One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 6 of 6)

Rematch time.

Luffy looks ready.

Luffy looks ready.

6) Luffy vs Crocodile, final round

The Fighters:

  • 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.

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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!

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Well, more or less.

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.

No points for guessing who.

No points for guessing who.

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.

Ah. That'll do it.

Wet enough for ya?

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.

Hey, I didn't say ALL of the crazy powers stuff was over

Hey, I didn’t say ALL of the crazy powers stuff was over

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.

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Pictured: Luffy, giving zero shits

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.

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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.

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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:

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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

Grade: A+

Coming Attractions: Devil Fruit powers are nice and all, but ultimately it’s all in the reflexes.

Probably shouldn't come along on any ride this guy offers you

Probably shouldn’t go along with any spell this guy tries to put you under

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One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 5 of 6)

The boss is back!

You guys can all take five.

You guys can all take five.

5) Luffy vs Crocodile

The Fighters:

  • Monkey D. Luffy, captain of the Straw Hats and hero of the series. An ambitious young dreamer whose goal is to one day become the next Pirate King, the undisputed champion of the entire sea. Luffy’s dream is seemingly impossible given its daunting scope, but his relentless optimism, deeply good nature and knack for picking up the right companions have served him well so far. Luffy is incredibly simple-minded (bordering on and even crossing into Stupid at times), the very definition of a guy who sees the quickest path to everything as a straight line. While he lets nothing stand in the way of his dream, Luffy is also fiercely loyal to his friends & crew, ready to die for them if need be. Voiced by Mayumi Tanaka.
    • Powers/weapons/abilities: Luffy’s powers are derived from a Devil’s Fruit that gives his body the qualities of rubber, so he can stretch any part of his body at will. Combined with his strength & training, Luffy is not only surprisingly resilient (it’s pretty hard to hurt rubber), but also capable of delivering powerful attacks by utilizing the velocity of his stretchable limbs, striking with the force of a human-sized rubber band. Most of Luffy’s special attacks are named after firearms (Pistol, Bazooka, Shotgun, etc) despite largely being variations on simple punches, always prefaced by “Gomu Gomu,” the Japanese word for “rubber.” Not the most original superpower (it’s reminiscent of Mr. Fantastic, Plastic Man etc), but narratively speaking it’s an ingenious ability for the main character of such an epic story to have, simple in concept yet remarkably open-ended in terms of conceptual opportunities.
  • Sir Crocodile, the head of Baroque Works (Mr. 0) and arch-villain of this entire storyline. Incredibly tall and always wearing a fancy fur coat. Utterly amoral and sociopathic, Crocodile has no sense of honor, respect, or sympathy. He is one of the Shichibukai (roughly “Seven Warlords of the Sea”), particularly dangerous pirates whom the World Government of One Piece has pardoned for their past crimes in exchange for them enlisting as privateers– they’re not exactly government employees, but loose allies who basically agree to only attack other pirates rather than civilians, and share a portion of their plunder with the authorities. Naturally, Crocodile has been running Baroque Works in secret. Voiced by Ryuzaburo Otomo.
    • Powers/weapons/abilities: Crocodile’s Devil Fruit power gives him the ability to turn into sand at will, which makes him frustratingly hard to hurt, since he can dissolve part or all of his body into sand and re-materialize whenever he needs. Additionally, Crocodile has the power to manipulate & control sand, and, via contact of his uncovered right hand, he can unleash an invisible force of absolute dryness, sucking all the moisture away. Also, his left hand has been replaced by a large prosthetic hook, which has a few surprises of its own.

  

The Setup: Crocodile’s been playing a long game, spending several years patiently working to undermine the stability of Arabasta so that he can emerge from the rubble and claim the nation for himself. In the meantime, he’s been living in the kingdom and playing the part of a popular hero.

Vivi and the Straw Hats have set out to undo his Croc’s plans, but it may be too late, especially now that the rebel army the villain encouraged has entered the city, and Crocodile himself has captured both Vivi and her father, the noble King Cobra, atop the palace. (Also present is Nico Robin, aka Miss All-Sunday, Crocodile’s partner.)

Mr. 0 believes Luffy is dead, having easily defeated him several episodes previously– it wasn’t even a fight, since none of Luffy’s attacks could harm his sandy form– and left him to die in a pit of quicksand. However, thanks to some timely assistance he survived and was quickly nursed back to health.

So, knowing that the rebellion has succeeded in eliminating most of his opposition and that a bomb he hid in the middle of the city will soon take care of the rest, Crocodile sadistically mocks Vivi for her failure, and drops her from the top of the building.

She’s saved, of course, by her captain, who comes swooping in on the back of Pell, a Royal guard and Devil Fruit user who can transform into a giant bird.

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He drops the princess off on the ground where she’s reunited with all the other victorious crew members, and they split up to find the hidden bomb. Luffy stretches his arms to the top of the palace and propels himself upward, announcing to Crocodile that he won’t lose again.

Throughout this last phase of the ordeal, Vivi has been in agony because she’s been unable to reach her people, to let her know the war is a sham and that they’re being played against each other. She continuously verbalizes it as “they can’t hear me”– not just because her efforts have been thwarted but because her cries from above are being literally drowned out by the din of fighting and an obscuring sandstorm created by Crocodile. After Luffy first swooped in to catch her, she despaired that her voice wasn’t reaching anyone.

“Don’t worry,” Luffy says. “We can hear you just fine.”

The Fight: After the initial shock at seeing Luffy alive again fades, Crocodile smiles and waits patiently for his adversary to show up. He declares that this will be just as easy as the last time, because Luffy can’t even touch him.

Oh yeah?

ABOUT F***ING TIME

ABOUT F***ING TIME

Gleefully triumphant music swells as Crocodile finally takes a hit and goes down, hard. Without skipping a beat, Luffy stretches out to seize Croc from a distance, and spins up his torso in place for an attack he calls the Buzzsaw.

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Luffy instantly uncoils and whips forward, putting all the force into a headbutt that sends the villain reeling again.

As Crocodile lies dazed on the ground, Luffy explains how he was able to deduce his weakness from a small moment in their last encounter: water. If Crocodile or something touches him gets even slightly wet, his body hardens and he can’t dissolve safely into sand. Hence Luffy showing up this battle with a huge barrel of high-quality H20 (with attached hose) on his back.

The current episode concludes with Luffy declaring: “Now I can kick your ass. Let’s fight.” He’s a man after my own heart.

