A while back, I reviewed the shonen anime One Piece. That review covered what I had seen to that point, but One Piece is a titanic piece of animation, a series still ongoing after more than 630 episodes. I'm now going to talk about what I've seen of One Piece since – up through around episode 380.
When we last left our group of intrepid pirates (who are about as piratical in their normal behavior as Will Turner and Jack Sparrow in his gentler moments), Monkey D. Luffy had just managed to defeat God Enel/Eneru, a Devil Fruit user who had gained the power of lightning – including the ability to transform into pure energy.
Subsequent to this, the Straw Hat crew leave Skypeia (with a fair amount of treasure, but a lot less than the Skypeians would have given them) using a typically One Piece ridiculous method: a gargantuan waterfall from the sky country down to the normal world (as normal as it gets in One Piece, anyway), slowed by a hot-air… octopus. Yes, that's what it sounds like.
The Going Merry ends up plummeting straight into the center of a Marine stronghold. The crew escapes but the ship is captured, and a considerably complex adventure ensues with the various crewmembers having to somehow elude capture or, in some cases, make allies within the Marines, and then eventually meet up and escape.
During this arc we are refamiliarized with the use of kairoseki, a stone which embodies the nature of the ocean. Mentioned before a few times, the stone is used by the Marines and others to allow them to combat the users of the Devil Fruit, as kairoseki affects them just as does the ocean – taking away their powers and drastically weakening them. The effect is very much like the classic Superman encountering green Kryptonite. The Marines capture Luffy in a net with pieces of kairoseki at the intersections and it renders Luffy utterly useless until he's cut free.
The existence and (relative) availability of Seastone (as kairoseki is generally translated) is a crucial element in the world, showing that even ordinary people do have an "equalizer" to use against these superpowered beings.
Having escaped, Luffy and the Strawhats have a number of somewhat lighter adventures, most notably contesting with "Foxy, the Silver Fox", leader of the Foxy Pirates, whose major approach is to challenge other pirate crews to a "Davy Back Fight", a series of contests in which the loser must forfeit a crewmember to the winner.
In keeping with his "fox" motif, Foxy often cheats during these contests, and for older viewers, like me, or those familiar with American animation from my childhood era, they're particularly amusing because it is very clear that Foxy and multiple members of his crew are deliberate references to the Whacky Races, with Foxy being Dick Dastardly, the monkey-like Hamburg being Muttley (right down to the "eeeheheheheheee" laugh), and multiple other characters and events referencing these old shows.
I'm rather surprised to see no note of this in the One Piece Wikia, although that Wikia does note that in appearance Foxy actually resembles very strongly another Western creation, Count Chocula, though without the fangs.
Eventually, Luffy moves onward, has a strange encounter with Admiral Aokiji warning him about the dangers of being associated with Nico Robin, and then to Water Seven, a city with perhaps the best shipyards in the world, so they can repair the Going Merry after all the damage and stress it's been through; Usopp has done his best to keep her together, but he's no shipwright.
Unfortunately, upon having the ship inspected by Kaku, one of the best workers in Water Seven, it's discovered that the Going Merry is, effectively, dead in the water. In addition to all the other cumulative damage, the keel itself is cracked. This can be only temporarily braced; it will eventually break and the ship will sink.
This leads to one of the most heart-rending sequences of events, in which Usopp – personally attached to the Merry and feeling utterly out of his depth with the "monsters" in the crew, refuses to accept that the Going Merry cannot be repaired, and ends up challenging Luffy for the ship. Usopp does startlingly well – demonstrating his speed with his sling, long-term strategy and tactical thinking, and a hell of a lot of courage to face down a man who's taken out one of the Shichibukai, basically a group of super-powered former pirates employed by the World Government.
The subsequent events are the most involved and dramatic sequence yet in One Piece: we learn of Nico Robin's past and the fact that she may hold the secret to operating an ancient superweapon, while also discovering that several of the shipwrights of Water Seven – the most respected and loved members – are deep-cover moles for the World Government, part of a super-secret spy cell called CP-9, which features some of the most powerful agents of the Government, spying on Iceberg, the leader of Water 7, who they believe has the blueprints for such a superweapon. In addition, Nico Robin appears to either be one of them, or has decided to betray the Straw Hats to them for her own reasons. Luffy and the gang are given a decisive beatdown by Rob Lucci, leader of CP-9, and his subordinates.
