Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
DVD - Season 5 Part 5
What does a crew of pirates do after declaring war on the World Government, destroying an indestructible platoon of government assassins, and rescuing one of their own from the private hell of her traumatic past? Why kick back at an island resort and wait for the Navy to catch up, of course! To be fair to Luffy and the Straw Hats, their ship was burnt to cinders and they have to wait until Franky builds them a new one before they can resume their flight. But still. Cook-offs, massive parties, and babysitting snafus probably aren't the best ways to prepare while a Marine hero is breathing down their necks and the government piles new bounties on their heads.
An epic arc needs an epic coda, and this twelve-episode after-party for the massive Enies Lobby fight certainly qualifies. A patchwork of throwaway filler episodes, big revelations, important developments, and tied-off loose ends, this set is hardly a paragon of propulsive serial storytelling, but it is entertaining in its own way—and quite indispensable.
It goes without saying that the worst parts of this set are the inherently dispensable parts. Namely, the filler episodes. There're three and they're all an unmitigated waste of time. Each follows a crew member as they have some piddling adventure on Water 7. One finds Luffy and Chopper helping a girl whose elderly yagara went missing during the big storm. (A yagara, in case you've forgotten in the intervening bombast, is the horse-fish that tows people around the canals of Water 7). Another throws Zoro into a rambunctious household of step-siblings, ruled with an iron fist by their lumpy adoptive mother. The third gets Sanji into a cook-off with a crotchety old salt who makes simple but startlingly delicious food. They are all exactly as silly as they sound, and considerably more strained. There isn't a graceful bone in these episodes' bodies—though there are a couple of funny bones, especially where Zoro's new domesticated wardrobe is concerned.
Why bring up the filler episodes at the top of the review (even though they comprise the middle of the set)? Because they're part of a larger, and increasingly worrying, pattern. During the Kônosuke Uda era, One Piece rarely felt like it was deliberately wasting time. Sure, it had filler arcs. Sure it dragged things out occasionally. But it generally felt like it was bopping right along, having a grand old time banging from one loony adventure to the next. That's not the feeling you get from these episodes. With its extra-length opening recaps, frequent flashbacks, blatant filler interludes, and single events puffed up until they blot out entire episodes, this set isn't bopping along; it's digging its heels in; distending the plot; wading in slo-mo through a tarry mire of time-killing devices.
In short, One Piece is starting to act like shonen compatriots Naruto and Bleach. And that's unfortunate. One Piece always had more imagination, more energy, and more staying power than its Johnny-come-lately shonen peers. That it's losing some of that steam is worrying.
That said, it's not enough to wreck this set. Because, despite the tarry mire and dorky side-adventures, these twelve episodes are chockablock with important, interesting, and just plain fun things. The background we get on Luffy's family—finally—is alone worth sitting through the filler manure (though you won't actually have to; it predates the filler episodes). At long last we learn who that tattoo-faced guy in Loguetown was, and also the reason behind Luffy's neurotic reaction to any mention of his grandfather. Elsewhere we get lovely little updates on long-neglected secondary players. We see what Shanks and Whitebeard are up to. We get a whiff of where Ace is headed. We even get to see where timid Coby and spoiled Helmeppo's transformations have taken them.
Even the frivolous stuff—the after-fight tradition of checking out the crew's new bounties, the obligatory ginormous party—is wacky fun. It's weirdly fulfilling to see how the crew's piratical stature has grown (as demonstrated by their ratcheting government bounties), and at least two of the wanted posters—Sanji's and, especially, Chopper's—are lethally hilarious. The revisiting of the Straw Hats' various hometowns as news of the bounties spreads is a blatant filler move, and yet it's still sweet and fun to visit with distant friends once more.
And then there are the actual major developments. The crew's new boat for instance. Which, by the by, is simultaneously ludicrous and awesome. Or Luffy's attempt to shanghai Franky into being the crew's shipwright—which begins with a game of keep-the-speedo-away and concludes when Robin applies some, er, testicular persuasion. Or Usopp's bid to rejoin the Straw Hats after their bitter pre-Enies Lobby parting, during which Luffy acquires—perhaps for the first time, and mostly at the urging of Zoro—a measure of a pirate captain's hard gravitas.
There is little action this set, and what there is of it is brief and unimportant (one final chase excepted). So while there are a couple of opportunities to appreciate the show's mixture of gonzo action art and flat, CGI-assisted movement, these episodes are better for appreciating the show's visual humor and penchant for ridiculous-but-effective affect. Those wanted posters are probably the epitome of the former (really, they're killer) while Usopp's realization that rejoining the crew will be more difficult than he had hoped is the (slobbering, runny-nosed) epitome of the latter. The series' current director, Munehisa Sakai, is definitely a more workmanlike helmsman than Uda—this is particularly evident in his comparatively pedestrian use of the still-wonderful score, but also in an unbecoming fondness for repeated animation. The show, however, is strong enough that it carries him when he can't carry it.
We're three hundred episodes into Funimation's dub, so you know whether it's your kind of poison or not. This run of episodes is no better or worse than any other. It is kind of instructive to listen to the divide between the main cast, who've been settling into their characters for years now, and the returning secondary players like Shanks—who are clearly less comfortable in their roles—but that's about all there is to remark on.
Extras: two commentary tracks, for a pair of filler episodes, featuring the ADR director and actors Apphia Yu (the yagara girl) and Charlie Campbell (the crotchety cook) respectively. There's also a behind-the-scenes video with Colleen Clinkenbeard that looks pretty bland at first but is actually one of the more comprehensive and interesting looks at the mechanics and processes of the dubbing art.
This volume may be kind of bloated, and large swaths of it slower and more saggy than they should be, but there's such a wealth of little joys scattered throughout that ultimately its five hours pass in a blink. One Piece seems to be slowing down, but it's still worth sticking with.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B
+ Lots of invaluable revelations and developments; dead-hilarious when it wants to be.
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