by Sam Leach,
How would you rate episode 781 of
One Piece ?
Last week found the Straw Hats sneaking into a Navy base, searching for food and having their cover blown before they could indulge in too many costume/identity shenanigans. Now, the crew are the targets of the three Marine rookies who took center stage in the last episode, with the main kid Grount (a Navy captain at the ripe age of 17) having it out for Luffy in particular. What ensues are several flashy fights between Grount and Luffy that are energetically animated and choreographed. In last week's review, I was relieved that the story and pacing of this new filler arc was simply competent, but now I'm seeing a little bit more as the layers start to peel.
All three of these rookie characters, Grount, Bonham, and Zappa, strike me as really well-thought-out, at least one notch above what you usually expect from shonen filler. Grount has a chip on his shoulder about something that's being kept from us for the moment, Bonham is from the longarm tribe and has control over CP9-style Six Powers techniques, and Zappa is your usual lovesick anime creep who toes the lines between endearing and annoying. I think one of the important factors here is that these characters are Marines, who have historically been the group with the most moral ambiguity. They're antagonists, but nine times out of ten, their goal is still to make the world a better place, so there's almost always something to empathize with them over. You like them even when you want Luffy to beat them.
Going along with that line of thinking is Grount. Even though we'll probably never see him after this filler is over, Grount feels like he's going through a character arc of his own. You believe that he's going to get stronger and possibly be an important fixture in the Navy some day, but today is not that day. He and Luffy share an interesting exchange during one of their fights, where they're trying to brag about which one of them will actually defeat the Four Emperors, highlighting a goal that even pirates and Marines can share.
Bonham and Zappa continue to be pretty entertaining as well. Bonham a bit moreso since his Six Power techniques were a pleasant surprise, but Zappa gets more screentime as he tries to woo Carrot (watch it, buddy) to mixed results. He starts to go crazy over how both Nami and Carrot will be his wives, and the two end up taking him down together in an admittedly limp Girl Power moment. Zappa's definitely the weaker part of this episode, but I just can't bring myself to hate him. He's expressive, and even the girls let him down surprisingly easy (with a variety of violent electric shocks), all things considered.
This episode delivers a lot of cool action that brings this filler up a level from what last week started, but the next episode preview demonstrates the most interesting promises. We learned last week that these rookies were once working under Aokiji, which is by far the most intriguing thing about them, and it looks as though whatever questions we have about that relationship are going to be answered within this arc. Again, these rookies don't have a chance at meaning anything in the bigger picture of the series, but it's clear that the writers wanted to give them depth all the same.
G-8 will probably forever be the best filler we ever see in the series, but what we're seeing here with this Marine Rookies arc is something I'd like to see most One Piece filler do in the future. It feels much more honest to the world of this series, where everything is connected and meaning is drawn by contrasting the different characters. Filler gets rated by different standards than canon material, but for my money, I think they're at least onto something here.
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