One Piece Episode 731
by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 731 of
One Piece ?
It's a strange thing when a quality jump between episodes can be felt immediately. It's not always apparent why that is, either. Is it just because everything feels a lot more on-model? Is it because the animation staff had more money? Or is it the product of more talented and/or dedicated creative directors taking the helm? The comparison is at least easy to make, since we're still in the thick of Luffy's ten-minute recharge mode, and yet this episode of the batch just feels a million times more alive and engaging, as if an adrenaline shot to the heart had been delivered at some point in the production.
The story moves forward as the various schmucks of the gladiator colosseum are obliterated by Doflamingo. Zoro and friends are trying to desperately to push the closing birdcage back using their various sword and Haki abilities to keep the defensive up. I was making a note of my ambivalence towards the people of Dressrosa earlier, but in retrospect there is a real feeling that the spirit of the country is fighting back, especially as the fighters combating Doflamingo are easily felled and another person decides to step in their place in order to buy as much time as possible: Viola, aka King Riku's daughter and Rebecca's aunt.
Despite her Glare-Glare Fruit powers, which she had been using to spectate and narrate the battle so far, among other things, Viola is nowhere near Doflamingo's level of strength. She pulls a hidden danger that she had been using to tie her hair up and engages her former boss in a really fun and impressively choreographed fight sequence. Her big, flow-y dress and her dancer's agility makes for an incredibly interesting fight, visually. If I recall correctly in the manga, most of the actual combat was skipped over here, so that fact that the anime fleshed it out and captured what made the character's fighting style unique was a treat to see.
I find Viola to be my personal favorite of the Riku family. She has several good hooks to her character (being a Spanish flamenco dancer and a clairvoyant seer) as well as having a very attractive design. Her overriding guilt for serving the Doflamingo family all these years, even if it was a result of the pink bird-man's manipulation, gives her a strong sense of motivation as she fights. We know as well as her that she's no match, and Doflamingo seems perfectly interested in just toying with her for the duration of the episode, but it doesn't take away from the drive of the character in the slightest. This episode makes me wish we could have seen more of her throughout the arc in place of her niece.
Another strong detail of this episode is a minimal focus on Luffy himself. At this point we know he's not going to be doing much more than hanging out on Gyats' back as he recharges, so we aren't going to learn much about the story by seeing his sleepy eyes too much more. Instead, this episode is about everyone else and their desperate attempt to keep the entire island from being destroyed by the birdcage. Pirates, gladiators and even the Navy all work together to push against the sharp, closing strings. There's a great sequence where Admiral Fujitora has his men assist our heroes, all while pretending not to recognize that their impromptu allies are world-famous pirates. The theme of togetherness amongst these opposing sides with a shared antagonist is easy to recognize.
I have a lot of glowing things to say about this episode, which is a surprise since it's still just a small piece in an otherwise exhausting string of installments that I was tiring of just last week. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't put this among the best of best in terms of what the One Piece anime has to offer, but the difference in energy between this episode and the last few is so noticeable, it's almost funny.
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