6) Luffy vs Crocodile, final round
- Monkey D. Luffy, same as before. The daring hero with the rubber body. Voiced by Mayumi Tanaka.
- Sir Crocodile aka Mr. 0, same as before. The sadistic villain with the power of the desert. Voiced by Ryuzaburo Otomo.
Both are more tired and beaten down than before– Luffy more so, but even Crocodile noted that their previous battle took a lot out of him.
The Setup: After drying him out at the end of their fight, Crocodile unceremoniously dropped Luffy from the roof of the palace, then left the scene himself. Either from extreme luck or very good planning, the four water bubbles Luffy had fired straight up at Crocodile earlier come right back down and land on him, giving him an emergency re-hydration. Good as new!
Once again unaware that his adversary has survived, Crocodile goes to join Miss All Sunday and King Cobra at the underground tomb. Thanks to some directions from Marines who have entered the conflict, Luffy’s able to pursue. He ends up collapsing at the entrance to the tomb and taking a short nap. Can’t blame him.
Back underground, Crocodile discovers that the ancient inscription he’s uncovered doesn’t have the information he wants, so he stabs Nico Robin with his hook, deciding she’s outlived her usefulness. The king then hits a fail-safe device that will collapse the entire tomb in a few minutes, hoping to take the two villains down with him, but Crocodile just laughs it off, as he could easily survive with his powers. He gloats it up, reveling in the fact that with the collapse of the tomb and the imminent detonation of the bomb up above, his plan to overtake Alabasta is finally about to come to fruition. Then right on cue, someone breaks through the wall.
Irritated beyond all belief, Croc asks Luffy how many times he has to die. Luffy simply responds by saying that Crocodile hasn’t given back what he stole: Vivi’s country. The villain laughs and says he hasn’t taken it quite yet, but Luffy, with a strangely child-like determination, says that if the country were really still Vivi’s, then she would be able to smile.
This is the thing about Luffy: most genre heroes would take down Crocodile just on general principle, but the thing this one focuses on is how his friend is hurt.
The Fight: Again, Luffy charges in without thinking, and Crocodile laughingly asks how he’s going to strike him without any liquid. Luffy answers non-verbally.
Luffy’s kick and follow-up punch both connect, hard, and send their target through the wall. As Crocodile correctly surmises, Luffy is bleeding enough (as Crocodile soon will be) that the moisture from his blood is enough to negate the villain’s sand powers.
It’s difficult to believe, especially considering how much liquid was constantly at play in the last fight, but it’s essentially a thin excuse for the real reason much of the super-science has gone out the window: the battle is taking place on a much more primal level now. It’s less a battle of wild powers and more character-based, with two people just trying desperately to kill each other.
Accordingly, Crocodile announces that he will finally take Luffy seriously, and removes the outer covering from his hook, revealing a much smaller, grey hook with noxious fumes emerging from a few holes. He says that since duels between pirates are to the death, there’s no such thing as “fair.” In the next few exchanges, he manages to barely nick two of Luffy’s limbs with the curved blade– enough for the poison (derived from scorpion venom) to start its work.
The two continue to fight (largely off & on, as the bulk of a few episodes here is devoted to the other Straw Hats finding the hidden bomb), with Luffy getting a few good licks in. But Crocodile merely laughs, and says that no matter how hard Luffy fights, he can’t defeat the poison that’s already coursing through his veins. Sure enough, Luffy soon starts to feel numb and collapses.
Up above, the bomb plot is finally resolved– it’s discovered but can’t be disarmed, so the guardsman Pell apparently sacrifices himself to take the bomb in his falcon form and let it detonate safely above the city. (The whole point seems kind of moot, considering explosions are like an inconvenience at worst in this show’s world.) But Crocodile, who only hears the explosion, doesn’t know this, and cackles with glee at how his “new era” has begun.
Incredibly, Luffy begins to twitch at this news, and rises to his feet again, vowing that he won’t give up as long as Vivi doesn’t. He tells the incredulous Crocodile “you cannot defeat me,” and declares his goal to become the next Pirate King. This only aggravates Crocodile more, who lunges at Luffy with his hook & tells him his dreams are foolish, that he will one day learn they are virtually impossible given the sheer scale of the sea– its vastness, complexity, and how filled it is with powerful warriors. (It is not stated at this point, but we find out later– MUCH later– that becoming the Pirate King was once Crocodile’s dream as well, and giving up on it was part of what made him so cold and cynical, hence his violent reaction to hearing it from someone else.)
Luffy continues to not give a shit.
He avoids Crocodile’s swipe and slams the hook attachment onto the ground with his foot, snapping the actual hook right off and declaring that he WILL surpass him. Screaming maniacally, he deliver a point blank Pistol shot to the villain’s gut. As the Croc is still reeling, Luffy brings a fist down on the side of his face, driving him into the ground. Then he seizes him by the collar and throws him into a wall. It’s relentless.
Crocodile rises shakily, looking more battered than ever. He wonders to himself why this man hasn’t fallen to the scorpion poison yet, and flashes back briefly to all the times he was informed of Luffy and his crew surmounting the seemingly impossible obstacles Baroque Works set before them. He flicks his wrist and a small knife blade emerges from his fake hand, then he rushes Luffy, asking if he truly understands who he– Crocodile, a member of the mighty Shichibukai– is.
