One Piece “Marineford Arc” Review

At first glance, the “Marineford Arc” of One Piece is just like the previous arc: a lot of fighting and running. However, everything about “Marineford” is done in a far superior way to “Impel Down”.

The scope of the battle at Marineford is huge, with dozens of characters both old and new, and while the structure of “Impel Down” was fairly straightforward (run to the bottom of the prison and then run back up), “Marineford” is full of twists and turns that kept me entranced throughout. There are a ton of “wow” moments, far too many to list, and these are expertly balanced with more intimate character beats that retain the show’s emotional core in the midst of all the action.

The star of the show is without a doubt Whitebeard, whom Oda has only really teased us with before. Whitebeard is one of the strongest characters in One Piece so far and seeing him unleash his full power is incredible. Whitebeard has long been mentioned as one of the most feared and respected pirates in the One Piece universe, and his characterization here makes it perfectly believable that he could command such loyalty from so many people.

On the opposite side of the battlefield is the Navy fleet admiral Sengoku, who has a much more demure role through most of the arc, but provides an apt foil to Whitebeard. While Whitebeard’s guiding philosophy is based around love for his “sons” and securing freedom and wellbeing for those he cares about, Sengoku is driven by an impersonal sense of justice and maintaining order in the world. The war at Marineford essentially serves as battle between their conflicting worldviews.

The true villain of the arc is the admiral Akainu. In contrast to Sengoku, he shows no respect for his enemies or even concern for the lives of his underlings. We aren’t given much insight into his motivations, but he seems far more driven by malice and hatred of pirates than any sense of justice, and he is fittingly vile for one of the major villains of One Piece‘s second half.

“Marineford” has a mixed reputation among One Piece fans, with many feeling it is overly long and drawn out, but I was gripped by it from start to finish and devoured the entire arc in only a few days. (The One Pace edit only covers the first 10 episodes, but even with the slower paced official edit, I was never bored.) The “Marineford Arc” is a wild ride and serves as a fittingly epic close to the first half of One Piece.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One Piece “Impel Down Arc” Review

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The premise for the “Impel Down Arc” sounds great. Luffy has to break into the most secure prison in the world to rescue his brother. At first, I really enjoyed it, but the arc just drags on for far too long, even with the One Pace version cutting out just over half of the run time.

The entire arc follows the same formula. Luffy runs around trying to get deeper into the prison, fights a some guards or monsters and runs around some more. It gets really repetitive, and there aren’t a lot of emotional character moments to break up the action.

Luffy is still separated from the rest of the Straw Hat crew, and instead teams up with some familiar (and flashy) faces from past arcs. I always love it when Buggy the Clown shows up, but apart from him all the other returning characters are from Baroque Works. It’s great to see the return of Mr. 2, and Luffy and Crocodile joining forces is an interesting twist, but it would have been nice to have more variety.

There are also some new characters introduced. Jinbe, one of the Seven Warlords, befriends Ace before Luffy’s arrival and joins in Luffy’s escape, but he isn’t overly interesting. Emporio Ivankov, the “Okama Queen”, is essentially a super-powered version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and provides some good comic relief. We also learn that he is a member of the Revolutionary Army led by Luffy’s father, though we aren’t given any details beyond that.

The villains in the arc are just okay. The Warden, whose body is composed of poison, is the most interesting but the multiple fights against him get boring after a while, and other enemies like the Jailer Beasts are completely generic.

The arc is also pretty anticlimactic, which Luffy never even getting a chance to see Ace, and after running and fighting down the six levels of the prison for the first half of the arc, they then just fight and run up the six levels to escape. It gets really tedious.

“Impel Down” doesn’t have a very good reputation among One Piece fans and unfortunately I have to agree. The “G-8 Arc” despite being filler handles the escape plotline in a much more interesting way, whereas “Impel Down” is just a bit of a bloated mess.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5

One Piece “Amazon Lily Arc” Review

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This arc was really short so I don’t have much to say about it. It’s a pretty standard One Piece (though standard One Piece is still miles above most shonen). Luffy arrives a new island meets a bunch of quirky people, gets in some fights, and learns someone’s tragic backstory.

Boa Hancock, the Snake Princess, is an okay character. The idea of woman so beautiful that she can compel everyone to do what she wants and Luffy being completely oblivious is a good gag, as is having her fall in love with Luffy, though her habit of kicking kittens, puppies and baby seals makes her less than likable.

There’s a lot of set-up for future arcs. Luffy learns of Ace’s impeding execution and sets out to rescue him, and we see Luffy’s use of Haki in full force for the first time (after him briefly using it in his battle against Duval).

