Sunday, September 3, 2017

One Piece: Unlimited Retrospective - East Blue Pt. 2

One Piece continues with cats, weird animals, long nosed assholes, and starvation!

Well, it certainly took long enough to continue this little Retrospective. At first I was going to make this series something that was done whenever I had free time, however after I did my restructuring, it was clear that I wasn't going to do that. Sundays were review days, and some Thursdays would have game reviews in them. At the busy pace I was going, there would have been no way for me to make any progress in this massive undertaking unless I did something drastic. So now we have the One Piece: Unlimited Retrospective in the main schedule! I plan on having the first 12 volumes, known as the East Blue Arc, done by the end of 2017, so here's to trying that out for size. And because of that, I'm compressing two arcs into one entry; Syrup Village and the Baratie. Syrup Village is the shorter of the two, so I'm going to blaze through that one relatively fast, but the Baratie is dense for all of the world building it does, so bare with me on that. And because it's been so long, you can catch up on my previous entries, the Introduction, Romance Dawn, and East Blue Part 1 in each respective link. So let's continue, shall we?

Syrup Village was the first arc I could actively remember watching as a kid. I remember that I introduced one of my good friends to this show during when the arc was running on Toonami, and they enjoyed it quite a bit. I don't have any more memories about the arc besides that, but when I was rereading it, I realized just how much I enjoyed bits of it, but my enjoyment was undermined by one massive flaw, but I'll get to that.

Instead, I wanted to start out with a brief little filler chapter that has no real proceeding on the arc, but was the first real instance of world building that gave the series a definitive end goal. On the way to Syrup Village, the next island in the East Blue, Zolo, Nami, and Luffy stopped at a island full of weird animals. The adventure was pointless by the end of the day, but they met a strange man on the island named Gaimon, who was trapped inside of a treasure chest. And this man has actually interacted with men who came back from the Grand Line! And all he could say was that they were shadows of themselves, men who were wrecked and destroyed by how the Grand Line treated them. These pirates were decimated in what was essentially a lawless land where goodness goes to die, which terrifies Nami, but makes Luffy excited.

Now there's nothing wrong with that bit of flavor to make the Grand Line seem like a scary place, but it's absolutely hilarious looking back on it with over 84 volumes of the series published. The majority of the series takes place on the Grand Line, and during our time there, it's actually a relatively peaceful place. There are several nations that are incredibly peaceful and don't engage in war. There's a nation that makes several amazing medical advancements that help people across the world. There's a city dedicated to developing new forms of transportation and developing trains that could run on water. The freaking World Government is based on the Grand Line with the head of their judicial and legislative branch stationed along the Grand Line as well as it's major prison that had never had any convicts escape from it. So when I'm looking back and hearing how scary and terrifying the Grand Line is, it makes me chuckle just to hear about all of the examples that prove this point immensely wrong nowadays. And yes, I know that the series was originally meant to be 12 volumes long and this was to make the end game look all the more terrifying, but hindsight is a funny thing is all I'm saying.

Funny quirks aside, our trio make landfall onto the tiny Syrup Village in order to find a ship for them to use. They still have only the two dinghies from before, and as Nami rightly points out, if they're going to be sailing with a crew, let along tackle the Grand Line, they're going to need an actual ship. So they dock at Syrup Village and come across... Usopp. Usopp is the village liar that runs around every day saying that "Pirates are here! Run for your lives!" Only for him to say every single time that he's lying, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk. The townsfolk accept that he's a liar by trade and very few get upset by him anymore, but it's a daily thing that he does.

Usopp is my least favorite character in the entire series, or at least my least favorite main character in the entire series. Usopp is selfish, cowardly, stubborn, very rarely tries to fight others, and is often the main source of comic relief for the series. I cannot stand him as a character, let alone as a hero, and it's mostly because of his demeanor and how he never lets any of the lessons he learns affect him for more than a couple of days. Usopp will go through hell on Earth, beat himself up about how useless he is, proves his usefulness, most of the time by accident, and then repeats the same cycle again and again. It's a running joke in the series that he becomes famous for doing actions that he had no control over, only to regret ever doing anything in the first place. He'll always try and take the easy way out, and even when he does try to genuinely help someone out, he can never fully admit to it. Every main character in the series goes through an arc that helps them become a better character, or at the very least has a sympathetic backstory to them that makes us root for them. Usopp acts like an ass, realizes he was wrong, and that's his arc half of the time. His greatest enemy is himself, but he is his own enemy so much that you just wonder why Luffy doesn't kick him out of the crew. Hell, that happens in a later arc, but Usopp joins back because he admits that Luffy was right about an issue that Usopp took umbrage with for purely selfish reasons! Usopp is tiresome to me, but if you love him, then I hope you can enjoy him for me. You'll see plenty of times during this series just how annoying he is to me.