Luffy says he doesn’t care who Crocodile is, because Luffy will surpass him. He ducks the villain’s stab, and kicks him upwards, almost to the ceiling of the catacomb. Crocodile is able to use his power to halt himself in mid-air, and resolves to take Luffy out if he has to bring down the entire temple with him. He launches another “Heavy Sands” attack, a localized whirlwind which Luffy avoids even as it trashes the surrounding area.
The hero rapidly sucks up a ton of air, swelling his rubber body to huge proportions, twists himself into a corkscrew and then discharges all the air at once, propelling him rapidly upwards. Crocodile tries to counter with an impressive attack called Desert La Spada (“Great Desert Sword”), where he extends his sandy body into four enormous, scythe-like blades. Luffy dramatically meets it with a new move, the Gomu Gomu Storm.
Now, for a while before this, the soundtrack had been silent, only punctuated by the sounds of dialogue and blows. But as soon as Luffy started rising in the air, the opening chords of a famous piece of music begin. Classical music fans will recognize it as the fourth movement of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, a beautiful and hugely influential 19th century composition. This is something unusual for the shounen genre: most sequences are scored with in-house music that gets recycled a lot throughout a series, with outside tunes being deployed very sparingly if at all and those usually being pop songs.
But as shocking as this selection is, it couldn’t be more appropriate in the context. Right as the opening breaks into a crescendo, Luffy’s fists connect with Crocodile’s blades and hit them with such force that they collapse right back into sand. In a bravura piece of animated directing, the “camera” tracks Luffy’s hand in a time-slowed shot after it pops through the last scythe and follows it all the way up through the sand stream until it connects with Crocodile’s ugly mug. But not for the last time.
Luffy’s new attack uses all the propulsion from his corkscrewed leap and channels it into a blurred storm of ferocious punches. It’s so intense that Crocodile is unable to defend himself, getting pounded into and eventually through the ceiling. As the astonished King Cobra remarks, this shouldn’t be possible– there’s dozens of yards of pure bedrock above the burial chamber. But Luffy keeps it up until the villain breaks all the way through to the surface and up into the sky.
Only then does Luffy pull his arm back, letting the unconscious villain to crash down right in the middle of the civil war raging on the streets. From up high in the clocktower where the bomb had been hidden, Vivi has a clear view, and sees that her captain has done the impossible. The rest of the crew, down below, merely see Crocodile’s body fall, but know that only Luffy could have pulled it off.
The war rages on, but within minutes, rain begins to fall– the same life-giving rain that Crocodile’s powers had secretly been preventing from falling on the capital, which is how he began to engineer Alabasta’s ruin. The return of the miraculous rain makes both sides stop fighting in astonishment, and quickly smothers the dust clouds that had been obscuring everyone’s sight. In the shocked silence, Vivi is able to call out to her people to lay down their arms, and let them know they’ve been played against each other: she can finally be heard again.
Down below, Cobra smiles for the first time in years, his long nightmare over. With simple humility, he gives this stranger his gratitude for saving his kingdom. The hero’s exhausted reply:
The fight itself is exceptionally well done, deploying each player’s particular powers in a reasonably believable context. It’s paced excellently, with a solid start, then being shown only fleetingly over a period of time mostly devoted to the above-ground storyline, then it all comes back for an extended finish. Luffy emerges as an even more powerful figure than ever, but at no time is his adversary’s threat level diminished as a result. The animation gradually steps up in quality as the end nears until we hit the final stretch and the moves are deliberately less fluid, coming off more stately & exaggerated.
Taken as a whole, this battle and its conclusion are an amazing, singular accomplishment. Dozens of episodes of build-up are successfully & skillfully paid off in an extended, multi-part climax, which itself culminates in a powerfully triumphant moment of catharsis. This is one of those pieces of art so impacting that I’ll never forget where I was when I first saw it, and even now it never fails to inspire me with its sheer, gorgeous audacity.
Much of this is owed to the genius selection of Dvorak’s music. By the time the two combatants lock in to their final positions, the audience certainly has a sense the fight is going to end soon enough, but when those first chords of the symphony chime in, there’s no doubt: Luffy’s going to finish things right now, and finally stop this monster who has taken so much from so many. (Not only was the symphony well chosen for its triumphant sound, but its alternate title, “From The New World,” is a subtle hint about things to come. As the show winds on, it is gradually revealed that with the emergence of the Straw Hats, a New Age is beginning, defined by dreamers like Luffy. Some of the characters believe that the new era begins here, when Luffy defeats a Shichibukai and therefore alters the balance of power between the organizations who rule the seas.)
There is a lot that’s silly about shounen anime shows, and much that is especially silly about One Piece in particular. But this moment, here, the one that had me whooping with joy in a cramped trailer in Iraq, is the kind of payoff you receive if you’re willing to put aside your cynicism and go along for the ride. If you let the spell take you, the rewards are worth it.
GOOD GUYS: 5, BAD GUYS: 0
Coming Attractions: Devil Fruit powers are nice and all, but ultimately it’s all in the reflexes.