its end, no matter the outcome, there will be no satisfaction and no closure; only sadness and bitter parting. That it's a thrilling, strategy-laden battle with enough turnarounds for a fight twice its length only makes it that much harder to take. Luffy's words at the end of the battle, delivered in a rage of sadness, cut right to the quick, leaving a final wound on our trompled hearts. And things don't get much happier from there. In short order one of Luffy's new Water 7 acquaintances is shot and left for dead and Luffy fights a destructive duel with Franky, trying violently to bury his sadness and regret. Whereupon a last revelation turns everyone—new friends and casual citizens alike—against Luffy's crew, while also delivering another deadly blow to the little group's solidarity. It's another thing we've forgotten in the lull between major arcs: the show's fondness for big, dramatic twists of fate. Twists that send us hurtling past the set's end, clawing for more episodes. Thank goodness for streaming video.
This is the kind of material that shows off One Piece's distinctive style to best effect. Or near-best at least. Water 7 is a showcase for the series' wacko visual inventions, from the city itself, with the towering ramps and spires that turn it into an enormous water fountain, to the smiling horse-faced fish that everyone rides around on. New characters have that unique One Piece blend of absurdity and awesomeness: a handsome, dangerous-looking shipwright who speaks only through his pet pigeon; a soaring dock worker with big button eyes and a Mike Doonesbury nose. And then there's Franky, a pompadoured punk with a metal nose, Popeye arms, and thing for speedos, who can breathe flames and fire his fist like a rocket. Pure genius, in a crazy kind of way.
Big emotions also suit the show's style. Its designs aren't subtle by any stretch (some of them aren't even human by most standards) and neither are their expressions. So the bigger the emotions, the better-matched they are to the characters' repertoire of facial expressions. Shameless, tear-squirting, nose-running inner agony for instance; or black-faced, vein-popping fury. Crazy eyes, exaggerated reactions, pupils that contract in shock and blank out in rage… these are the kinds of things the series is good at, and it gets plenty of opportunities to use them this time out.
As well as plenty of opportunities to strut its storied action prowess. The Luffy vs. Usopp fight is a study in emotional intensity, undercutting its well-edited knack for cool with the sickening effect it has on both combatants. The Franky fight is a run of fantastic destruction with no satisfactory resolution, while the Straw Hats' assault on the Franky Family's base is all darkly satisfying retribution, a rage-fuelled reminder of why no one in their right mind would seriously cross Luffy's crew. They all benefit from the show's odd but effective framing, weird-cool designs, and eye for effective shortcuts, as well as the baldly, superbly manipulative score.
It's when a dub is under stress that its cracks start to show. That so few emerge while this set piles on the pressure is proof of how the dub has grown over the years. That Colleen Clinkenbeard's Luffy seems a hair short of the necessary intensity and Eric Vale's Sanji a smidge underplayed is just a tribute to the emotional edge Luci Christian gives Nami and the blistering brilliance of Sonny Strait's Usopp, whose scenes before and during the Luffy fight are nothing short of revelatory.
Extras: two commentary tracks. One for episode 233 with ADR director Mike McFarland, Brina Palencia, and new addition Philip Weber; the other for episode 236 (the Luffy/Usopp fight) with McFarland, Clinkenbeard, and Strait
This is one of those sets that flies by and leaves you in a place that you don't really want to be left. There is only one thing to say after such a set: bring on the next!
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Plot hits full stride as the series moves through its most successfully emotional material since way back in Alabasta; passes quickly and leaves you raring for more.
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