It’s all very enjoyable and doesn’t overstay its welcome, but “Amazon Lily” is one of the more unmemorable arcs in One Piece‘s history.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5

One Piece “Sabaody Archipelago Arc” Review

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I had a lot of problems with the pacing of the previous One Piece arc “Thriller Bark”.. Apparently Toei decided that in an effort to keep ratings from dropping during filler arcs (which are necessary to keep the anime from catching up to the manga), they would instead use padding so that one episode of the anime would roughly equate to one chapter of the manga. I’m not a fan of this decision as it results in fans getting an inferior product, but there’s a reason it’s called the entertainment business.

Luckily, a friend told me about a project called One Pace, which removes the padding so that the pacing of the anime more closely matches that of the manga. In the original anime, the “Sabaody Archipelago Arc” is 21 episodes adapted from 24 manga chapters, whereas the One Pace version is only 11 episodes. I haven’t watched the original anime version so I can’t compare the two, but for the most part, the One Pace version flowed very smoothly, and I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I did the drawn out Toei version of “Thiller Bark”, so I’ll probably be sticking with it from now on.

As for the “Sabaody Archipelago Arc” itself, I found it incredibly enjoyable. Keimi is a great addition to the cast, and Hatchan was one of my favorite parts of the “Arlong Park Arc”, so it’s great to see him return. The twist in the opening fight with Duval is hilarious and the Sabaody Archipelago itself once again shows Oda’s talent for crafting inventive, magical worlds with packed full of detail to make them feel real.

The arc introduces a ton of new characters in a relatively short period of time, but even with the One Pace edits, it doesn’t feel rushed. Luffy’s rival rookie pirates have a ton of cool powers and I can’t wait to see more from them in the future, and Admiral Kizaru strikes a great balance between being likable and menacing. There’s also a lot of world-building with us learning more about the nature of the World Government as well as the truth behind Gold Roger’s death. With so much set-up and exposition, it would be easy for this arc to just be a boring infodump, but it’s entertaining from start to finish.

The final battle with Kizaru, the Pacifistas and Kumo is gripping as hell. One Piece is full of instances of the Straw Hats facing insurmountable odds and somehow winning the day, and seeing them be so soundly and quickly wiped out really raises the stakes. (The cut to bubbles popping as Kuma does away with each of the Straw Hats is a really nice touch.)  I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5

One Piece “Thriller Bark” Story Arc Review (Spoilers)

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I’ve been making my way through the One Piece anime for the past few months and I just finished the “Thriller Bark” arc. Following the fantastic “Enies Lobby” arc, I was really pumped to see what “Thriller Bark” had in story. It gets off to a good start introducing Brook (how can you not love a talking skeleton who tells corny jokes?) and the idea of the Straw Hats fighting an island of zombies sounds great, but once the crew arrives on Thriller Bark, the first half of the arc is a real slog.

The three weakest members of the gang, Usopp, Nami and Chopper, get separated from the others and and the rest of the Straw Hats have to rescue them. There’s a repeated pattern where Usopp and co. encounter some bad guys and barely get away, then the rest of the crew encounters the same enemies and defeat them easily. It gets old very quickly.

The arc relies heavily on standard horror tropes and it takes a while for the gang wise up to what’s really going on, even though the viewer is sure to be way ahead of them. (Shockingly, the guy that seems like a mad scientist is actually… a mad scientist!) There is also a lot of padding with flashbacks to events that only happened a couple episodes earlier and the subplot about one of the villains trying to marry Nami is completely skippable in my opinion.

But once the final battle against Oars and Gecko Moria gets underway, “Thriller Bark” stands among the best arcs in One Piece so far. Oars (a giant zombie brought to life by Luffy’s shadow and sharing his personality) is hilarious, and the Straw Hats’ fight against him has all the excitement, twists and turns, and great character moments you’d expect from a One Piece battle. My favorite moment has to be when the Straw Hats join together form a Voltron-esque “giant robot” (given the name of my site, that’s probably not a surprise) but Nightmare Luffy’s fight with Oars is a very close second.

The introduction of mysterious Kuma in the middle of the arc perfectly shows why One Piece is a step above most other battle shonen. While most shonen follow the same formula of having one major villain per arc and a new status quo being established before the next villain is introduced, One Piece is far more epic in scope. There’s always a sense that unknown dangers could come after the Straw Hats at any time, and despite their incredible powers, they are still just small fish in the largest sea imaginable.

And speaking of epic scope, “Thriller Bark” contains resolutions to two dangling plot threads, both from more than 200 episodes previous. We learn the meaning behind the blank piece of paper Ace gave Luffy during the Alabasta arc, and we find out that Brook is from the pirate ship that befriended the whale Laboon from way back when Luffy and co. first entered the Grand Line.

