If this signals the end of FUNimation’s “season one” of One Piece, then it’s an awfully good place to arbitrarily cut things off. Fourth Voyage serves as a nice transitional collection, both wrapping up the crew’s battle against Arlong and his fishmen, and powering through the follow-up events that take place in Loguetown. By the end of the set, Luffy and his friends are back to sailing toward the Grand Line, where the next leg of this magical mystery tour awaits.
As fans already know, it’s tough to just watch one or two episodes and leave it at that. With a cast and crew that looks more like a city directory than a simple credits roll at this point, it’s tough to throw credit at one all-encompassing entity, but they keep the show moving at just a rapid enough pace to prevent things from getting dull, while only slightly suffering from a case of recap syndrome. Haven’t heard of this debilitating disease? The stages of infection are determined by how many of a show’s opening minutes are spent playing clips of what happened in the last episode. With Naruto, it can be anywhere from one to five minutes, whereas One Piece tends to be much more merciful.
If the series hadn’t already zoomed past 400 episodes this year, I might consider it a spoiler to talk about the outcome of Luffy’s fight with Arlong, but we all know the crew doesn’t play Weekend at Bernie‘s with our hero’s body for the following 350 chapters. Honestly, it plays out about the same as Luffy’s other battles up to this point, driving him extraordinarily close to death before his companion-defending resolve kicks in fully.
As much action as there is in One Piece, that’s not what it’s about. The meat of the series is, as it should be, the characters and their relationships with one another. I don’t mean that in a flowery shojo way, but in the context of genuine friendship. Oda is really good at making the cast’s motivations seem genuine, whether the end result is heroic or somewhat criminal (as pirates should be).
There’s an ongoing theme that Luffy, or any of the others for that matter, not only can’t do everything by themselves, but they don’t want to. Sure, the Going Merry needs a captain, but it also needs a cook, a navigator, and so on. This doubly applies to their increasingly tough conflicts, which start to come to a head as this collection closes. The sliced-and-diced clown captain Buggy teams up with Alvida, Luffy’s very first opponent, and they finally confront him on the execution grounds of the legendary Gold Roger.
That would normally be enough, but with such a high price on his head, Luffy also attracts the unwanted attention of Smoker, a Plume-Plume Fruit enhanced navy officer stationed in Loguetown. This four way shakedown is One Piece at its best, and it’s going to be a long wait from this voyage to the next. For the truly impatient, I can’t recommend the manga enough. In fact, this is one of the few series which I can stand to consume in both formats. Maybe because I’m still so surprised that the anime more or less lives up to the source material; there are so many ways they could have messed it up that it boggles the mind.
Whether you choose to watch or read One Piece, there’s no better time to start than now. Personally, it’s going to take me ages to catch up, but at least the ride will be an enjoyable one.
© 1999 Toei Animation Co., Ltd., Japan.