One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 2 of 6)

Some mixed gender violence.

The Japanese version of Swan Lake took a few liberties.

2) Sanji vs Mr. 2

The Fighters:

  • Sanji, the ship cook of the Straw Hat pirates, and one of its more delightfully weird characters. In addition to being a chef who’s almost religiously obsessed with food, Sanji is self-consciously “cool” to the point of parody: he’s perpetually smoking a thin cigarette, is always laid back & sarcastic with his hands in his pockets, has hair draped over one eye, and never wears anything but a spiffy suit & tie. In the presence of beautiful women his laconic cool is instantly replaced with over-the-top, eye-bulging romanticism– the kind of transparent (yet oddly wholesome) horndoggery that would make Tex Avery’s wolf say “hey dude, dial it back a notch.” Voiced by Hiroaki Hirata.
    • Powers/abilities/weapons: Sanji has no “superpowers” per se but is nonetheless one of the more dangerous of Luffy’s crew, largely due to his skill in the “Black Leg” martial arts– a fighting style emphasizing powerful & complex legwork.
  • Mr. 2 Bon Kurei (real name Bentham) is an outrageous caricature of a self-professed “okama”– a Japanese slang word variously meaning gay man, cross-dresser or transvestite (yes, those are three different things). The only thing more flamboyant and ridiculous than his outfit is his personality, so aggressively manic and infectious is it. Though a vicious killer, Mr. 2 has a soft spot for melodrama, friendship and performative acts. Notably, Mr. 2 is the only officer-level member of Baroque Works to not have a partner; being a transvestite, he fills both the male and female halves of his “team” simultaneously. (“Bon Kurei” being a specific night in the traditional Japanese Obon festival.) Voiced by Kazuki Yao.
    • Powers/abilities/weapons: Bentham’s outsized temperament may be the polar opposite of Sanji’s too-cool-for-school stoicism, but their fighting styles are nearly a perfect match. Mr. 2 uses a dance-based martial art called “Ballet Kenpo” which similarly emphasizes footwork. Additonally, his Devil Fruit power allows him to instantly shape-shift into the appearance of anyone he has seen or touched. To activate it, he has to touch his right cheek, and turns it off by touching his left. During an earlier (and friendly) accidental encounter with the Straw Hats, Mr. 2 bonded with all the members of the crew, and learned to copy their forms to impress them… except for Sanji, who was belowdecks cooking, and whose existence therefore comes as a surprise to both Mr. 2 and Baroque Works. Additionally, the two decorative swans on Mr. 2’s shoulders double as flexible footwear (with hardened metal tips), adding more reach and power to his attacks. And the mascara marks under his eyes are sharp boomerangs.

 

[In case you’re wondering, the story here is going straight from Mr. 4 and his team to Mr. 2 because the Straw Hats have already defeated Baroque Works’ #3 pair several episodes back. Long story.]

The Setup: Mr. 2 is tasked with preventing Princess Vivi from reaching the royal palace. His first attempt at subterfuge fails and he pursues her through the city… until they’re intercepted by Sanji, who volunteers to hold the okama off while Vivi escapes.

Mr. 2 asks if Sanji is the unaccounted-for Straw Hat who has ruined several of Baroque Works plans recently, and Sanji asks if Mr. 2 is “the one who does those shitty impersonations.” The cook easily blocks Bon Kurei’s opening swipe, shocking him with his strength.

The Fight: We don’t come back to their showdown until after the conclusion of the fight at the southeast gate, and the two are already fighting furiously. After a couple clashes end in “draws” where they both finish by kicking each other in the face simultaneously, Mr. 2 tries a different tack, and uses his Devil Fruit power to custom-make the most ridiculous face imaginable, apparently in an effort to distract/unnerve his opponent.

Unfortunately it ends up mostly being Mr. 2’s own face, only with a longer nose.

Picture3

If my dog looked like that, I’d shave his butt and run him over.

While Mr. 2 cries into a mirror over his injured vanity, Sanji boots him right in the face. Bon Kurei is offended by the lack of pity, and mimics a crew-mate’s (Usopp’s) face, in the hopes that it will make him hesitate to attack.

Predictably, this also doesn’t work. Sanji strikes again and gives a brief speech about being able to see through illusion and straight to the heart. Mr. 2 is shocked and admires his foe’s purity. In despair, he absentmindedly switches his face to Nami’s, lamenting how it wouldn’t work either.

Except it totally does.

Dude has issues.

Dude has issues.

Mr. 2 quickly catches on, and even he is shocked by how absurd Sanji’s behavior is. There’s a great bit of deadpan humor here, as he turns the Nami-transformation on & off repeatedly, and every time Sanji’s demeanor instantly turns to that of an enraptured sycophant, like flicking a light switch. The okama’s internal monologue keeps saying “It can’t be this easy.” He finally realizes how glaring his opponent’s weakness is, and grins evilly.

