Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 1st 2014
DVD - Season 5 Part 3
The mission to save Robin continues. As Luffy chases down Spandam, Lucci, and Robin, the rest of the Straw Hats go after the keys that the CP9 have. They'll need to take out each assassin and bring their key to Robin if they want to free her from her sea-stone shackles. Usopp and Zoro face off against Kaku and Jabra, who have transformed into a wolf man and a giraffe man. Nami takes on Kalifa, whose mysterious Devil Fruit powers did in Sanji. Chopper and Franky end up in a room with chubby Fukurou and kabuki-dancing Kumadori. Ready... fight!
Last volume was a horror show of delaying tactics. This volume is what was being delayed: twelve pure episodes of what One Piece does best.
Okay, if I were being completely honest, I'd say ten pure episodes. There are two holiday specials that have nothing to do with anything inserted into the middle of disc one. And that's hardly the only way that the show slows things down. Between the recaps of previous episodes and the extra-length opening song (which, since it replaces the ending credits, actually saves time… but anyway) it's a good six minutes before any episode actually gets started. Add in the preview and the folks at Toei Animation only have to provide seventeen minutes of original animation per episode. Do the math—that's 28% of the show that is habitually wasted—and the holiday specials start to look pretty innocent.
As they should. Pointless as they are, they're goofy little diversions that pass painlessly and occasionally even enjoyably. Mostly they're an excuse for the series to bring back fan favorites from arcs past and have them mix it up in a new setting. Specifically, in an ersatz One Piece version of feudal Japan. So if you want to see how Alabasta's Vivi and Cobra might deal with Buggy or how the Straw Hat crew would celebrate a Japanese-style New Year's, this is your place. Of course what happens is far less important than just seeing Vivi or Cobra or Buggy or Eyelashes the camel again. And good thing too, because what happens is really stupid (mochi heists anyone?).
No one's going to be thanking the show for those modest pleasures however. The holiday specials, light and harmless though they are, are a hideously unwelcome intrusion into the biggest, baddest, most satisfying run of action that the CP9 arc has yet seen. This is the part of the customary One Piece arc where the flashbacks are finished, the emotional stakes ratcheted properly high, the bad guys established as really bad guys, and all of the groundwork generally done, allowing the Straw Hats to get down to kicking serious butt. The action is relentless (or as relentless as the 28% rule will allow), the powers upgraded, and the justice meted out long-due and oh-so-sweet.
As a general rule, the matches have been decided by this point, meaning that each crewmember gets their own individual fight. The show isn't so rigid that there isn't some crossover and even some swapping of antagonists—lending the chain of fights a freewheeling looseness that One Piece climaxes sometimes lack—but this is at heart a linear run of character-specific martial arts set-pieces.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Not when the set-pieces are this good. Franky's match against rotund CP9 manchild Fukurou is a thoroughly odd showcase for Franky's downright bizarre set of combat skills (he's a cola-powered cyborg whose body is one big armory). Ever seen a rocket-powered fart used in combat? Well, brace yourself. Chopper's match against kabuki-dancing, hair-manipulating Kumadori—far and away the CP9's most lethally annoying member—is a grueling test of the adorable little reindeer's grit, with a hugely satisfying (yet rather troubling) denouement at the end. Nami's bid to avenge Sanji leads to a battle of indirect powers with Kalifa, who uses cleanliness as a weapon. It's a frequently hilarious battle of wits with more tactical turnarounds then all of the other fights combined. Sanji returns for a wonderfully brutal brawl with a cheating wolf, leaving just enough time for the first leg of Zoro's swordfight with a giraffe. Now that's a sight. Again, the giraffe alone is worth the price of admission. Giraffe martial arts are every bit as funny as they sound.
As ever, the show serves up action that owes as much to imagination, timing, and buildup as it does to animation prowess. That is not a drawback. The show's action inventions are balanced perfectly on the razor edge between stomach-knotting weirdness and heart-swelling cool. The show's fights have equal room for Chopper's final transformation—which turns him into a tragic and terrifying Cervidaean King Kong—and for Kalifa's soap bubble Battle Sheep (note how the sheep's horns are actually her arms and what that means for her fighting posture). As for its direction, despite juggling helmsmen over the years, the show's ability to deliver just the right blow at just the right moment, trot out just the right musical flourish at just the right turnaround, and find just the right expression for just the right happening is undiminished.
Who needs jacked up frame rates and sleek movement when you have Zoro using Usopp as a sword? (Named: Nose Storm). Or Sanji making elegantly ferocious mincemeat out of a wolf-weasel? And we haven't even mentioned Nami's army of malformed doppelgangers or the part of her battle where she's turned into a moving, fightin' Nami blow-up doll.
The structure of this set means that Funimation's supporting cast gets a big slice of the spotlight, and the extra light only shows how strong the secondary players have gotten. Andrew Love plays Kumadori with an over-the-top relish that actually improves on the original, Patrick Seitz's Franky has both gravitas and impressive comedic chops, and Alexis Tipton is great as Fukurou (her rendition of his "chapapa" tagline is hilariously committed). Alex Organ's blandly matter-of-fact delivery becomes a lethal comedic asset once Kaku transforms into a freakish giraffe-man. The principals stay strong, the script remains solid, and it helps that everyone seems to be enjoying themselves—especially Sonny Strait as Usopp-cum-Sogeking.
Extras: Solidly informative behind-the-scenes videos with Jonathan Brooks (Foxy) and Jason Liebrecht (Lucci); commentaries for episodes 289 (with Seitz and Tipton, pretty subdued) and 290 (Brina Palencia and Strait, having a hell of a good time).
If there's a problem with this volume, besides the high percentage of repeated material and the holiday specials, it's that it's only one chunk of a very large showdown. We never see the end of Zoro's giraffe-slaying, Luffy has yet to get past the frustrating opening throes of his fight with Lucci, we don't find out how Usopp is going to contribute to the rescue, and Robin is left literally under the foot of professional slimeball Spandam. But that kind of anticipation is just what makes the show the addiction that it is. The next fix, by the way, should be a doozy.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Action galore as the CP9 arc enters its final stages; that special One Piece mixture of knock-down hilarity and knockout action satisfaction.
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