by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 726 of
One Piece ?
There's a phenomenon that happens when you're a kid feasting on classic, long running Shonen Jump titles. I remember obsessively scrolling through the TV guide as a young'un and counting down the days when specific episodes of Dragon Ball Z would air. These episode were almost always the big Super Saiyan transformation episodes. Even if I had never seen them before, I knew all about them and I salivated over the thought of seeing those monumental turning points with my own eyes.
They were the kind of episodes you taped for repeat viewings, even if not much happened in them aside from the big moment in question. It didn't matter, because shonen transformation episodes are a strange beast that create a calm before the storm out of the episodes surrounding them. All the slow, padded pacing begins to feel deliberate and creative, all to sell that one moment. Long story short, One Piece 726 is the kind of episode I would have recorded off of TV as a kid so I could watch it again and again until the tape broke.
Fourth Gear is here, and it comes curtesy of an especially flashy animation sequence that reminds me of the big fight towards the end of the Sai/Baby 5 episode (I know there's got to be a name behind this animation style, but I'm not very sakuga savvy). The mystery of what another Gear transformation would even look like is answered: He's a big, bouncy, tribal tattooed looking alternative to Nightmare Luffy from Thriller Bark, complete with a big kabuki action pose.
There's a lot to break down with the design/concept. The “tattoos” are Luffy's way of combining Armament Haki with his muscle inflation, and the steam seems to indicate some inclusion of his Second Gear power. So Fourth Gear seems to be the ultimate combination of his other power-ups, Haki, and that mean look he had as Nightmare Luffy. I think the red glow along his armament is a nice touch, making the anime design feel a little bit more memorable and unique compared to Oda's plain black/white-glow color scheme we see on the cover of Volume 79.
Another aspect of his new transformation is that fact that he is now so buoyant that he can't stay still on the ground, he has to keep bouncing. This is the detail that causes Doflamingo to laugh and underestimate the new power, and the perfect rhythm of each bounce juxtaposed against Luffy's angry face got a bit of a chuckle from me as well. Of course, this is all setup for the beat down that Luffy delivers just shortly after.
Honestly, I don't think the transformation itself is the star attraction of this episode, but rather the craziness of the fight that erupts. The new array of attack styles that Luffy is able to dish out is enormous, and it feels all the more satisfying to think he had been sitting on them ever since the two year time-skip, just waiting for the villain who needed them most. There's a combination of animalistic rage (Luffy developed these attacks to fight off the giant animals while he trained) and a strange sense of mechanical design. He can invert his fists like a robot to give his punches more umph, and do similar things with his feet to propel himself through the sky like a rocket. The resulting hits send Doflamingo flying across the island, which just opens up the imagination after we had spent most of the fight tethered to the palace top.
My favorite of these new attacks is his “python”, where he extends his rubber arm and is able to change it's direction in mid air, giving him ultimate reach. All this overwhelming power is as entertaining as can be, but it never makes Luffy feel too strong since we know there's still going to be a lot more to the fight after this. I'm excited to see Luffy battle enemies even stronger than Doflamingo after this.
The fight manages to do something uncommon in a lot of shows, in that it displays an enormous amount of speed and brutality, while never letting up on the creativity. I was on the edge of my seat, just excited to see the way these two combatants move, hungry to learn what the next physical confrontation against Doflamingo's face was going to look like. Every second of the later half of this episode had something new to offer.
I'm curious how a lot of people are going to react to Fourth Gear, mainly whether or not it's just a tad bit too goofy for some audience's taste, but One Piece has always been an anomaly in its ability to balance cool and silly in a way that marries the two. Fourth Gear definitely gets a thumbs up from me, on top of all the new and creative ways to give Doflamingo a black eye. After all the frankly exhausting build-up, it feels great to have something so unequivocally new feeling. This is one of the highlights of the Dressrosa arc, another treat that feels so novel in the grand scheme of things and keeps the arc from feeling stale after so long.
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