But Nami and the others soon learn the truth: Nico Robin joined CP-9 on one condition: that her friends would all leave Water 7 alive. CP-9 had intended to kill them all, if necessary using an extreme measure named the "Buster Call", which amounts to calling out ten gargantuan battleships to shell an entire area into flaming ruin, wiping out EVERYTHING in that region.
But once Luffy knows that Robin had not betrayed them –had, in fact, offered herself as a sacrifice to save them – there is of course no question but that they are all going to rescue her.
Usopp, meanwhile, learns from a renegade shipwright and gangleader named Franky that the repairs he saw done to the Going Merry while in Skypeia – repairs performed by a shadowy figure that no one saw before or after – may have been done by the spirit of the ship itself. Vessels that are greatly loved can sometimes develop their own spirit, and Franky believes this is the case with Merry. Yet even this won't save the ship from its own weakness.
Franky turns out to be another target of CP-9,however, because he used to be a partner of Iceberg's, and Iceberg had entrusted him with the plans to the superweapon; in the swift and brutal fight, Usopp is beaten badly and the Going Merry is sent hurtling away down a sluice, straight into an oncoming tsunami.
I won't continue recounting the entire plot; as it is, I'm oversimplifying and skipping over key information.
This set of episodes truly set One Piece far above its initial silly appearance. The battle of the Straw Hats against one of the greatest strongholds of the World Government, the final justice complex called Enies Lobby, is titanic, heroic, and often heartrending… and then filled with crowning moments of awesome.
None of these, perhaps, are more impressive than those of Usopp. Still technically separated from the group by his own pride and actions, he still cannot bear to not help to retrieve Robin. To accomplish this without insulting Luffy (by just joining up without resolving what lies between them), he invents a new persona, "Sogeking", the masked hero called the King of Snipers (complete with a cheesy Sentai Hero song), and joins the party that way.
Behind the mask of Sogeking, no longer having to deal for the most part with the preconceptions of being the constant screwup, Usopp shows more initiative and courage. He is far from truly brave, but his pride keeps him more in the forefront and he gets a few moments that allow him to prove – not just to the group, but more importantly to himself – that he really does have a role to play in the Straw Hat crew, useful skills and knowledge that the others lack… and learns that they do care about him in their own way.
Perhaps his greatest moment of awesome comes when the main villain of the piece is mere steps from transferring Nico Robin to a prison ship and escaping. Suddenly the villain goes down in flames, and the guards around him start dropping. Looking around, they can find no cause, nothing that can possibly be doing this! Is their enemy invisible?
And then one guard points up, and the others stare in disbelief. A single figure stands atop the Enies Lobby headquarters – something close to a mile away – and is sniping them down, one shot, one kill, in a near-hurricane wind, with a fancy slingshot. "Sogeking" absolutely earns his title in that moment, the grand finale being to deliver the keys to unlock the Kairoseki handcuffs that have kept Nico Robin powerless.
There are countless other touching and awesome moments in this sequence – the reveal of how two Giants came to be working for the government, and why; the duel between Luffy and Rob Lucci; Nami's defeat of a CP-9 agent by cleverness and guts; and more. This sequence builds the Straw Hats into a team, a team with devastating power and coordination who – despite internal bickering – is absolutely united when someone takes one of their own, and more than able to do something about it.
Yet in the end they are cornered, exhausted, out of power and tricks… and as they are about to be captured, their last, forgotten nakama appears to save them:
The Going Merry. The little ship appears out of nowhere, rescues them, and somehow allows them to escape from the Marine trap.
The subsequent sequence in which they must truly say goodbye to the Going Merry forever is a true tearjerker – and so is the sequence in which Usopp must finally swallow his pride and admit he was completely wrong and beg to be allowed to rejoin the crew.
Following this, the crew have a new crewmate – Franky, a cyborg shipwright who not only builds them a new ship but comes along to make sure she's properly kept in shape. Naming the vessel the Thousand Sunny, they set off – after a brief encounter with Luffy's grandfather, who happens to be an Admiral of Marines who's also trained Coby, the little cowardly boy Luffy met in the very first episode, into a fairly formidable fighter.
The subsequent adventures range from the silly to the deadly serious, and net the Straw Hats yet another crewmember – "All Bones" Brook, a living skeleton created by a macabre, unforeseen side effect of the "revivication fruit": if you die but your soul has a hard time finding your body (as can happen if your body is stranded on a ship in a mystical fog meant to mislead even those with special powers) it may take years to find you. And it will STILL revive you… even if all that's left is a skeleton.
Overall, these two hundred or so episodes were even better than the first, and I am looking forward to seeing where else One Piece will take me!