Anyway, Usopp runs into the gang and says that there's a rich girl in the village named Kaya who would give them a ship. Usopp knows this because every day he goes to her house and tells her stories in order to boost her spirits, seeing as how she's sick with some disease, her parents are dead, and Usopp's stories cheer her up. How this equates to giving a random crew a pirate ship is beyond me, but Usopp seems to think it'll work! Luffy, Zolo, Nami, Usopp, and Usopp's crew (three little kids that idolize Usopp and call them his "captain"), go up to Kaya's house to speak with her, only to be interrupted by Klahadore, Kaya's head butler, who proceeds to insult Usopp and calls him to son of pirate scum, making Usopp nearly beat the butler where he stands. Kaya yells at Usopp as he goes storming off, only for Luffy to realize that Usopp is actually the son of one of Shank's crew members! So... that's a thing!

As Usopp is sulking, Luffy goes to talk to him at the beach, only to find a mysterious pirate named Django meeting with Klahadore the butler. Only it turns out that Klahadore isn't a butler, but a murderous pirate named Captain Kuro, who has been lying low for years to infiltrate Kaya's family, gain their trust, then murder them all and inherit their fortune. That being said, Kuro never killed Kaya's parents like he said, they just died in an unrelated accident, making his life even easier. Django says that his crew, the Black Cat Pirates, are waiting off shore to attack the village and murder Kaya, absolving Kuro of any suspicions. Usopp confronts Kuro and Django and says that he's going to stop them, only for Kuro to say that Usopp can do whatever he wants, but no one will believe him, not only because of the accusation that simple Klahadore is a killer, but because Usopp is the boy he cried wolf and no one will believe him because of it. So Usopp, after attempting to tell everyone the truth, is run out of time and asks for Luffy, Zolo, and Nami's help. They accept, and they prepare to fight the Black Cat Pirates.

So because One Piece is a Shonen manga, there is a LOT of fighting for the next several chapters between the Black Cat Pirates and the Straw Hats. Unlike future arcs though, these fights don't really hold any emotional significance. In future fights, characters will fight and those fights will have lasting ramifications, but Kuro, for as smart as he is, isn't all that great of a villain for the arc. His crew is disposable, with the only thing of real note is that Django, the acting Captain while Kuro is away, used hypnotism to buff his crew and attempt to murder Kaya himself after making her write the will. Usopp stops him and finally becomes a man... sort of, but Kuro's backstory is actually where the interest lies.

See, the day he decided he was going to leave the crew, he attacked a Navy ship and murdered every sailor on board with the exception of one. That man... was Captain Morgan. The asshole captain from the first volume was captured by Kuro and hypnotized into believing that he captured Kuro (they used a stand-in that was hypnotized to believe he was Kuro), so the Navy hailed him as a hero, inflating his ego. This is the first real instance on One Piece making a callback to a previous arc, and it certainly isn't going to be the last. Oh, and Kuro gets his ass handed to him by Luffy. Not much of a fight there to be honest, so... that happened.

After the fighting, Kaya, now aware of Kuro's plan and how the Straw Hat Crew saved her, commissions them a ship, the Merry Go. Merry is a caravel type ship and is a pretty decent size for a crew of four. Usopp joins up with them after making a case that he's going to sea to be a man like his father. He becomes the crew's marksman, and they sail off into the great unknown.

Syrup Village was an okay little arc, but you can tell that One Piece was still trying to find its place. It was a longer arc, taking up nearly three volumes, and it was very clear the Eichiro Oda's plan of concluding the series in 12 volumes was not going to happen. So instead, we get another arc that's slightly bigger, but as some pretty large ramifications to it; the Baratie.

The crew come across two bounty hunters at sea, Johnny and Yosaku, who are in dire trouble. Yosaku has come down with a case of scurvy, and Johnny is furious at the Straw Hats for deciding to have cannon practice at the rock formation they were staying on. Nami cures Yosaku of his scurvy, but the crew decides that they should probably get a cook so that they don't run into this problem in the future. As a thanks for saying his life, and because they're good friends with Zolo, Johnny and Yosaku take them to the Baratie Restaurant, a floating ship that has a crew of expert chefs, all of whom are ready for a battle. They have to deal with pirates all of the time, so it makes sense that they would all be battle trained. Though what makes me scratch my head is why someone would build a floating restaurant in pirate waters, yet open it only to average citizens. First, they'd have to sail through pirate infested waters just to get to the damn place, and if you're going to deal with pirates anyway, why not just cater to pirates, making it a neutral territory for food, and kick the crap out of anyone that messes with it. Kind of like no one fights on Holy Ground in Highlander. Everyone just knows out of respect not to mess with it.