After a cut back to Vivi at the palace, the episode ends on a cliffhanger, and comes back to the fight continuing. Sanji suffers repeated blows because every time Mr. 2 switches to Nami’s appearance, he’s not just unwilling to hit a woman but nearly paralyzed with lust. At one particularly funny moment, Mr. 2 overcomes Sanji’s attempt at resistance by complaining about how hot it is and starting to unbutton his blouse (thereby nearly revealing “Nami’s” chest), then attacking him once again when he rushes over.

Sanji takes some more licks when the sight of Nami’s face keeps him from being able to dodge the backswing of the villain’s mascara boomerangs, cutting him on each side.

Mr. 2 decides it’s time to put an end to all this fun, and begins spinning around rapidly, building up power. But when he switches back to his normal form halfway through, Sanji figures something out: Bon Kurei can’t use his Ballet Kenpo techniques while he’s assuming someone else’s form. Knowing that Mr. 2 won’t switch while attacking, Sanji strikes him before he finishes his spinning technique, sending him crashing into a nearby building.

The okama is angry that he’s been figured out, so he uses his trump card and dons his swan shoes. Sanji dodges the first lunge, which puts a neat hole into the wall behind him, as if it had been shot by a rifle. The next time they tussle, it ends in another stand-off with the two striking simultaneously, only this time Sanji is stabbed through the shoulder while his own foot doesn’t quite reach the target.

Sanji thinks again and realizes that although 2’s reach has increased, wearing the swans will make him take longer to get in to an attack stance, so if he avoids the first strike he should be able to counter. He leaps over Bon Kurei’s next attack, but the villain tries to stifle him by quickly switching to Nami’s face. However, while Sanji is still in mid-air (anime physics are so awesome) he bluffs Mr. 2 into undoing it by telling him there’s something on his left cheek. The chef is able to deliver a few good hits, but 2 rallies and stabs his chest.

After a short breather, the two clash again. Now, they know all each other’s tricks and advantages, so it’s just a matter of skill and strength. What follows are two fairly extended, furious exchanges that are of outstanding animation quality, especially by television standards.

Picture6

The two walk upside down on their hands while exchanging kicks, rising & falling as they take shots at each other. By the end, they’re both absorbing numerous blows as they frantically try to take each other down, calling out their distinctive moves all the while.

Finally, they both collapse, gasping for air. They pause, then leap at each other for one final shot, Ninja Gaiden-style.

Picture7

Both land, and Sanji’s legs buckle, toppling him over in pain. But his legs only hurt so much because his blow was the one to land successfully– Mr. 2 howls in pain, and goes down for good (after flying into another building, apparently from some kind of delayed reaction effect).

Barely able to move, the okama willingly surrenders to Sanji and accepts any fate his opponent will give. Sanji (having risen and dramatically re-lit his cigarette, because of course he would) says he won’t kill him, that it was a good fight, and offers him a handshake. Touched by the gesture of honorable friendship, Mr. 2 Bon Kurei shakily raises his hand. Except:

Picture8

The “Dark Helmet” tactic. FOOLED YOU!

Yeah, honor amongst adversaries is great and all, but there’s a civil war going on. You can’t leave a crazy bastard like this running around.

Sanji walks away calmly, thinking that he probably has a few more broken bones. But, you know– whatever.

Picture9

GOOD GUYS: 2

As with the previous battle, this one takes up about an episode and a half’s worth of time, and the hero’s chances rise & fall on roughly the same trajectory. There’s a different vibe here, though, because even though Mr. 2 is quite powerful, we KNOW Sanji can kick some serious ass– if you’ve been watching the show up to this point, you’ve seen him do it several times. Between that and his cocky attitude, this is more of a pure strength-vs-strength contest, rather than wondering how the overmatched Usopp and Tony will overcome impossible odds.

And since it’s strength-on-strength, that means there’s more direct combat, and less of the weird dog-cannons and tunneling mole ladies stuff. This being One Piece, there’s no shortage of silliness, but it’s all in the service of enhancing & escalating the fight.

Mr. 2 is perfectly matched with Sanji, making for both great combat and hilarious interaction. I suppose it’s possible to be offended by this kind of trans portrayal, if you’re into being offended, but from a purely narrative standpoint, this villain is a delightful character. He’s just outrageous and silly enough for his shrillness to be endearing rather than irritating, and he’s actually likable enough while still being sold as a dangerous threat. Later (MUCH later) in the series, he’ll emerge as a heroic character of sorts, but for now he’s an effective villain.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Chick fight!

... it's not as hot as it sounds.

… it’s not as sexy as you might think.

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One comment on “One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 2 of 6)

  1. […] One Piece, Alabasta arc (fight 2 of 6) […]

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