by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 767 of
One Piece ?
I love One Piece, you guys. It's a really good show.
One of the hanging threads of the Zou arc has been the relationship between the minks and the samurai. Luffy's crew has been asking him constantly not to blab about their samurai friends being nearby, out of fear that it would feel insensitive, but it was only a matter of time before Kin'nemon and Kanjuro arrived at the top of the elephant. The third samurai of the group, the unseen Raizo, was the target of Jack's onslaught and the indirect cause of Cat Viper and Dogstorm's missing limbs, among the rest of the tragic destruction.
Kin'nemon and Kanjuro kept falling off during their climb up the elephant, a comedic and artificial way to keep them out of the story for a while and delay the audience finding out what happens when the minks and the samurai finally meet. Well, that day has come, as the samurai duo calmly waltz into the city without a speck of fear in their eyes, and we learn that they were right not to be afraid. It turns out that not only are the minks not mad at the samurai, but they're actually good friends with them! After weeks upon weeks of learning how much suffering the minks experienced under Jack's hand, we discover that they really did have Raizo in hiding, and their ignorance was simply a bluff as they took a violent hit for the sake of protecting their comrade.
This revelation scene is a tough one to crack, if only because it's hard to really express the weightiness of it in writing. This is the kind of scene that only works by way of a storyteller as confident as Eiichiro Oda, who has always had an amazing knack for buildup and payoff. The twist of this arc is that we've been in the presence of some of the strongest and most compassionate characters we've ever met in this series, and I can imagine some people finding a whiff of cheese coming off selflessness that fantastical, but I personally find it marvelous and executed as perfectly as it could have been. One Piece has always aimed to emulate the great legends of our world, creating its own larger-than-life stories in the name of ideological beliefs. What would you do in the mink's shoes? Could you face death for the sake of an ally?
We're given a few more flashbacks to Jack's torture scenes, where we get the most graphic depiction of Cat Viper and Dogstorm losing their limbs yet. "Then there is no way for for me to save this leg," Dogstorm remarks before having it cleaved off in a surprisingly bloody scene with lots of gnarly bone crunching sounds. The One Piece manga has no problem getting dark, but it's rare to see the anime so unflinching. Cat Viper and Dogstorm, the kings of the night and day respectively, the two leaders of the minks who hate each other so much, both thought nothing of losing their lives, their bodies, or their homes if it meant protecting Raizo. They've put on their carefree brave faces up until this moment, and now there are no secrets. There's a lot of crying at the end of this episode. Some of it is pained, some of it is hopeful, and much of it comes from the empathy tears of the Straw Hats themselves, who have only grown to respect the minks more and more as the arc goes on.
The timing of a scene like this is also impressive. Luffy was getting ready to step off the island and go rescue Sanji. For all we knew, everything about the minks was to be put behind us, but at the last moment, we get an enormous, sweeping scene with beautiful music (Was this a new track? It didn't sound familiar to me.) and sobbing faces, as the Dukes lower their heads instead of starting a fight like the audience was led to believe. We're delivered a catharsis that we had no reason to expect, but once it happens, everything starts to make sense. These are not characters we met in passing between arcs, they're possibly the most loyal allies the Straw Hats have made yet, destined to play an important role in the bigger picture moving forward. This whole sequence is simply amazing, and I'm blown away that the whole Zou arc was spent setting this up without much hint that we were in store for anything at all. I wish I could sum up exactly how this scene makes me feel, but there are too many moving parts to keep track of in one review. It's very impressive, to say the least.
And all of this emotion before even getting into the production of this episode, which on its own would be one of the arc's highlights. It's suddenly a tad bit more stylized, resembling the recent TV movies more than anything with its bolder outlines and emphasis on hatch shading. Save for a few weird running animations, every character model feels more lively, and every drawing looks perfectly deliberate. I always wondered why this wasn't the art direction that the whole show went with a long time ago, since it's more about stylistic choices than anything that would require extra time or money. (I think?) It looks a lot nicer and more unique than the plastic toy look we're stuck with much of the time.
This is one of the best episodes of One Piece in a long time, possibly the best since I've started these episode reviews. The one-two punch of great story content and great production values is an exciting thing to see line up in a series that's needed it on a more constant basis for a long time. The distribution of talent and clear thought that's been put into the Zou arc specifically has been noticeable, and I tip my hat to Toei Animation for proving to me that they still want to try.
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