Regardless, the crew meets a cook named Sanji, who is the definition of a womanizer and has a real rough spot for anyone that insults his cooking or a woman. They ask him to join their crew, but he denies because he has a deal with the owner and captain of the Baratie, Zeff. Sanji and Zeff have an unknown relationship, but they've clearly known each other for years and have a respect for one another even though they don't show it. That's all tested though when a pirate enters the Baratie named Gin. Gin is a member of the Krieg Armada, a massive 50 ship fleet led by Don Krieg and was one of the most powerful pirate crews in the East Blue. Why was it? Well, the Armada went to the Grand Line... and was horrifically destroyed. The only ship that survived was Krieg's own ship, and even then most of the crew is dying of starvation. Zeff refuses to serve Gin, fearing that Gin will only tell Don Krieg about the Baratie then send the remainder of his fleet there, and even beats the crap out of Gin. Gin slinks off, ready to die from starvation outside of the restaurant, only to be served by Sanji. Gin cries as he eats, thanking Sanji for his generosity, which is noticed by Luffy, and who emphatically says that Sanji is going to be his cook. No ifs or buts, he's gonna be the cook!

Sanji still declines the offer, and when Luffy asks why, Sanji says he can't go until he fulfills his dream of discovering the All Blue, a mythical ocean that connects the North Blue, South Blue, East Blue, and West Blue together and is full of all sorts of fishes and creatures unlike anything else. One would think that travelling with a pirate crew to the Grand Line, which intersects every ocean in the world, would be your best bet at finding the All Blue, but he also says that he has a promise to Zeff that he can't break. Luffy leaves it as that, and because he damaged the Baratie earlier from a stray cannon ball he bounced off of himself, he's still on board as a choreboy until he can pay off his debt. A few days later, Zeff's worst fears come true; Krieg has arrived with his the last bit of his fleet.

Gin helps Don Krieg enter the Baratie as all of the cooks watch in horror. Krieg is a massive man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and needs Gin for support. Krieg asks for some food for his men and himself them promises to leave, but the other cooks, being smart, assume that Krieg will just get filled up on food, then raid the Baratie for whatever he wants. Krieg denies it as Gin begs for food, but just as all of the customers and cooks cheer that Krieg is going to die of starvation, Zeff gives him food for him and his crew tot he horror of everyone else. Zeff simply states that he knows what it's like to starve and tells his cooks to prepare for battle. Like Zeff claimed, Krieg returns with his crew back at full strength and ready to take over the Baratie and use it as a stealth vessel and the first ship in his new fleet.

As soon as this happens, Johnny comes floating out of the water, him and Yosaku joined up with Luffy for a little bit, and tells Luffy that the Merry Go was stolen by Nami! Nami was looking through Johnny and Yosaku's bounties until she came across the bounty of a man named Arlong. Afterwards, she steals the ship and heads off towards an unknown island, throwing the crew into disarray.

And then things get interesting. See, Don Krieg did travel to the Grand Line, but his entire armada was completely destroyed in seven days. And it wasn't by a storm, or a crew, or even a monster. It was one person. One man destroyed 49 ships and reduced Krieg to starvation. And it just so happens that that man followed Krieg back to the East Blue. His entire fleet was shattered by none other than Dracule "Hawk Eye" Mihawk, one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea.

The Seven Warlords are a group of pirates that are actually acknowledged by the World Government and work for the government. The government can call on the Warlords whenever they need some assistance, and in exchange the government exonerates them of their crimes and bounties, esseintially allowing them to continue being criminals, but criminals that obey the government. It's a pretty clever system, though it'll have its downsides later on in the series, like actually keeping these dangerous criminals in check. In the case of Mihawk though, he's loyal to the government and quite literally the strongest swordsman in the world. Naturally, Zolo wants to fight him. Aaaaaaand he gets beaten. Horrendously. But during the fight, Zolo abides by a code of honor, such as not striking Mihawk's back, and taking all of his attacks head on. Zolo earns Mihawk's respect, at the cost of a near death experience when Mihawk takes his giant sword and slices Zolo's chest to ribbons. Oh, and for the entire fight Mihawk fought with a plastic toy sword. And he still nearly killed Zolo. Plus we get Zolo's backstory, which I'll get into more next part because my God this post is getting long. Usopp, Johnny, and Yosaku take Zolo and sail after Nami, promising to meet up with Luffy at the island where Arlong is. Luffy makes a deal with Zeff before the fight with Krieg begins though; if Luffy beats him, the debt is fulfilled and Luffy can rejoin his crew. Zeff agrees, and the fight is on.