When we rejoin the action, Crocodile arises and laughs maniacally– always a welcome tendency in a villain. He asks if Luffy really thinks he can beat him, a member of the Shichibukai. In a moment of straight-faced comedy, Luffy says if Crocodile is Shichibukai, then he himself must be HACHIbukai. [Language-pun nerd hat] “Shichi” means seven, while “hachi” means eight; Luffy thinks that upping the number makes him more dangerous, failing to realize that it refers to the number of members in the group.

(If you think this level of stupidity is unrealistic: I once knew a girl who had someone seriously tell that she’s so crazy, she wasn’t just bipolar, she was “tripolar.” Oy. She really was crazy though.)

Anyway, Luffy is still determined, but his next rocket-punch (Gomu Gomu Pistol) is easily dodged, and Crocodile displays a new power when he seizes the arm and dries it all out.

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Shocked, Luffy frees himself, realizing the power Crocodile still has even when he’s being “weakened.” The hero chugs some water and his arm returns to its natural state. He then drenches his whole body with the hose, and tries a Pistol attack again, but halfway through he “twangs” his arm at the base so that it twists unpredictably for what he calls the “Shotgun” attack.

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Crocodile is surprised but jumps back just in time, and counters with “Desert Sword,” an invisible pulse of energy that splits the ground. Luffy barely sidesteps it, and again tries a Pistol punch. Crocodile is incredulous that Luffy keeps doing the same thing over & over, but pays for underestimating him when Luffy surprising jumps all the way forward and strikes the villain up close.

Luffy tries soaking Crocodile with the entire barrel while he’s down, but Crocodile predicted the idea and sends them both into the air with a localized sandstorm. Luffy barely manages to keep a grip on the barrel, and the Shichibukai mocks his reliance on it. So Luffy tries an unexpected tack: he swallows the rest of the barrel’s contents at once, stretching his rubber body to comically oversized proportion.

still in better shape than I am

Looks like me after a trip to Golden Corral

The hero declares now that he’s Water Luffy, Crocodile’s worst nightmare. Understandably, the criminal mastermind doesn’t take him seriously (it doesn’t help when Luffy springs a few leaks), but pays for that once again when Luffy soaks him by spitting out several large water bubbles, and hits him with the Gomu Gomu Bazooka– a two-handed punch right to the gut.

Crocodile’s finally angry enough to pull out the big guns. He tells Miss All-Sunday to leave with the King (they need him to find an artifact in the city’s catacombs), because it’s about to get ugly up in here.

Crocodile puts his hand to the ground and begins spreading his own infinite dryness to the environment. The ground cracks, the walls split, the surrounding gardens disappear, and finally huge portions of the buildings collapse, all due to Crocodile’s “Ground Death” attack soaking up moisture and accelerating decay. Even Luffy’s shoes crumble into dust.

When the dust clears, Water Luffy is barely clinging to the edge of a mostly wrecked palace. Before he can pull himself up, Crocodile materializes in front of him and grabs him by the neck.

Luffy frantically spits several more water globs at him, but Crocodile dodges and they go straight up in the air. In a few seconds, his hand sucks the liquid out of Luffy’s body, leaving him frail and dessicated. “You lose,” he declares, as the episode ends.

Certainly looks that way.

Another fun battle, returning more to the pattern of a genuine back & forth. Notably, Crocodile actually hurts Luffy very little until the end, but he still ends up deploying enough tricks to keep Luffy from scoring any decisive victory. From a storytelling standpoint, this also helps to maintain the villain’s intimidating mystique while still giving him a well-deserved black eye– the audience has been waiting a LONG time for someone to knock this dude on his ass. And of course the battle concludes with Luffy going down once again– keep in mind that prior to coming to Alabasta, we’d never seen Luffy lose even once, and now he’s bit it to the same guy twice in a row.

The fight also strikes an excellent balance between straight-up physical combat and the other type of offbeat maneuvers we’ve seen so far, what with selective deployment of water as a weakening agent and all. Luffy’s unpredictable tactics– such as three different variations of the Gomu Gomu Pistol to surprise his foe– also add an element of chaos to the mix.

All in all, not the greatest, but that will come in their rematch.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: The battle concludes.

Spoilers: The hero’s not dead

One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 4 of 6)

Now that’s more like it.

Believe it or not, he's only at 2/3rds capacity.

Believe it or not, he’s only at 2/3rds capacity.

4) Zoro vs Mr. 1

The Fighters:

  • Roanoa Zoro. Luffy’s first and most dangerous crew member (after Luffy himself, anyway), Zoro is a taciturn warrior whose dream is to become the world’s greatest swordsman– and of course traveling with Luffy has given him no shortage of opportunities to practice. Yes, his name is Zoro, like the Spanish hero. Voiced by Kazuya Nakai.
    • Powers/weapons/abilities: Zoro has exaggerated strength and agility, but he fights almost exclusively using his three katanas. A practitioner of what he calls “Santoryouu” (“Three-Sword”) style swordsmanship, the amount of blades he is using at any given time will vary depending on the situation, but optimally he uses all three at once: one in each hand and the third in his mouth. Such is the glory of One Piece that an idea so absurd can actually work on-screen. All three of Zoro’s swords are considered to be “special” in some way, but the most valuable and powerful is white-handled Wado Ichimonji sword, an heirloom from his dead friend and the one he favors most (and frequently puts in his mouth).
  • Mr. 1 (real name Daz Bones), one of the most powerful Baroque Works agents. Not as actively cruel as many of his compatriots, he’s still a ruthless killer. Voiced by Tetsu Inada.
    • Powers/weapons/abilities: Daz Bones consumed a Devil’s Fruit which makes him able to turn any part of himself into blades at will, and effectively makes his body into organic-looking steel; think of him as sort of a cross between the T-1000 and Colossus. Naturally, this makes him very hard to hurt.

  

The Setup: We actually see the beginning of this confrontation during a brief cutaway from Sanji’s fight. The #1 team is pursuing Nami and Zoro arrives just in time to save her. The two face off, leaving Nami and Miss Doublefinger to tangle elsewhere.

Zoro soon recognizes the nature of Bones’ power. Mr. 1, meanwhile, deduces that Zoro is the swordsman who defeated 100 of Baroque Works’ lower-ranking members recently, and also killed the previous Mr. 7 several years ago, when the agent tried to recruit him. Cool as ever, Zoro smiles and asks, “You wanna try to recruit me, too?”

Thus begins the perfect matchup: an aspiring swordsman against someone who’s effectively a living sword.

The Fight: The combat here is unusual even when neither opponent is pulling off fancy moves– it’s just so strange to see swordplay deflected by limbs.

