Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Season 2 DVD Part 7
Crocodile delivered to the tender mercies of the Marines and Alabasta far behind them, the Luffy Pirates continue their exploration of the Grand Line. They visit an island renowned for its fireworks, collect fruit on an uninhabited island, help a young cook regain his confidence and commune with a dried-up geezer and his herd of pet goats. Ordinary times for the extraordinary group. The visit with the geezer does end with a small-scale invasion by treasure-hungry government types, but really, given that the Luffy Pirates have unknowingly been saddled with a bounty that leaves Marines drooling, that's not uncommon. More uncommon is the rainbow-colored mist they encounter at another island; a mist that marks the entrance to a dimension in which time and space are twisted like pretzels. Naturally they charge right in, entangling themselves in an adventure revolving around a greedy mayor, some time-traveling tykes and a mountain of treasure.
So how do you follow up one of the grandest, most rousing climaxes in shonen action history? By backsliding into low investment fluff, apparently. The Luffy vs. Crocodile fight that capped off the Alabasta arc was a high-water mark in a series that had for some time been raising the bar on shonen action. This...this is One Piece sitting on its laurels, firing on one or two cylinders while it gives the other six or seven a deserved rest. It isn't something you can blame it for, but that doesn't make this slice of piratical nothingness any easier to swallow.
Fully five of these thirteen episodes are consumed by one-off tales where one of the Luffy pirates deals with something—Chopper acclimating himself to Robin, Nami trying to catch up on her cartography—while reflecting on their own past. There are nuggets of character to be gleaned from each, and a smattering of humor, but on a whole these are formulaic, disposable, and just a little forced. Not the kind of focused, larger-than-life sentimentality that the series usually deals in, and barely reminiscent of the juggernaut the series becomes when it hits its serial-storytelling stride. The goat geezer story, though lengthier, is hardly better. The geezer is more than a little irritating, the villain is perfunctory, and the emotional payoff hinges on...goats? Not one of the series' proudest moments. The Rainbow Mist story finds the series drifting a little closer to its customary groove, but ends in a less-than-satisfying manner. Any story that concludes without unleashing Luffy has failed on some level.
Not that any of that stops this from being superior to many shonen shows, even at their best. The best of the standalone character episodes—a look back at an important meeting in Zoro's past—is a nice little exercise in seriocomic economy, and even the poorer ones have their moments. No episode that ends with a world-stopping bang a la the Usopp episode or that silently builds a rapport between ex-enemies as the Robin/Chopper one does is a complete loss. Even the otherwise limp goat episodes drop a poignant hint about Robin's reasons for joining Luffy and culminate in a pleasingly cathartic villain-walloping. And the boldness with which the Rainbow Mist episodes mash up mawkish sentimentality, cracked slapstick, and pirate panache is pure One Piece; even if the hodge-podge that results isn't prime One Piece.
The thing is, enjoy them as you will, the set's superior moments can't help but be painful reminders of the potential that the series is currently not fulfilling. Having just come off of some of the most thrilling television to be marketed at kids, we know that the crumbs it feeds us are just that, crumbs. Like any swath of One Piece this run of episodes is filled with insane imagery and little jolts of weirdly timeless cool. A rope-wrapped marine taking to the sky like an aerial inchworm, a Bluto-esque bandit armed with a cannon-sized flintlock, a pumpkin-crowned tower that crashes into the sea to become an enormous treasure-transporting tube: few filler arcs were ever so blessed with imagination. The animators' canny use of speed-blurred stills, CG trickery, and other common shortcuts continues to add energy and, yes, excitement to what is essentially a budget-conscious series, and they milk more than one scene's gangly characters and canted cameras for incongruous coolness. But every drop of imagination, every spark of energy and ounce of cool, is but a shadow of the oceans, the gigawatts, the metric tons of each that lie dormant beneath its lazy surface.
There isn't much new to say about Funimation's dub. By this point the core cast is comfortable in their roles, their performances largely very enjoyable. The obvious relish with which they tackle the goofy filler humor makes the set a little easier to watch in English. On the other hand, I've grown to despise the dubbed songs. And that's about it. Hate it, love it, don't care (or any gradient thereof), by now you know where you stand. Take your pick and run with it. The next set, which thanks to Funimation's achronological dubbing schedule contains their earliest work on the series, is a more interesting prospect (review-wise). The contrast between the two should be instructive.
Colleen Clinkenbeard, Jason Grundy, and Vic Mignogna punch in for the customary commentary track. Their discussion of the merits of dubbing filler demonstrates pretty definitively that the best episodes to dub aren't necessarily the best to watch.
It can be easy to forget, in part because its idiosyncratic look gives it a deceptively cultish feel, that One Piece is an anime giant. It was promoting and perverting pirate tropes when Pirates of the Carribean was but a gleam in Jerry Bruckheimer's eye, and it only grows more popular with each passing year. There is perhaps no more damning criticism than to say that by the evidence of this set alone you'd never guess that.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Mindless pirate fun with a few burnished nuggets of characterization and action.
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