The fight is pretty grueling, with Krieg mostly staying off on the side and letting his subordinates fight. Sanji helps Luffy out for most of the fight, until Gin takes Zeff hostage, letting one of Krieg's crew beat Sanji mercilessly. Zeff urges Sanji to fight, and its during this point that we get Sanji's dark past, or at least the first of his dark past. It's here that we get one of the first looks into a crew member's backstory, and they're usually pretty tragic. Sanji's is easily the most tragic backstory for how in depth it goes, but to sum it up, Sanji was a choreboy on a restaurant ship that was attacked by the infamous Red Shoes Zeff, a pirate that was known for sailing through the Grand Line and surviving. Sanji tries to fight him, and before Zeff kills him, Sanji says his one regret was never finding the All Blue. Everyone laughs at him except for Zeff, but just before Sanji could be killed, he falls overboard due to an ongoing typhoon. Zeff jumps in after him for some mysterious reason, and they both end up stranded on a remote island. The island has no food, little water, and is a sheer cliff overlooking the ocean, so if they go down they won't get back up. Sanji and Zeff are stranded.

Thankfully, Zeff has two bags of food that he landed on their island from the storm. At most, they could survive for a week with the food they had, so they'll have to stretch it out. Sanji wants no part of it, so he runs off to the other side of the island with his bag. With seven days of food, Sanji is able to stretch it out for a few weeks. And even then, he's still stuck on the island. A few more weeks pass by, and driven homicidal by hunger, he plans on going over and killing Zeff for whatever's left of his food. Instead, he finds Zeff still sitting exactly where Sanji left him over a month ago with his bag of food untouched. In actuality, Zeff's bag was never full of food. It was full of treasure. Zeff survived by eating his own leg and the reason he saved Sanji was because they both shared in the dream of the All Blue. Eventually a ship saves them both, Zeff takes the money from the bag and opens the Baratie, and Sanji swears to stand by Zeff for saving his life.

Wow, what a backstory. See, this is what makes the Baratie Arc so good, and yes I think it's a damned good arc. It has everything you could ever hope for; comedy, serious action, world building, some tragic backstory, and an uber powerful character that just wrecks everyone. It's the simplest definition of what a One Piece arc is, and I would usually recommend this arc to first time readers that want to know more about the series. But enough about praise, let's talk about 4Kids!

So 4Kids was responsible for the early dub of One Piece. This was back in the early 2000's, and man oh man what an adaptation it was. Because 4Kids is a company that tries to make things kid friendly, and One Piece was aimed at teenagers, the Baratie Arc is where all of the fun changes occurred! Why? Because of Don Krieg and Sanji. See, Don Krieg mostly fought with clunky weapons that drew tons of blood. Stakes, nails, the works. In the 4Kids version? Poison suction cups. And Sanji, who is a heavy chain smoker? Well he sucks on lollipops and was a thick Brooklyn accent. I know that censorship was a different time back in the early 2000's, and it's funny to look at it now, but just think about this for a second. Don Krieg, infamous pirate of the East Blue, who has a bounty of $17 million Berries... kills people will poison suction cups. And people wonder why he was beaten so badly when he got to the Grand Line.

Back on the ship, Sanji is getting his ass handed to him by Krieg's underlings, until Gin of all people steps in to save Sanji. Krieg is understandably furious that one of his own would betray him, but Gin insists that he's not betraying Krieg. Gin wants to be the one to kill Sanji. Gin starts to fight Sanji while Luffy constantly takes shots at Krieg. Given that they're out at sea, Krieg constantly tries to sink any part of the Baratie or his ship that Luffy's on, seeing as how Devil Fruit users will sink if they touch salt water. Gin is about to kill Sanji, but before he's able to land the killing blow, he starts to cry, saying that he can't kill Sanji because he saved his life. Gin does the unthinkable and asks Krieg to spare everyone, which causes Krieg to denounce Gin and forces him to launch what he calls the MH5, a poison gas bomb that will kill anyone that inhales it in minutes. Everyone in Krieg's crew has a gas mask to counteract the poison, and Krieg commands Gin to drop it. The MH5 is launched, and Gin throws his gas mask into the sea. Luffy grabs two and throws them to Gin, only for Gin to throw his extra mask at Luffy and forces Sanji to take one. Gin is poisoned and is nearly about to die, causing Luffy to go ballistic on Krieg.