After some initial clashing and more trash talk, Zoro dons his trademark bandanna and bites down on sword #3. He uses his Bull Horn attack charge immediately…

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… but the strikes doesn’t even faze Mr. 1, who simply closes his eyes and hunkers down. Zoro lands on the other side of him, and realizes that what he’s seen about the villain’s Devil Fruit power is true: his body (or at least his skin) truly is steel. He muses out loud about how if he can’t cut steel, then he can’t cut Mr. 1. Smiling cockily, he actively relishes the challenge: he’ll just have to figure out how to cut steel. He even pities Mr. 1 for being the poor bastard Zoro’s new skill will be tested on. Daz Bones is dubious, as no swordsman has ever been able to cut him before. Zoro’s reply: “You’ve never met me before.”

Zoro’s pretty freaking cool, you guys.

Though they have somewhat similar powers (most Baroque Works teams are built around a theme), pound-for-pound, Mr. 1 is far more deadly and interesting than Miss Doublefinger. Zoro is sometimes able to keep him on his toes, but often it’s about all he can do just to keep up. After all, how do you keep up the offensive against someone whose skin is so impenetrable he barely even needs to defend himself?

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Zoro manages it intermittently through aggression, creativity and the relentlessness of his attacks. A perhaps sounder method might have involved wearing down Bones with blunt force rather than cutting or stabbing (the one time Mr. 1 visibly registers pain is when he’s kicked in the gut), but that’s not Zoro’s specialty and more importantly, it’s not his way– if he can’t do the job with his swords, he won’t do it at all.

The swordsman tries a combination of special moves at first– a “Demon Slash” maneuver which knocks Bones down, and a “Tiger Hunt” attack from above while he’s still falling– but despite Zoro’s visible exertion, Mr. 1 is only knocked back by the force of the attacks, and arises without a scratch. He counters with a series of moves Zoro barely avoids, and when he’s pressed against a wall, Mr. 1 hits him with an air-cutting technique. Zoro resists the force of the attack itself, but the power of the slashes damage the buildings behind him so greatly, they all collapse and Mr. 1 shoves him into the path of the debris.

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“You should see the other guy.”

Seemingly trapped under a building, Zoro thinks to himself how this is the worst predicament he’s been in so far (it would be for me, too), and has an obligatory flashback to an element of his childhood, training with his sensei. Conveniently, little Zoro had once asked his teacher how it would be possible for a man to cut steel, and the elder responded by slashing at a thin piece of paper and not cutting it, despite hitting it dead on. He explains that true mastery entails being able to cut what you choose to and not harm what you don’t; a sword that simply cuts everything it touches is inferior. Whoa.

Still not quite getting the lesson, adult Zoro is nonetheless energized to keep fighting. He pulls himself from the rubble, picks up the house he’d been trapped under, and THROWS it at Mr. 1.

How terrible. I know a lady whose sister died the same way.

How terrible. I know a lady whose sister died the same way.

Undaunted, Bones uses an even stronger air-cutting technique and slashes the house to bits before it hits him. Zoro charges through the debris and renews his attack, pulling a few nifty moves but again failing to make a dent with his brute strength. Stoic as ever, he simply tells Mr. 1 “you’re beginning to piss me off.”

The feeling is apparently mutual, because the assassin finally decides to break out the big guns, so to speak, and reveals he can make more than just simple blades. For instance, he can turn his forearms into buzzsaws:

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Well, that’s just cheating.

The spinning blades nearly break Zoro’s own katanas, and when he tries to evade without them, it isn’t enough. Mr. 1 lightly slashes Zoro’s chest with one glancing blow, and hits him with another directly to the torso.

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That’s… gonna leave a mark.

Incredibly, Zoro survives, but the hit slams him back into a pillar and he drops all three of his swords. Unarmed and bleeding badly, he tries to stand and face Daz Bones again. The villain is mildly curious about Zoro’s resolve to keep fighting, but Zoro says he wouldn’t understand. Mr. 1 agrees and hits the swordsman with a devastating attack that slices Zoro’s chest even further, and travels through the air to the pillar behind him, bringing the whole thing down.

It seems like it’s over, but again Zoro has miraculously survived. He thinks to himself about Luffy’s last order for them all to meet back up at Vivi’s palace, and wonders if any of his crew have even survived. He sees that he’s standing in the one rubble-free portion of the collapsed pillar, and realizes that he didn’t dodge the falling debris– he instinctively moved to where he knew they wouldn’t fall. Just as he can instinctively sense the location of his Wado Ichimonji, under a nearby piece of stone.

Retrieving it, Zoro ponders that now, on the edge of death, he has reached a state of heightened awareness, where he can sense “the breath of all things”: rocks, ground, air, even steel. (Amusingly, his inner monologue drowns out the dumbfounded verbal reaction from Mr. 1.) He thinks that this awareness might be the key to cutting only what he chooses, and tests it by first swinging harmlessly at the fronds of a palm tree, then casually slicing a chunk of stone pillar in half.

Ready for one last effort, Zoro levels his blade at Daz Bones, then sheathes it to prepare for a quick-drawing slash. Mr. 1 lunges in with another attack, but the camera cuts away to a cliched shot of birds flying. When we come back….

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Zoro calmly re-sheathes his katana, smiling confidently over the victory he already knew was his. Mr. 1 begins collapsing in a pool of blood, and asks Zoro if his next challenge will be to try cutting diamond, but the hero says that would be wasteful– he is a pirate, after all. Smiling ruefully and cursing softly, Daz Bones accepts his defeat like a man.

The victor takes a well-earned rest and removes his bandanna, having become a man who can cut steel.

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This is a much better return to form, and a lot more fun to boot. In addition to the aforementioned novelty of animating a fight of sword against sword-like flesh, there was also a narrative challenge: how do you make the fight interesting if Zoro can’t hurt his opponent until the very end?

They somehow managed it, and without succumbing to the silly running around & theatrics of Nami’s similar predicament. In-between all the times he nearly gets killed, Zoro manages to take the fight to his foe fairly effectively, even if he never truly gets him on the ropes. In the end, he wins not through physical strength but from accumulated wisdom, even if it’s achieved via a cliched flashback and tactically questionable advice. The staging works well too: in addition to all the wild, named move-sets, the two have their fair share of complicated up-close maneuvers and rapid-fire back & forths. (A dirty little secret about the latter is that anime shows often save time by looping the same handful of frames over & over, so quickly that you probably don’t notice unless you’re, say, freeze-framing the action to get cool screen grabs for your blog.)

