by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 737 of
One Piece ?
One Piece usually doesn't get the chance to play the filler game like its brethren Naruto and Bleach. At some point along the way, Toei decided they didn't want to overburden their audience with unwanted non-canon material and instead chose simply to pad the main story out for better and worse (mostly worse). There are occasionally small filler arcs in between the main story, but they're usually a mere three to five episodes a pop these days. Some of us actively wish that the series would partake in more filler (despite it being significantly worse in writing quality), if it meant giving the canon material a steadier pace.
Since Dressrosa was so long, it's been a while since there has even been a chance to insert filler, so it came as a pleasant surprise last week when the next-episode preview showed off what looked to be a well-animated filler episode, fleshing out the backstory of Sabo's life in the Revolutionary Army. An even bigger surprise came earlier this week, when it was announced that Eiichiro Oda himself had approved and exchanged notes on the script for this episode. I was pretty optimistic that this was going to be just what the doctor ordered after such an exhausting Dressrosa finale.
Well, about that...
737 is pretty mediocre across the board, meaning I overestimated a filler episode. Whodathunk? The way it breaks down is thus: one third content from the manga, one third repeated footage from a few arcs back, and one third new anime-only content that ends up being incredibly mild and inconsequential. I guess I should have seen this coming, but ever since the G8 arc I can't help but feel like anime-only content could have strong writing, and it just never seems to manage it. Then again, the G8 arc was about 600 episodes ago…
Expectations aside, this episode is harmless in the long run. It's padding things out just as much as anything else and doesn't aspire to do more. Again, there are chunks of exceptionally nice animation, particularly when we see Sabo training on his own or fighting against Kuma. It's slick and nicely choreographed, so if you're into cool sakuga, there's at least a little bit of something there for you. It's just a shame that these scenes are incredibly brief and feel extra lopsided compared to how wonky and off-model the episode around them looks.
The thing I took away most from this episode is just how much it illuminates how shallow filler writing can be, even when injecting just a little bit of creativity feels like it should be low-hanging fruit. Like, I can say: “Sabo joins the Revolutionary Army and decides to train himself out of cockiness. There are several scenes where he picks a fight with Kuma as part of his training and loses.” That sounds like a pretty solid foundation for an episode, but in practice there's nothing you really gain by watching it in action versus reading those two sentences on paper, even taking the slick animation into account. There's just nothing to learn beyond the premise itself.
This is a simple matter of me naively getting my hopes up that Toei would do something a tiny bit more interesting than we're used to getting from them. At the end of the day, it's the same kind of shallow break we've been asking for so I guess I can't complain too much. However, I do think this serves as a testament to Oda's manga writing that even Toei's already so-so adaptation becomes significantly less engaging without it.
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