One Piece
Episode 738

by Sam Leach,

How would you rate episode 738 of
One Piece ?

This week's One Piece has me asking a very important question: What bit Toei, man? Is it just me or is there something about episode 738 that feels especially…awake? Or just all around more creative than usual? I'm totally willing to accept that it's just me, but there's something there, I swear on it. I really was not expecting to enjoy this episode as much as I did.

Onward we roll into part two of Sabo's epic bedtime story. None of the main cast has moved around much since the last episode so we get to dive right back into the past, several years back, with Sabo and Koala sailing the ocean on their way back to the Revolutionary Army's headquarters. Right off the bat there's a freshness to this episode as the show presents us with a moment of peace; a chance to just look out at the horizon and feel the breeze. Sabo in particular is feeling the itch of some lost childhood memories threatening to creep up and pull him out of his amnesia.

At first I considered the possibility that they were reusing animation from the Episode of Sabo TV move. The shadows of Sabo's memories regarding Ace and Luffy specifically felt a little snazzier than we're used to getting in the TV show. I can't imagine the effect feeling out of place in any other series, it felt suspiciously un-Toei enough that it grabbed my attention. I was pleasantly surprised to open on such a tenderly executed scene.

“Un-Toei” feels like the best descriptor I'm going to find for this. The regular art style is still there and the middling production values remain as present as ever, yet something uncannily foreign is peeking through. To me, there's a nakedness to the creative choices being made all throughout this episode. It's easy to sit through an installment of One Piece and fail to recognize any artistic choices being made in the adaptation at all. Most of the time there's a weary sense of autopilot going on. That's not true this time around.

This time, there's an honest feeling that every scene is being tackled with respect and creativity. Characters' internal feelings are being given much more consideration in the filmic language of the episode than I'm frankly used to seeing in One Piece. It's not just the big emotions that are given their dues, but the quiet ones as well. I keep revisiting this episode to double check that I'm not going crazy, and each time I see that close-up of Sabo's distressed face in the opening scene and I just know that's not how any other director would have approached the same material.

This episode feels like it's just begging me to comb through it and find every little creative choice just so I can compliment it. The entire episode I found myself constantly murmuring, “they wouldn't do it that way in any other episode.” Even with the otherwise mild aesthetic choices this is true. It's hard to express the excitement I felt when I saw some daisy flowers in the foreground of one scene, “in-focus” as if the animation were captured on a camera. That's not even an unheard of technique in anime, but to see a One Piece TV episode be so cinematically thoughtful… I just don't want the feeling to leave us, is all.

And none of this is getting into Sabo's panic attack. There's so much stuff worth giving a passing mention to in this review that I simply can't cover it all, but that scene is probably the most important thing to discuss. It's just fantastic. It's about a solid four minutes of hyperventilating, sweating and crying as Sabo's memories of Ace and Luffy come flooding back as a result of hearing the (then recent) news about the Paramount War. Memories of childhood cut in and out underneath a soundtrack of bombastic dread to the point it wouldn't be inappropriate to call it a horror scene. The moment we choose to put ourselves in Sabo's shoes we're treated to a surreal and all-consuming wash of emotions. Disbelief. Terror. Relief. Regret. Heartbreak. Hope.

I'm sure there are people who won't be too fond of the length of this scene (I think the original manga version was summed up in a single panel) but it's something that I'm just going to have to make respectfully disagree on. This panic attack, as presented, has me so impressed. I love the journey of discovery as Sabo goes from bad to worse. Sabo's Japanese voice actor, Tōru Furuya, is also deserving of some props. All that breathy-ness and rhythmic dry heaving really sells the whole package.

There are moments throughout this episode that feel like such a different take from how Toei has traditionally handled the TV show (this is definitely a movie staff kind of episode) that it sticks out like a sore thumb compared the episodes around it. It's one of those episodes that makes me sad we don't see more like it. In this case I wouldn't even call it an especially polished episode, but boy is it jam packed with ideas. I didn't even get to cover the Luffy and Sabo reunion addendum (it's good).

Again, I've had to watch this episode several times just to make sure I wasn't imagining things. I guess the idea of going so internal with characters in a show like One Piece is still taking its time trying to gel with my brain. I really felt like I had been forced into some sort of mind meld with Sabo during his breakdown. I keep wondering how universal the experience with this episode is going to be among fans, though I guess this is as good a time as ever to recognize when I've just had my own personalized experience with very unique episode and just appreciate that as it is.

Rating: A

One Piece is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.com.

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


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