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This, for example. You’d think Mr. 1 would have figured out the attack pattern after it repeated the third or fourth time.

Probably the biggest flaw is the extent of Zoro’s injuries– the second blow from Bones’ buzzsaw arms ought to have been enough to kill him outright, let alone how he survived a point-blank “Spar Break” attack directly after. Again, it defies believability even under the circumstances, and relentlessly punishing the hero just before his last-second victory is a bit tired.

All in all, a worthy end to all the warm-up matches, before we approach the main course.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a man!

Who's, er, riding a bird.

Who’s, er, riding a bird.

One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 3 of 6)

Today: a reminder that they can’t all be winners.

This is actually more silly than it looks.

This is actually more silly than it looks.

3) Nami vs Miss Doublefinger

The Fighters:

  • Nami, the Straw Hats’ genius navigator and quartermaster, and its only (not counting Vivi) female member at this time. Resourceful, spunky, and comically greedy, with a soft spot for her friends. Voiced by Akemi Okamura.
    • Powers/weapons/abilities: While athletic and canny enough, Nami does not have any physical skills beyond basic self-defense, and until now has played a more supporting or behind-the-scenes role in the crew’s battles. It’s revealed just before this fight, however, that she commissioned Usopp to create a special weapon to help her overcome her limitations. The item he made is called the Clima-Tact, a staff made up of several detachable segments and all sorts of hidden functions, mainly relating to either weather manipulations or party tricks. Up until now, she hasn’t practiced with it or even read the instructions.
  • Miss Doublefinger (real name Paula), the female half of Baroque Works’ #1 team and therefore one of the most dangerous members of the organization. Her cold-blooded spitefulness is an odd contrast to the caricatured “sexiness” both in appearance and the exaggerated way she moves her hips while walking. The holiday her code name refers to is One Piece creator’s personal way of referring to New Year’s Day (1/1 = two index fingers held up side by side), which is also his birthday. Voiced by Yuki Tachibana.
    • Powers/weapons/abilities: Miss Doublefinger ate a Devil Fruit which enables her to turn any part of her body into spikes, something she uses in fairly creative ways.

  

The Setup: The #1 team encounters Zoro and Nami together on the streets of Alabasta, and at first pursue only Nami, correctly identifying her as the weaker threat which should be eliminated first. Zoro intercedes and squares off against Mr. 1, leaving Miss Doublefinger to deal with Nami.

The navigator promptly runs & hides, at which point we get the (convenient) flashback about the creation of the Clima-Tact. Drawing the weapon, Nami finds the courage to stand her ground… just in time for her opponent to stab her through the wall she’d been leaning against.

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Fortunately it’s only through the shoulder (that happens a lot in this show), so Nami’s alive when Miss DF cuts her way through the wall and introduces herself. Time to fight!

(Or “fight.”)

The Fight: Nami quickly tries to fight back with some of the Clima-Tact’s features (most of them done using different configurations of the sections), but finds them to be, shall we say, less than useful. First it fires a small smoke cloud which doves fly out of. Then she shapes it like a gun, which only produces a bouquet of flowers.

Sheesh, even Piers Morgan wouldn't be threatened by this.

Sheesh, even Piers Morgan wouldn’t be threatened by this.

Later it produces a cartoon boxing glove which doesn’t even reach all the way to its target, and much later it will shoot out small streams of water like a sprinkler (which Nami will actually use to her advantage). Throughout, Miss Doublefinger looks on at Nami with a mixture of pity and confusion.

In fact, this forms a loose pattern for the two’s duel: Nami will be chased, be cornered/fight back after reading & remembering more about the Clima-Tact, her opponent will stand by while Nami uses the weapon in a way that is varying degrees of ineffectual, and the cycle will repeat, with Nami suffering minor injuries along the way.

There are some very neat iterations of Miss DF’s powers. At first she just uses them in a fairly straightforward manner, such as turning her fingers into elongated daggers:

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But as the fight wears on the villain deploys her thorny nature in several wild & inventive ways. She transforms other body parts (including her nose and the tips of her bra) into sharp points as well, she forms spikes out of her heels so that she can walk upside down on the underside of an archway, she turns her entire hair into a bed of needles, and at one point she even becomes one big giant ball of spikes and rolls after Nami like Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Smack that bitch and takes her rings

Later on, she displays her own form of Beast Mode when she injects her own arms with her needle fingers, which somehow turns her into super-buff, spiky clubs.

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For her part, Nami displays some ingenuity, both with and without her impossible weapon. She wins a little respect from her adversary by getting Paula to chase her through a window, then rips off her own cloak and tangles the villain up in it (while still in ball form) to buy herself some more time. She’s soon able to use the Clima-Tact to create a wind attack which fires off one portion like a boomerang, knocking the villain back a bit.

Eventually Nami comes to realize that the true power of the odd staff is how it can generate small spheres of heat, cold, and electricity… and due to the odd science rules that govern shounen anime, have the correct combinations of these otherwise harmless discharges add up to devastating effects. She can also create a mirage version of herself (which she uses to briefly trick Miss DF into thinking she’s been killed) by causing light refractions from the difference in temperatures.

Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.

Finally, Nami reads up on the Clima-Tact’s ultimate movie, a one-time only attack called the “Tornado Tenpo.” Since she only has the one chance to use it, she makes sure to create an opening. She creates a cloud by making a bunch of cold spheres, then merging them with hot spheres which have soaked up water from her sprinkler move, and when the cloud gets big enough, it close in on Miss Doublefinger and Nami juices it with some electricity.

Picture8

Meteorologists LOVE this show.

Paula is hurt, but even more mad. She charges through what turns out to be another mirage, and Nami appears from behind, sarcastically telling her what the “forecast” is. However, she has trouble standing due to her wounds, but in the battle’s most inspiring moment, Nami thinks back on the suffering Vivi has endured thanks to Baroque Works, and knows she has to hold herself together for her friend’s sake. She even explicitly says that her pain is nothing compared to Vivi’s; this is the kind of outsized emotional bombast this genre is so well-suited for.

She even powers through getting impaled in the foot after Miss DF tries her urchin-head attack again. She uses the leverage to get close to her foe, then opens the Clima-Tact right in her face to execute the Tenpo. Surprising both of them, at first it only shoots out a pair of clockwork doves. Nami is enraged that it appears to be another joke, but shortly after the little birds wind their way around the target’s body.

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Then the “T” bar on the end begins spinning rapidly, and with incredible centrifugal force, propels Miss Doublefinger through three buildings, knocking her out and then some.