Brook’s backstory revealed at the end of the arc is absolutely heartbreaking. Romanticism has always been the central theme of One Piece, but as cliche as it is for a shonen series to focus on the importance of friendship and following your dreams, One Piece handles these ideas with a maturity few other series can match. Sometimes following your dreams can lead to terrible outcomes, as we learn from many of the Straw Hats’ origins. The Rumbar Pirates’ captain dies after contracting a chance disease, filled with regret over the things he never had a chance to accomplish. We never even see the pirates that wiped out the rest of Brook’s friends, adding to the feeling of senselessness and randomness that so often accompany real life tragedy, but is rarely explored in modern popular fiction.

“Thriller Bark” is possibly the most uneven story arc in One Piece thus far. It takes a long time to get going, but once it hits its stride, it has some of the most action-packed and emotional moments in the entire series. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go cry over the story of a singing cartoon skeleton.

Final Rating: 3.5/5

One Piece (Game Boy Advance) – Retro Game Reviews

Image result for one piece gbaI’m a big fan of the One Piece anime, but there sadly aren’t a lot of retro One Piece games that are accessible to English speakers. One Piece GBA is by no means an amazing game but there is still a lot here for fans of the anime to like. The game is a platformer/beat ’em up and retells the story from the beginning of the series through Luffy’s fight against Smoker.

You play as Luffy, and it’s a lot of fun to try out his signature moves in 16-bit glory. There’s a pretty wide moveset, including the Gum-Gum Pistol, Gatling Gun, Bell and Rocket. As you progress through the game you can also unlock the Gum-Gum Balloon and Spear. However, the game never explains how to use each move, so you’re going to want to consult a strategy guide. You have a special meter that can be charged by damaging enemies, and when filled be used to activate the Gum-Gum Bazooka or Axe. As the story progresses, you recruit the other members of the Straw Hat crew and can switch to having them jump in with their own special attacks instead. The other Straw Hats are scattered around each level and you need to find them each time to use their moves.

The combat is your standard repetitive beat ’em up fare, with you fighting the same enemies over and over again in each stage. The game totals how many of each enemy type you defeated in the stage and it’s not uncommon to defeat the same enemy more than 50 times in a single stage. Sometimes one of the major henchmen from the anime show up and you get a bonus for defeating them, but they just attack a few times and then jump off screen, so it’s very difficult to take them down before they leave and they end up just being annoying most of the time.

The platforming is very basic early on but gets better as the game progresses. One incredibly annoying thing is how many bottomless pits there are in this game. There are a lot of leaps of faith too, so I lost a ton of lives jumping into pits thinking there’d be a platform below. Enemy attacks can also knock you into pits, which everyone always loves. In addition to finding the other Straw Hats, there are also a number of coins scattered throughout each level. There isn’t any reward for collecting them, but they do add some replay value for completionists.

There are six acts in the game, matching the six story arcs of the East Blue Saga and each act is divided into three stages. The second stage of each act ends with a miniboss fight with the third act serving as the main boss fight. The bosses are a mixed bag. Some of them are pretty fun (particularly Jango and Don Krieg), but every single one of them is a damage sponge and the fights drag on for way too long.

Most of bosses are pretty tough too. Luffy gets can’t move when he attacks or cancel his attacks, so if you miss the boss, you’re a sitting duck while you wait for the attack animation to finish. If that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of the bosses become invincible during their attacks, so if you start attacking at the wrong time, it’s nearly impossible to avoid them.

The Buggy fight in this game is notoriously difficult. If you land a hit anywhere but his head, he breaks up and becomes invincible so the only move that works on him is the jump kick which causes hardly any damage. All of his attacks take huge chunks of your life and have a long range to boot. Despite only being the second boss in the game, he is by far the hardest. I ended up just cheating to get past him.

If there’s one reason to play One Piece GBA, it’s the impressive sprite work. Luffy’s attacks are all nicely animated and the game manages to capture the feel of the anime very well. There are a lot of nice little touches like how Luffy holds onto his hat to keep it from flying off when he runs or how his arm stretches when you jump down to grab a rope. Most of the major supporting characters get cameos, and it’s great to see 16-bit versions of Luffy and his pals.

The game is based on the 4Kids dub of the anime and was never released outside of North America, but apart from a couple name changes and Sanji’s cigarettes being replaced by lollipops, it’s pretty faithful to the original story. (Interestingly, Smoker’s cigars managed to slip past the censors.)

The music is pretty catchy in some stages, but don’t expect to hear any of the iconic music from the original anime. On the plus side, there’s no “Pirate Rap” either.

Whether or not One Piece GBA is worth playing all comes down to how big a fan you are of the anime. The gameplay certainly isn’t going to blow you away, but for a licensed game, it’s not half bad, and One Piece fans should definitely give it a shot.

Final Rating: 2.5/5