The fight is a brutal one, with Krieg using explosive spears, stakes, cannons, and whatever he can to try and sink Luffy. It's a hard fight, but Luffy is able to smash Krieg's armor and knock him unconscious, but not before Krieg captures him in a net and flings him into the sea. Sanji rescues Luffy, and the day is won. Gin survives from his initial poison, although he's mostly likely going to die in a few hours given the poor antidote that was present on the ship. Krieg goes mad, saying that he'll do everything in his power to kill Luffy, but Gin decks him in the gut and says that they lost, take it like a man, as he gathers the rest of the crew to sail away. As of this writing, we don't know what happened to Gin, whether he's alive or dead, but given the world of One Piece, it's safe to assume that unless we see a direct follow up to a character, they're probably still alive. Maybe Gin is still alive, and it would be interesting to see a character like him make a return, but we'll just have to wait and see.

With the day hard won, Luffy asks Sanji to join his crew one final time. Sanji still declines, saying that he still has a promise to fulfill to Zeff. Zeff responds by telling all of his cooks to say that Sanji's food tastes like garbage. Zeff wants Sanji to leave of his own volition, so why not make him so pissed off he wants to leave! When Sanji goes outside after all of the cooks say his food is worse than slop, they instantly go back to praising how delicious his food is and how he should sail off and find the All Blue. Sanji finally decides to leave with Luffy in a tearful farewell between himself, Zeff, and the cooks of the Baratie. Yoasku returns to let the Luffy know where Arlong's island is, as Sanji officially becomes a Straw Hat.

The Baratie and Syrup Village Arcs both follow a very simple format that is pretty much used extensively in the East Blue arcs. The crew goes to a peaceful location, meet their new crew member, ask them to join, they decline, a villain appears, there's a big showdown, Luffy wins, and their new crew member leaves in a tearful farewell. It's basic, but it gets the job done, and at least the Baratie Arc decides to include a lot of backstory and world building for the characters.

Luffy really doesn't do much in these arcs besides being eager, energetic, and getting mad at the villains for how heartless they can be. Luffy is a very simple character, and he's going to be very simple for most of the series, but when he has a moment, he has a moment. It's just not in these first few arcs. Zolo's fight with Mihawk was outstanding, showing just how honorable and noble Zolo is as a swordsman. He'll do anything to become the best, but he won't do it in a cowardly way. He's a man about his dream, which is something that's fairly common in Shonen anime, but no one can back it up quite like Zolo can. Nami doesn't have much to do in either arc, but that's mostly because of how integral she's going to be in the next major arc. I've already talked about Usopp in depth and how I don't like him, but Sanji is easily one of my favorite characters in the series for his actions and his history. Sanji's had a hard life, but he always looks at the life that he's had and will help anyone in need because of it. He's empathetic towards allies and criminals alike. He could have been just another character that helps someone out because it's the right thing to do, but he helps people that he can relate to and understand. When he encounters someone irredeemable that doesn't care about the struggles of others, that's when he'll get pissed off.

Both Krieg and Kuro are moderately okay villains. They have their plans and strategies, but not much else besides one being about brawn and one being about brains respectively. Kuro's plan was very well thought out, especially in how he made his own crew the criminals instead of himself, but he's defeated way too easily by Luffy. Krieg, even though he's stronger, is your standard gruff villain, talking about how "military might is everything" and "only the strong can survive". Good villain lines, but not very good character lines. Now I could talk about Mihawk in this section as well, seeing as how he could be viewed as a villain here, but I think the introduction of the Seven Warlords is far more interesting a discussion point than whether or not Mihawk is a good villain. Short version, he is.

Overall, the Baratie arc is an excellent arc to One Piece that I would highly recommend to anyone starting out for the first time. The crew is small, so you don't need to be worried about catching up, plus it has fun action, great scenes, and a good flow, lasting about 3 volumes. Syrup Village I can't recommend so easily. It's fine as it is, but Usopp is grating at best and unbearable at worst. He'll get worse as the series goes on, but here he's just mildly annoying. His arc is okay, mostly due to Kuro and his plan, but if you were to skip past it, you really wouldn't be missing out on much except Usopp joins and they get a ship. The end.

Next time, we're going to take a look at an arc with a whole lot of thematic depth and the conclusion to the East Blue Saga as we set sail to Arlong Park and Loguetown

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