Pie in the Skypiea: One Piece Season Three (Episodes 144-205)


Tsukasa (Staff Writer) — July 8th, 2011
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When we last saw our Straw Hat pirate heroes, they were in kind of a tough spot — specifically, they were about to be crushed and killed by a wrecked ship falling from the sky. If there's anything to be learned from One Piece at this point, it's that actual character death almost never happens — even when a villain is more or less beaten to death, it's never clear if they're actually dead or not. Luffy himself more or less died during the Alabasta arc covered in my previous review, and still bounced back once he drank some water. The world of One Piece is a world in which all of its violence, serious and slapstick, never seriously injures anybody. That established, the Straw Hats survived the close call and the series progressed.

Within the fallen shipwreck, the Straw Hats learn of a nation far up in the clouds — Skypiea. During a brief detour to Jaya, they learn of a lost city of gold from Montblanc Cricket, a friend of the Saruyama Alliance salvaging monkeys they met while investigating the shipwreck. Pursuing his dream, the Straw Hats make for the clouds via the Knock-Up Stream, pursued by a mysterious, shaggy pirate who had been friendly to Luffy upon first crossing paths. Always with the foreshadowing, this show.

The Straw Hats soon make winged friends on Angel Island, where they first arrive in Skypiea. They marvel at the variety of types of clouds that make up the heavens and learn about the shell-based dial technologies the angel-like people enjoy. They also soon learn that their previous god — Gan Fall the sky knight, whom they had met on their way up to Skypiea — had been deposed by a new, much more threatening god named Eneru. Luffy's first instinct is to find and beat this god up, because honestly, who wouldn't love to be able to say they beat up a god? Considering that 4Kids ended their efforts to censor and dub One Piece for American television just before this season, it's hard not to imagine that the conversations that took place. "The pirates go to heaven, meet angels, and pick a fight with god? There is literally no whitewashing this enough to not upset conservative America." This, of course, from a company that also spent no lack of money to hide Sanji and Smoker's chainsmoking habits — and the latter is literally made of smoke. The stress that undoubtedly went into this may have caused more cancer than it prevented.

The search for the veritable El Dorado soon becomes the focus of much of the rest of the season as the Straw Hats head for Upper Yard, the small soil continent floating on the sea of clouds. There, the Straw Hats are soon caught up in an all-out war between Eneru's Divine Squad forces and the Shandians, a warrior people led by the vengeful Wyper, the potential-Native-American-metaphor indigenous inhabitants of Upper Yard and the lost city of Shandora, whose ancestors had been flung into the sky, where soil or 'vearth' was taken as a gift from the gods — holy ground. Soon enough, the Straw Hats split up and have to face Eneru's lieutenants, a trio of high priests with specialized ordeals for the pirates to endure and precognitive 'Mantra' abilities ensuring that no part of fighting them would come easy.

As the priests Satori, Gedatsu, and Ohm fall, a god-like giant python shows up to shake things up even further before our heroes finally reach Eneru themselves. Worse than the untouchable Smoker, Eneru's own Devil Fruit power gave him a body made out of pure electricity, making him not only untouchable, but virtually suicidal to fight head-on. Things look hopeless as Eneru finishes off Wyper and most of the Straw Hats before leaving for his airship, the Ark Maxim, with Nami in tow, to unleash his Deathpiea weapon and commit genocide upon all the peoples of the sky. He makes for the final piece of gold in the sky — a golden bell rung to signify the long-time friendship between the great Shandian warrior Calgara, the Shandian people, and Noland Cricket of Jaya, disgraced explorer ancestor of Montblanc's. After a protracted wait, Luffy finally appears in the nick of time and jolts Eneru with the realization that in the rubber man existed a human being actually capable of harming him and resisting his lightning attacks without flinching. After several episodes of combat in which Eneru still maintained the upper hand, it came time for Luffy to ring the golden bell to return peace to the sky and send a signal to Montblanc Cricket below, dealing Eneru the final blow in the process. While Eneru is the most threatening and over the top villain in One Piece to date — outclassing even Crocodile — the flow of the battle is one of the choppiest in the series so far, in large part because of the Skypiea arc's focus in its later chapters on flashing back to Calgara and Noland's story, rather than keeping its focus on the present. What this results in is a climax that's ultimately more satisfying from a historical perspective for the characters in the arc than it is for the viewer in the present, as the last phase of Luffy's battle with Eneru comes off feeling a bit rushed, Eneru barely getting to put up a fight in his final, strongest form.