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Nami controls the horizontal, Nami controls the vertical.

Well, this is proof that even the best of the best isn’t always made up of 100% winners. It’s not offensively bad or anything– at about an episode and a half like its predecessors, it stops well short of outstaying its welcome– but it’s hard to love, too, especially sandwiched in amongst much better material.

Cool powers or not, Miss Doublefinger doesn’t present as great a threat as one would think, given her rank in Baroque Works. She’s conspicuously generous in waiting to let Nami pull off all sorts of complicated maneuvers, and after sustaining mostly mild damage throughout the battle, she ends up falling to an attack that seems fairly tame by One Piece standards.

The Clima-Tact is sort of an interesting idea, but it’s not handled well here (it will play out better later in the series). It’s always tough to know where to draw the line on believability, but for my money, the idea that it can generate a bunch of small charged blasts is on one side of that line, and the idea that it is somehow hiding several live animals and other party gags is on the other. To say nothing of the idea that Usopp would have designed the weapon primarily with amusing magic tricks in mind, or that Nami wouldn’t have studied & practiced with the Clima-Tact before now, given how important she made it seem to her in the flashback.

Credit is due for providing yet another left turn in terms of the nature of combat, compared to the more directing fighting in most of the other battles, and even the more explosive and convoluted maneuvers in the Southeast Gate throwdown. Plus it’s nice to finally give Nami her first big win.

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Still, with the actual fighting too unevenly spaced and the silly plot mechanics, this is easily the weakest of a great bunch.

[Also, this was probably the beginning of the series’ unfortunate trend of oversexualizing Nami; around this time (if not this actual battle, specifically right when Nami rips her cloak off), the artists started to draw her with Jessica Rabbit’s proportions but far less modesty. So there’s that.]

Grade: C

Coming Attractions: En garde!

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Clang clang.

One Piece: Alabasta arc (fight 1 of 6)

One Piece is the greatest thing ever.

Try not to look TOO smug about it.

Okay, not really. There are at least several things better than One Piece (the Bible, true love, Robocop) but when you’re watching it, it can often feel like it really is The Best. And I would legitimately argue its status as one of THE great pop epics of our time.

And I do mean epic. One Piece is HUGE: a multimedia franchise that began in 1997, One Piece started as a manga by Eiichiro Oda which now has about 750 chapters and soon spawned a televised anime adaptation with over 600 episodes. Neither shows any sign of stopping, being a singular cultural juggernaut in its native Japan and beginning to penetrate the wider world. Considering his story’s amazingly ambitious scope, Oda has been admirably unafraid to keep making his fictional world ever-larger, more complex and rich, often planting plot seeds which take hundreds of chapters to bear fruit.

One Piece is the story of Monkey D. Luffy– possibly the ur-example of the single-minded & virtuously simple protagonist– his journey to become the next Pirate King, and the friends & adventures he piles up along the way. The show runs through a lot of themes, but most prominently, One Piece is about dreams, and what ends a man will go to accomplish them. There might not be any modern story which is so thoroughly optimistic as One Piece yet it doesn’t shy away from the dark realities of human nature: the story’s world is filled with good people who have failed or made compromises, and villains who have committed unspeakably vile deeds. But one way or another, none of them are unchanged once they cross paths with the relentless engine of goodness that is Luffy.

This blog could always do with a bit of branching out, so tackling a small slice of One Piece is both an opportunity to examine our first TV show (an animated Japanese show, at that) and hopefully nudge some Western readers towards a property that’s relatively unknown in their part of the world. (On that front: I hate to be such a cliched nerd, but avoid the dubbed American versions of this at all costs, especially the early stuff by 4Kids; seek out the subtitled material instead. Dubbing competence aside, the story & characters simply lose something in translation.) Also, it couldn’t hurt to pull in some traffic from otakus on Google.

And this will be a small slice, examining the five distinctive battles which occur at the conclusion of the show’s famous Alabasta arc, from relatively early in its run. The Alabasta storyline was not the first one to impress or win over new fans, but it was the first time the show engaged in some seriously long form storytelling and arrived at a thrilling conclusion that managed to pay off years of investment.

A word for the uninitiated: Many of One Piece’s characters have fantastical powers for one reason or another (the most common explanation is having eaten one of the rare “Devil’s Fruits” which grant the consumer a certain set of superhuman traits), but even many of the ostensibly “normal” characters are capable of feats far beyond actual human ability: impossible leaps, exaggerated strength, incredible endurance, etc. It’s just another one of the stylized conventions inherent to shounen anime programs, kind of like calling out the name of your special attack before you do it.

1) Usopp and Chopper vs Mr. 4 and Miss Merry Christmas

(Did I mention the show and its characters are very, ahem, colorful? Get used to that.)

The Fighters:

  • Usopp, one of the more inexperienced and least powerful of Luffy’s crew. An incurable liar (complete with comically long nose) and often a shameless coward, Usopp is a good soul who can be counted on when it matters most. Voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi.
    • Powers/abilities/weapons: Usopp has no special powers to speak of, and is not even physically impressive by normal human standards. His main asset is his advanced cleverness, both as an inventor of useful devices and quick-thinking battle tactics. His most common weapon is a slingshot, but he has all sorts of little gadgets with him.
  • Tony Tony Chopper, the doctor of Luffy’s crew and its newest member. Although brilliant and talented, Chopper is very naive, having not seen much of the world; he’s very childlike in both attitude and appearance. He’s also a reindeer. Voiced by Ikue Otani.
    • Powers/abilities/weapons: Yep, a reindeer. Specifically, he’s a reindeer who ate a Devil’s Fruit that gives the consumer human-like attributes: speech, intelligence, etc. Chopper can transform at will between a very human-like appearance, a powerful reindeer form, and a sort of hybrid form that’s about three feet tall and totally adorable– which is what he spends most of his time in. He has the considerable strength of a wild reindeer, and has also devised a special drug called the “Rumble Ball” which augments his abilities for a short while after consumption.
  • Mr. 4, one of the high-ranking members of Baroque Works (see below). A huge, slow-talking, and slow-moving simpleton. Voiced by Masaya Takatsuka.
    • Powers/abilities/weapons: Mr. 4’s powers are not supernatural, which is rare in his organization. He’s merely an incredibly strong human with a knack for baseball– his main weapon is a four-ton (!) baseball bat, which he uses either as a direct weapon or to smack exploding baseball bombs at his foes. The bombs are launched by his “dog,” Lassoo, which functions as a sort of pitching machine but with explosive cannon balls. It’s very weird.
  • Miss Merry Christmas, Mr. 4’s partner. An obnoxious older lady who’s as agile and loquacious as her partner is slow and quiet. She’s the brains of the pair, and their abilities complement each other nicely. Voiced by Mami Kingetsu.
    • Powers/abilities/weapons: She ate a Devil’s Fruit that gave her the abilities and appearance of a mole, allowing her to tunnel rapidly underground.

