The gang slowly gets back together as fate works its magic even in the land of Skypiea
What They Say:
Tales of a lost land of gold lured Luffy and his crew to the mysterious realm of Skypiea, but their dreams of untold riches quickly turned to nightmares thanks to the menacing minions of a devious deity!
One by one, the stalwart Straw Hats are separated from their mates and forced to participate in a deadly contest where survival is the name of the game. Poisonous pythons of prolific size, Shandorian warriors with bazookas that burn, prize-fighting pooches that pack a mean punch, and balloon-shaped bad guys with a score to settle are just a few of the horrors which haunt this once-peaceful land! Ruled by Eneru - a fiend who fights with the power of thunder and lightning - the city of clouds becomes a twisting trail of terrible tribulations for these pirates in the hands of an angry god!
Contains episodes 170-182.
What We Say:
As the Skypiea arc rolls along, it's definitely one that feels like One Piece overall but it can be a bit tiring in a way. The story in Skypiea has introduced us to a lot of interesting places and ideas that don't fit into the Blue Sea world we've been exposed to and that's a positive since it has the dials, the clouds and some different religions and factions at work here. Everything before back in the Blue Sea had something that tied it to the rest but this definitely feels like a place that took a different evolutionary path, social and naturally, over time. Where it's felt terribly familiar is that the Straw Hats get separated fairly easily and they go off on their own adventures that eventually connect back with everyone else, several of which at a key time. Even worse is that Luffy seems to get shunted to a goofy side piece where he spends most of his time walking the length of a giant snake. It simply feels fillerish.
What's defined a large part of this set is that Eneru has really gotten his game on and is working down the eighty plus people that are in the upper realm that he intends to eliminate. A great many of them have and there are under thirty left, including all our favorites and several of the Shandian's we've gotten to know. There's a strong continuing battle going on here between them as Eneru shows them up easily and regularly using his lightning based abilities and nature. He's obviously faster than anyone else and being an energy being at this stage, hence calling himself a god, he's able to regenerate with no problem. He's a cruel god though as he strikes down his opponents in a way that chars them. And as the trap closes in on everyone, he even takes down Laiki in front of Wyper, which just sets him all the more on the path to eliminating this god.
Watching the Straw Hats getting caught up in all of this is fun at times, there's no doubt about that. Robin in particular lets her archaelogical side shine through as she gets hints of what she thought was long lost and spends her journey trying to discover more of it. She even has a really interesting chat with Eneru about the past and what he knows, which leads her a bit closer to her own goals. After finding her life pointless after the Alabasta arc and hooking up with the Straw Hats, it's good to see that she still has that thirst for knowledge and her ultimate goals here rather than just going along for kicks because she has nothing better to do.
A lot of what this part of the arc does is to bring everyone back together after some time apart. Amusingly, Luffy spends a lot of his time stuck inside a giant snake without realizing and thinks he's just traveling down a really strange cave with lots of ruins. His actions in upsetting the snake makes for a lot of fun as it acts out its intestinal issues against everyone else, which includes a moment where Nami and Aisa get sucked in along with Gan Fall. And all of this happens as they meet up with Wyper and Zoro along with a number of other Shandians that are still stuck in this massive game/trap that Eneru has designed simply because he thinks it'll be enjoyable. There are a few subplots that get mixed in as well as they all come together, such as Laiki and Wyper and the way Aisa thinks she can take out Gan Fall, and that helps to flesh it out a bit. But it still takes some time to really get where it wants to go.
As seems to happen with One Piece, whatever momentum it has going in the present seems to get slowed down when it starts to do the back story reveal. That happens again here as we see Eneru's arrival and the way he threw things into such chaos with Gan Fall. What I keep finding with the Skypiea arc is that while I like the land and some of the people, I have not cared for the factions themselves and all the issues that surround the Shandians tne loss of their land nor the way Eneru rose to power. While he's given plenty of godlike abilities and attributes by the locals, the more it plays out the more obvious it is that he's using a Devil Fruit for it. It's not exactly a surprise when that comes out but it just paints him as yet another bully getting his way because he can. His story doesn't do all that much beyond set the Straw Hats against him all the more in some obvious ways, including Eneru taking Robin down hard which seriously sets off Zoro since he can't allow that to be done to a woman.
Naturally, there are bigger stakes going on here and as it turns, Luffy gets clued in at the right time and has to be the one to take on Eneru in order to save all of Skypiea. It's not a surprise to see him thrust into this position since he just did it in Alabasta and world saving is becoming a part of his resume, but it just feels a bit too soon for another arc like that. Eneru himself has been relatively fun to watch since he's hands on in taking care of his various enemies and he definitely goes big in his efforts to change the nature of everything. Yet something about all of it just doesn't feel right. Much of that comes down to the way the religious side has not gelled well with God this and God that and the kind of wacky nature of many who reside in Skypiea. The fun and strangeness of the whole place was lost rather quickly unfortunately and it turned into something a bit more predictable.
With this being a group of episodes devoted more to setup than anything else, essentially moving along the action and getting the characters in their proper places so we know who to root for and the stakes at hand, One Piece is decent but comes across a bit lacking. The way the Straw Hats are spread apart, drawn together and then spread apart again is no surprise but it'd be nice to see them stick together for awhile. Some of them are cast off for the majority of this batch of episodes as we only see Chopper for a bit while Usopp and Sanji are pretty much no-shows. What's struck me from the start of the Skypiea arc is that while the basis for this land is interesting, it's populated with less than interesting characters outside of Wyper and Eneru and even then it's only just barely. The entire Shandian aspect, heritage and past angers haven't connected well which leaves it all feeling a bit forced. One Piece can definitely do better this and has even done so earlier in this particular season.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles