One Piece. Oh, man. Where do I start.
Luffy’s ultimate technique? Certainly, he’s wearing an afro!
Shonen Jump movies aren’t exactly known for their quality; they usually amount to little more than 1.5 hours worth of fan-servicey filler, but when I discovered none other than Norio Matsumoto animated “One Piece Movie 6: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island”, I just had to check it out. For those who aren’t aware, Matsumoto is an amazing action animator capable of capturing some stunning movement — he was the guy behind those episodes (30, 133) of Naruto.
So I sat down to this movie expecting great animation and hoping for a fun story, what I got far exceeded my expectations. This was a great movie, the last 30 minutes of which were an explosion of post-apocalyptic scenery and nakama-love, Luffy style. The Straw Hats come within whisker of dying, and in an outstandingly cool scene Luffy is almost crucified when impaled by dozens upon dozens of arrows. It looks breathlessly stylish, is undeniably darker than the TV series and like the best of One Piece, shows real heart.
For all its action-packed gusto, One Piece’s greatest strength has always been the steely bond of comradery between the Straw Hats. I could sit through hours of One Piece fillers just to see the characters interact and mess about. Movie 6 understands this, and what this results in is an almost heart-breaking tribute to Luffy’s loyalty to his nakama. Some of it borders on outright horror — during one especially grotesque moment, the Straw Hat pirates (excluding Luffy) are squished together and mutate into a kind of slimy, fleshy plant stalk that grows out of the deranged villain’s shoulder; it looks disgusting. In another shocking scene, Luffy has arrows shot through his hands and feet, blood pours from the wounds. He is in pain. You know it’s bad when Luffy is writhing in agony. This will scare kids.
Given my love of Matsumoto’s art, it should go without saying that Movie 6 is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The finale is an absolute tour-de-force of high budget Shonen Jump action — hand to hand combat, big open spaces, lightning quick movement, crazy special moves; arrows cloud the sky, Luffy’s gomu-gomu attacks have never looked as good.
Running in at a mere 90 minutes, this is essential viewing for One Piece fans. You just have to see the last half.
It’s funny how we spend hours upon hours watching anime, often only for but a few short minutes of absolute pay off. I watch One Piece for these transcendental moments; don’t get me wrong, it’s a consistently fun show but every so often, it raises itself to a rare point of pure emotional resonance with me, where for a few scant minutes all of my attention is completely focussed on the screen, emotions lost somewhere between ultimate high and shocking low.
This happened again today with episode 147 – Luffy, Zoro and Nami are sitting at a bar, drinking and joking, when a purely evil pirate by the name of “Bellamy” walks in and immediately starts a fight with Luffy. He laughs in Luffy’s face, calls him weak and bitterly insults them all for chasing their childish dreams. In Bellamy’s mooted new world, there is no need for dreams. By now him and his whole crew are viciously mocking The Straw Hat Pirates, bullying them, spitting drinks in their faces and throwing beer bottles, basically trying to strip them of their dignity.
But Luffy refuses to fight back, and he tells Zoro to do the same. They have the shit kicked out of them; they are thrown through wooden tables and have their faces smashed through broken glass. Nami – like the viewer – is urging them to fight back, to stand up for themselves, but still they refuse. Eventually they are thrown out of the pub, barely alive.
Now we are left to wonder why they refused to raise their fists in the face of such provocation. Luffy doesn’t strike me as such an ardent pacifist – if someone needs a good beating, he’ll hand it out. But I wonder if he pities Bellamy, the man’s contempt for chasing dreams and ambitions a sure sign that he himself has lost faith in life. He hates Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat pirates because they stand for everything he wants (or lacks) in life. Luffy’s pride and dignity never wavers, to fight back would suggest he is afraid of losing something, so he stands tall and embodies everything Bellamy lacks, in turn protecting his dreams with a iron will. Luffy and Zoro win without even throwing a punch.
This was a brilliant, passionate and gut wrenching scene; a fine example as to why I love One Piece, it was worth watching 146 episodes if just to get to this point.
The Alabasta Arc of One Piece sees this fine series at the top of its game, juggling dynamic character drama, explosive political upheaval and some eccentric body twisting action. Despite falling into a few classic Shounen Jump cliches (not least of all a super villain in Crocodile who unwittingly reveals his devious plans to his then captured arch enemies) the sheer scale of the Alabasta rebellion unfolding before my eyes was a spine tingling, gut wrenching sight to behold.
There was a lot that I came to love about Alabasta; from the endless sand dunes of its harsh deserts to its mythological architecture. The final battle set in Alubarna combined this giant, compelling feeling of a country at war with such a beautiful collection of rocky, warm and timeless landscapes. The animation- and particularly Luffy’s final battle with Crocodile was earth shatteringly fluid, completely encapsulating a Devil’s Fruit battle with its gravity defying, unnatural sense of power and movement.
Ultimately though, it’s the characters that really made this arc. Be it through Pell’s heroic sacrifice or Vivi’s painful cries for peace, I often felt completely immersed in it all. The tragedy, the philosophy and essentially, the friendship that wins out in the end was touching and heavily emotional.
Having marched across endless miles of desolate landscapes and lifeless desert, Luffy finally snaps at Vivi and in his own unique way, lets her know a few important home truths; while admirable, her selfless pacifism can not save lives. Villains like Crocodile care not for reason and act not out of compassion, but rather their own greedy ambition. Nothing Vivi can say will stop him from trying to destroy her kingdom and take Alabasta as his own paradise, so it’s down to the likes of Luffy to fight the good fight and Vivi to rely on her nakama. She alone cannot save her country.
It’s great how Luffy explains all of this and he takes quite a beating from the Princess in the process. I love how characters like Luffy and Naruto, who act like such mindless idiots most of the time, can flick a switch and suddenly embody such wise and intelligent philosophy.
A clear direction for the Alabasta arc is now firmly set; Luffy is to hunt down Crocodile and I assume Princess Vivi will continue on to meet with the rebel army in the hope of talking them down from going to all out war (I wait in anticipation of her inevitably draining reunion with childhood friend turned influential rebel Leader). At this point One Piece is a truly country-spanning adventure of vast and epic proportions. Between such massive distance, thought provoking politics and compelling drama, I find myself relishing each and every episode.