6mr4

The Setup: At the risk of making this too long:

Monkey D. Luffy’s crew, called the “Straw Hat Pirates” due to their captain’s signature headgear, are a motley band of do-gooders in search of excitement and treasure. Soon after entering the Grand Line– the chaotic center of the fictional world’s vast ocean– the heroes run afoul of a criminal organization known as Baroque Works. BW is a vast, secretive enterprise which has currently set its sights on taking over the desert kingdom of Alabasta, and has been subtly fomenting instability there for years. This is discovered by Alabasta’s young princess, Vivi, who was able to infiltrate Baroque Works’ ranks and attain a fairly high position. Once the criminals discover Vivi’s true identity, she hires the Straw Hats’ help.

After a VERY convoluted series of events, the separated Straw Hat pirates end up in and around Alabasta’s capital city Alubarna, facing off against the highest-ranking officers of Baroque Works as a civil war begins to erupt around them. There’s a lot of overlap between their various battles, but first (and weirdest) is Usopp and Chopper’s showdown outside the Southeast City Gate.

[Baroque Works’ higher ranking members work in male-female pairs, usually around a theme. The male half is assigned an alias corresponding to his rank, and the female’s name is calendar-based (days of the week and holidays). It’s delightfully bizarre.]

The Fight: Chopper is actually there first, and has to contend with the pair alone. He’s taken by surprise at their tactics and is seen getting hurt in some unspecified manner before the camera pulls away to elsewhere. When we return, a dazed Chopper is being roused by Usopp, who was sent over by Sanji after getting thrashed a bit by Mr. 2.

Usopp thinks they’ve run off, but they’re still underground, tunneling around ominously. Turns out, these two work as a pretty efficient, if bizarre, team: Merry Christmas (hmm, typing that name is going to get old REALLY fast) creates a local tunnel network with plenty of holes. Their dog, Lassoo, fires the baseball-shaped bombs, which are explosives on timers. The bombs either reach their targets or are lined up to be batted the right way by Mr. 4– who can get around those tunnels pretty quickly for such a slow guy.

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Meanwhile, the much-faster female half is free to run interference, such as when she seizes Chopper’s foot to keep him from attacking her partner directly early in the fight; the young doctor only avoids taking a direct volley from Mr. 4 by reverting back to his tiny form at the last second, letting them sail harmlessly overhead.

The crafty Usopp takes this opportunity to disappear into the tunnels himself, and unnerves the villains a bit by calling them out from the unseen depths. He emerges and bashes Mr. 4 on the head with an enormous mallet before he can react, knocking the criminal unconscious.

Where had he been hiding that? Hammerspace, of course.

Usopp wields it with casual ease, despite the “5 ton” label on it, shocking all the others present. He talks trash– his usual brand of self-aggrandizing lies coming in handy for once– and pursues Miss Merry Christmas, though she keeps dodging him easily. The bit’s resemblance to a certain classic, non-digital arcade activity is unmistakeable:

Skee ball. It's clearly skee ball.

Skee ball. It’s clearly skee ball.

It goes on for quite a while, and there’s even a hilarious, blink & you’ll miss it gag where Usopp drops the hammer for a second and flicks her with a rubber band– even calling out the “attack” name for it (simply “rubber band”) in sotto voce– just to annoy her. He never does whack that mole, but they both get visibly tired.

Unfortunately, Mr. 4 wakes up, not as injured as assumed, because as an attack from Lassoo soon reveals, Usopp’s hammer is a bluff– it’s just two frying pans he jerry-rigged together, then covered with fake vinyl and a “5-ton” label. Cute, but it infuriates Miss Merry Christmas, so she enters her combat mode where she can dig through the ground freely– no longer relying on the tunnels– and goes after Usopp.

She chases him to some nearby ruins, where he lures her into colliding with the underground wall, which she hits hard enough to bring the whole thing collapsing down on Usopp. Afterwards, she grabs hold of him from underneath, and drags him along with her, Jaws-style, as she “swims” through the ground, pulling him through several ancient walls and leaving Usopp-shaped holes like Bug Bunny.

This is starting to get downright cartoonish.

This is starting to get downright cartoonish.

Meanwhile, Chopper contends with Mr. 4, who uses a technique where his dog fills the air with baseball bombs and explodes dozens of them at once. Chopper survives (… somehow) and uses his rumble ball to enter an enhanced intellect mode, analyzing Mr. 4’s tactics. He finds it, and scrambles over to Lassoo, splashing sand in the clueless dog’s face. Chopper then shoves the dog’s head down a nearby hole when it sneezes repeatedly in reaction, each sneeze launching a bomb from its mouth. Chopper links up with the wounded Usopp and both run from the tunnel network area just as it erupts in a massive explosion, engulfing both villains.

You'd think THIS would be enough, right?

You’d think THIS would be enough, right?

It’s pretty big, but after a short breather, the bad guys reveal they still have plenty of hit points left. Usopp tries to run away one last time (it’s kind of his thing), but he’s seized from beneath by Miss Merry Christmas, who ends the episode on a cliffhanger by mocking the pair and telling them that Luffy’s dead– which, as far as she knows, is true.

Strangely, this drives Usopp to find his courage. He tells Chopper not to believe the news, and believe in Luffy instead. But the liar nevertheless gets dragged upright through the sand by Merry Christmas again, this time right smack into Mr. 4’s deadly bat. The poor kid breaks more than a few bones, and the impact sends him flying through the air.

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What a Foul move.

Miraculously, Usopp survives, defiant as ever. The mole woman (who, incidentally, Usopp has repeatedly described as a “penguin,” much to her annoyance) grabs him and tries to pull another Batter Up, but this time the good guys are ready. Using the last remaining power from the rumble ball, Tony Tony Chopper enters his “Horn Point” mode: a hulking, four-legged appearance with enlarged antlers. He follows behind Merry Christmas as she drags his friend, and when they get close, Usopp uses a slingshot to fire a smoke pellet in the air, obscuring everyone’s sight.