With Eneru's ambitions ultimately thwarted and the Skypieans, Shandians, and Gan Fall looking forward to a new future, the Straw Hats load up with gold and quickly set sail for Cloud End to return to the blue sea below with the help of a balloon octopus. Robin had found a new lead in her hunt for the Rio Poneglyph as well, courtesy of a Poneglyph message left on the golden bell by the original king of the pirates, Gol D. Roger. Narrowly averting disaster as the balloon octopus deflated too soon, the Going Merry lands in one of the worst places it possibly could: in the waters around the massive Navy fortress known as Navarone, surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides with no hope for escape. In this short arc to wrap the season, the Straw Hats split up and face their own challenges as they deal with a clever Navy commander capable of outsmarting them at every turn and the labyrinthine design of the fortress itself. As the season closes, the Straw hats naturally recover their gold and make their narrow escape.

At last, One Piece season 3 is the first season not to introduce any new members to the Straw Hat crew. And development of the central crew member cast is also kept to a minimum. The Skypiea arc is, in its entirety, pure skyfaring adventure with a lot of conceptual content that could offend more conservative-leaning viewers, but it's not exactly any kind of direct affront to or assault on western religion, so it probably wouldn't offend anybody else. The pacing of the final battle with Eneru is a bit of a mess due to the constant flashback interruptions that probably would have fit better a little earlier in the arc, but it's still very entertaining nonetheless. The season—ending Navarone arc serves as a good transition into the likely few shorter additional story arcs ahead as a bit of a palate cleanser before plunging into the next major fifty—plus episode story arc, judging by the show's reliable structure so far.

In season 3, there's no dip or notable change in the overall high quality of the animation. It feels like a cel—based '90s series in an era of increasingly conspicuously shiny CGI animation, with humorous and exaggerated character designs that avoid the moé trap so much of the anime industry has fallen into over the course of the past decade. Absolutely enjoyable, as usual, and in that, One Piece's continued decade-plus smash hit success is not difficult to understand. As much of the medium becomes increasingly redundant and visual variety drains away, One Piece stands tall in defiance of this trend and through this season, continues to deliver a thoroughly engaging story of adventure.

Over the course of season 3, only one new opening is introduced, as the third opening is replaced by the fourth, Bon-Bon Blanco's "Bon Voyage!" The animation opens with a relaxing tropical vacation vibe before introducing each of the Straw Hats in the crew at this point and giving us bits of reused footage from flashbacks to their past, recalling their trials overcome so far. A strong opening overall. Three new endings are used over the course of the season as well. The eleventh ending, "A to Z" by ZZ, is a funky little song with an appealing sound and a befitting accompanying animation of mostly still images and minimal animation for the Straw Hats as they join together. The twelfth ending, "Tsuki to Taiyou" by Shela, is a gentle song full of longing, accompanied by still images of many of the supporting characters the Straw Hats had left behind looking up at the moon at night. And the thirteenth ending, "Dreamship" by Aiko Ikuta, is a very appealing alternative rock song accompanied by a simple, but less-than-memorable animation once again introducing and highlighting each of the Straw Hats, showcasing more of their individual personalities. All in all, a good season on the music front as well.

Once you start watching One Piece, it's impossible to tear yourself away. Shows this infectious truly are rare. While it isn't without its minor faults, continuing the trend, I can only recommend watching season three as well. Do not miss out on this show.