One Piece
Episode 696

by Sam Leach,

For the last few months, the One Piece anime has been pushing through some of the most repetitive and exhausting story material it's seen in a long time. This week we finally make some satisfying progress and I couldn't be happier with the result. Rebecca has reunited with her father, Luffy is back on Doflamingo's turf and Trafalgar Law has at long, long last rid himself of those pesky handcuffs (our local fuzzy hatted bad boy has been immobilized for the last 34 episodes.) The pieces are finally falling into place for the final battle of the Dressrosa arc.

The thing that makes me the happiest is that this turning point is being accompanied by some noticeably above average production values. Last week we saw Rebecca and the flower field looking especially pretty, with the colors and lighting really being on their A game. That continues here, but now we're dealing with an action episode on top of that. Once Kyros makes his grand return we're treated to a ton of really great fight animation. One Piece's action has historically been very drawn out and taken one beat at a time. Here, we're seeing a lot of actual choreography moving at rapid speeds and it looks as neat as can be.

But that's not the extent of it. Even before Kyros shows up the episode is eye candy. The shade underneath the giant sunflowers, the pink glow of Rebecca's lost key and the surprising amount of detail and movement awarded to Diamante's demented face all create an atmosphere with purpose. You can tell there's a real appreciation for the fact that Dressrosa is basically a giant children's fairy tale. There's just something so classic and pure about the setting and conflicts, and the direction seen in this episode makes that as clear as ever.

It's episodes like this that really remind me of why I love One Piece from a filmic perspective. We've got all these larger-than-life characters constantly moving from point A to point B, crossing paths and head-butting in dramatic ways. It's wonderful to see the direction and pacing take an interest in those things as opposed to just rotely redrawing the manga. Here, the anime staff clearly get why One Piece is cool and they want to show it to you. Even in the little fights, like when Luffy is dealing with the giant nutcracker toys, it feels like the animators are having fun planning it out visually.

Rare for a long-running shonen series, this episode is just a constant wave of new developments, all while still fitting snugly in the middle of what's likely going to be a 100 episode long arc. It's been a while since I've combed through this portion of the manga, but I'm under the impression that several of the subplots have been moved around between episodes for the sake of pacing. There's a very controlled sense of momentum and change going on here, with each scene leveraging the last for effectiveness. Of course, we've still only made a tiny step in such an enormous story with much more dramatic things left to come, but boy is what's going on here welcome.

This is an episode so good it's kind of frustrating. Like, now I'm kind of mad the rest of an otherwise solid arc never got a chance to be look so good, production-wise. It's not even the best thing ever in terms of anime in general, but for One Piece it's exactly the kind of thing I wish I could see more often. What was it that made the difference? Was it the budget? The direction? The story content? Likely it was a combination of all three, and I'll take it while we've got it.

Rating: A

One Piece is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and

Sam Leach writes about One Piece for The One Piece Podcast and you can find him on Twitter @luckychainsaw.

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