He breaks free by slipping out of his shoes, and imitates the mole lady’s voice to give Mr. 4 the go ahead. Chopper uses his horns to scoop up Miss Merry Christmas and runs her right into her own partner’s waiting bat. Thud.

MMC goes flying, and without the brains of his operation, Mr. 4 can only stand in shock as Usopp uses Chopper’s antlers to create a massive slingshot, and puts a small (but real this time) hammer in it as the pellet. The launched mallet hits the batter dead-on.

"... and THAT'S how we settle things back home in Asgard."

“… and THAT’S how we settle things back home in Asgard.”

The blow knocks Mr. 4 into Lassoo and they both land next to Miss Merry Christmas. Just to put a nice bow on the whole thing, the dog accidentally barfs up one last grenade, which goes off right on top of them all. Good boy.

Usopp collapses and melodramatically prepares for his own death, and Chopper frantically calls out for a doctor, before being reminded that he is one. Then, the action freezes and this is slowly typed on the screen:

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It’s definitely out of nowhere, too: the show is of course very stylized, but never in the preceding 100+ episodes has the action stopped to read out fight outcomes like it was a sporting event. It doesn’t just make for an unexpected capper to the fight but also provides a welcome bit of triumphant silliness to relieve the tension regarding the high stakes at play– remember, Vivi’s beloved kingdom is erupting into civil war thanks to Baroque Works’ machinations, and the heroes have recently suffered a set of severe setbacks (including Luffy’s near death). It’s nice to have an almost literal scoreboard pop up and essentially say “GOOD GUYS: 1, BAD GUYS: 0”

This is probably the oddest and easily the most convoluted of all the climactic clashes that are beginning to happen. Chopper and especially Usopp are ill-suited for direct physical combat, so this showdown necessarily has to happen in a wildly complex scenario, where the heroes get in their licks via mostly unorthodox means.

There are a few demerits, the most prominent being the over-reliance on explosions, and how little those explosions seem to do. Over & over again, the villains and especially the heroes are caught within bomb blasts– not ten or twenty feet away but just a few feet or even inches away, and not only do the characters miraculously survive but they’re barely hurt, lacking the decency to even get all scarred up like Harry Osborn. Of course, it’s a cartoon and a willfully silly one at that, but even this kind of ridiculousness has its limits. Similarly, the abuse the heroes (particularly Usopp) withstand makes it hard to accept the idea that the villains go down for the count after taking a lot less.

But it is a good deal of fun, silly or otherwise. Usopp & Chopper engage in varied combat both separately and cooperatively. The staging follows a strong pattern: the good guys seem outmatched, they find a smart way to bounce back, the villains come back even harder, and finally the good guys are able to rally and win the day for good– it’s a template the other battles will follow, to an extent.

The battle is also paced fairly well, taking neither too long or too short: it begins at the tail end of one episode, takes up the bulk of the next (with a cutaway or two to Vivi’s efforts to reach the palace), continues on into the episode after that and ends before the commercial break. It’s a cliche to say that most of any given “fight” in Dragon Ball Z is really like 90% charging up and yelling at each other with 10% actual punching & kicking and dragged out over half a season… but it’s a cliche because it’s true. So it’s refreshing to break away from this obnoxious anime tradition, and have some battles that are over in about an episode and a half, with very little time wasted. One Piece is legitimately as cool as you thought Dragon Ball was when you were in high school.

Grade: B

Recommended Links: Chris Sims at Comic Alliance gives the series his own unqualified recommendation after reaching an earlier, but still great, point in the manga. Worth reading if you’re curious to learn more/other opinions about One Piece.

Coming Attractions: Remember when I said this fight was “probably” the oddest?

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There’s a reason for that.

Ninja Scroll (devil 5 of 5)

Say whatever else you will about Genma, dude has chin for DAYS.

He registers a 3.5 on the Bruce Campbell scale, or 0.4 Z’Dars.

[A quick note: His name is definitely “Genma” not “Gemma” no matter what the subtitles on your copy say or what you think you hear. That’s the way it’s written in all the movie’s material, and the nature of the Japanese standalone “N” precludes the two sounds being interchangeable or an understandable Japanese attempt at mimicking a Western word, such as “Bejiita” for “Vegeta.” Don’t feel bad for how Manga Entertainment lied to you for decades, I just found it out myself.

Even though “Gemma” is still widely accepted amongst fans, I’ll stick with “Genma” here, as much for nerdy accuracy as for how I don’t need this site turning up in image search results for horny boys looking up a certain pair of buoyant British actresses who are also named “Gemma.” Although I spoiled that by said “Gemma” a bunch of times anyway. DAMMIT]

5) Genma Himuro

(voiced by Daisuke Gori)

The leader of the Eight Devils of Kimon. Although not quite the size of Tessai, still a monstrously huge & muscled man, with speed and quick-thinking to back it up. A cunning, ruthless and patient strategist. Most importantly, though, is his mastery of the resurrection spell: Genma has such control over his whole body that he can recover from any injury, even death.

Though the machinations of the plot would have required a showdown between the two anyway, for both Jubei and Genma this fight is personal. They knew each other back in the day, when Genma was a high-ranking vassal of the clan Jubei served as a ninja for. Jubei hates Genma for how the villain manipulated Jubei’s friends into killing each other over the stash of gold that would later serve as this movie’s Maguffin; Genma, meanwhile, is still ticked about the time Jubei cut his head off.

He got better.

He got better.

Armed with: Almost nothing. A good portion of his left arm is covered in metal plating, but for the most part Genma chooses to rely on his advanced personal strength and immortality to do the job.

Fights with:

  • Jubei, who is SO freaking pissed off.
jubeiyell

No, man, it’s spelled… ugh, never mind

The Fight: As the film approaches its climax the vendettas between hero & villain grow more personal. While Dakuan restrains him in concealment, Jubei watches as Genma fatally wounds Kagero, having impersonated her liege lord the whole story. This makes Jubei go completely apeshit; he breaks free from the monk’s grip and charges out sword-blazin’. He eliminates a small army of disposable, faceless ninja goons, one swipe at a time, while Genma gets away. Unfortunately that action mostly happens off-screen or in quick cuts & flashes, but it’s still one helluva cinematic beast mode.

After tearful goodbyes with Kagero, Jubei sneaks aboard Genma’s departing ship. With the help of Dakuan and (unwillingly) Zakuro’s gunpowder-filled body, Jubei creates a large explosion in the ship’s main hold, destroying or sinking all the gold Genma was going to use to finance his conquest of Japan.

The scene where Genma hears the explosion and calmly waits is pretty amazing. He sits stock still, only his eyes moving, as he takes it all in, and calmly tells an underling to order an evacuation. He barely moves but the artwork and voice acting convey someone absolutely enraged, knowing that his years of careful planning have all been undone. He descends into the fiery cargo hold to find Jubei waiting patiently.

The hero cuts quite the striking pose there, particularly as some blaring horns kick in along with the steady drumbeat. The two talk for a bit and then charge at each other. Jubei’s blade, unfortunately, proves a poor match for the villain’s speed and power, with every blow either being dodged or stopped cold by Genma’s plated arm.

Genma returns every strike of Jubei’s with a devastating counter, but, never missing a beat, Jubei just continuously picks himself back up and charges Genma again. He’s so relentless it’s almost funny. Jubei will not be denied– he gonna GET that ass.

When Genma seems tired of this game he traps Jubei’s sword arm in his own massive paws, and gives him the mother of all Indian burns– apparently up until it breaks. Then he pins the hero up against a support beam and hits him with a devastating series of blows. Undeterred, Jubei distracts his foe with some trash talking as he reels his sword back in and, with his uninjured hand, lops Genma’s own right arm off.

Aside from the initial shock, Genma reacts with admirable stoicism, and goes right back to beating the stuffing out of Jubei. He re-attaches his own arm and leans menacingly over the hero, who surprises him again with the rather direct route: he seizes Genma’s collar and head-butts him to death. Like, over & over. Just rams his forehead into Genma’s face until it looks like a pile of smashed ass. As with his undeterred behavior earlier in the fight, it’s at once impressive and morbidly funny. Skill and power disparities be damned at this point– Jubei is just a single-minded engine of vengeful rage. As he says to Genma, he’ll kill him as many times as it takes.

He ends up getting held to that word, because he has to kill Genma a few more times immediately: first with a sword to the gut and some wooden shrapnel to the chest….

… then when that doesn’t stick, ripping his sword out from Genma vertically.

Just as Genma starts to re-form and it seems like Jubei just can’t catch a break, the consequence of all those tons of gold being exposed to heat from the fire comes due, and a small flood of molten gold comes rushing in. Jubei high-tails it up a ladder, whereas Genma gets a thick coating of the liquid metal. He flails about a bit and grabs at Jubei’s leg, but the hero ultimately escapes while Genma sinks to the bottom of the sea, trapped forever in a frozen gold prison. If only he’d listened to his father’s lessons.

jww

This one’s pretty close to flawless. Unlike every other fight in the film, it doesn’t suffer from being too short. The build-up to it is excellent, it has some great change-ups, a killer setting, awesome music, cool moves by the hero and an amazing villain. They really did save the best for last.

Grade: A

Well, that’s it for Ninja Scroll. It somehow did mostly manage to survive the ravages of time and maturity. Thanks to Yoshiaki Kawajiri and all others involved for the memories.

Coming Attractions: How sweet, fresh meat.

Welcome to MY blue Photoshop filter!

Ninja Scroll (devil 4 of 5)

Creeper ninja is creepy.

“Who, me?”

4) Shijima

(voiced by Akimasa Omori)

Shijima is arguably the most ninja-like of all the film’s many ninjas: he employs stealth, deception and diversion over outright combat. Also, whereas most of the other devils only have one real “big” power or gimmick (Zakuro stuffs corpses with explosives, Tessai can turn to rock, etc) Shijima has four: he can create illusory copies of himself, he can control people’s minds, he has a sweet chain-claw, and he can fade into & transport himself via darkened areas– allowing him to quite literally strike from the shadows. Though he pops up more than many of the movie’s other villains, he has a such diverse skill set and is interesting enough he could have stood to play a much bigger part.

Armed with: The Claw!

No, not this one.

Not quite….

There you go.

It’s a huge, sharp claw on one hand that he can fire off on a chain at will. And, as I suppose is standard issue for ninjas, a supply of small darts.

The Fights: Shijima has one very brief encounter early in the film, where he attempts to kill Dakuan as the monk is separated from Jubei on a trek through foggy darkness. Through a clever trick, Dakuan just barely managed to avoid the villain’s claw bursting out of the shadows. Not much to it, but a nice way to establish the character early on and tease at his potential.

The second time our protagonists encounter Shijima, they’re all standing in a clearing as they suss out the villains’ overall plot and figure out what to do. Shijima makes his presence known with several furtive movements at their peripheral vision, then goes all-out by surrounding the trio with dozens of his illusion copies.

He throws a few darts at Kagero (which she dodges) to attempt to keep her from sending off her carrier pigeon message for help, and that move turns out to be what Jubei needed to determine which Shijima is the real one. The hero lunges in and cuts the devil’s leg right off. Taking it like a champ, Shijima hops away wordlessly with Jubei in pursuit.

While Jubei hunts down what turns out to be a fake trail, Shijima uses the shadows to double back and kidnap Kagero– it’s implied he got the drop on her because she was stunned after Dakuan dropped some particularly shocking news on her. When the two men return, they find that Shijima has carved a note into a nearby tree telling them to come and get her, if they dare. Dakuan figures it for a trap (duh) but Jubei heads in regardless.

Shijima had, it turns out, taken the unconscious Kagero to an abandoned temple nearby. Between the dilapidated condition of the building and the setting sun, the place makes both a cool backdrop for a fight as well as a tactically advantageous (i.e., shadow-filled) ground for Shijima. Before Jubei arrives, the creepy little devil does something quite lascivious to Kagero, which is implied to be what allows him to mind-control her. So when our hero shows up and finds Kagero, she awakes with a glassy-eyed stare and immediately attacks him.

Kagero was never a match for Jubei, really, but his efforts at defending himself are hindered by the escalating effects of the poison he’s infected with (long story) as well as Shijima hassling him from the sidelines. But mostly Shijima’s contribution here is to use his claw to grab Jubei’s sword, attempting to drag it with him into the shadows. Jubei has to wrestle for control over it, which causes him to get stabbed in the hand by Kagero.

Jubei decides to let him have it, releasing the sword so that it stabs Shijima as it comes in. The creeper slowly tumbles out of the darkness, dead. Jubei passes out and Kagero comes to her senses.

Shijima’s a lot of fun, so it’s a shame that after two really promising build-ups he had so little participation in his own final battle; pitting the two heroes against each other is an interesting twist, but it’s too brief and Shijima’s own presence in that fight is minimal. However, as a whole he’s a welcome and dynamic addition to this movie’s crazy little world. Thanks, Shijima.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Boss fight!

GEMMA SMASH